Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to the AIPAC Policy Conference [FULL TEXT]

Thank you, Mr. President.  (Applause.)  It’s great to be here.  It’s great to be here.  (Applause.)  Hey, Debbie.

Ladies and gentlemen, oh, what a difference 40 years makes.  (Laughter.)  I look out there and see an old friend, Annette Lantos.  Annette, how are you?  Her husband, Tom Lantos, a survivor, was my assistant, was my foreign policy advisor for years.  And Tom used to say all the time, Joe — he talked with that Hungarian accent — he’d say, Joe, we must do another fundraiser for AIPAC.  (Laughter.)  I did more fundraisers for AIPAC in the ‘70s and early ‘80s than — just about as many as anybody.  Thank God you weren’t putting on shows like this, we would have never made it.  (Laughter.)  We would have never made it.

My Lord, it’s so great to be with you all and great to see — Mr. President, thank you so much for that kind introduction.  And President-elect Bob Cohen, the entire AIPAC Board of Directors, I’m delighted to be with you today.  But I’m particularly delighted to be with an old friend — and he is an old friend; we use that phrase lightly in Washington, but it’s real, and I think he’d even tell you — Ehud Barak, it’s great to be with you, Mr. Minister.  Great to be with you.  (Applause.)

There is a standup guy.  There is a standup guy.  Standing up for his country, putting his life on the line for his country, and continuing to defend the values that we all share.  (Applause.)  I’m a fan of the man.  (Applause.)  Thanks for being here, Ehud.  It’s good to be with you again.

Ladies and gentlemen, a lot of you know me if you’re old enough.  (Laughter.)  Some of you don’t know me, and understand I can’t see now, but in the bleachers to either side, I’m told you have 2,000 young AIPAC members here.  (Applause.)  We talked about this a lot over the years.  We talked about it a lot:  This is the lifeblood.  This is the connective tissue.  This is the reason why no American will ever forget.  You’ve got to keep raising them.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder, a lot of us in this auditorium, defending the legitimate interest of Israel and our enduring commitment over the last 40 years.  And many of you in this hall — I won’t start to name them, but many of you in this hall, starting with Annette Lantos’s husband, who is not here, God rest his soul — many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators, and that is not hyperbole.  You literally have been.

But my education started, as some of you know, at my father’s dinner table.  My father was what you would have called a righteous Christian.  We gathered at my dinner table to have conversation, and incidentally eat, as we were growing up.  It was a table — it was at that table I first heard the phrase that is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough — first I heard the phrase, “Never again.”

It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.  (Applause.)  I remember my father, a Christian, being baffled at the debate taking place at the end of World War II talking about it.  I don’t remember it at that time, but about how there could be a debate about whether or not — within the community, of whether or not to establish the State of Israel.

My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble it was, like the United States.  (Applause.)  Everybody knows it’s real.  But I want you to know one thing, which some of you — I’ve met with a lot of you over the last 40 years, but the last four years as well.  President Obama shares my commitment.  We both know that Israel faces new threats, new pressures and uncertainty.  The Defense Minister and I have discussed it often.  In the area of national security, the threats to Israel’s existence continue, but they have changed as the world and the region have changed over the last decade.

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel — and the United States — to reassess old and settled relationships.  Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program, and its continued support of terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah and Hamas, not only endanger Israel, but endanger the world.  (Applause.)  Attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel are increasingly common, and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these pressures are similar but different, and they put enormous pressure on the State of Israel.  We understand that.  And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence.  But if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, from the moment the President took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not:  our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel.  That has not changed.  That will not change as long as I and he are President and Vice President of the United States.  (Applause.)  It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative.  (Applause.)

And to all of you, I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment.  And while we may not always agree on tactics — and I’ve been around a long time; I’ve been there for a lot of prime ministers — we’ve always disagreed on tactic.  We’ve always disagreed at some point or another on tactic.  But, ladies and gentlemen, we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own, must be able to do it on its own, and we must always stand with Israel to be sure that can happen.  And we will.  (Applause.)

That’s why we’ve worked so hard to make sure Israel keeps its qualitative edge in the midst of the Great Recession.  I’ve served with eight Presidents of the United States of America, and I can assure you, unequivocally, no President has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel — the most in history.  He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership.

I can say with certitude, in the last eight Presidents, I don’t know any time, Ehud, when there has been as many meetings, as much coordination, between our intelligence services and our military.  Matter of fact, they’re getting tired of traveling back across the ocean, I think.  (Laughter.)

Under this administration, we’ve held the most regular and largest-ever joint military exercises.  We’ve invested $275 million in Iron Dome, including $70 million that the President directed to be spent last year on an urgent basis — to increase the production of Iron Dome batteries and interceptors.  (Applause.)

Not long ago, I would have had to describe to an audience what Iron Dome was, how it would work, why funding it mattered.  I don’t have to explain to anybody anymore.  Everybody gets it.  (Applause.)  Everybody saw — the world saw firsthand why it was and remains so critical.

For too long, when those sirens blared in the streets of the cities bordering Gaza, the only defense had been a bomb shelter.  But late last year, Iron Dome made a difference.  When Hamas rockets rained on Israel, Iron Dome shot them out of the sky, intercepting nearly 400 rockets in November alone.  It was our unique partnership — Israel and the United States — that pioneered this technology and funded it.

And it is in that same spirit that we’re working with Israel to jointly develop new systems, called Arrow and David’s Sling, interceptors that can defeat long-range threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — equally as urgent.  (Applause.)  And we are working to deploy a powerful new radar, networked with American early warning satellites, that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of an attack.  This is what we do.  This is what we do to ensure Israel can counter and defeat any threat from any corner.  (Applause.)

But that’s only the first piece of this equation.  Let me tell you — and I expect I share the view of many of you who have been involved with AIPAC for a long time.  Let me tell you what worries me the most today — what worries me more than at any time in the 40 years I’ve been engaged, and it is different than any time in my career.  And that is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state.  That is the single most dangerous, pernicious change that has taken place, in my humble opinion, since I’ve been engaged.  (Applause.)

And, ladies and gentlemen, it matters.  It matters.  To put it bluntly, there is only one nation — only one nation in the world that has unequivocally, without hesitation and consistently confronted the efforts to delegitimize Israel.  At every point in our administration, at every juncture, we’ve stood up on the legitimacy — on behalf of legitimacy of the State of Israel.  President Obama has been a bulwark against those insidious efforts at every step of the way.

Wherever he goes in the world, he makes clear that although we want better relations with Muslim-majority countries, Israel’s legitimacy and our support for it is not a matter of debate.  There is no light.  It is not a matter of debate.  (Applause.)  It’s simple, and he means it:  It is not a matter of debated.  Don't raise it with us.  Do not raise it with us.  It is not negotiable.  (Applause.)

As recently as last year, the only country on the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against — I think it’s 36 countries, don't hold me to the exact number — but the only country on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to vote against the establishment of a fact-finding mission on settlements was the United States of America.

We opposed the unilateral efforts of the Palestinian Authority to circumvent direct negotiations by pushing for statehood and multilateral organizations like UNESCO.  We stood strongly with Israel in its right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report was issued in 2009.  While the rest of the world, including some of our good friend, was prepared to embrace the report, we came out straightforwardly, expressed our concerns and with recommendations.

When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla in 2010, I was in Africa.  We spent a lot of time on the phone, Ehud and — the Defense Minister and I.  (Laughter.)  And Bibi and I spent a lot time on that phone with my interceding, going to the United Nations directly by telephone, speaking with the Secretary General, making sure that one thing was made clear, Israel had the right — had the right — to impose that blockade.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, that's why we refuse to attend events such as the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference on Racism that shamefully equated Zionism with racism.  (Applause.)  That's why we rejected anti-Semitic rhetoric  from any corner and from leaders of any nation.  And that's why I’m proud to say my friend, the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, spoke out against the kind of language in Ankara just this Friday.  (Applause.)  By the way, he’s a good man.  You're going to be happy with Kerry.

And it was in the strongest terms that we vigorously opposed the Palestinian bid for nonmember observer status in the General Assembly, and we will continue to oppose any effort to establish a state of Palestine through unilateral actions.

There is no shortcut to peace.  There is no shortcut to face-to-face negotiations.  There is no shortcut to guarantees made looking in the eyes of the other party.

Ladies and gentlemen, Israel's own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they've all called for a two-state solution and an absolute  secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game.  (Applause.) 

We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve.  Even some of you in the audience said, why do we even talk about it anymore?  Well, it's going to require hard steps on both sides.  But it's in all of our interests — Israel's interest, the United States' interest, the interest of the Palestinian people.  We all have a profound interest in peace.  To use an expression of a former President, Bill Clinton, we've got to get caught trying.  We've got to get caught trying.  (Applause.)

So we remain deeply engaged.  As President Obama has said, while there are those who question whether this goal may ever be reached, we make no apologies for continuing to pursue that goal, to pursue a better future.  And he'll make that clear when he goes to Israel later this month.

We're also mindful that pursuing a better future for Israel means helping Israel confront the myriads of threat it faces in the neighborhood.  It's a tough neighborhood, and it starts with Iran.  It is not only in Israel's interest — and everybody should understand — I know you understand this, but the world should — it's not only in Israel's interest that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, it's in the interest of the United States of America.  It's simple.  And, as a matter of fact, it's in the interest of the entire world. (Applause.)

Iraq's [sic] acquisition of a nuclear weapon not only would present an existential threat to Israel, it would present a threat to our allies and our partners — and to the United States.  And it would trigger an arms race — a nuclear arms race in the region, and make the world a whole lot less stable.

So we have a shared strategic commitment.  Let me make clear what that commitment is:  It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Period.  (Applause.)  End of discussion.  Prevent — not contain — prevent.  (Applause.)

The President has flatly stated that.  And as many of you in this room have heard me say — and he always kids me about this; we'll be in the security room — and I know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz knows this because she hears it — he always says, you know — he'll turn to other people and say, as Joe would say, he’s — as Joe would say, big nations can't bluff.  Well, big nations can't bluff.  And Presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff.  And President Barack Obama is not bluffing.  He is not bluffing.  (Applause.)
We are not looking for war.  We are looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully, but all options, including military force, are on the table.  But as I made clear at the Munich Security Conference just last month, our strong preference, the world’s preference is for a diplomatic solution.  So while that window is closing, we believe there is still time and space to achieve the outcome.  We are in constant dialogue, sharing information with the Israeli military, the Israeli intelligence service, the Israeli political establishment at every level, and we’re taking all the steps required to get there.

But I want to make clear to you something.  If, God forbid, the need to act occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected to avoid any confrontation.  And that matters.  Because God forbid, if we have to act, it’s important that the rest of the world is with us.  (Applause.)  We have a united international community.  We have a united international community behind these unprecedented sanctions.

We have left Iran more isolated than ever.  When we came to office, as you remember — not because of the last administration, just a reality — Iran was on the ascendency in the region.  It is no longer on the ascendency.  The purpose of this pressure is not to punish.  It is to convince Iran to make good on its international obligations.  Put simply, we are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make.  They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program, or they can continue down the path they’re on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.

But even preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon still leaves them a dangerous neighbor, particularly to Israel.  They are using terrorist proxies to spread violence in the region and beyond the region, putting Israelis, Americans, citizens of every continent in danger.  For too long, Hezbollah has tried to pose as nothing more than a political and social welfare group, while plotting against innocents in Eastern Europe — from Eastern Europe to East Africa; from Southeast Asia to South America.  We know what Israel knows:  Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.  Period.  (Applause.)  And we — and me — we are urging every nation in the world that we deal with — and we deal with them all — to start treating Hezbollah as such, and naming them as a terrorist organization.  (Applause.)

This isn’t just about a threat to Israel and the United States.  It’s about a global terrorist organization that has targeted people on several continents.  We’ll say and we’ll do our part to stop them.  And we ask the world to do the same.  That’s why we’ve been talking to our friends in Europe to forcefully declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.  This past month I’ve made the case to leading European heads of state, as Barack and Israelis know, together we have to continue to confront Hezbollah wherever it shows — sews the seeds of hatred and stands against the nations that sponsor campaigns of terror.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria as well.  Assad has shown his father’s disregard for human life and dignity, engaging in brutal murder of his own citizens.  Our position on that tragedy could not be clearer:  Assad must go.  But we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus.  (Applause.)

That’s why our focus is on supporting a legitimate opposition not only committed to a peaceful Syria but to a peaceful region.  That’s why we’re carefully vetting those to whom we provide assistance.  That’s why, while putting relentless pressure on Assad and sanctioning the pro-regime, Iranian-backed militia, we’ve also designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization.

And because we recognize the great danger Assad’s chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States, to the whole world, we’ve set a clear red line against the use of the transfer of the those weapons.  And we will work together to prevent this conflict and these horrific weapons from threatening Israel’s security.  And while we try to ensure an end to the dictatorship in Syria, we have supported and will support a genuine transition to Egyptian democracy.

We have no illusions — we know how difficult this will be and how difficult it is.  There’s been — obviously been a dramatic change in Egypt.  A lot of it has given us hope and a lot of it has given us pause, and a lot of it has caused fears in other quarters.

It’s not about us, but it profoundly affects us.  We need to be invested in Egypt’s success and stability.  The stable success of Egypt will translate into a stable region.  We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses.  Again, our eyes are wide open.  We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this:  There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel.  It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk.  It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists.  And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process.  And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.  There’s no certainty about anything in the Arab Spring.

I expect President Obama to cover each of these issues in much greater detail.  I’ve learned one thing, as I was telling the President, I learned it’s never a good idea, Ehud, to steal the President’s thunder.  It’s never a good idea to say what he’s going to say the next day.  So I’m not going to go into any further detail on this.  (Laughter.)  But in much greater detail he will discuss this when he goes to Israel later this month, just before Passover begins.

I have to admit I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say “this year in Jerusalem,” but I’m the Vice President.  I’m not the President.  (Applause.)  So I — when I told him that, I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not.  But anyway.  (Laughter.)

As will come as no surprise to you, the President and I not only are partners, we’ve become friends, and he and I have spoken at length about this trip.  And I can assure you he’s particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear directly from the people of Israel and beyond their political leaders, and particularly the younger generation of Israelis.  (Applause.)

And I must note just as I’m getting a chance to speak to 2,000 young, American Jews involved and committed to the state of Israel and the relationship with the United States, he’s as anxious to do what I got a chance to do when I was there last, Ehud with you, as you flew me along the line.  I got to go to Tel Aviv University to speak several thousand young Israelis.  The vibrancy, the optimism, the absolute commitment is contagious, and he’s looking forward to seeing it and feeling it and tasting it.

The President looks forward to having conversations about their hopes and their aspirations, about their astonishing world-leading technological achievements, about the future they envision for themselves and for their country, about how different the world they face is from the one their parents faced, even if many of the threats are the same.

These are really important conversations for the President to have and to hear and for them to hear.  These are critically important.  I get kidded, again to quote Debbie, she kids sometimes, everybody quotes — Democrat and Republican — quotes Tip O’Neill saying, all politics is local.  With all due respect, Lonny, I think that's not right.  I think all politics is personal.  And I mean it:  All politics is personal.  And it’s building personal relationships and trust and exposure, talking to people that really matters, particularly in foreign policy.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me end where I began, by reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.  It’s not only a longstanding, moral commitment, it’s a strategic commitment.  An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world is in the practical, strategic interests of the United States of America.  I used to say when I — Lonny was president — I used to say if there weren't an Israel, we'd have to invent one.

Ladies and gentlemen, we also know that it's critical to remind every generation of Americans — as you're doing with your children here today, it's critical to remind our children, my children, your children.  That's why the first time I ever took the three of my children separately to Europe, the first place I took them was Dachau.  We flew to Munich and went to Dachau — the first thing we ever did as Annette will remember — because it's important that all our children and grandchildren understand that this is a never-ending requirement.  The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the ultimate guarantor, it's the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people in the world.  (Applause.)

That was most pointedly pointed out to me when I was a young senator making my first trip to Israel.  I had the great, great honor — and that is not hyperbole — of getting to meet for the first time — and subsequently, I met her beyond that — Golda Meir.  She was the prime minister.  (Applause.)

Now, I'm sure every kid up there said, you can't be that old, Senator.  (Laughter.)  I hope that's what you're saying.  (Laughter.)  But seriously, the first trip I ever made — and you all know those double doors.  You just go into the office and the blonde furniture and the desk on the left side, if memory serves me correctly.  And Golda Meir, as a prime minister and as a defense minister, she had those maps behind her.  You could pull down all those maps like you had in geography class in high school.

And she sat behind her desk.  And I sat in a chair in front of her desk, and a young man was sitting to my right who was her assistant.  His name was Yitzhak Rabin.  (Laughter.)  Seriously — an absolutely true story.  (Applause.)  And she sat there chain-smoking and reading letters to me, letters from the front from the Six-Day War.  She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family.  This went on for I don't know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it — oh, my God.

And she suddenly looked at me and said — and I give you my word as a Biden that she looked at me and said — she said, Senator, would you like a photo opportunity?  (Laughter.)  And I looked at her.  I said, well yes, Madam Prime Minister.  I mean I was — and we walk out those doors.  We stood there — no statements, and we're standing next to one another looking at this array of media, television and photojournalists, take — snapping pictures.  And we're looking straight ahead.

Without looking at me, she speaks to me.  She said, Senator, don't look so sad.  She said, we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world.  And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something.  Because you can see the pictures, I still have them — I turned to look at her.  We were supposed to be looking straight ahead.  And I said, Madam Prime Minister — and never turned her head, she kept looking — she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go.  We have no place else to go.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, our job is to make sure there's always a place to go, that there's always an Israel, that there's always a secure Israel and there's an Israel that can care for itself.  (Applause.)  My father was right.  You are right.  It's the ultimate guarantor of never again.  God bless you all and may God protect our troops.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Diplomats Make End Run With Early Ratification of Final Durban Document

GENEVA (JTA)—Durban II reached its conclusion, it seemed, three days early.

A day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tirade against Israel triggered a walkout by the European delegation and generated headlines around the world, diplomats at the U.N. forum scrambled to ratify the conference’s final document on Tuesday—three days before the parley’s close, when the document was scheduled to be adopted.

It was not immediately clear whether the move was meant to head off further debate over the text or to prevent additional walkouts by delegations in protest.

