Israel conducts illegal weapons amnesty


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

There are a lot of guns in Israel. You see them carried by soldiers as you walk down the street; on the hip of the security guard checking your bag as you enter the bank; and even by licensed civilians who live in or travel through areas Israel acquired in the 1967 war.

Israel’s Ministry of Public Security has embarked on an amnesty campaign to collect illegal, unlicensed firearms, promising that anyone who hands over their unlicensed gun will not be prosecuted. Unlike similar campaigns in the US where the concern is violent crime, misuse of firearms is a greater problem relative to suicides. 

Yakov Amit, the head of firearm licensing in the Ministry says there are 160,000 licensed civilian weapons in Israel, along with 130,000 guns licensed to institutions such as security companies. According to law, Israelis must renew their gun permits every three years, including a requirement for shooting practice.

According to officials, there are about 6,500 Israelis who have not renewed their gun licenses. 

“It is likely that these guns were stolen and they’re afraid to report it or they were sold illegally,” Amit told The Media Line. “We want to know how many people have done this. They must report it but there won’t be any criminal proceedings against them.”

In the first week of the campaign which began earlier this month, 200 Israelis came forward. Since then, there have been dozens more, although complete statistics are not yet available.

The issue gained prominence here earlier this month when a disgruntled customer opened fire in a bank in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, killing four people before turning the gun on himself. The gunman, Itamar Alon, was a former security guard who had won a commendation from the city for preventing a terrorist attack years ago.

His gun, Amit said, was licensed.

The shooting dominated the Israeli news for days, ironically pointing out how rare gun violence is in the country. Israeli officials say the difficult process required in order to obtain a gun weeds out potential misuse.

“Unlike in the US, in Israel there is no legal right to [own or carry] a gun,” Amit said. “Anyone who wants a gun needs to submit a request and explain why he needs that gun. He also has to undergo physical and psychological tests.”

Israel’s Ministry of Health is legally bound to report any changes in psychological health that could impact on a gun owner’s ability to use the weapon safely.

Anyone living in post-1967 areas, or on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is reasonably likely to obtain a license for a firearm, as well as people involved in businesses that include risk, like diamonds or money-transfer.

Most Israelis are familiar with guns from their mandatory army service. With the exception of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab citizens, all Israelis are drafted at the age of 18 and serve in the army – men for three years and women for two years. Even those in non-combat jobs complete at least three weeks of basic training that includes firing assault rifles.

Although violent crime involving gun use is considered rare in Israel, guns feature heavily in the high rate of suicide in both the civilian and military sectors.

The army does not like to release statistics, but after a blogger writing under a pseudonym wrote on the issue last year, the army revealed that 237 servicemen and women took their own lives over the past ten years, the vast majority using their army-issued weapons.

“There is a dangerous cultural combination of easy access to guns and the lack of awareness of depression and its prevalence in the 18 to 26 age group,” Sara Halevi, an adolescent cognitive behavioral therapist in Jerusalem told The Media Line. “That lends itself to a situation where suicide is unfortunately far too common.”

Halevi said she has noticed an increase in depression and stress-related illnesses in her practice, especially among 17-year-olds just before they enter the army.

“They feel unprepared for the responsibility that they are going to have put on them,” she said. “I’ve seen the incidence of depression go up significantly.”

There is still a stigma in Israel against seeking treatment, and many young Israelis worry that seeing a therapist could keep them out of important army jobs.

The army is also working to combat suicides of soldiers on active duty. In the past, most soldiers would bring their guns home with them when they came home for the weekend. Now, since the army began requiring that most soldiers keep their guns on their bases when on leave, suicides have decreased significantly.

Weapons found in Arab-Israeli village’s elementary school


A cache of weapons was discovered hidden in an elementary school in an Arab-Israeli village in northern Israel.

The weapons, including RPG anti-tank missiles, rockets, grenades and bullets, also were found in a kindergarten and a drainage ditch in Abu Sinan, according to reports.  Israel Police sappers destroyed the explosives.

It is believed that the weapons were the property of local crime families. Some of the arms may have been stolen from a local army depot.

Israeli waiter convicted of killing boss and family


An Israeli waiter was found guilty on Monday of murdering the boss who fired him and five members of the restaurant owner’s family, including a baby, stabbing them to death in their home.