The document ratified by delegates includes the item that prompted Israel and half a dozen other countries to boycott the conference: reaffirmation of the 2001 Durban document, which singles out Israel, brands it a racist country and cites the Palestinians as victims of racism.

“Clearly they were panicking and had to get a quick victory before the text could spiral even further out of control,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, said of the delegates’ vote. “Of course, the text is unacceptable because it still ratifies the flawed 2001 text.”

Despite the document’s early ratification, the very public walkout by EU delegates during Ahmadinejad’s speech and the events surrounding the conference guaranteed that Durban II would not be a reprise of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Pro-Palestinian elements hijacked the original event in Durban, South Africa, and turned it into an anti-Israel free-for-all.

Geneva has had some similarities with Durban.

In 2001, the conference provided a platform for a polarizing leader from the developing world to rebuke Western nations: Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who was greeted enthusiastically by thousands of activists at the NGO Forum that preceded the conference. This time it was Ahmadinejad, the only head of state to address the conference, who called Israel a “racist government.”

But whereas the Durban conference was chaotic, noisy advocacy in Geneva was banned from U.N. grounds and activists were restricted to a few minutes per day to address its follow-up.

And whereas critics of Israel in 2001 went largely unanswered or drowned out pro-Israel voices, Ahmadinejad’s speech was met by denunciations in the media, including a rare rebuke by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And after Ahmadinejad relinquished the podium, the very next speaker, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, called the Iranian president’s speech “incitement to hatred, spreading politics of fear and promoting an indiscriminate message of intolerance.”

For their part, pro-Israel protesters went on the offensive, interrupting Ahmadinejad’s speech and providing context to the Israel-focused tone of the conference with their own news conferences, demonstrations and Holocaust commemorations—the conference coincided with Yom Hashoah—in Geneva and beyond.

While the singling-out of Israel surprised delegates at the 2001 conference, Israel’s allies worked hard in the months leading up to Geneva to ensure it did not devolve into a repeat of Durban.

To some extent, then, the document’s early adoption Tuesday could be considered a defeat.

The document had been the center of diplomatic activity in the weeks leading up to the conference in Geneva, which was supposed to evaluate progress toward the goals set by the 2001 event.

Diplomats worked late last Friday to hammer out details of the final draft of the document, in part to avoid threats of boycott by countries concerned about its implicit branding of Israel as a racist state. In the end, the changes were insufficient to satisfy concerns by the United States, Australia, Germany and a few other countries, which announced they would not attend the conference. Most European countries, however, did not pull out.

In theory, the document could have been debated and changed at the conference itself, for better or for worse. Indeed, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference called for “open discussion on all issues” at the conference. But any such possibility ended when the draft document was ratified Tuesday with no additional changes.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters the original scheduled adoption date of April 24 was “just in case the main committee needed that much time—just in case various debates reopened or questions were raised.”

“None of that happened,” she said.

Pillay called the document’s early adoption “great news,” saying it “reinvigorates the commitment” of states to combat racism and “highlights the suffering of many groups.”

B’nai B’rith denounced the document’s ratification, calling it “flawed and offensive” and blaming Libya for engineering its early and swift passage.

“We condemn this rubber stamp document in the strongest terms possible,” Richard Heideman, the head of the B’nai B’rith Delegation in Geneva, said. “The adoption of this document shows nothing has changed since 2001, no lessons have been learned.”

Though the document was adopted by consensus, it was tainted by the boycott of 10 nations, including the Czech Republic, whose delegates walked out in protest during Ahmadinejad’s speech and never returned to the conference. Along with the United States, Australia and Germany, the other boycotting countries included Canada, New Zealand, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.

The extent of the boycott was cheered by Jewish and pro-Israel groups, which sought to discredit the Geneva proceedings.

After Monday’s theatrics and Tuesday’s ratification, the remainder of the conference was expected to be taken up by NGO activists criticizing the deprivation of human rights for various peoples, including the Palestinians.

Briefs: Israel reviews Jerusalem dig; U.S. offers reward for Islamic Jihad leader

Israel Reviews Jerusalem Dig

Israel is pressing ahead with a controversial dig near the Temple Mount but will review plans to build at the site. The Jerusalem Municipality announced Monday that a plan to renovate a pedestrian walkway leading from the Temple Mount’s Mughrabi Gate to the Western Wall Plaza would be put on hold to allow for consultations with police and Muslim authorities.

“This is due to the sensitivity of the plan,” the municipality said in a statement, referring to recent Palestinian rioting sparked by Arab allegations that Israel is trying to undermine the foundations of two major Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount.

But the municipality said excavations in the Western Wall Plaza would continue in order to salvage any archeological artifacts that might be damaged by the planned renovation. Israel has said the dig does not threaten the Muslim shrines and is designed to prevent the pedestrian walkway from collapsing due to weather erosion. Muslim leaders have incited their followers in the past with accusations of Jewish plots to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount.

Holocaust Denier Says He Accosted Wiesel

A Holocaust denier claims he is the one who accosted Elie Wiesel, with the aim of kidnapping him. “Eric Hunt” posted an acknowledgment on ZioPedia, an anti-Semitic Web site, saying he followed Wiesel onto an elevator at San Francisco’s Argent hotel after the author, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor participated in a panel on peace. Wiesel reported such an assault on Feb. 1 and San Francisco police are seeking the assailant.

“After ensuring no women would be traumatized by what I had to do (I had been trailing Wiesel for weeks), I stopped the elevator at the sixth floor,” Hunt wrote. “I pulled Wiesel out of the elevator. I said I wanted to interview him. He protested, grabbed at his chest as if he was having a heart attack. He then screamed HELP! HELP! at the top of his lungs.” Hunt said he let Wiesel go because “he was no use to our worldwide struggle for freedom if he had a heart attack.”

He said he “had planned on either getting Wiesel into my custody, with a cornered Wiesel finally forced to state the truth on videotape, getting arrested or fleeing.”

U.S. Offers Reward for Islamic Jihad Leader

The United States put a bounty on the head of a Palestinian terrorist leader. The State Department this week offered up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shallah, who is based in Damascus.

Shallah is wanted for complicity in suicide bombings, murder, extortions and money laundering. Responding to the State Department’s announcement, Islamic Jihad said it would attack American targets if Shallah is taken into custody.

The State Department offered a separate bounty for Mohammed Ali Hamadei, a Lebanese Hezbollah member suspected of involvement in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 that resulted in the murder of a U.S. sailor.

Katsav Complainant Tells All

A woman who accused Israel’s president of raping her gave a full account to a British newspaper. Moshe Katsav’s former secretary, whose name is withheld from publication by law, told Britain’s Sunday Times the president first subjected her to unwanted sexual scrutiny until finally forcing himself on her when she reached up to get a book in his office.

“Maybe I didn’t struggle enough,” she said. “I was shocked. I was thinking, what if people know, what if I don’t have a job.” The complainant — who was described by the newspaper as “Michelle Pfeiffer in Chanel tortoiseshell glasses” — came forward last year, prompting Israel’s attorney general to draft rape charges against Katsav. The Israeli president has denied wrongdoing.

Jewish Groups to Stage Eco-Friendly Conferences

Two Jewish organizations have pledged to offset the carbon produced by their upcoming conferences. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life announced they’ll calculate the amount of carbon produced by their three-day conferences in Washington in late February, and will offset it through reforestation projects. The conferences, which will include nearly 1,000 participants, will limit the amount of carbon they produce through greater energy efficiency and the use of renewables.

“The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is dedicated to doing its part to combat climate change,” said Steve Gutow, the group’s executive director. “Offsetting the carbon emissions from our conference is an easy and effective way to help make a positive difference in our environment.”

The effort, billed as the first of its kind for Jewish groups, will be facilitated by, the country’s leading carbon-offset organization.

Klezmatics Win Grammy Award

The Klezmatics received the Grammy award for Contemporary World Music Album for “Wonder Wheel,” with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Shoah Denial Conference: Damage Assessment

While world Jewry recovers from the shock of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust conference in Tehran, emotions are slowly giving way to analysis.

Why is Ahmadinejad pursuing this foolish crusade against the Holocaust? After all, even he must know that the Holocaust is one of the most documented events in human history and, hence, that denying its reality or even questioning its magnitude and significance is likely to end up in embarrassment. Why then is he so insistent?

The three main reasons analysts cite for Ahmadinejad’s obsession with the Holocaust are themselves questionable. We understand, of course, that by questioning the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad hopes to undermine what he believes was the main justification for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

We also accept Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria’s explanation that “Iran is seeking leadership in the Middle East, and what better way to do so than by appropriating the core grievance of the Sunni Arabs: Israel.”

Finally, Ahmadinejad clearly enjoys ridiculing what he sees as a European double-standard — criminalizing Holocaust deniers on the one hand and advocating free speech on the other.

But these reasons, if they are the real reasons, entail heavy risks for Ahmadinejad. First, a serious risk exists that driven by all the media attention, curious, bright youngsters in Iran and Arab countries will venture to dig into the vast evidence for the Holocaust and upon realizing its magnitude and veracity, begin to ask what other parts of history were purged from their state-controlled education.

Second, promoting the Palestinian cause through Holocaust denial tarnishes the former with all the absurdities of the latter, in much the same way that post-Sept. 11 conspiracy theories have discredited Muslims and weakened their claims.

Lastly, using Holocaust denial as an instrument for delegitimizing Israel may actually backfire. Columbia professor Joseph Massad argued (Al Ahram, 2004) that Arabs’ preoccupation with Holocaust denial creates the impression that the Holocaust, if it were true, suffices to justify the establishment of Israel. This, according to Massad, serves the Zionist agenda, hence, “All those in the Arab world who deny the Jewish Holocaust are in my opinion Zionists.”

My concerns lie elsewhere. I fear that as the buzz winds down and the dust settles, there will be only one thing remembered from the Holocaust Conference in Tehran: Israel and the Holocaust are one. That is, Israel owes its existence to one and only one factor: European guilt over the crime of the Holocaust. Once this is established, the next obvious question is: Why should the Palestinians pay for Europe’s crime?

We, of course, do not see things that way. For us, the State of Israel is the culmination of a long historical process of collective homecoming, not a rescue boat from the claws of Germany. While the Nazi genocide definitely accelerated that process, it did not initiate or redirect it.

The concepts of “Holy Land,” “Shivat Zion,” “Kibbutz Galuyot” — the ingathering of the exiles — three vital engines of Jewish history, are as old as Judaism itself. The majority of the 600,000 Jews who immigrated to Palestine prior to 1940 did not flee the Holocaust nor did the 580,000 Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries in the early 1950s.

Jews are generally aware of the immutable connection between Eretz Israel and Jewishness. We know deep down that Shimon Peres is not less indigenous to the Land of Canaan than, say, Mahmoud Abbas. Yet, we seem unwilling to openly assert it.

Take the movie, “Munich,” for example, written and produced by two educated Jewish artists. While a Palestinian terrorist in the movie is shown yearning for his father’s orchard, you will be wasting your time combing the script for a hint that Israeli society has any clue why they are in Israel and not, say, in Uganda. Tony Kushner knows why; he also knows that every Israeli knows why, yet he apparently did not feel comfortable enough to articulate it anywhere in his script.

I see a similar pattern in the criticism of the Holocaust Conference in Tehran. I hear tons of well-deserved condemnations of Ahmadinejad for orchestrating such an offensive conference but not one voice saying: Hey man! What a waste of time. We don’t need a Shoah to justify a Jewish state on that sliver of land. Our history was born there, and our collective consciousness has remained there.

The main danger that I see emerging from Ahmadinejad’s conference is that the international community, busy to rectify his misconceptions about the Holocaust, would ignore, and in fact mimic, his wanton disregard of the historical, national and religious ties that bind the Jewish people to their ancient land.

They ought to be reminded, and Ahmadinejad has given us a stage to do so.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation

Don’t dismiss Iran Holocaust conference as harmless fringe elements

Even Borat, the bumblingly anti-Semitic comic character, could not have contrived a more absurd and utterly offensive assemblage: David Duke, erstwhile Imperial
Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, alongside Robert Faurisson, the French pseudo-academic who argues that the Holocaust never happened, accompanied for dramatic effect by a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews whose anti-Zionist fanaticism motivates them to desecrate the memory of millions of murdered Jews.

On Monday and Tuesday, they and other likeminded sociopaths “debated” at the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran whether or not my grandparents and my 5 1/2-year-old brother were gassed at Auschwitz. And the sponsors of the “International Conference on ‘Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision'” are the very folks James Baker and Lee Hamilton, authors of a recent re-evaluation of U.S. policy in Iraq, want to enlist to stabilize the Middle East.

Other participants in this perversion included Australian socialite Michele Renouf, who explained that anti-Semitism is caused by “the anti-gentile nature of Judaism,” and Rabbis Moishe Arye Friedman from Austria and Ahron Cohen from England, who strutted through the conference halls and gladly posed for the cameras.

Friedman told the press that he believes that only about 1 million Jews perished in the Holocaust, and Cohen declared that he does not consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who sponsored the conference and who has called frequently for the Jewish state to be destroyed, an anti-Semite.

The Tehran reunion of misfits demonstrates conclusively why the Ahmadinejad government cannot be allowed anywhere near responsible political endeavors of any kind. If the international community ostracized South Africa during apartheid and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it should isolate present-day Iran in the most remote diplomatic Siberia imaginable.

Ahmadinejad has made it clear that his espousal of Holocaust denial is a pretext for his desire to destroy the State of Israel. In response, a group of Iranian students showed tremendous moral courage by publicly demonstrating against their president, burning his picture and protesting the “shameful conference” which, in the words of one student, “brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world.”

In contrast, the reaction of the U.S. government was surprisingly, even shockingly, subdued. Substantially after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Tony Blair all sharply condemned the Tehran conference, the White House issued a statement calling the event an “affront to the entire civilized world” and accusing the Iranian regime of providing “a platform for hatred.”

President Bush, however, has not personally spoken out on the subject, relegating his administration’s response to an institutional press release. The man who usually never misses an opportunity to bash one of the charter members of his Axis of Evil seems to have developed laryngitis.

So, apparently, have Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their failure to use their bully pulpit on this occasion not only plays into Ahmadinejad’s hands, but serves to empower Holocaust deniers generally.

Why does the Tehran conference have ominous significance? Because Duke, who managed to get 43 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful 1990 U.S. Senate campaign from Louisiana, will now be able to tell students at colleges in heartland America with a straight face that his contention that there were never any gas chambers has international academic and institutional support. And because the noxious views emanating from the podium in Tehran are hardly unique.

Pat Buchanan, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and now a well-paid television commentator, would have fit in perfectly. He once wrote that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of Treblinka and has referred to a “so-called Holocaust-survivor syndrome” which he described as involving “group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.”

Professor Deborah Lipstadt has long maintained that while we should never engage Holocaust deniers in debate, we must nevertheless expose them at every opportunity. The Tehran conference is not just another gathering of skinheads in some obscure beer cellar; it is a government-sponsored effort to evoke and manipulate the darkest, most heinous impulses in society.

Every single one of us, from the president of the United States on down, must repudiate this inexorable obscenity publicly, unambiguously and in person.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

U.S. Jewish Population Rising; California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact

U.S. Jewish Population Rising?

The new American Jewish Yearbook reports that there are 6.4 million Jews in the United States. That’s significantly more than the 5.2 million figure provided by the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study.

The yearly survey, published by the American Jewish Committee, is based on a tally of individual Jewish communities across the country. According to the survey, 2.2 percent of the American population is Jewish. New York has the largest Jewish population of any state with 1,618,000, followed by California with 1,194,000, Florida with 653,000 and New Jersey with 480,000, the AJCommittee said in a release.

California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact

The state of California and the state of Israel have jointly established a commission to encourage their citizens to visit each other, proving again that the Golden State is big enough to conduct its own foreign policy. At a recent ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Isaac Herzog, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, signed an agreement launching the California-Israel Tourism Commission. Both credited Los Angeles-based media mogul Haim Saban for the initiative to establish the commission.

During the ceremony, Schwarzenegger recalled that he has visited Israel three times, first as a body builder, then to open his Planet Hollywood restaurant in Tel Aviv and last year for the groundbreaking of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

No breakdown was available on the number of Californians visiting Israel, or Israelis visiting California, however, the latest figures from Israeli tourism officials showed that between January-September of this year, 1.5 million tourists came to Israel, of whom 400,000 were Americans. In 2005, Israel had 2 million visitors, among them 533,000 Americans.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Iran Hosts Holocaust Deniers Conference

The Iranian government held a conference of Holocaust deniers and skeptics this week, a discussion of whether 6 million Jews actually were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

A report in The New York Times quoted the opening speech by Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies, which organized the event, saying that the conference would allow discussion “away from Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them in Europe.”

Speakers at the event include David Duke, the American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in France over his denials of the Holocaust, the Times reported.

— Staff Report

Seattle Rabbi Regrets Xmas Tree Removal

A Chabad rabbi in Seattle expressed regret that his request to add a menorah to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport’s display of Christmas trees resulted in the trees’ removal.

“I am devastated, shocked and appalled at the decision that the Port of Seattle came to,” Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Pacific Northwest said in Monday’s Seattle Times.

Last week, Bogomilsky’s attorney Harvey Grad threatened the port with a lawsuit after not receiving a response to a request, first made in October, to install an 8-foot menorah, which Bogomilsky offered to supply.

Port Commissioner Pat Davis told the Times that the commission had not heard about the request until Dec. 7, the day before Grad was to head to court.

An airport spokesperson said it was decided to take down the trees because the airport, preparing for its busiest season, did not have time to accommodate all the religions that would have wanted a display.

The removal resulted in a firestorm of criticism, much of it directed at Bogomilsky, who said he never wanted to see the trees removed.

Thousands March for Hezbollah

Hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hezbollah marched in downtown Beirut Sunday to demand that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora either cede some government power to the terrorist group and its allies or resign, The Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah has been pressing for increased power since its war with Israel over the summer. Lebanese troops Sunday sealed off Siniora’s compound, as well as the roads nearby. Siniora and most of his ministers have stayed in the complex since Dec. 1, when Hezbollah launched massive protests aimed at toppling Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Senate Approves Red ‘Crystal’

The U.S. Senate certified the Red “Crystal,” paving the way for Magen David Adom’s acceptance into the International Red Cross’ bodies. The Red Cross approved the symbol which resembles a playing card diamond earlier this year, ending a decades-long shutout of non-Muslim and non-Christian groups such as Israel’s first responder, which rejected using the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols as inappropriate. The Red Cross had also rejected the Star of David symbol used by MDA.