Damian Kerlik carried out the killings in 2009, angry over his dismissal for stealing alcohol on the job, police said.

Kerlik slipped into the Oshrenko family’s apartment in the suburb of Rishon Lezion late at night while they were sleeping. He used keys he had obtained from his wife, who had continued to work at the restaurant.

Convicting him of the six murders, a court in central Israel said he killed his ex-employer, his wife, their four-month-old son, three-year-old daughter and the children’s grandparents.

Kerlik will be sentenced at a later date. His wife is already serving a 13-year sentence for her role in the murders.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Louise Ireland

Jaffa Mosque bombing plan was to be blamed on right wing Israelis


An Arab-Israeli crime mob planned to bomb a mosque in Jaffa and pass it off as an attack by right-wing settlers, police discovered.

At least eight people have been under arrest for the last month in the case, from which a gag order was lifted Tuesday, according to reports.

The plan to bomb the Hassan Bek Mosque in Jaffa and the car of its sheikh was thwarted just hours before it was set to occur, when a police raid on a home in Jaffa last month uncovered the powerful bomb that was set to be planted in the building, Ynet reported.

Another plan included targeting a new Scientology center in Jaffa.

The would-be bombers had planned to spray paint the words “price tag” in the neighborhood to make the attack look like the work of rightists. “Price tag” refers to the strategy extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes or their attacks on Jews. The incident was to have occurred shortly after five members of the Fogel family were killed in their home on a Friday night.

Indictments against the suspects, including several members of one Jaffa family, are expected to be made in Tel Aviv District Court later this week.

Agriprocessors supervisor arrested in Israel


A former supervisor of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa was arrested in Israel.

Hosam Amara, 46, was indicted in 2009 on federal charges of fraud and immigration abuses. He is accused of some of the worst worker abuses at the now defunct plant in Postville, according to the Des Moines Register. In 2008, the plant was the site of what at the time was the largest immigration enforcement action in American history.

Extradition proceedings against Amara will begin in Israel on May 2, according to the newspaper.

Amara, who was arrested March 31 and remains jailed, is charged with one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit; 24 counts of harboring and aiding and abetting the harboring of undocumented aliens for profit; one count of conspiracy to commit document fraud; and one count of aiding and abetting document fraud.

He faces up to 260 years in prison and $6.75 million in fines if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 on 86 counts of fraud related to his management of the plant and later sentenced to 27 years in federal prison. He remains in prison while his case is under appeal.

Israeli alleged mobsters appear in L.A. court


Five Israeli alleged mob figures extradited to Los Angeles last week will spend a considerable amount of time in jail — and that’s before their trial starts.

Defense lawyer Victor Sherman and his colleagues have asked for additional time to get up to speed on the complex cases, and Sherman estimates that it will be several months before the accused will face a jury.

The slow pace is in contrast to the speed with which the five men were hustled aboard a plane at Ben-Gurion Airport on Jan. 12, and, on arrival in Los Angeles the next day,  immediately arraigned before a U.S. magistrate.

Facing charges ranging from murder and massive embezzlement to money laundering, racketeering and running a large Los Angeles-based Ecstasy ring, the men have been described by the Israeli police and media as bosses and associates of one of the country’s most powerful crime syndicates, with far-flung operations across the globe.

Listed in the 77-page, 32-count federal indictment are Yitzhak Abergil, considered the top boss, and his brother Meir Abergil, reputedly in charge of finances and debt collection.

The indicted associates are Sasson Barashy, Moshe Malul and Israel Ozifa.

Two other defendants, Yoram El-Al and Luis Sandoval, remain fugitives sought by police. Sandoval is charged as a member of the San Fernando Valley-based Vineland Boyz street gang, which allegedly served as the main distributor of the Ecstasy ring and as enforcers for the Israeli organizers.

Members of the large community of Israeli expatriates in the Los Angeles area have described themselves as largely indifferent to the arrival of the alleged mobsters, but this may well change when the trial begins and media coverage kicks in.

A young ex-pat in the construction business, who asked not to be identified, said only, “I’m ashamed that these guys are being tried in the United States, rather than in Israel, because the Israeli police couldn’t put the evidence together.”

The voluminous indictment reads like a crime thriller in which law enforcement officials across Europe, Japan, North Africa and the United States apparently recorded every phone conversation and hotel meeting among the defendants.