The Senate’s certification last Friday, the last day of Congress, protects the symbol’s copyright and follows similar legislation passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Israeli Hostages Said Wounded

Two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah since July were seriously wounded during their capture, security sources said. Israeli security sources last week quoted a declassified military report that said bloodstains and other evidence gathered at the site of the July 12 border raid in which Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were seized showed the hostages were seriously wounded.

To survive, the sources said, the two army reservists would have required immediate medical attention, something that may not have been available in the custody of the Lebanese terrorist group.

Hezbollah has refused to provide information on the captives’ condition, saying it would only release them as part of a swap for Arabs held in Israeli jails. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out a swap on Hezbollah’s terms unless the terrorist group provides information on the soldiers’ health. The captives’ families criticized the release of forensic details from the raid.

“I think this may be an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to lower pressure to get the kidnapped soldiers freed,” Regev’s brother, Benny, told Israel Radio.

U.S., Israeli officials see conflicting Iraq study ideas

American and Israeli government officials agree on two things: Iraq has nothing at all to do with Israeli-Arab issues.

Except when it does.

From President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on down, the leadership of the Israeli and U.S. governments are simultaneously embracing and rebuffing last week’s conclusions of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, which makes Israeli-Arab peace progress a linchpin of a successful outcome in Iraq. The crux of their argument is that while it is wrong to blame the Israeli-Arab impasse for any part of the crisis in Iraq, actors in that crisis — chief among them Iran and its allies — are successfully using Israel as a justification for raising the stakes in Iraq.

“We do this not because we are persuaded by some linkage or another, but because it is in the U.S. national interest,” David Welch, the top U.S. State Department envoy to the Middle East, said Friday of U.S. involvement in Arab-Israeli peace when he addressed the Saban Forum, an annual colloquy of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Another Bush administration official put it more bluntly: “Palestine is not a relevant issue to Iraq, but it is an issue exploited by Iran and extremists throughout the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab-Israeli peace talks would have a “positive, emboldening effect,” the official said. “If progress among Israel and the Palestinians is manifested, then moderates throughout the region win and extremists lose.”

Conversely, the official said, “We believe that a success in Iraq, a success for moderates against forces of extremism, whether secular or religious, will have a very significant impact in the region, in Syria, in Lebanon, as well as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Bush administration has welcomed Olmert’s recent overture to the Palestinians, in which he promised a release of prisoners and increased mobility, should a cease-fire hold and the Palestinians prove themselves able to present a negotiating team that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s existence.

Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president, has all but given up on such concessions from the Cabinet, led by the terrorist Hamas group, and has proposed new elections.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, said at the Saban Forum that Israel and the West should encourage alternatives to the Hamas government, although she did not elaborate.

Bush launched a weeklong review of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on Monday, starting with meetings with top State Department officials. Later in the week he was to have met with outside experts, top U.S. diplomats in the region and top military brass.

His primary concern about the report is its deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. Bush has steadfastly resisted timetables until now. However, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is scheduled to tour the region, Bush suggested that he embraces the report’s Iraq-Israeli-Palestinian linkage, counting it as one of three ways to move the Iraq process forward.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to be solved,” the president said.

That’s music to the ears of Blair and other Europeans. They enthusiastically welcomed the recommendations of the commission headed by James Baker, secretary of state for Bush’s father, and Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana Democratic congressman.

“The German government shares many of the political observations in the report,” a statement from the German Embassy in Washington said last week on the eve of a U.S. visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The entire Middle East region must move into the international community’s scope. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance.”

Such views were hardly welcome at the Saban Forum, where the Iraq Study Group’s report lent an anxious irritability to the weekend proceedings. The Saban Center, a Brookings Institution subsidiary funded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, attracts top names to its annual colloquies. Last year’s was in Jerusalem.

“The Iraqi conflict has very little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” Yuli Tamir, Israel’s education minister, said during a break from the conference’s closed sessions. “I don’t think it’s relevant — it’s a good justification but not a reason.”

On Sunday, Olmert, who had earlier suggested that he disagrees with the report’s conclusions, ordered his Cabinet not to comment on it, saying it was an internal American affair.

Livni did not mention the Baker-Hamilton report by name, but its conclusions were clearly the focus of her keynote address at a gala State Department dinner last Friday.

“There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East; that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region,” Livni said. “So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism.”

Nevertheless, in the same speech Livni was preoccupied by how Iran would fare in the Iraq crisis — and what a success by its Shiite Muslim protégés in Iraq would bode for Israel and the region.

“The idea of spreading Shiism all over the region is a threat not only to Israel but the region itself,” she said, citing efforts by the Hezbollah terrorist group to topple Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Bush expressed wariness about the commission’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria. He was adamant that those countries are out of bounds until they stop backing terrorists. If Syria and Iran are “not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up” to a regional conference on Iraq, he said after meeting with Blair.

Iran’s ambitions dominated much of the Saban Forum. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke darkly of the possibility of war in a Saturday panel with former President Bill Clinton.

“Iran’s strength derives from the weakness of the international community,” Peres said. “If there was an international coalition, there would be no need to go to war against Iran, and Iran would return to its natural dimensions.”

Israel backs U.S. and European efforts to sanction Iran until it gives up enriching uranium, a step toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Peres described a range of options to prevent Iran’s nuclearization: monitoring its missiles with nuclear warhead capability, economic sanctions, limiting its oil production and assisting regime change.

GA taps into passion, will, power of the people

Perhaps it was the civilian, Karnit Goldwasser, who said it most clearly: “There are so many powerful and important people gathered together here. Together, we must raise up our voices.”

Goldwasser’s specific intent was to urge the thousands of Jewish leaders and a cadre of Israeli ministers present at the United Jewish Communities 75th annual General Assembly to keep up the pressure to rescue her husband, Ehud, who was kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists in July along with two other Israeli soldiers.

But in a larger sense, tapping into the power of the collective passion, will and resources of the Jewish establishment was at the heart of this year’s GA, which had as its highlight an address Tuesday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The event concluded on Wednesday after four days at the downtown Los Angeles Convention Center.

The GA brings together federation leaders and representatives of just about every Jewish organization in North America and Israel for a combination trade show, policy conference and marathon pep rally. Officials said the event attracted 5,000 participants and volunteers — protected by a hypervigilant private security battalion and a phalanx of LAPD officers — making this the largest GA since the 2003 gathering in Jerusalem.

GA officials would not say how much the event cost, but The Los Angeles Federation estimated it expended about $200,000 in staff time and hard costs, money that leaders have been saving since they began planning the L.A. GA 13 years ago.

The mood was dark at many of the plenaries, which focused on the threats to Israel, the international fear of Islamic fundamentalism and the specter of a nuclear Iran.

Speakers from the prime minister on down, at numerous sessions and speeches, hammered home the point that Israel’s first and foremost security threat was a nuclear-armed Iran ruled by a president who has declared his intention to “wipe Israel off the map.”

“We in the intelligence community are willing to pay billions of dollars to learn what our enemies are thinking,” Israel’s Intelligence Minister Avi Dikter told an audience at a Tuesday panel with Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. “The president of Iran is putting it on the table free of charge.”

The GA’s theme, “Together on the Frontline: One People, One Destiny,” emphasized Israel’s security, politics and relationship with the Diaspora. Yet in addition to the spotlight on Israel, more than 150 organizational exhibitors and 60 sessions cut a wide swath through Jewish life, highlighting issues such as reaching out to family caregivers, raising young philanthropists and innovations in Jewish education.

Speaking at the opening plenary, Goldwasser’s anguished but unfathomably poised plea to Israel and the international community to keep attention on the abducted soldiers brought choked-up delegates in the enormous exhibition hall to their feet. It was a moment of emotion that speaks to why a GA is important: Being in a room with so many people who are so moved by the same thing ignites a passion and energy that reminds people that Jews belong to each other.

“It’s a remarkable ingathering of all of these people, where we have an opportunity to share ideas and talk and teach each other,” said Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles. “I’m not sure there are too many moments of this magnitude where you can get a sense of Jewish peoplehood the way you do here.”

This year brought an unprecedented six Israeli Knesset members and six Cabinet ministers — including Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — and dignitaries such as French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy and Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria.

The star power was also on hand with appearances by the likes of Mare Winningham, Jeff Goldblum and Jon Voight and Jewish musical favorites Debbie Friedman and Mike Burstyn. But what the conference was for was pumping up leaders for another year of raising both Jewish consciousness and philanthropic dollars. The networking over dinner and in organizational receptions and the casual contacts made on the perennially snaking line to the Starbucks in the Convention Center lobby were just as key to strengthening the Jewish network as the official program.

A highlight was the sold-out Monday night show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, with a Yiddish theater revue and selections from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music.

Before the war with Hezbollah this summer, the theme of the GA was “Be With the Stars,” a Hollywood-esque way of highlighting the community’s major players and programs, as well as looking to the future stars — the next generation of leaders.

But the upbeat star theme gave way to the more earnest “Together on the Frontline: One People, One Destiny,” focusing on Israel and international Jewry’s responsibility for and relationship with Israel.

“The program really touched on topics and issues that were on people’s minds. We focused on what people are thinking about, and we had overflow crowds,” said Glenn Rosenkrantz, director of media affairs at UJC.

The organization, which last year raised $3 billion among all the federations, has raised $350 million for Israel since the war this summer (which probably explains the presence of the 12 Israeli politicians).

Many participants interviewed said they were glad to have the chance to more deeply understand what feels like an existential crisis.

John Fishel, president of The Los Angeles Federation, said he understood and supported the decision to focus on Israel but regretted some of the compromises that had to be made.

“I guess I would have preferred more of a balance in terms of some of the domestic issues,” said Fishel, the conference’s host and go-to guy for all sorts of situations. “The Federation’s mandate is not only Israel or overseas projects, it is about local and domestic issues, whether that be public policy, service delivery or discussions about Jewish identity and innovations in Jewish education,” he said.

It also meant that sessions that had been scheduled to feature local Jewish organizations ended up being pushed aside.

Battle of the sexes reaches Talmudic teachings — why can’t girls learn Gemara?

When Sharon Stein Merkin attended a Modern Orthodox religious day school in Los Angeles, she didn’t learn Mishna or Gemara, the Oral law, because her school, like most in the 1980s and ’90s, didn’t teach women Talmud.

But it was only when she attended seminary in Israel after high school and started studying Talmud that this fact began to bother her.

“I wasn’t as disturbed that I didn’t learn Gemara, but as I was that I didn’t have a historical background,” she said.

“My friends who graduated with me didn’t even know the difference between a Mishna and Gemara,” she said, referring to the two components that make up the Oral Law:

The Mishna, the rabbinic interpretations of the Torah compiled in 200 C.E., and the Gemara, which over the next three centuries explicated it in Aramaic. Together they make up the Talmud, which serves as the primary source of halacha, or Jewish law.

After she returned from Israel, Merkin went back to her school to talk with the rabbis. “If they don’t agree to teach Gemara, they should explain at least the historical context and give girls some education in it. It’s part of our heritage and it’s part of Jewish learning,” she told them. Although they listened, they didn’t make any changes.

The question of whether Talmud is indeed part of Jewish learning for girls and women in traditional Orthodox education has come under debate in the last two decades in Orthodox circles. It also will be one of the topics on the agenda at a Nov. 5 conference, “Teaching Our Daughters: What Should We Expect From Their Orthodox Day School Education?” sponsored by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), a New York-based organization whose mission is “to expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha.”

The study of Talmud isn’t the only item on the agenda, said Merkin, who hopes that the conversation can be productive and positive.

Merkin is one of the dozen or so organizers of this first local conference, which is open to both women and men and is co-sponsored by B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Congregation Beth Jacob, Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, Shalhevet School and the Westwood Village Synagogue.

The conference will focus on enriching girls’ education in day schools through curricula that put more focus on women’s contributions, as well as a more balanced approach from administrators in developing comprehensive programs, both in and out of the classroom, for boys and girls, organizers say.

The centerpiece of the conference will be a presentation of a curriculum, developed by JOFA for Orthodox classrooms, that encourages students and teachers to more thoroughly analyze the role of the imahot, the foremothers, in the stories in Genesis. It also looks at issues such as modesty and brit milah (circumcision) and the different forms of convenants with God.

But for many who want their daughters to have a complete Jewish education, the study of the Talmud is at the center of the debate.

Traditionally, and for many centuries, women did not study Talmud, since it is written there “Nashim Datan Kalot,” a text that has many interpretations, but at its most literal means that women have simple minds.

“We view it more as: not prone to in-depth logical exercises as much as men are,” said Rabbi Daniel N. Korobkin, the Rosh Kehilla, spiritual adviser, of Yavneh, an elementary day school in Hancock Park.

Although he declined to speak in particular about his school’s curriculum, in which the boys learn Mishna and Talmud and the girls focus more on Jewish law, Bible and prophets, he said his school follows the tradition of the community. “It’s been a long-standing tradition that boys have a different thinking pattern from women: not superior, not inferior, just different. The kinds of logical exercises one finds in the Talmud is more appropriate to a male mind than a women’s mind,” he said. But, he said, the Talmud does not prohibit it, it only discourages it as “not the most productive use of a women’s time.”

At Korobkin’s own adult shiurim, or classes, he welcomes women.

“Everyone is welcome because the Talmud speaks in generalities, and not in specifics,” he said, explaining why in his classes he does not abide the idea that women’s minds aren’t made for Talmud study. “If a woman feels her mind is more inclined to logic and concreteness, she should study Talmud,” he said.

While Modern Orthodox schools on the East Coast for many years have been teaching Talmud to girls, schools in Los Angeles have been slow to do so. Although in recent years, some Los Angeles Orthodox schools –Shalhevet School and Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy — have put Talmud into the girls’ programs. (At Shalhevet, unlike at all the other schools, boys and girls are not separated by gender for their classes.)

“When we were reviewing our curriculum and program goals three years ago, we wanted to make sure that we were giving a quality level of education to all of our students, and to be able to give everyone a product that would stimulate them and challenge them and increase their own fulfillment in having access to Torah learning,” said Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, headmaster of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, an elementary school in Beverly Hills.

Sufrin will speak on a panel at the JOFA conference, with a representative from Shalhevet School and others, to be moderated by Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Jewish Journal education editor.

Two years ago, Hillel began teaching Mishna to girls as well as boys in fourth through sixth grades and now girls in seventh and eight grades are learning Gemara.

“As our students are exposed to so much more in their lives and as Jewish education encompasses both genders and so many of our current generation are professionally involved in Jewish life and Torah learning at all levels, there’s no reason why both genders should not be exposed to girls learning all aspects of Torah. It gives them a very important key,” Sufrin said, adding that that such study helps women understand Bible commentaries and understand areas where everyone agrees they should be involved.

“It also gives them a sense that they have a connection to the entire Torah, and in today’s society that’s important,” he said. “It’s not an issue of being equal — it’s an issue of giving them what they deserve.”

Promoting Jewish Learning

On a recent Friday afternoon, the chapel bells at Duke University chimed “Shalom Aleichem” as about 1,300 educators gathered for the 31st annual conference of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE).

Billed as “Jewish Literacy: A Learned Community and a Community of Learners,” CAJE 31 was a raw, messy, creative affair, with 20 sessions held every hour for five days on such wide-reaching topics as “God Shopping,” “The Jews of Sing-Sing,” “Assessing Our Relationship to Israel” and “Jews as Global Citizens.” Many of the sessions focused on teaching methodology, text-based learning and creative approaches to Judaism. Participants also met for in-depth discussions on every Jewish theme imaginable, all with the goal of energizing teachers and students for the coming year.

Teachers, storytellers, dancers, rabbis and teenagers training for future leadership positions ran through the southern heat across the sprawling campus looking for classrooms, some of which were buried two floors underground. They also browsed through Duke’s Bryan Center and an array of vendors displaying items such as teaching materials, custom-made crossword puzzles, jewelry and handmade Jewish arts and crafts.

Most of the sessions and evening keynote speeches addressed the issue of Jewish literacy, focusing on how being Jewishly literate means familiarity not just with texts, a bar mitzvah portion, Israeli history or Jewish dance, but with a stew of all those elements and much more.

In a session on adult learners led by Betsy Dolgin Katz, North American director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, one participant said, “Something that changed my life was learning to read Torah at age 40.”

The session also focused on how much emphasis is placed on children’s preparation for b’nei mitzvah and becoming full participants in Jewish life, while parents might not have had an equivalent education and may feel left behind.

Cherie Koller-Fox, a founder of CAJE, held a session on the challenges young teachers face when deciding whether or not to enter the field of Jewish education at all. She encouraged them to assert themselves when asking for the salaries and support they would need to make a career in Jewish education work for them, and urged them to take the reins of CAJE for a new generation.

“CAJE looks old and decrepit, but it needs to be yours,” she told them. “You desperately need it, but it desperately needs you.”

A special session was held each night where teachers and community leaders discussed how to teach the war in Lebanon in the upcoming school year and shared personal feelings about Israel. Some educators stressed the importance of promoting a connection between children and Israel. One participant said, “They should identify with Israel like it’s their own home being bombed, because it is their home being bombed.” Another participant grew pensive over the thought that peace in the Middle East would truly not be achieved in his lifetime.

A few teachers worried that children would grow up with negative impressions of Israel due to media coverage or bias, while others expressed happiness that some of the myths about Israel as only a heroic nation might dissipate.

The war in Lebanon aside, some educators, especially from small communities, were happy to be surrounded by so many fellow travelers.

Ellen Ben-Naim, a teacher at Los Alamos Jewish Center in New Mexico that draws much of its congregation from the nearby research laboratory, said that in her school of 20 students, 7,000 feet up a mountain, even the rabbi is also a full-time physicist.

“This is like a mecca for me. Well, maybe that’s not the right word,” she said, adding that the diversity of Jewish life exhibited at CAJE astounded her. Back home, she said, “there is only one tent in town for everybody.”

Lynne Diwinsky, a teacher at the New City Jewish Center in New City, N.Y., enjoyed CAJE as a prelude to the school year.

“I see [CAJE] as a renewal. It happens right before Rosh Hashanah to get ready for the coming year,” she said. “I love the interchange with other professionals.”

Eliot Spack, CAJE’s outgoing executive director, said, “CAJE provides a recharging of their batteries,” referring to the educators who attend.

He called the conference “a celebration of Jewish teaching: “CAJE has inspired people not in a manipulative or proselytizing way, but it’s helped people come to grips with their own Judaism.”

Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council and longtime CAJE-goer, said that making connections and being able to access new materials is important for educators.

“West of the Hudson River, where are people going to get this plethora of books and materials?” she asked.

Avraham Infeld, outgoing president of Hillel, delivered a fiery keynote address on the topic of Jewish identity. He said out of five legs of Judaism — memory, family, Sinai, the people and land of Israel and the Hebrew language — each Jew should learn three. That way, everyone would have at least one Jewish connection in common.

Infeld also mentioned a phrase his late father used to repeat that subtly echoed the conference’s theme: “A Jew has to know more today than he did yesterday.”

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Week.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?


Who’s afraid of the big bad AIPAC?

Andrew Silow-Carroll should have been.

In 1991, Carroll was the acting editor of The Washington Jewish Week, a highly decorated and well-respected independent newspaper. In 1992, he wasn’t. The reason? He went to a picnic.

Generally, the worst that’ll happen at a picnic is ants or the theft of a lunch basket by your smarter-than-average bear. This particular outing found Carroll representing his paper before a consortium of left-of-center Israeli groups, a reasonably standard weekend activity for a Jewish journalist. But also present was an intern from AIPAC, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, who was quietly huddled in the crowd, scribbling out a record of the day’s events, notably Carroll’s speech. Awhile back, AIPAC had asked Carroll to replace the reporter on the AIPAC beat. Carroll had refused.

When the intern’s report was handed in, the story goes, AIPAC’s all-purpose enforcer quickly pulled a few quotes from Carroll’s talk, turned it into a memo, and circulated it among The Washington Jewish Week’s board members. Shortly thereafter, Carroll was demoted and stripped of responsibilities. He subsequently resigned.

And so I ask again: Who’s afraid of the big bad AIPAC?

The answer is nearly everybody. Many of my colleagues were horrified to learn I was writing an article on the lobby, repeatedly warning me that it’d mean curtains for my career — I half expected to wake up one morning to find a dismembered menorah in my bed.

While reporting this piece, I spoke to numerous former AIPAC employees, many professionals knowledgeable about their operations and a number of journalists who’d written on them in the past. Almost no one was willing to go on the record. But they were willing, even eager, to talk, like kids with long-bottled secrets who’d finally found someone to tell. As often happens, however, the actual information, so long concealed, seemed more tantalizing than it really was. For that matter, AIPAC, while looming large in their minds, wasn’t nearly so intimidating in the retelling.

If you don’t follow Washington lobbying — or official efforts to boost Israel — you might draw a blank on hearing the word AIPAC. First of all, it isn’t a PAC in the campaign-finance sense; the name predates the rise of Gingrich-style political action committees in the popular consciousness. That’s led to some confusion, as AIPAC doesn’t actually donate to candidates. Instead, it compiles copious research on voting records and other activities. This research is then relied on by many donors — primarily Jewish ones — when deciding whose coffers to fill. Impressing AIPAC, then, is one of Washington’s quickest routes to significant fundraising, especially if AIPAC doesn’t hold your opponent in high esteem.

In addition, the organization has a powerful lobbying operation, so powerful, in fact, that Fortune magazine ranked it in the top five, and both Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton have called AIPAC the best in town. But much of this influence comes from a carefully protected image that relies on two main components: The first is the grand conference, where speakers have included Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Bill Frist, Condoleeza Rice, Howard Dean, Dennis Hastert, John Kerry, Gingrich, John McCain and numerous others. The upcoming conference in Los Angeles features an address from Bill Clinton.

Psychologists call this social proof. It’s why companies pay celebrities to wear their products and evangelists pepper their literature with testimonials: When others are doing something, particularly high-status others, bystanders tend to attach value to the action or product in question. So if Tiger Woods is wearing Nikes, that says something about Nikes. If Madonna is sporting a red string, it makes a point about the Kabbalah Centre. And if every major politician of the past few decades believes it de rigeur to drop in on AIPAC, so will every politician of the next few decades. One wonders if they even know why they’re doing it anymore.

The second is a reputation for defeating any and every politician who crosses them. But as one senior house aide argued to me, “The idea that members who cross AIPAC are defeated is very rarely true, but it’s nevertheless an effective myth.” What AIPAC actually does, he said, “is shoot the dead and the wounded,” attacking already-weakened politicians who AIPAC knows can be defeated — and thus used to bolster its image. When it goes after strong incumbents, as it did in 1988 with Rhode Island’s John Chafee, AIPAC can and does fail. Nor does AIPAC support spell certain success. Indeed, one analysis found that, in 1992, five of the top 10 recipients of pro-Israel donations lost their elections.

But that may be beside the point. Politicians not only want to avoid defeat, they want to avoid trouble. And AIPAC specializes in presenting the implied threat of serious bother. Comfy incumbents who know they can’t be toppled nevertheless don’t want to be hounded by Jewish constituents, denounced by local rabbis, abandoned by Jewish contributors and challenged by a suddenly richer, pro-Israel candidate. So they go along to get along.

That, however, is how the game works, how lobbies operate — and not just AIPAC. It’s not that AIPAC invented the game or perfected something new, but it helps that AIPAC’s actions have been so shrouded in secrecy and innuendo that its reputation has become far darker than its reality. And that’s the fault of the press. With so many of my colleagues scared to write on AIPAC and so many half-known stories wafting round the office, it’s inevitable that few would look deep enough to demythologize AIPAC. So it’s perhaps a bit ironic that the journalist most willing to soften the lobby’s image was the one at the center of a storied act of press intimidation.

I reached Carroll at his office in New Jersey. Now editor-in-chief at The New Jersey Jewish News, Carroll was fully willing to retell his tale, but insistent that it’s time to update the story. AIPAC, he said, is not the organization it once was. Pre-Rabin, the organization enthusiastically stifled debate, but once the left rose to power in Israel, AIPAC’s more conservative members, not to mention the larger Orthodox community, realized they needed room for dissent. Indeed, Rabin himself, in a meeting with AIPAC, is reported to have demanded that AIPAC stop the intimidation, real or implied, and allow the Jewish community to speak freely again. After that, Carroll says, AIPAC has been much less involved in controlling the press.

Fears of retribution then are somewhat vestigial. In any case, Steven J. Rosen, the pit bull whom Carroll blamed for his demotion (and AIPAC’s reputation), is now standing trial in the wake of an espionage investigation and being denounced by his former employer. Is that ingratitude or maturity on the part of AIPAC — or merely savvy?

Carroll’s ordeal was almost 15 years ago. So are most of the tales of AIPAC intimidation. Since that time, America has changed, Israel has changed and so has AIPAC. What hasn’t changed is AIPAC’s reputation.

Maybe it’s time that it did.

Ezra Klein is a writing fellow at The American Prospect.












All About AIPAC

Jews Forced to Flee Arabs Want Redress

Jews who fled Arab countries following the creation of the State of Israel are preparing to launch a new campaign for restitution.

Meeting in London at a forum organized by the World Organization for Jews From Arab Countries and Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, Jewish representatives from 14 nations met for two days last week to create the steering committee for the International Campaign for Rights and Redress.

The group plans to conduct an international advocacy and public education campaign on the heritage and rights of former Jewish refugees, documenting human rights violations against those who fled Arab countries, as well as their lost assets.

The director of the justice group, Stanley Urman, said the summit was a landmark occasion.

“It is a commitment by Jewish communities in 14 countries on five continents to once and for all document the historical injustice perpetrated against Jews in Arab countries,” he said. “It is not just a theoretical and educational exercise; it is concrete.”

Supported by the Israeli government, the plan also has the backing of Jewish communities in North and South America, Europe and Australia, with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International and the World Sephardi Congress involved.

“We are delighted to play a key role in this crucial project,” said Henry Grunwald, president of British Jewry’s umbrella group, the Board of Deputies. “The plight of Jews from Arab countries is all too often a cause that we in the wider Jewish community forget, and we must act to educate and raise awareness of this important issue.”

Organizers long have been unhappy that the issue of Palestinian refugees largely has eclipsed the question of the nearly 900,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries around the 1948 creation of the State of Israel. They want the Jewish refugees’ fate addressed as well in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Approximately 600,000 of these refugees settled in Israel; by 2001, fewer than 8,000 Jews remained in Arab countries. The displaced Jews were recognized as refugees by the United Nations, but there was virtually no international response to their plight.

The only way that the rights of former Jewish refugees can be asserted, organizers believe, is through an international advocacy campaign. They will launch the campaign in March with a special month of commemoration to highlight the torture, detention, loss of citizenship and seizure of property suffered by many Jewish refugees.

“This is a milestone in the effort to address the historic injustice to the Jewish communities in Arab countries,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We hope that this renewed, unified campaign will not only succeed in creating a comprehensive data bank, but will also put this issue on the agenda of the international community, which has neglected it for so long.” Data on the communal and individual assets lost in the mass displacements — incorporating public education, the collection of testimonies and programs to lobby media and governments — will be collected and preserved in a special unit established in Israel’s Ministry of Justice.

Urman declined to speculate on the value of the Jewish refugees’ assets, insisting that the fundamental issue was justice rather than compensation. Redress might come in many forms, he said, from a commitment to protect and preserve historical Jewish sites in Arab lands to the endowment of chairs at universities to preserve Middle Eastern Jewish culture.

In Iraq, the Jewish community numbered around 140,000 before being mostly dispersed in the 1950s. Like many others in his community, Maurice Shohet, president of Bene Naharayim, the Iraqi Jewish community in New York, abandoned his possessions when he fled Iraq with his family in 1970 at age 21.

The combined assets Iraqi Jewry left behind now could be worth billions of dollars. When the U.S.-led Iraq War began in 2003, the prospect of an elected, post-Saddam government offered some hope of restitution for the community.

But “so far, all we are hearing is the voice of the insurgents,” said Shohet, who visited his hometown of Baghdad last year, but cut short his trip because of violence.

With divisions rampant within Iraq society and the government still going through a transition period, compensation still seems far away. Yet that makes the issue more urgent, Urman said.

After Israel’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, there might also be a new impetus toward fresh talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If Gaza results in renewed commitment by the Palestinian Authority to advance serious peace negotiations, it will have moved us forward to a resolution of both the Arab and Jewish refugee issues,” Urman said. “But it’s a big if.”


Clash of Ideas Should Be Addressed

The age of terror, it seems, has sprouted an era of dialogue. A host of conferences designed to bring together East and West are cropping up everywhere.

Never before, perhaps, have so many talked so optimistically about so serious a problem. But behind all the words is one unspoken disagreement that may imperil any chance for progress.

My direct encounter with this optimism took place at a high-profile get-together, the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, in mid-April. Organized by the Qatar government and the Brookings Institution, the conference was packed with more than 150 scholars and leaders from all sides who diligently discussed both the needs and the means for achieving democracy, reforms and renaissance in the Muslim world. Strikingly, there was hardly a Muslim speaker who did not tie the implementation of such reforms to progress toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahla to Rami Khouri, editor of The Daily Star in Lebanon, almost every speaker ended his or her speech with a reminder that American credibility hinges critically on progress toward resolving the Palestinian problem.

This critical connection also livened up discussions at the World Economic Forum in Jordan in mid-May. According to The Economist, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, “barked: Palestine!” every time Liz Cheney, an assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department, mentioned the vision of an “Arab democratic spring.”

“There will be no spring or autumn or winter or summer without solving the problem,” he thundered.

But the distinctive and refreshing feature of the Doha conference was the civility with which this issue was discussed. The word “occupation” was hardly mentioned, and the usual accusatory terms “brutal,” “colonial,” “racist,” “apartheid,” etc., were pleasantly absent from the main discourse; all claims and grievances were neatly encapsulated into a modest call for “progress toward a solution.”

This stood in sharp contrast to another East-West conference earlier in April in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in which the Malaysian prime minister reportedly stated that Israel should cease to be “an exclusively Jewish racist state,” and where the overwhelming majority of participants, representing 34 countries, demanded that Israel be dismantled.

Enticed by the aura of civility in Doha, and as a representative of an organization committed to East-West dialogue, I was curious to find out what speakers had in mind when they pressed for “progress on the Palestine issue” — progress toward what?

Deep in my heart, I had hoped that the elite delegates in Doha would be more accommodating than those in Putrajaya, and that, safe in the protection of private discussions, I would find progressive Muslims who are genuinely behind the so called “two-state solution” and the “road map” leading to it. If this were not the case, I thought, then we are in big trouble again — Muslims might be nourishing a utopian dream that the West cannot accept, and sooner or later, the whole dialogue process, and all the good will and reforms that depend on it, would blow up in the same conflagration that consumed the Oslo process.

I was not the only American concerned with such gloomy scenarios. Richard Holbrook, America’s former ambassador to the United Nations, urged the Arab world to contribute its fair share toward meaningful movement of the peace process. He reminded the audience that by now, two and a half generations of Arabs have been brought up on textbooks that do not show Israel on any map, and that such continued denial, on a grass-roots level, is a major hindrance to any peaceful settlement.

I had a friendly conversation on this issue with one of Dahlan’s aides, who confessed that “we, Palestinians, do not believe in a two-state solution, for we do not agree to the notion of ‘Jewish state.’ Judaism is a religion,” he added “and religions should not have states.”

When I pointed out that Israeli society is 70 percent secular, bonded by history, not religion, and that by “Jewish state,” Israelis mean “national Jewish state,” he replied: “Still, the area of Palestine is too small for two states.”

This I found somewhat disappointing, given the official Palestinian Authority endorsement of the road map plan.

“Road map to what?” I thought, “to a Middle East without Israel?” Arafat’s death has presumably put an end to such fantasies.

I discussed my disappointment with an Egyptian scholar renowned as “a champion of liberalism.” His answer was even more blunt:

“The Jews should build themselves a Vatican, a spiritual center somewhere near Jerusalem. But there is no place for a Jewish state in Palestine, not even a national Jewish state. The Jews were driven out of Palestine 2,000 years ago, and that should be final, similar to the expulsion of the Moors from Spain 500 years ago.”

These views brought to mind my friends in the Israeli peace camp who place all their hopes on the two-state dream, and for whom the terms “one-state solution” and “Jewish Vatican” are synonymous to genocidal death threats. My puzzled thoughts also went to all the Europeans and Americans who believe to have found an inkling of flexibility on Israel’s legitimacy in the progressive Muslim camp.

But if my experience in Doha was merely a glimpse at how Muslim elites conceptualize the Middle East “solution,” it was soon topped by a May visit to the University of California at Irvine, where the Muslim Student Union organized a meeting titled, “A World Without Israel” — cut and dry.

And if that was not enough, there came a colorful radio confession by the editor of the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Arabi (May 29, 2005), Abd Al-Halim Qandil:

“Those who signed the Camp David agreement … can simply piss on it and drink their own urine, because the Egyptian people will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli entity.”

Putting aside troubling reports about Arab textbooks, television programs and mosque sermons, Qandil’s bold statement drove home a very sobering realization: In 2005, I still cannot name a single Muslim leader (or journalist or intellectual) who has publicly acknowledged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a dispute between two legitimate national movements.

One side dreams of a world without Israel; the other sees Israel as a major player in the democratization and economic development of the region — will this clash of expectations burst into another round of bloodshed?”

But, looking ahead at the plentiful attempts to build bridges to the Muslim world, one wonders whether this outpouring of energy and good will should not first be channeled toward hammering out basic common goals, followed by educational programs and media campaigns that promote them, rather than glossing over a fundamental disagreement of such importance. Failure to address uncomfortable differences has a terrible way of extracting higher costs later on.

Judea Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization that promotes cross-cultural understanding, named after his son, a Wall Street Journal reporter brutally murdered in Pakistan in 2002.


L.A. Hosts Debate on Israel Economy

“It’s the economy, stupid,” was President Clinton’s campaign mantra, and the same lesson was hammered home June 5-7 to 25 Israeli diplomats at a three-day conference at the Beverly Hilton.

“Growing Israel’s economy must be the priority of every Israeli representative abroad, and let others worry about the peace process,” said Stanley Gold, considered the largest private investor in Israeli industry.

In the 21st century, it is trained intelligence that grows the economy. International competition will not be for land or oil, but for human capital, observed former Wall Street powerhouse Michael Milken, now chairman of the Milken Institute think tank.

Gold and Milken were among the few to address the sessions in English. For most other discussions, Israeli consul generals and economic attaches from five U.S. cities, the ambassador to Canada and high officials from Jerusalem brainstormed in Hebrew on how to turn good advice into practice.

Holding the meeting on the West Coast, rather than in traditional New York or Washington, D.C., was a breakthrough for Ehud Danoch and Zvi Vapni, the No. 1 and No. 2 men at the consulate general in Los Angeles, who lobbied for the venue and organized the conference.

The choice of Los Angeles spoke to the large concentration of top American and Israeli entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley and the rest of California, as well as the growing orientation of the world economy toward the Asian continent, Vapni said.

That direction, fueled by the astonishing growth of technological brainpower in China, India and other Asian tigers, was driven home by Milken.

In barely 25 years, he predicted, Asia’s output will make up 58 percent of the world economy, followed by 25 percent for North America and 12.5 percent for Europe.

Israel is generally well-positioned for the “human capital” era, as shown by its present standing in the Middle East.

With only 0.6 percent of the region’s land area and 5 percent of its population, Israel today accounts for 24 percent of the economy of the region, Milken said.

Israel’s chief strength lies in the “creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and product development” in the high-tech and biotechnology sectors, said Dr. Glenn Yago, director of capital studies for the Milken Institute.

National healthcare, for which Israelis pay one-tenth of the cost in America while enjoying longer life expectancy, would be one area in which Israeli managers could well advise their overseas colleagues, said Milken.

At the same time, Israel’s economic expansion is hampered by some pronounced weaknesses.

“Israel doesn’t market itself and its products, or it does so badly,” the diplomats were told bluntly by Gold, CEO of Shamrock Holdings, the largest private fund investing in Israel.

Israeli businessmen also are not aggressive enough, Gold said, a charge rarely leveled at the Jewish state.