Also carefully listed are the underworld monikers of the accused. Yitzhak Abergil is also known as The Friend, The Big Friend and The Man from the South; Ozifa is Israel the Tall or The Tall One; El-Al, aka The Wounded; and Sandoval as Barney Twin or Hog.

After a 2008 federal grand jury indictment in the United States, Israeli police arrested the Abergil brothers and their associates. An Israeli district court found the accused “extraditable” in 2009; the defendants appealed, but last month the Israeli Supreme Court rejected their petition.

Israeli courts have rarely agreed to extradite their nationals to other countries, and in this case U.S. and Israeli officials have agreed that if found guilty, the defendants will not receive the death penalty and will serve any sentences in Israeli prisons.

Israeli police and media have frequently described the Abergils as bosses of one of the country’s most powerful crime syndicates, with extensive overseas operations. However, the accused, who have maintained their innocence throughout, have a different view.

In a recent interview on Israeli television, Meir Abergil modestly allowed that “we’re peanuts compared to the mafias they have in America. They have the Mexican cartels, the Italians, the Irish mafia, the Colombians. Who are we? Nothing, cockroaches.”

The Los Angeles Police Department has been concerned with Israeli crime in the city since the 1970s, as Deputy Chief Michael Downing who heads the LAPD Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, and Capt. Greg Hall, who commands the Major Crimes Division, told The Jewish Journal some months ago.

The two officers noted a gradual increase in crimes by Israeli nationals, mostly in such white-collar crimes as money laundering, tax evasion, real estate and financial frauds, but also in narcotics trafficking.

“Israeli crime here tends to be quite sophisticated and hard to track,” Hall said. “We’re worried about what may be going on that we don’t know about.”

However, police stressed the cooperation of the established Jewish and Israeli communities in pursuing criminal elements in their midst, and leading Israeli ex-pats were quick to draw a line between the law-abiding community and a few criminals.

“[The accused] are criminals and must be brought to justice, but I’m more concerned about some Jewish organizations in the United States that put their social justice ideologies before the security of Israel,” said Haim Linder, formerly vice president of the Council of Israeli Communities, L.A.

Amnon Peery, another Israeli ex-pat, observed, “I’m not embarrassed by [the Abergil case]. We live here, not there.”

Isaac Berman, a psychologist in private practice, took a more nuanced view.

“I’m unhappy that these men were extradited to the United States rather than put on trial in Israel,” Berman said.

“I don’t feel personally insecure here, but there is still anti-Semitism and racial bias in this country. We certainly don’t need more unflattering references to Israel.” l

Body of American tourist, allegedly killed by Arabs, found near Jerusalem


The body of an American tourist was found near Jerusalem a day after she was attacked and kidnapped, allegedly by Arab assailants.

Christine Logan’s body was identified Sunday morning by Jerusalem police. Her hometown in the United States has not yet been reported.

Logan and a friend, Susan Kaye Wilson, a tour guide from Givat Ze’ev who made aliyah from Great Britan in 1991, were attacked Saturday while hiking at Khirbet Hanut, an archaeological site near Beit Shemesh.

Wilson told police, according to reports, that two Arab men beat and stabbed the women and tied their hands behind their backs. Wilson said she pretended to be dead and later escaped. Wilson was hospitalized at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem with stab wounds to her upper body.

A massive search began Saturday for Logan, involving roadblocks and checkpoints, as well as hundreds of Israeli army and Border Police troops, Haaretz reported.

Police are working to determine if the attack was nationalistically motivated or random violence.

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

Jimmy Carter Mideast book shows his anti-Israel bias


I like Jimmy Carter. I have known him since he began his run for president in early 1976. I worked hard for his election, and I have admired the work of the Carter Center throughout the
world. That’s why it troubles me so much that this decent man has written such an indecent book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His bias against Israel shows by his selection of the book’s title: “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” The suggestion that without peace Israel is an apartheid state analogous to South Africa is simply wrong. The basic evil of South African apartheid, against which I and so many other Jews fought, was the absolute control over a majority of blacks by a small minority of whites. It was the opposite of democracy.

In Israel majority rules; it is a vibrant, secular democracy, which has just recognized gay marriages performed abroad. Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court and get to vote for their representatives, many of whom strongly oppose Israeli policies.