“You should only do business with foreign companies which, in turn, invest in the Israeli economy, otherwise you are fools,” he said. “Tell an American defense industry you will only buy if it invests in a $100 million portfolio on the Tel Aviv stock exchange. It’s how business is done.”

In addition, Gold said, Israel “does a poor job of using people like me to talk to American investors, You should put together a pool of people like me to talk about Israel to American business groups.”

Danoch, the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, acknowledged that while marketing, promotion and advertising were not Israel’s strongest suit, business and government were working together to remedy the shortcomings.

It is also his job “to show that there is much more to Israel than scary headlines, to point out the achievements of our industries, culture and universities,” Danoch added.

Yossi Gal, deputy director for economic affairs in Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, who served as de facto program chairman, stressed the need for “synchronizing our economic and diplomatic efforts, in the sense that economic issues must be an integral part of every diplomatic exchange.”

Indeed, the conference itself, bringing together representatives of the often competitive ministries of foreign affairs, finance and trade and industry, served as an example to the hoped-for synchronicity and synergy in Israel’s efforts abroad.

The fact that this meeting among diverse ministerial interests was conducted without any apparent bureaucratic infighting and one-upmanship, noted one observer, augurs well for the future.


AIPAC Will Focus on Policy at Gathering

Inside the massive Washington Convention Center, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be talking about the Gaza Strip withdrawal and the Iranian nuclear threat.

However, in the hallways and the social gatherings of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference next week, talk is likely to focus on the investigation into two former AIPAC staffers and the effect it could have on AIPAC’s ability to lobby for Israel.

AIPAC will be tasked with keeping its members focused on the important issues facing Israel and maintaining support in Congress if the Gaza pullout, planned for this summer, goes awry. The effort to keep attention focused on Iran’s presumed drive for nuclear weapons is also high on its agenda.

The organization is still perceived as a “behemoth,” congressional officials say, and will be taken seriously when it meets May 22-24 — but a cloud will linger over the proceedings.

“You deal with them as you would normally deal with them,” one congressional staffer said. He compared it to a friend who has a health problem: You don’t talk about the problem, and you hope that it resolves itself quickly.

There are two traditional success markers to an AIPAC policy conference. One is a roll call of members of Congress, diplomats and administration officials attending the Monday night dinner — last year there were nearly 200, including more than 40 senators — and the other is a lobbying day Tuesday, when thousands of AIPAC members descend on Capitol Hill.

How many lawmakers turn up Monday night and how the lobbyists fare Tuesday will be closely watched by the organization, its supporters and its critics. Some insiders, who asked not to be identified, say there may be apprehension about working with AIPAC, because of the FBI probe.

“I think most members of Congress and staffers who are invited to meet with AIPAC constituents and go to the dinner will still go,” a congressional aide said. “But I’m convinced, in the back of everybody’s mind, there is a kernel of concern and doubt that maybe we shouldn’t be playing ball with AIPAC the way we always have.”

AIPAC’s problems stem from an FBI investigation into Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst arrested earlier this month and accused of verbally passing classified information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s research director, and Keith Weissman, a top Iran analyst at AIPAC.

AIPAC fired both men last month, and Rosen associates tell JTA he expects to be indicted. AIPAC officials claim that they have been assured the probe is not targeting the organization or any other staffers.

“Nobody knows what the implications of this legal situation are,” a congressional staffer said. “It could be a blip, and AIPAC has had blips before.”

AIPAC has gone to great lengths to stress its bona fides, publicizing Rice, Sharon and other scheduled speakers, including leaders of both congressional chambers from both parties. Sharon’s presence is considered particularly significant. Israeli prime ministers rarely travel to the United States if they don’t have an audience with the president.

Sharon is expected to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York before heading to Washington, but has planned no political meetings, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said. Sharon also is expected to be welcomed in New York at a rally Sunday, a measure of American Jewish support for the disengagement plan.

“Prime Minister Sharon is coming to stand with the American pro-Israel community at a crucial moment in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC spokesman Andrew Schwartz said.

AIPAC also is boasting about attendance at the conference, which is expected to top 5,000 people, including nearly 1,000 students.

Such self-promotion is unusual for the organization, which generally feels it can be most effective if it keeps its achievements behind the scenes. In the past, major speakers have not been confirmed until the week before the conference, and officials play down the expected attendance, instead of talking it up.

AIPAC officials insist that this year’s conference is business as usual, though they referred questions to Patrick Dorton, a Washington publicist whose experience in scandal management includes shepherding accounting giant Arthur Andersen.

“We’re promoting the policy conference the same way we’ve done it in years past,” Dorton said. “AIPAC continues to be proud of the work it does on behalf of its membership.”

A source close to AIPAC said Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director, will touch on the investigation briefly in a speech to delegates Sunday, but mostly will focus on AIPAC’s policy agenda.

The organization has real work to do. Topping its agenda will be preparing Congress for the Israeli withdrawal. The lobby is preparing a letter for lawmakers to send to President Bush, underscoring how the United States should support the peace process. Bush already has expressed interest in assisting Israel in the development of the Negev Desert and the Galilee, the regions likeliest to absorb some 9,000 settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank. Israel has suggested that resettlement costs could run as high as $3.5 billion.

AIPAC will be charged with laying the groundwork for pushing through any additional aid packages. In addition to direct aid, that could mean new U.S. loan guarantees for Israel.

It will be important for AIPAC to show that it backs the disengagement plan, especially since it has a hawkish reputation in Washington. A draft of the group’s action agenda, which will be debated in executive committee at the conference, calls for supporting the “U.S. government’s backing” of the plan, rather than the plan itself. Officials said that was in keeping with the group’s philosophy of lobbying the U.S. government, not trying to influence Israeli policy.

In a twist, the disengagement plan could soon pit AIPAC against a traditional ally — Christian evangelicals, including several prominent lawmakers, who believe the disengagement violates biblical precepts and offers Palestinian terrorists a triumph. Dovish groups welcomed the tilt.

“It’s very significant that AIPAC intends to adopt formal policy language that embraces disengagement, and specifically the Bush administration’s endorsement of disengagement,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

Disengagement opponents said they won’t try to scuttle AIPAC’s support for the plan, which they believe is inevitable. Instead, they’ll try to ensure that any resolutions reflect the trauma it will impose on settlers.

Morton Klein, Zionist Organization of America president, said language should refer to the evacuation of thousands of “women and children from Gaza” and the northern West Bank “by force if necessary, and abandoning Jewish homes, schools and synagogues where Jews have been living for 35 years.”

Klein plans to continue protesting the plan but has pledged not to lobby against U.S. funding related to it.

As usual, the conference will see some protests. A coalition of right-wing Jewish groups are coordinating buses from New York to Washington, and plan to sleep outside the Convention Center in tents, simulating Gaza settlers who will be expelled from their homes under the withdrawal plan. The Council for National Interest, a pro-Arab group, also will protest, claiming undue Israeli influence in American foreign policy.

AIPAC is not shutting out disengagement dissenters. Natan Sharansky, who resigned recently from Israel’s Cabinet because he believes the time is not ripe for the withdrawal, will speak Sunday night. The former Soviet dissident was expected to speak of democratic ideals, not disengagement.

Another crucial plank at the conference is backing for the Iran Freedom Support bill, a measure to strengthen sanctions against Iran by penalizing foreign countries that invest in Iran’s energy sector and to provide funding to democratic groups in the Islamic republic.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), codifies much of what already is in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, but includes a provision that would notify investors if a fund they own has shares in a company that is subject to sanctions. The goal is to create an investor backlash against companies that deal with Iran.

AIPAC also will focus on the Iranian nuclear threat. Delegates will learn about the nuclear fuel cycle and how Iran appears to be seeking a nuclear bomb.

The lobby will continue to stress the annual passage of foreign aid. This year’s aid package includes $2.28 billion in military aid for Israel and $240 million in economic assistance, as well as $150 million for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Bush Touts Palestine in Europe


President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”


Letters to the Editor


Jewish-Black Ties

The outrageous assertion that blacks and Jews have “passed through a period of hostility and animosity” and come together for “issues ranging from civil rights legislation to Israel” is absurd (“Jewish-Black Ties Loosen Over Years,” Jan. 14).

If it takes “a common thread to revive the relationship,” such as working to defeat David Duke’s run for political office, why does nothing similar happen against the left? The so-called coalition did not denounce black congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for her anti-Israel, anti-Jewish beliefs. It does not distance itself from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for their questionable attitudes about Jews.

The coalition does not condemn the NAACP for its racially inflammatory statements and divisiveness. When former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis was removed for theft, he blamed the Jews. Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas NAACP, stated his concern with black-Jewish coalitions because of what he called Jews’ preoccupation with money.

The assertion that anti-Semitism is not as strong among blacks as among mutual enemies of blacks and Jews is wrong. A 1996 Gallup survey reported that blacks were more likely than whites to blame liberal Jews for what is wrong with America. The Anti- Defamation League’s own surveys reveal that blacks have higher rates of anti-Semitic beliefs than whites.

A United Nations conference on racism held in South Africa had anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American themes. Hundreds of prominent American blacks, including Jackson, attended to show their support.

Superficial public relations events such as speaking at Black-Jewish forums do not indicate anything beyond political calculation. Jews would be far wiser to form coalitions with the political right, not the intolerant political left.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

Shawn Green

When Shawn Green arrives for spring training with his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, he will be leaving a piece of himself behind while at the same time, he will be taking along large portions of our L.A. Jewish pride. Such is the dilemma that Peter Dreier’s (“Goodbye Shawn Green,” Jan. 21) 8-year-old twin daughters are faced with; who are they to root for now?

To date, there have been 161 men of Jewish heritage to have played major league baseball. The White Sox and the Tigers have listed 17 and 16 respectively, while the Dodgers and Giants have fielded 15 each (those damned Yankees have only had six).

So it looks as if we may have to wait for another Jewish Dodger. But we Jews are good at waiting. Green isn’t the Messiah, but it may take almost as long for the likes of another Shawn Green to wear Dodger Blue. In the meantime … go Diamondbacks!

Jonathan Blank
Calabasas Hills

Birthright Exploitation

I am no supporter of the extreme aspects of Israel Solidarity Movement’s (ISM) agenda, but I am appalled by Gaby Wenig’s implicit suggestion that Jewish love for Israel should come with a political litmus test (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21). Perhaps Wenig does not know that there are many Israelis (Jews and non-Jews alike) who have concerns about “the occupation,” that “pro-Palestinian” is not a synonym for “anti-Israel” and that all of us who “love Israel,” as Wenig understands Birthright’s aim, whether we are on the left or the right, have a wide range of views on how Israel can live up to its full potential for social, economic and political justice.

Despite the fact the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) does not appear among the list of Birthright funders on, Western region associate director Allyson Taylor suggests that Birthright alumni who engage in political activism with which she disagrees should have to repay the cost of their trip. Does Taylor also think Aish HaTorah should send a collection agency after every Discovery alumnus who steps foot in a Reform or Conservative synagogue? Should college kids who flirt with Buddhism or Hinduism repay their parents for their bar and bat mitzvah expenses? Perhaps all the ex-AJCongress members in Los Angeles should simply bill the national office for the return of their pre-1999 contributions.

Shawn Landres
Los Angeles

On behalf of 4,000 Birthright Israel alumni from greater Los Angeles, we are responding to the article (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21).

It would be extremely unfortunate if your article left the impression with your readers that ISM activists taking advantage of free Birthright Israel trips is a significant problem. In fact, Birthright Israel staff has only been able to find evidence of six people out of more than 70,000 participants who have done so.

Birthright Israel, which provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is one of the most powerful and successful Jewish continuity programs ever devised. As program alumni ourselves, we can confirm the findings of a recent Brandeis University study, Bbirthright Israel participants have a stronger and more sustained connection to Israel and the Jewish people than do their peers.

Thanks to the foresight and funding of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, our groundbreaking birthright Israel alumni association provides local alumni with opportunities to connect with each other and with the L.A. Jewish community. Information is available at

We know Birthright Israel and its alumni association has been instrumental in our connection to Israel and the Jewish community. We would hate for the success of this important organization to be tarnished by a story that creates a controversy where there really isn’t one.

Kimberly Gordon, Joshua Kessler, Abtin Missaghi, Ben Schwartzman,
Members of the Leadership Board
Birthright Israel Alumni Association


UCLA Forming Israel Studies Program

Everybody talks about Israel, but, surprisingly, there is no teaching, research and community program at an American university that focuses solely on the Jewish state in all its multiple facets.

The gap is beginning to be filled at UCLA, and if all works as planned, the Israel Studies Program will be “the most comprehensive and systematic” in the United States, according to its organizers.

Already in place are two undergraduate courses, visits by prominent Israeli and American scholars, and a community lecture program. In the works is a major international conference on Israeli democracy.

By 2007, Israel studies expects to be fully on the intellectual, community and media map, with an interdisciplinary faculty, prestigious academic chair and library, and poised to offer an undergraduate degree.

While there are well-established Jewish and Middle/Near East study centers at UCLA and a number of East Coast universities, “Israel itself doesn’t get focused attention and tends to get lost as an appendage to other programs,” said UCLA political scientist Steven Spiegel, one of the movers of Israel studies.

Aside from academic considerations, there is a strong feeling among many professors — and certainly within the Jewish community — that Near East departments on many campuses (though not UCLA) are dominated by pro-Arabists.

Yuval Rotem, who recently left his post as Israeli consul general after five years in the Western United States, reflects the opinion of more reticent scholars.

“Professorial posts in too many Middle East centers on too many American campuses are funded and occupied by pro-Arabists, and when they invite Israeli speakers, these are often more hateful of Israel than are the Arabs,” said Rotem in a phone call from Jerusalem.

“This situation, plus pro-Palestinian student movements on many campuses, can’t be changed by the occasional seminar on Israel’s plight or discussions among Jewish organizations,” he said. “It’s a long-range problem. Knowledge is a cumulative process and only a permanent study program on Israel can provide it.”

The initiative, drive and seed money for the Israel Studies program has come from a determined woman — Sharon Baradaran, a member of the influential Iranian American Nazarian clan of Los Angeles, who has a doctorate and is a university teacher in political science.

“It started more than two years ago, after the Israeli-Palestinian clashes in Jenin, when the media reported a lot of false and slanderous information about the behavior of the Israeli army,” Baradaran said in a phone interview.

Upset by the reported distortions, she invited a group of friends, including Rotem, American academicians and Israeli officers who had participated in the Jenin action for an informal discussion at her home.

Every two or three months, she reconvened and expanded the salon, including visiting Israeli politicians and scholars, and the discussions became more urgent as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incidents were reported on numerous American campuses.

“I had the idea that while there were study centers on China, Russia, Latin America, Africa and many other areas at the UCLA International Institute, there was none for Israel, whose history, culture and political impact certainly warranted its own study program,” Baradaran said.

“First, we wanted an interdisciplinary program that would draw faculty and students in history, economics, sociology, law, political science, literature and cultural studies,” she added. “Secondly, we wanted a place open enough to also attract Arab and other scholars.”

She and some of her influential salon friends presented the concept to UCLA Vice Provost Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the International Institute, and to UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale. Both men reacted enthusiastically but noted that in these difficult times, no university funds were available for the program.

Baradaran was not fazed. She and Steve Gamer, external affairs director for the UCLA Institute, mapped out a fundraising drive for a $5 million endowment, to underwrite a permanent academic chair, visiting scholars program, campus and community education, policy forums and conferences and to develop a curriculum on Israel for school teachers at all levels.

The Israel Studies program, and future center, will be named in honor of the hoped-for $5 million donor.

So far, $800,000 has been raised and seed money to invite distinguished scholars has been provided by the family foundation of Younes and Soraya Nazarian, Baradaran’s parents. This month, professor Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem inaugurated the visiting scholar program.

While the fundraising is progressing, two undergraduate courses in the Israel program are already in their second year. One is “History of Israel: 1948 to Present,” popularly dubbed Israel 101.

The second is an innovative course on Israel-Diaspora Relations, in which students at UCLA and Tel Aviv University hold “joint” videoconferencing classes to explore each other’s culture, politics and attitudes. Dr. Fredelle Spiegel initiated and teaches the class, which was initially funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Directors of the Jewish Studies centers at USC and UCLA see the developing Israel program not as a competitor, but as an ally.

“I’ve always emphasized that the more high quality research and teaching on Israel and Jewish life we can get, the better it is for everybody,” said Dr. Barry Glassner, director of the USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life.

Dr. David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, who participated in the planning of the Israel program, said, “Israel is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, and a better comprehension is vital to the intellectual and general communities. What better place to have the Israel program than in Los Angeles?”

Myers’ center at UCLA has organized an extensive campus and public program for the 2004-2005 academic year, including lectures, seminars and workshops on local Jewish history, Jewish-Muslim relations, Yiddish and Sephardic culture and the Holocaust. For information, call (310) 825-5387 or visit

For information on programs or financial support for the Israel Studies program, contact Steve Gamer at (310) 206-8578 or

Israel Backs Tough U.N. Line on Iran

These days, it’s unusual to get the United States and Britain to agree with France and Germany on any Middle East-related U.N. resolution.

When Israel also is on board, it’s downright extraordinary.

Israeli officials are elated at the tough language in a resolution passed last week by the board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog rebuking Iran for not cooperating with nuclear inspectors. Last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution "deploring" Iranian stonewalling of IAEA inspectors has far-reaching implications for containment of a radical Islamic regime that successive Israeli administrations have called the greatest threat to the Jewish state.

The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, expresses special concern about Iran’s refusal to end its uranium-enrichment activities, a condition for European assistance to Iran in developing a peaceful nuclear program.

Adding to U.S. and European frustration was confirmation this year that Iran tried to buy black market magnets necessary for the centrifugal process that enriches uranium.

The single area of disagreement between the United States and the European nations was over a deadline for Iranian compliance. The Europeans kept mention of a deadline out of the resolution, but Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director-general, suggested that Iran does not have an endless amount of time to come clean.

"I have been asking, as the board also has been asking, Iran to become proactive, to become transparent and to be fully cooperative, and I hope I’ll see that mode of cooperation in the next few months," ElBaradei said Monday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. "I think the international community is urgently seeking assurance from the agency that Iran’s program is exclusively for a peaceful purpose."

The IAEA board is set to meet again in September, and U.S. officials have suggested that it could decide on further action if Iran doesn’t give way.