Israel has repeatedly offered to end its occupation of areas it captured in a defensive war in exchange for peace and full recognition. The reality is that other Arab and Muslim nations do, in fact, practice apartheid.

In Jordan, no Jew can be a citizen or own land. The same is true in Saudi Arabia, which has separate roads for Muslims and non-Muslims. Even in the Palestinian Authority, the increasing influence of Hamas threatens to create Islamic hegemony over non-Muslims. Arab Christians are leaving in droves.

Why then would Jimmy Carter invoke the concept of apartheid in his attack on Israel? Even he acknowledges — though he buries this toward the end of his book — that what is going on in Israel today “is unlike that in South Africa — not racism but the acquisition of land.”

But Israel’s motive for holding on to this land is the prevention of terrorism. It has repeatedly offered to exchange land for peace and did so in Gaza and southern Lebanon, only to have the returned land used for terrorism, kidnappings and rocket launchings.

I don’t know why Carter, who is generally a careful man, allowed so many errors and omissions to blemish his book. Here are simply a few of the most egregious.

Carter emphasizes that “Christian and Muslim Arabs had continued to live in this same land since Roman times,” but he ignores the fact that Jews have lived in Hebron, Tsfat, Jerusalem and other cities for even longer. Nor does he discuss the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries since 1948.

Carter repeatedly claims that the Palestinians have long supported a two-state solution, and the Israelis have always opposed it. Yet he makes no mention of the fact that in 1938, the Peel Commission proposed a two-state solution with Israel receiving a mere sliver of its ancient homeland and the Palestinians receiving the bulk of the land. The Jews accepted, and the Palestinians rejected this proposal, because Arab leaders cared more about there being no Jewish state on Muslim holy land than about having a Palestinian state of their own.

He barely mentions Israel’s acceptance and the Palestinian rejection of the United Nation’s division of the mandate in 1948.

He claims that in 1967, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Jordan. The fact is that Jordan attacked Israel first, Israel tried desperately to persuade Jordan to remain out of the war and Israel counterattacked after the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem, firing missiles into the center of the city. Only then did Israel capture the West Bank, which it was willing to return in exchange for peace and recognition from Jordan.

Carter repeatedly mentions U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which called for return of captured territories in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries, but he ignores the fact that Israel accepted, and all the Arab nations and the Palestinians rejected this resolution. The Arabs met in Khartoum and issued their three famous “no’s”: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation,” but you wouldn’t know that from reading the history according to Carter.

Carter faults Israel for its “air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor” without mentioning that Iraq had threatened to attack Israel with nuclear weapons if it succeeded in building a bomb.

Carter faults Israel for its administration of Christian and Muslim religious sites, when, in fact, Israel is scrupulous about ensuring every religion the right to worship as they please — consistent, of course, with security needs. He fails to mention that between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Hashemites destroyed and desecrated Jewish religious sites and prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall. He also never mentions Egypt’s brutal occupation of Gaza between 1949 and 1967.

Carter blames Israel and exonerates Yasser Arafat for the Palestinian refusal to accept statehood on 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, pursuant to the Clinton-Barak offers of Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. He accepts the Palestinian revisionist history, rejects the eye-witness accounts of President Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross and ignores Saudi Prince Bandar’s accusation that Arafat’s rejection of the proposal was “a crime” and that Arafat’s account “was not truthful” — except, apparently, to Carter. The fact that Carter chooses to believe Arafat over Clinton speaks volumes.

Carter’s description of the recent Lebanon War is misleading. He begins by asserting that Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. “Captured” suggest a military apprehension subject to the usual prisoner of war status. The soldiers were kidnapped, and have not been heard from — not even a sign of life. The rocket attacks that preceded Israel’s invasion are largely ignored, as is the fact that Hezbollah fired its rockets from civilian population centers.

Carter gives virtually no credit to Israel’s superb legal system, falsely asserting (without any citation) that “confessions extracted through torture are admissible in Israeli courts,” that prisoners are “executed” and that the “accusers” act “as judges.” Even Israel’s most severe critics acknowledge the fairness of the Israeli Supreme Court, but not Carter.

Communities on Alert After Seattle Shootings


Jewish communities are being urged to remain vigilant, be in touch with police and other law enforcement agencies and review their security arrangements after a fatal shooting at Seattle’s Jewish federation offices. The alleged gunman, identified by police as Naveed Afzal Haq, said he was an American Muslim upset about what was going on in Israel.