The resolution was a success for the Bush administration, which has been urging greater scrutiny of Iran. A number of congressional initiatives also are under way.

Getting on board the same wealthy Western European states that Iran hopes will sustain its faltering economy means that the Islamic republic is spending time fighting diplomatic battles that divert its attention from backing terrorist operations against Israel.

Not that Ariel Sharon’s government wants to make a lot of noise about the IAEA resolution — a high Israeli profile in any rebuke of Iran could galvanize Arab support for a regime that most Arab leaders revile — but much of Israel’s defensive activity is taken with Iran in mind.

Israel is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its Arrow missile defense program to cover the entire country by the end of the decade, primarily because of Iranian missiles that are capable of delivering nonconventional materials to the Jewish state.

Israel long has taken such long-term threats into account in dealing with Iran. In recent years, however, Iran’s influence has seeped into even the day-to-day threats Israel faces.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have looked to Iran for greater support now that their traditional sources of funding in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have dried up because of tough scrutiny of terrorist financing and an increased willingness, after Sept. 11, to avoid groups the U.S. government deems as terrorists.

Israeli intelligence believes Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist militia that gets strong Iranian support, now is behind up to 80 percent of terrorist activities against Israel, and is particularly active in recruiting Israeli Arab citizens — a development Israeli officials consider especially troubling.

Of course, not all the impetus for the tough language has to do with the threat Iran poses to Israel.

Bush administration officials increasingly are frustrated with the support Iran has given to Shi’ite Muslim insurgents in U.S.-occupied Iraq, and working for a nuclear-free Middle East long has been part of European strategy.

Still, it’s significant that Iran’s nuclear potential is seen as posing a greater threat than Israel’s, and that this realization is penetrating even international forums, which traditionally are bastions of moral equivalence.

Hans Blix, the former top U.N. arms inspector, suggested that Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal could prove to be an important element in the effort to get the Iranians to back down.

"Looking at the rationales and incentives at work, it must be assumed that Tehran is aware not only that Israel has nuclear weapons and that a sovereign Iraq would inherit the know-how to make them, but also that Iranian enrichment, even if it were to remain consistent with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, would further exacerbate the situation," Blix said Monday at a Carnegie Endowment conference he attended with ElBaradei, his old friend.

For the moment, Iran is hardly acting conciliatory.

Learning of the draft resolution last week, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami warned that "if Europe has no commitment toward Iran, then Iran will not have a commitment toward Europe."

Iran appeared to back up the threat Monday when it seized three British naval vessels and eight crewmen who were in the area to help train Iraqi police.

Given the toughness of the IAEA resolution, such grandstanding is unlikely to have much impact. The United States is maintaining its pressure, as President Bush heads to NATO meetings in Europe this weekend, where he is likely to make containment of Iran a priority, backed by a letter signed by 66 senators and 208 House members.

The message from the West is clear, Powell said Monday.

"With respect to Iran," he said, "they have been put on notice once again rather firmly and strongly in this new resolution that the international community is expecting them to answer its questions and to respond fully."

Tikkun Alone

Tikkun and its founder-leader Rabbi Michael Lerner came to Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 8 to run an area-wide conference, which proved both heartening and disappointing.

It was heartening because, on one level, Lerner and his progressive San Francisco-based organization have remained consistent. Much has changed since he founded the progressive, intellectual Jewish Tikkun Magazine in 1986, but Lerner still supports both the Israelis and the Palestinians; still criticizes the Israeli government, particularly where he perceives its policies to be racist and unjust; and still champions a peace policy for the Mideast, today most clearly articulated for him by the Geneva accord.

All of this was made clear in Lerner’s opening address. His signature theme during the Clinton years, “The politics of meaning,” has given way to different language, but still drives home the essential connections between spirituality and community.

“Imagine a community of people working for social and economic justice, peace, nonviolence, and ecological sensitivity … a movement that gives equal priority to our inner lives and to social justice.”

His was a passionate exhortation to reject cynical political realism in favor of building a global community based on kindness, generosity and love.

There was also little change in his attack on the Jewish establishment, as Lerner took on, full-tilt, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee and other major Jewish American organizations. Lerner said they had hijacked American Jewry and had held themselves out to Congress and the White House as the only authentic Jewish voice, backing Sharon and Israel at all costs and in all policies; all of which helped prevent the emergence of the democratic, just Israeli society Lerner hopes to see one day.

But then came the disappointing part.

Tikkun had hoped for a turnout of 200 or more at Temple Isaiah on Pico Boulevard, but, at 1 p.m., when the conference started, workmen began moving in the chairs so the room would not appear empty. When the conference finally began a half-hour later, about 80-90 people had gathered in what had become a smaller, intimate hall.

Tikkun has, of course, changed since its early magazine years. Its statement of purpose today describes Tikkun as a center for those of all religious and spiritual traditions who seek to integrate spiritual depth with social change. It is no longer in its ambition a voice solely of and for Jews. However, while Salam al-Marayati, the Los Angeles-based executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and actor Ed Asner were two of the conferences multicultural speakers, nearly everyone present was Jewish. I couldn’t help notice that it seemed strikingly different from earlier conferences I had attended, particularly one in Jerusalem in the early 1990s, and another in New York a year or so later.

In Jerusalem, I remembered, more than 500 Israelis and American Jews had gathered at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for a series of panels and speeches that stretched over five days and, occasionally, long into the night. The Princeton University political scientist Michael Walzer, had attended as had Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua. In New York, a year or two later, the city’s Jewish writers, intellectuals and academics gathered at a large Manhattan hotel. Irving Howe was there along with writers Anne Roiphe and Lore Segal; it seemed electric. It looked as if the Jewish left finally had found a home again, created by of all people a former UC Berkeley doctoral-political activist and psychotherapist who was an Orthodox Jew.

Tikkun has had its share of rude bumps since that time. Lerner’s wife, who had provided much of the capital behind Tikkun, divorced him and pulled her funds from the organization. A move to New York, where it was hoped there would be an abundance of Jewish intellectuals and supporters, foundered. Tikkun moved back to the Bay Area.

In Los Angeles, a hoped-for expansion and presence seemed elusive. Substantial contributions from Hollywood never materialized, and the wealthy Jewish establishment was not supportive, in part because its members perceived Tikkun to be opposed to their power and interests. They were part of the problem, according to Lerner; at least that is the way they perceived his message.

If his philosophical stance remained consistent throughout the years, his organizational skills were more hit and miss. Tikkun was soon viewed, perhaps incorrectly, as a one-man band. And while the bandleader was deemed bright, and his views of Jewish American leaders and of Israel bold and appealing to many progressives and intellectuals, there was a certain amount of grumbling: he was disorganized; he dominated conferences and rambled on and on; and he played the performer as he aligned himself in an intellectual road show with black philosopher Cornel West.

It was natural that Jewish leaders heading the professional organizations might be opposed to Tikkun and Lerner. But it now appeared that progressive Jews in organizations such as Los Angeles’ Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), while not opposed, were not part of the team, even though both organizations championed Muslim-Jewish dialogues in American cities. The point appeared to be that PJA was doing something concrete and sustained about it, in Los Angeles at least.

Meanwhile, Tikkun appears to have shifted some of its emphasis to college campuses, hoping to establish training programs and strong university networks of students willing to commit themselves to working for a just society and peace in the Mideast. It sounds like an appealing program, but one that may find itself marginalized on the cutting edge of ideas and idealism — and conferences.

Gene Lichtenstein is the founding editor of The Jewish Journal.

Sharon Plan Raises Myriad Questions

Ariel Sharon’s major policy statement at the Herzliya
security conference last week might have made world headlines, but it’s far
from clear what the Israeli prime minister has in mind. Sharon called on
Palestinian leaders to open negotiations with Israel and threatened unilateral
steps if they don’t, but he did not spell out those steps.

In fact, Sharon’s long-awaited Dec. 18 speech, in which he
broached the possibility of a unilateral Israeli pullback from the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, raised more questions than it provided answers.

For example, does Sharon envision a major Israeli withdrawal
and a large-scale evacuation of Jewish settlements? Or will the pullback be
minimal, with few settlements evacuated and the Palestinians surrounded on all
sides by security fences? Will Sharon be able to get American support for his
new policy? Will he listen to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or to the Shin
Bet security service, which are urging him to go in opposite directions? Will
he actually be able to dismantle dozens of settlements, assuming he wants to?
And what are the likely political ramifications in Israel?

Local pundits give two very different readings of the prime
minister’s intentions.

According to one reading, Sharon’s plan is to redeploy
Israeli forces behind the security fence being built between Israel and the West
Bank, and to “relocate” dozens of Israeli settlements from the Palestinian to
the Israeli side. According to this scenario, the fence would be no more than a
temporary security line, and the Palestinians would have the option of coming
back to the negotiating table at any time to set final borders.

But there is another, widely divergent reading — that Sharon
intends to complete a second, “eastern fence,” along the Jordan Valley,
enclosing the Palestinians between the two fences on about 50 percent to 60
percent of the West Bank. Under this scenario, Israel would retain the Jordan Valley
as a buffer zone between the Palestinian entity and Jordan.

Whether the Palestinians have territorial contiguity or only
contiguity of movement will depend on which way Sharon goes.

The IDF’s Central Command, responsible for the West Bank,
has drawn up a contingency plan called “Everything Flows,” in which a system of
bridges, tunnels and bypass roads provides the Palestinians with freedom of
movement, without full territorial contiguity.

Whether Sharon gets American support will depend on which
plan he adopts. The United States insists that Israel do nothing to undermine
President Bush’s vision of a viable Palestinian state. That would seem to rule
out American support for the eastern fence plan.

For his part, Sharon has said that whatever he does will be
fully coordinated with the United States. Indeed, there is nothing more
important in his foreign policy doctrine than Israel’s U.S. ties. Therefore,
it’s hard to see Sharon pressing for the eastern fence scenario.

On the other hand, for years Sharon has been carrying around
a map based on “Israeli interests” which, like the eastern fence scenario,
leaves the Palestinians with no more than 60 percent of the West Bank. If the
post-withdrawal lines seem to correspond to Sharon’s “Israeli interests” map,
suspicion will grow that he is trying to impose a permanent arrangement on the
Palestinians based on a minimal Israeli withdrawal.

The IDF, however, is urging Sharon to be generous with the
Israeli withdrawal. The army’s planning branch, under Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland,
has presented Sharon with an ambitious plan leading to the establishment of a
Palestinian state with temporary borders.

The IDF is asking Sharon to show the Palestinians and the
international community how serious he is by handing over West Bank cities to
the Palestinian Authority — a process that until now has been conditional on
Palestinian willingness to fight terrorism — as soon as possible.

The army is also advising Sharon to lift roadblocks and
allow free movement between Palestinian cities, even at the risk of more
terrorist attacks against Israel. The IDF’s argument is that if such moves are
not reciprocated by the Palestinians, the world will be much more understanding
of a subsequent, unilateral Israeli move. If the moves are reciprocated, then a
negotiated settlement could be in the cards.

The weight Sharon attaches to the IDF view can be gleaned
from the fact that Eiland, who is slated to become head of the National
Security Council, has been appointed to lead a team of experts fleshing out
Sharon’s unilateral program.

But there also are other, opposing voices in the Israeli
defense establishment. The Shin Bet is urging Sharon to proceed very carefully
and not hand over cities or lift roadblocks until Palestinian terrorism stops.

The Shin Bet argues that the Palestinians are doing nothing
to combat terrorism. These officials say that a devastating Oct. 4 suicide
bombing in a Haifa restaurant may have been the last major terrorist attack,
but only because Israeli forces have succeeded in foiling 26 suicide bombing
attempts since then.

Perhaps the biggest question for Sharon is whether he will
be able to relocate dozens of Jewish settlements.

So far, the government has not set up a team to negotiate
with settlers over compensation or alternative housing.

Even if it does, the right-wing, ideological settlers — as
distinct from those who moved to the settlements for lifestyle reasons or
because of government financial incentives — are unlikely to cooperate.

The government already is having difficulty dismantling
sparsely populated, illegal settlement outposts; when it comes to large,
authorized settlements, settler opposition is sure to be much fiercer.

Every such relocation would be a major operation for the
army. Given the army’s manpower limitations, the settlements probably would
have to be dealt with one by one, in an emotionally wrenching and
time-consuming process.

Sharon also can expect opposition from within his own Likud
Party and from the far right. As soon as a relocation program goes into effect,
the National Religious Party and the National Union are expected to quit the
governing coalition, and some Likud lawmakers will stop automatically
supporting the government.

Eleven of the Likud’s 40 caucus members already have signed
a petition demanding that any settlement relocation first be authorized by the
caucus. Others are pressing for a full-scale debate on Sharon’s new policy at
next month’s party convention.

The immediate test for Sharon will be whether he can pass
the 2004 budget by the end of the year. Last minute, right-wing opposition to
the budget could have a far-reaching effect on Sharon’s ability to move his
policy forward.

Of course, all the unilateral arguments would become
irrelevant if Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei were to come to
the table and negotiate a deal with Sharon on the basis of the internationally
backed “road map” peace plan.

But few on the Israeli side, including Sharon, believe that
will happen.

That leaves the two key, and so far unanswered, questions:
Which unilateral plan will Sharon adopt, and will he have the political support
to implement it? Â

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Delegates at UJC Assembly Show Solidarity

Waving Israeli, American and Canadian flags and hoisting signs naming their hometowns, thousands of delegates at the Jewish federation system’s General Assembly (GA) wound their way through the back alleys, markets and main streets of Jerusalem, vowing to stand by Israel.

A mission of about 20 Angelenos attended the GA under the auspices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The group took part in a massive solidarity march on Monday in which most of the GA’s 4,000 participants walked from convention hall down historic Jaffa Road in a show of support for Israel: Soldiers and delegates linked hands and danced the hora, vendors at the Mahane Yehuda market cheered, Israeli folk music and shofars blared, and blue and white balloons bobbed overhead.

Security was tight. Police and soldiers manned street corners along the march route, which had been blocked to traffic. Pedestrians were searched before being allowed to enter parts of downtown Jerusalem.

Federation President John Fishel moderated a panel "Jewish Identity, Affiliation and the Next Generation." A group of conference participants also toured Tel Aviv schools involved in a twinning relationship through The Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership as part of an excusion examining "Innovative Models of Israel and Diaspora Relations." The day in Tel Aviv also included a demonstration by bomb-sniffing dogs in the Pups for Peace program, founded by Glenn Yago of the Milken Institute, and an evening reception at the Neve Tzedek neighborhood for all assembly participants chaired by Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Chair Herbert Glaser and featuring remarks by Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, and Donald Sinclair, Canada’s ambassador to Israel.

World Briefs

Israel Lifts BBC Ban

Israel said it would resume ties with the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), which recently named an ombudsman to oversee its Middle East coverage. Israeli officials long have charged pro-Palestinian bias in the BBC’s coverage. Israel stopped cooperating with the BBC last summer after it repeatedly aired a TV show about Israel’s nuclear program that implied Israel was a rogue state.

Pollard Loses Again

A U.S. judge rejected a claim by convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. On Nov. 13, Judge Thomas Hogan dismissed a claim by Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel, that his previous lawyers did not do all they could to free him. Hogan also denied a request by Pollard’s lawyers to gain access to classified documents that could help his release. Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst, is serving a life sentence in a U.S. jail.

AMIA Extradition Denied

A former Iranian diplomat accused of helping bomb an Argentine Jewish center will not be extradited to stand trial. A British judge ruled last week that there was not enough evidence to extradite Hadi Soleimanpour to Argentina.

The Iranian diplomat was arrested earlier this year in Britain for suspected involved in the 1994 car bombing of the AMIA center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Soleimanpour was Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the attack.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s Justice Ministry confirmed that suspicious Swiss bank accounts connected to former Argentine President Carlos Menem have been found, but none that connect Menem to a multimillion-dollar bribe he allegedly received from Iran to hinder a probe into the bombing.

Orthodox to Meet on Singles ‘Crisis’

The National Council of Young Israel will hold its third annual “Shidduch Emergency Conference” in New York. The annual event will address issues related to finding a mate, such as overcoming obstacles to commitment, medical and genetic issues to consider, developing empathy between singles and married people, Internet matchmaking and coping with the emotional strain of break-ups, divorce and broken engagements. The conference will be held Nov. 23 at Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Aliyah Infomercials Set

TV infomercials touting immigration to Israel will run across North America. Nefesh B’Nefesh, or “Jewish Souls United,” which seeks to boost North American immigration to Israel, said it plans to buy spots on family and religious cable and satellite networks to run a 30-minute advertisement called “Israel: Homeward Bound,” touting a “bold new wave” of aliyah. Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the group’s executive director, said the ads will begin airing next week and will run for several months. The group claims to have brought 1,500 people to Israel this year and last, and is hoping to form a “significant partnership” with Israeli agencies.

Yarmulkes Out in France

French Jewish children should wear regular hats, instead of yarmulkes, to avoid anti-Semites, France’s chief rabbi said. On Tuesday, Joseph Sitruk told Radio Shalom, a Jewish community radio station, that he didn’t want young people “isolated in the metro or on suburban trains to risk becoming a target for aggressors any more than I want our young Jews to respond and become the aggressors themselves.”

Sitruk’s comments followed a new outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents in France.

Security Council Endorses ‘Road Map’

The U.N. Security Council endorsed the “road map” peace plan, with U.S. backing. Some Jewish leaders fear the resolution will make Israel vulnerable to diplomatic sanctions if the peace process falters. The resolution passed Wednesday and calls on the parties to “fulfill their obligations under the road map in cooperation with the Quartet,” the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations. Those four drafted the road map. The resolution also demands “an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction.” Security Council resolutions have the force of international law, and Jewish leaders worry that Arab nations will claim Israeli actions violate the new resolution.

“When you have Syria and other unfriendly and hostile countries, you can see the potential for mischief and abuse,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Grappling With Competing Needs

While most participants at the North American Jewish federation system’s annual conference were happy just to be in Israel this week, the network’s decision makers were grappling with another matter — funding for overseas partners.

The issue has become so contentious, in fact, that Israel’s prime minister decided to step in.

In a Sunday afternoon meeting with representatives of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) committee that decides overseas funding priorities, participants said Ariel Sharon said, “You are my guests, so I am asking you to make Israel your No. 1 priority for funding. If you weren’t my guests, I would demand it.”