But leaders of national Jewish organizations report that their institutions are operating as usual, without panic.

“There’s obviously increased anxiety, but I think people feel safe here,” said Deborah Dragon, spokeswoman for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which held a staff meeting Monday morning to assuage workers’ fears. “As Jewish people, we’re aware that we’re potential targets for hate crime regardless of what’s happening in the Middle East.”

The Los Angeles federation’s security detail remains, as always, vigilant and constantly reassesses its tactics for ensuring worker safety, Dragon added.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Sgt. Lee Sands said the LAPD is aware of what happened in Seattle and has taken steps to increase police visibility in certain areas.

“In light of events in the Middle East, the department has already increased patrols in possible high-risk locations, which could include synagogues,” Sands said.

Aaron Rosenthal, spokesman for the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, said that while Friday’s shooting, which left one person dead and five injured, has raised alarms.

“We’ve taken our cue from the Seattle police, that this was an isolated incident by one individual,” he said. “But it’s certainly created a heightened sense of awareness.”

The San Francisco JCC has been in touch with other local Jewish agencies, including the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Community Relations Council “to keep tabs on the community,” and the facility’s security director has “been talking to police about whether there’s a need to step up our security,” Rosenthal said.

The Seattle attack occurred on July 28, when Haq allegedly took a teenage girl hostage, forced his way through the Seattle federation’s first-floor security door and walked upstairs to the federation reception desk, where he began shooting.

Pam Waechter, 58, the director of the federation’s community campaign, was shot and killed at the scene.

Many Jewish groups around the country reached out to local police, but in some places, police acted first.

Rabbi Daniel Isaak of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Ore., arrived for services that night to see two police cars in the parking lot.

They were “checking someone out,” he reported.

The incident turned out to be nothing, but Neveh Shalom hired a private security firm for Shabbat and much of this week.

“The federation building in Seattle was pretty secure,” Isaak noted. “How do you prevent someone who comes with a gun and holds it to the head of a 13-year-old? I’m not sure in practical terms how much we can do. Maybe this is in large part for our own mental health.”

Soon after the Seattle attac
k, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations put its Secure Community Network (SCN) into action for the first time since it was created 18 months ago, sending out a bulletin to member organizations, urging them to implement pre-arranged security measures.

Those groups forwarded the alert to their constituents, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist houses of worship in North America.
Since last Friday, SCN’s national director, Paul Goldenberg, has been in contact with the heads of all 155 Jewish federations, Jewish camps and synagogue movements, and has been getting regular updates from the FBI and law enforcement around the country.

“I can assure you that this is not an overreaction,” said Goldenberg, who has 20 years of experience in law enforcement, including a stint as chief of the attorney general’s hate crime unit for New Jersey. “Almost every time there’s an escalation in the Middle East, there are attacks against Jewish communities in the United States and Europe.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the Conference of Presidents’ executive vice chairman, said teleconferences were planned throughout the day Monday with groups that wanted to discuss security procedures.

The day before the Seattle attack, SCN organized a teleconference with heads of security for every major Jewish federation and senior representatives from eight law enforcement agencies to discuss concerns in the wake of the escalation of violence in Israel and Lebanon.

They specifically discussed the danger of a “lone wolf” attack, which is what happened the following day in Seattle.

“People may say it’s just one person, and I am not saying that Hezbollah or Al-Qaida are coming after Jewish institutions, but there are people out there influenced by what they see and hear, who act on it,” Goldenberg said. “It’s very difficult to track these people.”

In 1999, one such “lone wolf,” white supremacist Buford Furrow, shot and wounded seven people at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills. In 2002, Egyptian-born terrorist Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot and killed 25-year-old ticket agent Victora Hen and 46-year-old diamond importer Yaakov Aminov at the El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

Last month in Nashville, an Iraqi national was convicted of buying weapons “so he could shoot and kill Jews,” Goldenberg pointed out.

He emphasized “there is no intelligence of any imminent threat,” and the Jewish community should “be vigilant” without panicking.

“The most important weapon we have is education,” Goldenberg said. “The Jewish community needs to be training its professional staff in security awareness.”
Many such programs are free, and are offered by law enforcement agencies. The SCN can “help you navigate the process,” Goldenberg said.