The message comes as the UJC, the federation umbrella organization, prepares to determine allocations to its two main overseas beneficiaries: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which aids distressed Jews overseas, and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which runs immigration and absorption in Israel and Zionist education worldwide.

It also comes amid increasing concern that local federations, focused more on local needs, are allocating fewer dollars to overseas needs in general — below the allocation recommendations that the UJC’s Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee (ONAD) has been submitting to UJC’s member federations.

For decades, the federation system has followed a 75/25 split in funding the Jewish Agency and the JDC, with 75 percent going to the Jewish Agency.

With aliyah down, however, ONAD recently recommended allocating an additional $13 million to the JDC, possibly altering the customary division.

Last year, according to the JDC, the UJC provided it with roughly $45 million, a few million short of the amount promised.

The Jewish Agency said the UJC provided it with $143 million, $20 million short of what was promised.

The General Assembly, which has drawn some 4,000 lay and professional leaders of federations from all over North America, falls between two important developments on the matter. Earlier this month, ONAD issued new overseas recommendations, and a vote on the issue is scheduled for Dec. 8.

Some say Sharon’s appeal — essentially for Jewish Agency funding — came at the behest of the agency’s chairman, Sallai Meridor.

Asked how Sharon’s pitch might influence ONAD’s decision, the committee chairman, Steven Klinghoffer, said, “It will be interesting to watch how they respond.”

He also said that ONAD’s recommendations are “not determinative of any kind of outcome,” and that more funds for the JDC wouldn’t necessarily mean less for the Jewish Agency.

“There’s a lot of different ways to skin the cat,” Klinghoffer said.

One member of ONAD, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sharon’s remarks were not helpful.

“It was almost like blackmail,” she said. “I was truly offended by his remarks.” Sharon was “talking to a group of very dedicated leaders in the Jewish community who have never abandoned Israel,” she said. “To say that you owe us is not the way to win friends and influence people, as far as I’m concerned.”

But Sharon isn’t the only one using the gathering of North Americans to lobby for the Jewish Agency, which ostensibly has more to lose than the JDC in the upcoming ONAD decision.

In his remarks at the Jewish Agency’s opening plenary last Friday, Meridor spoke of the “serious challenge” of obtaining enough funds from American Jewry for immigration and absorption in Israel’s current economic climate.

He called it “close to a miracle” that the Jewish Agency was bringing some 20,000 immigrants to Israel this year, and claimed that many more are awaiting the chance to make aliyah.

For its part, the JDC says it is not campaigning for funds at the conference.

“I’m not lobbying people. Absolutely not,” said Steven Schwager, JDC’s executive vice president. “The JDC has put its faith in the ONAD process.”

He said the 18 communities involved in the ONAD process “will review all the information that has been presented and all of the facts and will consider all of the site visits that they made and will come to a fair and appropriate conclusion.”

Still, talk about overseas funding has been a steady undercurrent at the General Assembly, figuring prominently in meetings and in corridor conversation among decision makers.

In addition, delegates spent the day on Tuesday visiting a variety of programs throughout the country, from social-service programs for new immigrants to educational programs, many of which get at least part of their funding from the North American federation system via the Jewish Agency or the JDC.

At a meeting of the UJC’s board of governors and delegate assembly on Monday, the group pledged to continue funding its overseas beneficiaries and to “increase its efforts in the advocacy for allocations in support of overseas needs.”

This appeared to be a nod to the common gripe that the system doesn’t push hard enough for funds for its overseas partners.

Some fault the federation system for allegedly establishing a competition between the JDC and the Jewish Agency and failing to create an overseas advocacy committee to secure enough funds for both groups.

Klinghoffer admits that the process is fraught with “friction and difficulty” and “political land mines,” but says it is “designed to meet the needs of the Jewish people throughout the world.”

Indeed, at the last meeting of the UJC’s executive committee, in Chicago in September, board chairman Robert Goldberg called ONAD a “failure.”

ONAD was created when the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal merged to form the UJC four years ago. The establishment of ONAD was an attempt to reverse a trend of decreased giving to overseas needs. That hasn’t happened, however. The system has delayed establishing an advocacy committee to encourage federations to give to the UJC’s overseas partners. And because several federations did not comply with ONAD recommendations, the UJC has fallen short on the amount it planned to provide the groups.

That has caused the JDC to do its own advocacy work: Schwager has visited individual federations around North America, encouraging them to allocate more for overseas needs.

Some observers say the ONAD process has cost the UJC dearly in terms of the time and energy of its professionals and the financial strain on its overseas agencies.

ONAD was scheduled for an initial review after five years, a juncture that is quickly approaching. Some say it’s simply a matter of making overseas needs a priority. Others anticipate reform, if not a complete overhaul, at that time.

Right-Wing Activists Unite in Jerusalem

As thousands of joyous Christian tourists danced through the streets of Jerusalem on their annual colorful Feast of Tabernacles parade, a group of well-funded neoconservatives gathered on the other side of the capital at the inaugural Jerusalem Summit.

The exclusive Oct. 12-14 conference at the King David Hotel united right-wing thinkers, activists and media primarily from the United States and Israel for what they hope will become a new umbrella organization aimed at providing an alternative to the "road map" and a tougher stance on terrorism in Israel.

"The only way to fight terror is without political restraints," said Ehud Olmert, minister of industry and trade and vice prime minister, at the summit. The former Jerusalem mayor dismissed the road map and said that Israel must "decide on a unilateral process based on what we want."

The conference was planned to coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles, when more than 3,000 Christians come to Israel to express support for Israel and to see the Land of Jesus.

"Jewish people remind the world that they are accountable to God," the Rev. Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, which sponsored the Feast, said, addressing the Jerusalem Summit.

The summit reiterated the growing ties between Evangelical Christians and conservative Jews and presented a wide range of the right: fairly moderate Mideast analyst Daniel Pipes advocated resuming the peace process when the Palestinians give up terror, while Ambassador Alan Keyes called not for peace but for victory through military means. Other speakers included government officials such as Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Tourism Benny Elon and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Uzi Landau; and American policymakers Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Mideast analyst Frank Gaffney and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.

Perle also accepted the Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson Award for strengthening the role of values and vision in politics.

"We find the traditions of both of these men [Perle and Jackson] to be firmly entrenched amongst many decision makers in both Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.," said Summit Director Dmitry Radyshevsky, former Moscow News New York bureau chief and Harvard Divinity School graduate who moved to Israel four years ago.

Radyshevsky serves as the executive director of the Michael Cherney Foundation, the primary sponsor of the conference, along with the Ministry of Tourism and the National Unity Coalition for Israel, an organization representing 200 groups of both faiths. Cherney, a Russian businessman and philanthropist, started his foundation on June 1, 2001, in order to help Russian victims and families of the Dolphinarium disco bombing, which occurred across from his office, killing 21 and injuring more than 150 others.

"At some point, we realized that we had to fight the root of terrorism, not just aid the victims," said Radyshevsky, who was the public face and driving force behind the summit, which was planned half a year ago and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage. The summit put forth a four-point declaration, calling radical Islam a threat to civilization, the United Nations a failure, Israel in need of defense and the war on terror a righteous cause.

Whether this summit represents a new coalition of the right or a one-time spark remains to be seen.

"It’s not enough to have money," one attendee said privately, "you have to have momentum."

The Bush Doctrine and the use of military force were not the only alternatives presented to the current road map. Minister of Tourism Elon, head of the Moledet Party, also unveiled at the summit his peace plan, "The Right Road to Peace," which basically calls for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and the international recognition of Jordan as the Palestinian state, with the Arab residents of the West Bank becoming citizens of the Palestinian state in Jordan.

The Elon Plan was released just as "The Geneva Accord" peace proposal was made public from Egypt by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Arafat adviser Abed Rabo. The new Geneva accord offers Palestinians a state in the West Bank in return for relinquishing the right of return. This new plan, which has not been recognized by the Israeli government, is based on U.N. resolution 194, which allows refugees to choose between return and compensation.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is said to have described the document as "the greatest historical mistake since Oslo," and tried to marginalize the drafters as people on the fringe. But whether this will be a one-time spark or a continuing effort remains to be seen. "They need to get more sophisticated," one invited speaker said.

As the Geneva Accord took the main stage in the Mideast, the Jerusalem Summit continued, and even invigorated the members’ desire to unite and find an alternative.

"They are talking to people who are active terrorists," said David Bedein, the bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency and attendee of the conference, who said the Jerusalem Summit is now more important than ever. "What this conference has done is get all the different people who think that peace can be achieved through means other than the Oslo process … together to talk to each other."

He said that the conference would produce results such as having more academics present papers, and having people become more media savvy.

But regardless of the future results, what the conference has done has allowed people of similar thought to feel, for once, they said, like more than a fringe minority.

Novelist Naomi Ragen, who has penned best-sellers on the religious world, such as "Sotah," puts out a daily newsletter on her Web site on the situation in the Middle East.

"What this conference does for me is to help me feel that I’m not alone."

Ford Funded Durbin Anti-Israel Activists

In August 2001, thousands of human rights activists from around the globe gathered in Durban, South Africa, for a United Nations conference that participants hoped would address racial injustice plaguing humanity, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka to the United States.

But after more than a year of preparatory conferences held in Iran, Switzerland, Chile, France and Senegal, it became clear to Israeli officials and Jewish organizational leaders that Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and their allies, had manipulated the agenda of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism into a focused indictment of Israel as an illegitimate apartheid, colonial and genocidal regime.

Moreover, the proposed language of conference resolutions would deny or dilute the Holocaust and espouse an openly anti-Semitic stance.

Many Western leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, declined to attend what U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a member of the American delegation to the conference, termed “a transparent attempt to delegitimize the moral argument for Israel’s existence.” As expected, anti-Israel agitation, anti-Zionist propaganda and blatant anti-Semitism permeated the eight-day Durban affair. Posters displaying Nazi icons and Jewish caricatures, anti-Israel protest marches, organized jeering, inciting leaflets and anti-Jewish cartoons were everywhere, as was orchestrated anti-American agitation.

A virulent resolution drafted by nongovernmental organizations at the Durban conference declared Israel a “racist apartheid state” guilty of “genocide and ethnic cleansing.” The spectacle was so noxious that Powell withdrew the American delegation.

Who financed a number of the groups at Durban that printed and distributed these materials, purchased advertising and conducted workshops?

“No one knew where the money was coming from to fund all these NGOs,” remembers Judith Palkovitz of Pittsburgh, Hadassah general secretary and a delegate to Durban. “I assumed it was a foreign group — say, Saudi Arabia.”

When asked, one Jewish communal leader after another, and several State Department officials, also guessed: Saudi Arabia.

They were wrong.

The Ford Foundation, one of America’s largest philanthropic institutions — and arguably the most prestigious — was a multimillion-dollar funder of many human rights NGOs attending Durban.

That is the conclusion of a two-month Jewish Telegraphic Agency investigation, involving interviews with dozens of individuals in seven countries, as well as a review of more than 9,000 pages of government and organizational documents.

Ford — which was endowed with funds donated by Henry and Edsel Ford but no longer maintains any ties to the Ford Motor Company — has long been known as a funder of Palestinian causes.

But most observers did not suspect the extent of the foundation’s involvement in funding of groups that engage in anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian activities both inside and outside the Middle East.

With hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into Mideast NGOs by numerous private foundations here and in Europe, government and communal officials are raising significant questions about transparency, how the money in Palestinian areas is being used and whether funders such as the Ford Foundation are exercising proper controls.

Increasingly, federal agencies concerned with fighting terrorism are asking: When money goes in one NGO’s pocket, where does it go and whom does it benefit?

The Jewish representatives at Durban “didn’t understand the efforts, the financing and the organization that went into hijacking the conference,” recalled Reva Price, Washington representative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a Durban delegate.

“We knew we were walking into problems because of what happened in the early meeting in Teheran,” Price said. “But we didn’t understand how organized was the opposition and what a well-financed campaign it was.”

Many Jewish organizational officials who participated in the long process complained that a key organization responsible for the methodical hijacking of the conference was the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, which operates under the acronym LAW.

LAW officials took leadership positions on the Durban conference steering committees, conducted workshops and even sponsored a pre-conference mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for South African delegates to convince them that Israel was an apartheid state.

“LAW was instrumental in creating the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic focus at Durban,” confirmed Andrew Srulevitch, executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based group that monitors the world organization.

But it was not just LAW. The Palestinian NGO Network, or PNGO, an umbrella organization of some 90 Palestinian NGOs, as well as many of its constituent groups, diligently became embedded in the conference bureaucracy that created the hostile environment at Durban.

PNGO led the move to craft an NGO resolution that would “call upon the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state,” including “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, [and] the full cessation of all links [diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training] between all states and Israel.”

Durban was not a one-time investment for the Ford Foundation — a major funder of LAW and PNGO.

Indeed, through its Cairo office, Ford has extended more than $35 million in grants to some 272 Arab and Palestinian organizations during the two-year 2000-2001 period alone — the most recent years for which data is available — plus 62 grants to individuals that total more than $1.4 million, according to Ford’s Web site as accessed in mid-October 2003.

Since the 1950s, the foundation’s Beirut and Cairo offices have awarded more than $193 million to more than 350 Middle East organizations, almost entirely Arab, Islamic or Palestinian.

Ford’s Web site, at, offers detailed information about its Middle East grants. On the site as of mid-October, “Palestine” is frequently mentioned on its Mideast pages, but Israel’s name is absent. Moreover, the Web site’s shaded map of the geographical region from Egypt to Lebanon and Jordan blanks out over Israel’s territory, even though Ford does make grants to both Jewish and Arab organizations in Jerusalem.

Initially, despite more than two dozen requests by phone and in writing over a period of several weeks, the Ford Foundation’s communications vice-president Alex Wilde, deputy media director Thea Lurie and media associate Joe Voeller refused to answer any questions or clarify any issues regarding the foundation’s funding of groups engaged in anti-Israeli agitation and anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist activity.

However, after this investigation was completed, Wilde did send a six-page written statement, declaring, “We have seen no indication that our grantees in Durban or elsewhere engaged in anti-Semitic speech or activities. The Foundation does not support hate speech of any kind.”

Wilde added: “Some of our human rights and development grantees have certainly been critical of policies and practices of the Israeli government insofar as these discriminate against Palestinians or otherwise violate their rights, according to internationally agreed human rights standards and international law.”

“We do not believe that this can be described as ‘agitation,'” the statement asserted.

Both LAW and PNGO confirmed that their Ford funds were pivotal.

“Ford has made it possible for us to do much of our work,” a senior LAW official in Jerusalem said in an interview.

Since 1997, LAW has been the recipient of three Ford grants, totaling $1.1 million, to engage in “advocacy” and participate at international conferences, according to LAW officials. A Ford Foundation official’s check of the charity’s confidential computer databases confirmed the information.

Reached in Ramallah on her cell phone, PNGO program coordinator Renad Qubaj recalled her coordination of activities in Durban.

“In Durban, for sure we published posters saying, ‘End the occupation,’ things like that,” Qubaj said, “and we published a study, had a press conference, organized our partners and protest marches.”

Asked about finances, she added, “Unfortunately, we are very dependent on the international funds. Not just PNGO but all the Palestinian NGOs — 90 of them in our group. We get very little money from the Arabs — just needy family cases. Ford is our biggest funder.”

Allam Jarrar, a member of the 11-person PNGO steering committee network, and one who helped organize the events at Durban, explained that Ford money allows PNGO to have a global scope.

“We do lots of international advocacy conferences and regional forums,” Jarrar explained in an interview, “and we always try to represent our political view to Europe. We attended some women’s conferences [in Europe], plus Durban.”

“Our biggest donations come, of course, from Ford,” Jarrar added. “We have been in partnership with Ford for a long time — a real partnership, a real understanding of our needs.

“Of course, when we go to an international conference, we try to get extra funds from one of their special budgets,” Jarrar said. “Or sometimes the conferences’ organizers, if they have their own Ford Foundation funding, they send us the finances to attend.”

From 1999 to 2002, PNGO received a series of Ford grants totaling $1.4 million, plus a $270,000 supplement, according to an examination of the Ford Foundation’s IRS Form 990 filings, Web site databases and annual reports. PNGO continues to receive at least $350,000 annually from Ford, according to the data.

LAW and PNGO were hardly the only Ford-backed groups at Durban. The conference was a major enterprise for the Ford Foundation.

In a Ford Web site commentary written prior to Durban, Bradford Smith, Ford’s vice-president for peace and social justice, wrote that the conference’s issues were “at the core of the Ford Foundation’s mission since its inception.”

More than a dozen activist organizations — from Brazil to Sri Lanka — received Ford grants in excess of $1 million specifically earmarked for the production of advertising materials, public meetings and advocacy at the Durban conference.

“Does all this mobilizing, networking and drafting of statements have real impact on people’s lives?” Smith asked in the statement. His answer: Yes, “because for years to come they [Ford grantees] and the foundation will work together to implement the [Durban] Conference Plan of Action.”

Since the Durban conference, LAW has continued its public crusade against Israel and Zionism and PNGO, as well as many of its 90 members; continued to organize efforts to try Israeli officials as war criminals; and boycotted the Jewish state and labeled Israel a racist, illegitimate state that must be stripped of its Jewish identity.

While a number of the Ford-financed organizations at Durban, such as LAW and PNGO, engaged in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist agitation, certainly many did not.

Either way, Ford Foundation money, as intended, was a prime mover in the production of the advocacy pamphlets, posters, workshops and other materials at the conference that shaped the overall atmosphere.

“I saw the Ford representative at Durban,” remembered Palkovitz, the Hadassah delegate, who spotted him in connection with African American reparations issues. “There was no way to miss the anti-Semitism. The Ford guy would have to be blind. It was the most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist stuff you ever saw.

“I told the Ford representative I thought it was a mistake because the whole meeting was being hijacked,” she related. “He disagreed. He said he believed what the conference was doing was correct.”

“We are struck,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, “by the scores of Palestinian NGOs funded by Ford, a number of which have deeply disturbing and troubling records on Israel and Jews.”

The entire JTA investigative series on Ford Foundation
funding can be read at .

Where Lies the Real Cause of Anti-Semitism?

When we ask ourselves whether anti-Semitism is essentially one thing or many, just as when we ask ourselves whether or how it will cease — when we ask, in
other words, what must change to make it cease — are we not really asking whether the real cause of anti-Semitism is to be found in the Jews or in the world?

Before anyone protests that even to inquire whether the Jews might be the cause of anti-Semitism is an abject capitulation to the anti-Semites, I would remind you that the belief that they are the cause of it has been traditionally shared by anti-Semites with Jews.

Why are the Jews like the fruit of the olive tree, ask the rabbis in the Midrash. “Because,” they answer, “as all liquids mix with each other, but the oil of the olive does not, so Israel does not mix with the gentiles…. And as the olive does not yield its oil unless it is crushed, so Israel does not return to God unless it is crushed by affliction.”

Being chosen and set apart exacts a double price. It makes an envious and indignant world persecute the Jews, and it makes a pedagogical God allow this to happen. Historically, this is the normative Jewish point of view. Classical Zionism, too, viewed the Jews as the cause of anti-Semitism.

Here is Leo Pinsker’s “Auto-Emancipation,” published 14 years before [Theodore] Herzl’s “The Jewish State”: “Among the living nations of the earth, the Jews occupy the position of a nation long since dead…. If the fear of ghosts is something inborn and has a certain justification in the psychic life of humanity, is it any wonder that it asserted itself powerfully at the sight of this dead and yet living nation…? The misfortunes of the Jews are due, above all, to their lack of desire for national independence….”

Zionism understood the Jews’ misfortunes differently from rabbinic Judaism, which made it more optimistic about overcoming them. And yet there is in all self-blame a peculiar sort of optimism that helps to explain why, starting with the biblical prophets, there has been so much of it among Jews. For if you are the cause of your own suffering, you have the ability to rectify it, as you do not if it is caused by something or someone outside you.

Imagine that in its early years, Zionism had declared proudly and defiantly: “Do not blame the Jews! It is not their fault that they have become the scapegoats of a sick mankind, which has projected onto them, and will continue to project onto them, all its fears, hatreds and phobias.”

Such a Zionism would also have had to say: “Because mankind will always have fears, hatred and phobias, there will always be anti-Semitism, which no Jewish State can put an end to. On the contrary, such a state will simply become anti-Semitism’s new focus.”

How many followers would a Herzl who said this have attracted? If anti-Semitism has a single cause — the Jews — it is a dragon that can be slain. If it has many causes — as many as the world has fears, hatreds and phobias — it is a hydra: Cut off one head and it will grow another. Is that, then, what we are asking when we ask whether the new anti-Semitism is or is not just the old one all over again — whether we are fighting a dragon or a hydra?

I have two friends who I wish were at this conference (on “Anti-Semitism in the West”). They have thought more passionately about anti-Semitism than anyone else I know personally, and they disagree about it so sharply that we’ve missed a chance to see some sparks fly by not having them.

They are the scholar and critic of Jewish literature Ruth Wisse and the novelist A.B. Yehoshua. Wisse rejects the notion that the Jews have caused anti-Semitism, except insofar, perhaps, as they have not been militant enough in combating it. Jewish self-blame, she thinks, is a habitual introjection of anti-Semitic attitudes that turns the anger of Jews inward at themselves, rather than outward at their enemies.

Anti-Semitism is hydra-headed, and its latest form of hatred of Israel should be viewed not primarily as another round of “discrimination against Jews or even persecution of Jews,” but as “a political instrument to oppose liberal democracy by harnessing ancient prejudice to brand-new fears.”

The battle for democracy — the one form of government under which Jews have always prospered — and the battle against Israelophobia, Wisse therefore argues in a book she now is writing, are one and the same, since Israel is “democracy’s fighting front line.”

Yehoshua is writing a book, too. In it he maintains that the ultimate reason for anti-Semitism is the Jews themselves. Although this does not, needless to say, excuse or justify prejudice against them, the Jews have throughout their history, Yehoshua believes, baffled and exasperated the world. They have done this by taking two ideas that were their contribution to civilization and by which civilization subsequently organized itself — the idea of monotheistic universalism and the idea of national particularism — and fusing them in a way that has subverted both, thus ironically making them in the world’s eyes the symbolic enemy of humanity and of the nation alike.

It is this fusion or confusion, Yehoshua argues, that has enabled the Arab states to turn a political and territorial conflict with Israel into a successful anti-Semitic campaign, since Israel’s failure to distinguish clearly between religion and nationality — that is, between Jewishness and Israeliness — makes it an anomaly among democracies and exposes it to charges of racism and discrimination.

I don’t wish to comment in these brief remarks on the intrinsic merits of either Wisse’s or Yehoshua’s position, each of which draws on a broad hinterland of thought. I would merely point out that if we ask ourselves the question put to this panel, “Has the sovereignty of Jews in the State of Israel and the flourishing of Jews in America permanently changed the context for the analysis of anti-Semitism,” Wisse says “yes” and Yehoshua says “no,” while if we ask, “Do the Jews have the power to put an end to anti-Semitism,” Wisse says “no” and Yehoshua says “yes.”

Yehoshua’s “yes” is based on the conviction that if Israel and Diaspora Jewry would pursue the Zionist revolution to its logical end, they would finally disentangle the Jewish confusion of religion and nationality that has rankled mankind for over 2,000 years, leaving us with two discrete identities — a Jewish religious one and an Israeli national one.

Since such a Judaism could no longer be suspected of supranational allegiances and such an Israel could no longer be accused of undemocratic practices, Type 6 anti-Semitism would fade and — in the absence of a cause for Type 7 — anti-Semitism would pass at last from the world.

Wisse would object to this strongly. She would counter, I suppose, that Judaism without Jewish nationhood would not be Judaism, just as a non-Jewish Israel would not be Israel, and that Yehoshua’s approach simply demonstrates the illusion of thinking that, short of disappearing themselves, the Jews can make anti-Semitism disappear.

We have, then, two opposed analyses. Yet, curiously, they converge on one belief, which is that a vigorously democratic Israel in an alliance of values and interests with democratic forces around the world is the best way of combating contemporary anti-Semitism. And while you needn’t doubt that if they were at this conference, Wisse, who is on the political right, and Yehoshua, who is on the political left, would be fighting tooth-and-nail over just what such an Israel and such a Jewish politics entail, they would fully agree on the need for defending and promoting them.

This is encouraging. It suggests that however differently we may answer the questions put to this panel, our operative conclusions may turn out to be similar. It is a little as if two oncologists, after arguing how and whether a new malignancy in a patient is related to a previous one, found themselves agreeing on the broad outlines of its treatment, if not on the specific drugs or techniques of surgery to be used. The history of medicine indeed tells us that successfully combating an illness need not depend on identifying its root cause.

“Why the Jews?” will go on being asked, not because the question is resolvable or because we cannot act without answers to it, but because our anguish in the face of continued anti-Semitism makes us ask it. This anguish is especially great for those of us who have believed, and go on believing, that Zionism and Israel were the most appropriate and farsighted of all Jewish responses to modernity, a heroic effort on the part of the Jewish people to rejoin the family of man.

That this effort is now widely represented, so soon after the Holocaust, as a new argument for excluding the Jews from humanity’s ranks is a bitter blow. One could easily be driven to despair by it. That is why it is important to keep in mind that, nevertheless, we know what needs to be done.

Hillel Halkin, a journalist and essayist who publishes often in Commentary and The Forward, is the author of “Letters to an American Jewish Friend” and “Across the Sabbath River.” The column above is excerpted from a speech given at a recent international conference in New York, “Old Demons, New Debates: Anti-Semitism in the West.”

StandWithUs Hosts Second Conference

When 14-year-olds Kobi Mandel and Yosef Ishran were found brutally stoned to death by Palestinian terrorists on May 9, 2001, Jews around the world mourned. For L.A. residents Roz and Jerry Rothstein, the tragedy was the last straw.

The husband and wife team gathered nearly 50 Jewish leaders from across the religious and political spectrum together in their living room on May 21, 2001, to discuss the mobilization of the Los Angeles Jewish community in support of Israel. The meeting marked the birth of the grass-roots pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.

“It’s not just about how this intifada affects Israel,” Roz Rothstein said. “It’s about how the intifada has affected Jews around the world.”

On May 4, StandWithUs will host “Can You Defend Israel?” a repeat of the popular Israel advocacy conference held last January at Temple Beth Am, which drew 325 participants from around the country (organizers were forced to turn away more than 100 people). The second conference, also to be held at Temple Beth Am, is expected to attract an equally sizable crowd.

“This is a how-to conference. This is not a briefing conference,” said Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs. “It’s how to write, how to deal with the media when you’re not happy, how to advocate. It’s the most sophisticated, most up-to-date information available.”

StandWithUs has become one of the most active pro-Israel groups in Los Angeles today. Its efforts include educating on all levels — monitoring media, helping to expose militant Islamic groups and leadership, improving public relations with Israel and promoting Christian-Jewish alliances. The conference is one step in the organization’s effort to give Los Angeles Jews a professional voice.

Sponsored by 13 additional Jewish organizations and six synagogues, the mission of the May 4 conference is to train people to be ambassadors for Israel.

Rothstein said that even though people might know the information, it is the ability to express that information that they are often lacking. “The other conferences are more informational. They give briefings,” Rothstein said.

Workshops at the conference will include practical tips on lobbying for Israel and dealing with the media, techniques in public speaking and history briefings.

“Our intention is to offer a full plate of politically oriented speakers. But we have an agenda to teach people to advocate for Israel — the most effectively and most efficiently,” Rothstein said. “We don’t want people to spin their wheels. We want people to be very sharp.”

Featured speakers will include radio talk show host Dennis Prager; Elliott Brandt, Western States director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; public speaking expert Richard Greene; Dr. Roberta Seid, director of research and education for StandWithUs; Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition of Hillel: The Foundation For Jewish Campus Life, and professor and international affairs expert Jonathan Adelman.

The conference will also cater to college students, a segment of the population that has seen some of the fiercest of anti-Israel sentiment. Although it has been quieter on campus recently, Rothstein said that being prepared and proactive is as important now as ever.

“It’s a hidden agenda of the Muslim student associations across the country — the ‘free Palestine’ agenda and making Israel into the famed bad guy,” Rothstein said. “It’s still there … it’s just waiting right now.”

One of the main issues that will be addressed at the StandWithUs conference is incitement.

“Incitement was a word used in Oslo but it was an empty term,” Rothstein said. “Incitement from the cleric speeches must be monitored on the radio, TV programs need to teach peace, textbooks need to be revamped, the teachers need to teach peace, the posters of suicide bombers and making bombers into heroes needs to end.”

Rothstein said that a peaceful resolution is dependent upon incitement being broken down as an accountable issue in the road map language.

“We’re going to spell out incitement as an issue and hope that everyone will be able to lobby on this issue,” she said.

StandWithUs Advocacy Conference II will take place on
Sunday, May 4, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Register by phone at (310) 836-6145 or online at

World Briefs

U.S. to Reduce Sinai Presence

The United States has convinced Israel and Egypt to accept an immediate cut in the American presence in the Sinai, JTA has learned. According to an Israeli official, the United States will continue to lead the Multinational Force and Observers — established under the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt — but the American presence will be significantly reduced. Israel and Egypt rejected an earlier idea proposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reduce the U.S. presence to as few as 26 men. Under U.S. pressure, the two countries submitted a joint counterproposal in which the American presence will be more than “nominal,” but significantly fewer than the current 900 men, the Israeli official said. The plan, which has not yet been made public, received U.S. government approval Tuesday.

Presidents Conference Rejects

Meretz USA’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was rejected. Tuesday’s vote at a meeting of the umbrella group of American Jewry came after the conference’s membership committee recommended rejecting Meretz USA, saying it has too small a budget and scope of impact. However, some conference members say the 17-14 vote was political. The conference leadership “really doesn’t want us on board,” said Charney Bromberg, executive director of Meretz USA, a peace and civil rights group associated with the left-wing Israeli political party. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which applied for adjunct membership and was recommended for admission by the Presidents Conference’s membership committee, also was rejected.

Court Won’t OK Firing

A U.S. court refused to approve a Florida’s university plan to fire a Palestinian professor who is accused of having ties to terrorism. On Monday, the court recommended that the dispute between the University of South Florida and Sami Al-Arian be submitted to binding arbitration. A spokesperson for the university said the school is still deciding how to proceed. Critics of Al-Arian, who is suspended from his tenured position, say he raised money for terrorist groups, brought terrorists into the United States and established groups that support terror. Al-Arian denies the charges.

Statue Honors Wartime Hero

A statue was unveiled in Los Angeles honoring a late Japanese diplomat serving in wartime Lithuania who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. The statue of Chiune Sugihara was dedicated last Friday in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district. Jewish, Japanese and Lithuanian officials were among those attending the ceremony.

No U.S. Tax on Shoah Restitution

President Bush on Tuesday signed a law excluding Holocaust restitution payments from federal tax. The Holocaust Restitution Tax Fairness Act of 2002 passed Congress earlier this year.

Rabin Assassin Testifies

Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin testified in the trial of a former Shin Bet operative. Yigal Amir appeared Wednesday at the trial of Avishai Raviv, an undercover agent accused of knowing in advance about the 1995 assassination but failing to prevent it. Amir testified that he never told Raviv he intended to murder Rabin, but did say that someone should kill the prime minister. Amir also testified that among the people who heard him make the remark was legislator Benny Elon, leader of the far-right Moledet Party. Elon denied the accusation: “I don’t know what is going on in Amir’s twisted mind,” he said. “Seven years ago he assassinated the prime minister, and today he’s trying to perform character assassination.”

Hamas Associates Arrested

Four brothers have been arrested in Dallas for alleged ties to Hamas. The four, who work for the InfoCom computer company, were arrested Wednesday, according to WFAA-TV in Dallas. They were accused of having fundraising ties to Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation, a charity closed last year after the Treasury Department claimed it funneled funds to Hamas. Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to comment on the arrests Wednesday afternoon.

Peace ‘Map’ Fears

Israel backers are raising numerous concerns about the latest version of the U.S. "road map" for Middle East peace.

Analysts and Jewish leaders say the latest version, currently being hammered out in Washington, diverges from President Bush’s June 24 speech, in which he called for new Palestinian leaders and said a Palestinian state could be created only after significant institutional reforms. They also say Israel has not been consulted enough in the preparation of the document.

Also of concern is the fact that the State Department, which is considered to be softer on the Palestinians, is working on the plan, rather than the White House, whose views on the conflict are considered closer to Israel’s.

"The concern is that some of the key players credited with crafting Bush’s speech are now focused on Iraq," said one official with a Jewish organization. "Some of the other folks in the State Department have moved to fill the vacuum."

Israel has complained that it learned about the revised road map only from news reports. Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky raised some of Israel’s concerns during a visit to Washington last week.

Conceived in conjunction with America’s "quartet" partners — the United Nations, European Union and Russia — the road map has been under revision for more than a month, addressing concerns raised by all sides.

It is expected to be released when quartet leaders meet in Washington on Dec. 20. Israeli officials want the release postponed until after Israeli elections on Jan. 28.

The road map calls for a three-stage approach leading to an interim Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next year, and the creation of a permanent state by the end of 2005.

In the first stage, the plan demands the appointment of a new Palestinian Authority Cabinet and the creation of a prime minister’s post. It also demands that Israel improve humanitarian conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and dismantle any settlement outposts created under the Sharon government.

Later, it would require the Palestinians to write a constitution. It also calls for a monitoring system led by the quartet to ensure that the two sides meet their commitments. In addition, the road map calls on Israel to withdraw troops from all areas occupied since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000 and to freeze all settlement activity.

The second phase, which would run through the end of 2003, begins with Palestinian elections in January and an international conference to form a provisional Palestinian state. The third phase, due in 2004 and 2005, calls for a second conference and negotiations toward a final peace agreement.

The new version does not address some of the fundamental concerns that Israel raised last month. Specifically, Israel is concerned that the road map does not repeat Bush’s demand for a change in Palestinian leadership and does not set standards that the Palestinians must meet before the sides progress from stage to stage.

Israel wants the steps to be performance-based, not dictated by a timeline that runs regardless of how well the Palestinians honor their commitments, as was the case under the Oslo peace accords.

"We’ve had very negative experiences with timelines in the past," an Israeli official said.

Israel is also not happy that quartet members — three of whom it considers biased toward the Palestinians — will serve as monitors, playing a role that until now has been filled by the United States.

The new version speaks of moving through the process with the "consensus" opinion of the quartet — essentially giving the United States veto power — but Israeli officials argue that isn’t enough. They want any monitoring to be left solely to the United States.

Several analysts say that, unlike Bush’s June 24 speech, the road map essentially allows Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to remain in power. Bush also said that no Palestinian state could be created until the Palestinian leaders "engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure."

Israel has complained that the security steps the plan demands of the Palestinians are too vague.

"The road map is not faithful to Bush’s June 24 speech, which makes crystal clear that removal of Yasser Arafat is a prerequisite of any American diplomatic initiative," said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Also of concern is the lack of consequences for Palestinian noncompliance.

If the road map is released next month, it will come during national elections in Israel, where Haifa’s dovish mayor, Amram Mitzna, will lead the Labor Party. The Likud leadership was to be decided in a Nov. 28 primary, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a heavy favorite to defeat his challenger, Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli officials have been asking for the release to be postponed until after the Jan. 28 national elections. Sharansky made the request in Washington last week, but so far the United States has resisted.

"We haven’t made any decisions in terms of announcements or anything," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said last week.

Releasing the road map during the election campaign would be seen as a gift for Mitzna, who has said he will meet with any Palestinian leader, including Arafat. Sharon has refused to meet with Arafat because of Arafat’s ties to terror groups.

However, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Monday that postponing the release would be as much an act of interference in Israeli politics as releasing it. He also suggested that Sharon would not be hampered by the road map.

"He needs to show the Israeli electorate not only that he can fight terrorism, but that he has a way out of the process," Indyk said at a forum at the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow. "He needs to support it."

Indyk also said that based on the fate of other peace plans presented over the past two years, Sharon knows there is little chance the road map will be implemented. Therefore, Indyk said, he has little to lose by supporting the plan.

Makovsky speculated that the United States may be insisting on releasing the document quickly to strengthen U.S. attempts to woo Arab support for a potential attack on Iraq.

"Introducing the document at such a sensitive juncture, very little can be accomplished," he said. "It makes me wonder if Arab states are seeking to insist upon the quartet’s passage of the road map as a prerequisite for their acquiescence to the American actions in Iraq."