Seattle was one of 18 cities that has received $14 million from the Department of Homeland Security’s 2005 budget to provide security for at-risk nonprofit groups. Virtually all the money is earmarked for enhanced security at Jewish organizations.

An additional $11 million from that budget went to non-Jewish nonprofit groups, $25 million promised for 2006 has not yet been disbursed, and the 2007 budget is still being decided.

William Daroff, vice president for public policy at the United Jewish Communities and the group’s top Washington lobbyist, said that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pledged three weeks ago to release the 2006 funds, but nothing has happened yet.

Daroff’s office also has asked for a $25 million increase to the 2007 budget, citing the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

“What the Seattle murder brings home is exactly what I’ve been talking about,” he said. “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that Jewish institutions are front and center on terrorist lists.”

On Saturday, a synagogue in Sydney was attacked with concrete blocks being used to smash car windows, and other projectiles were hurled at the synagogue roof.
Some Jewish organizations already have spent some of their homeland security funding. Jewish day schools in Chicago, for example, installed materials on their windows to prevent shattered glass in case of a bombing.

The Atlanta Jewish federation has used its funding for what security director Richard Raisler calls “target hardening,” meaning physical security measures such as access control, cameras and other upgrades.

Other communities haven’t yet put the money to work, particularly those in the West, the last to submit their grant applications.

San Francisco’s JCC, for example, “has a plan in place to enhance security in the front of our building,” Rosenthal said, but it’s “still in the conceptual stage.”

Monday afternoon, the Orthodox Union urged its synagogues to create a standing “security committee” that would have “ready access to law enforcement and security contacts,” and to let their local police know the times of services and other planned gatherings.

Ultimately, there’s only so much that security barriers can accomplish.
“If we have to build walls around our JCCs and camps, then the people who want to harm us have succeeded,” Goldenberg said. “Creating a secure culture can be done in other ways — learning how to see threats and protecting against them.”

The Journal’s senior writer Marc Ballon contributed to this report.

Nation & World Briefs


Jewish Man’s Murder Angers Parisians

At least 1,200 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday to show their anger at the murder of a Jewish man. Ilan Halimi, 23, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. His body was found last week at a train station outside Paris. Halimi apparently was lured into a trap by a woman of North African origin who came into a Paris store where Halimi sold mobile phones. The demonstrators at Sunday’s protest shouted slogans and carrying banners that read “Justice for Ilan” and “Avenge Ilan!”

The French government is considering Halimi’s murder to be an anti-Semitic act. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday night that the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s death be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Villepin spoke at the annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, or CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups. In addition to pledging that the government would do its utmost to find Halimi’s killers, Villepin pledged that the French government would fight anti-Semitism throughout French society. The dinner, which was attended by some 800 ministers, elected officials, ambassadors and religious officials included Muslim representives from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania, Pakistan and Tunisia.

Holocaust Denier Sentenced

An Austrian court sentenced David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust. Irving, a British historian who pleaded guilty to the charges at the opening of the trial earlier on Monday, looked stunned in the crowded courtroom after the jury and three judges returned the sentence. Holocaust denial is a crime in Austria, a country once run by the Nazis. Irving was arrested in November when he came to Austria to give a lecture. The charges against him are based on a speech and interview from 1989 in Austria, in which he denied that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. After he arrived at the court, Irving told reporters that he had changed some of his views since 1989 and now recognized that gas chambers had indeed existed and that “millions of Jews died, there is no question.”

Israel Cracks Down on Hamas

Israel decided to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority as soon as Hamas takes over its government. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet voted Sunday to stop the monthly transfer of tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, to step up scrutiny over crossing points into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and to prevent entry into Israel by members of Hamas. The measures go into effect when Hamas, which won last month’s Palestinian Authority elections, forms the new government.

“It is clear that, given Hamas’ majority in the Palestinian Parliament and the fact that Hamas will form a government, the Palestinian Authority is effectively becoming a terrorist authority,” Olmert told fellow ministers.

The measures were not as tough as had been expected, especially after the Defense Ministry recommended a halt on entry to Israel by Palestinian workers. Israel has been under Western pressure to not impose sanctions severe enough to boost Hamas’ standing and increase pan-Arab and Iranian support for the Palestinian Authority.

Jewish Skater Earns a Silver

Jewish ice skater Ben Agosto and his partner, Tanith Belbin, earned a silver medal in ice dancing at the 2006 Olympics. Agosto and Belbin finished second to Russians Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov in the ice dancing competition, which concluded Monday. Agosto’s mother is Jewish and his father is Puerto Rican.

Zionist Congress Election Faces Low Turnout

The Feb. 28 deadline to vote for U.S. representatives to the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) 35th Congress of the Jewish People is fast approaching, but the majority of American Jews seem largely disinterested. Of the estimated 5 million to 6 million Jews in the United States, less than 100,000 are expected to cast ballots by the deadline in an election that will choose 145 delegates from 12 groups that range from the Russian American Jews for Israel, to Religious Zionist Slate to the ARZA/World Union, the Reform movement’s slate.

If registration trends continue, it appears that fewer Jews will participate this year than in 2002, when nearly 89,000 voted. Five years earlier, almost 108,000 Jews cast ballots. Participation has drifted downward, despite an extensive media campaign by the American Zionist Movement (AZM), the WZO’s U.S. wing, to educate American Jews about the organization and to get the vote out. The WZO, which has an annual budget of $12.5 million, was founded in Switzerland by Theodor Herzl to support the creation of a Jewish homeland and now works to improve Disapora relations, combat anti-Semitism and to strengthen Jewish identity and education around the world, among other initiatives.

In addition, WZO members account for half the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which encourages Jews to immigrate to the Jewish homeland and helps them resettle there. The projected low turnout in the current WZO election might reflect, among other things, a diminished emotional link to Zionism among younger American Jews, said Chani Monderer, election manager of the American Zionist Movement.

The 35th Congress meets in Jerusalem June 19-22.

Individuals 18 and older who accept Zionism can register and vote through the AZM at www.congressofthejewishpeople.org. Registration is $7 for the general public and $5 for students. –Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Anti-Israel Rally in Rome

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators burned Israeli and American flags during a march Feb. 18 through Rome, sponsored by several left-wing groups. Protesters chanted anti-Israel slogans and carried banners equating Israel’s security barrier to apartheid. At one point, three protesters, two of whose faces were hidden by kaffiyehs, burned and spat on an Israeli flag.

Bank Admits Nazi Ties

Germany’s Dresdner Bank helped finance the crematoriums at Auschwitz, according to a study commissioned by the bank. During the Nazi era, Dresdner was part of a construction company that built the crematoriums at the death camp in Poland, according to the report, which was released last week after seven years of research. The company also financed Nazi weapons plants and did business with Nazi-linked authorities in Eastern Europe.

“We accept these truths, even if they are painful,” said Wulf Meier, a Dresdner board member.

New Cartoon Furor in Russia

Russian human rights activists criticized the decision of provincial authorities to close down a newspaper that published a controversial cartoon of religious leaders. The Moscow Bureau on Human Rights said the decision to shut down the Gorodskie Vesti newspaper in the southern city of Volgograd was a show of “incompetence” and epitomized the inability of local officials to deal with interfaith issues. Last Friday, city authorities in Volgograd annulled the license of Gorodskie Vesti, which published a cartoon depicting Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed in front of a television showing two groups of people about to start a fight. The caption read: “We did not teach them to do that.” The decision to shut down the paper came despite the fact that no local religious community in Volgograd said it was offended by the cartoon. The officials stated the closure of the city-owned paper was needed to avoid “incitement of ethnic hostilities.” According to the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, a group that monitors anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia, Volgograd officials never paid attention to another local newspaper, Kolokol, that over the years has consistently published anti-Semitic and xenophobic articles and published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic forgery.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Community Briefs


Gold Train Delivers to Local Agency

The Hungarian Gold Train has finally pulled into the station, figuratively speaking, bearing $67,536 for Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles.

In the chaotic days following the end of World War II in Europe, 24 freight cars loaded with boxes of jewelry, cutlery, thousands of wedding rings, art works and other personal property taken by German and Hungarian Nazis from Hungary’s Jewry were discovered stranded in Austria by American troops.

As was the custom in those days, GIs and officers “liberated” some of the valuables. In due course, Washington settled a class-action suit last year and allotted $25 million as compensation.

Rather than attempting the near impossible task of tracking down the original owners 60 years later, the Claims Conference, as steward for the money, has decided to distribute it among needy Hungarian survivors throughout the world.

An initial down payment of $4.2 million has been allotted to 27 social service agencies in seven countries, including the JFS grant.

The local agency is currently assisting 45 Hungarian survivors and, in line with the grant mandate, is forming an advisory committee among them. Lisa Brooks, JFS communications director, said the money would probably be used for the survivors’ ongoing medical needs.

The largest of the initial allocations is going to survivor agencies in Israel and Hungary. The remaining $21 million will be distributed over the next five years, according to the Claims Conference.

In addition, the U.S. government has earmarked another $500,000 to create an archive related to the Gold Train and the Nazi looting of Hungarian Jewry for educational and scholarly purposes. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Alliance Joins Drive to Improve Life in LAX Area

Five years ago, 30 soaring glass and steel columns, shimmering in ever-changing hues of blues, pinks, oranges and yellows, were installed at the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport. As time passed, the lighting became erratic — colors didn’t change properly and some lights failed. Last month, the entire system was closed for repairs.

But even when they worked, the glowing pylons did nothing to improve a surrounding area that remains plagued by poverty and high crime rates. That deeper problem is the subject of a broad-based coalition spearheaded by religious and community leaders who announced a “Campaign for a New Century.” As a first step, the group is circulating a petition that calls “on city and industry leaders to join us in formulating a plan for a new century.”

Citing a report prepared by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, coalition leaders assert that while the 13 major hotels on Century Boulevard have among the highest occupancy rates and the largest concentration of rooms in Los Angeles County, their approximately 3,500 workers earn far less than their counterparts in the region. The effects of these low wages can be seen in the high rates of poverty, crime and overcrowding in the neighboring communities of Lennox, Inglewood and Hawthorne, where many of these workers live, according to the report.

“We in the Jewish Community understand both the importance and complexity of community,” said Catherine Schneider, assistant director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). “The people who live and work in the Century Corridor are trying to build a healthy community.

“This campaign is not just about wages. It’s not just about health care,” she continued. “It’s about living in a beautiful place. PJA joins this effort to create a gateway to Los Angeles that we can all be proud of.”

For more information, visit www.newcenturycoalition.org. — Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer

ADL Report Links Southland Skinheads to Drugs, Guns

Southern California is home to a small but volatile stew of racist skinheads involved with guns and drugs, according to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League.

“There’s so much of this going on in Southern California,” said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. “It’s equally hateful toward Jews, African Americans, Hispanics.”

The ADL’s national Racist Skinhead Project has identified 110 racist and neo-Nazi skinhead groups, many of them new, in outlying areas, such as the Inland Empire and Los Angeles County’s Antelope Valley.

While such locales may seem remote to a Jewish community heavily concentrated in the Conejo Valley, the San Fernando Valley’s southern suburbs and on the Westside, individual skinheads have committed crimes in Canyon Country, Simi Valley and Chatsworth. A small gang called the San Fernando Valley Skins has been seen at high schools. The ADL report noted that its members appear “closely allied” with the Nazi-imitating National Socialist Movement.

In total, the number of active, racist skinheads in the region is less than 1,000, Susskind said. Last year, the neo-Nazi group, Volksfront, created an all-California chapter in San Bernardino County. Orange County’s Public Enemy No. 1 Skins has about 300 members and is allegedly involved with methamphetamine sales.

“We track organizations that have an ideological conviction and translate that to action,” said ADL investigative researcher Joanna Mendelsohn.

The ADL described another group, the Nazi Low Riders, as “a strange amalgam of street gang, racist skinhead group and racist prison gang” involved with armed robbery and drug dealing.

In the mid-1990s, Nazi Low-Riders successfully were prosecuted on felony weapons charges in a federal probe by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF). While the number of Nazi Low Riders has since declined, “you’ve got dozens of other groups out there that have filled the void,” said John A. Torres, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles field division.

Whether it’s Bloods, Crips or neo-Nazis, “the common denominator is their propensity to firearms,” Torres told The Jewish Journal.

The ADL report highlighted the March 2005 arrest in San Bernardino County of a Southern California Skinhead group member on several charges, including one involving a stolen handgun.

Similarly, ATF raids on skinhead hideouts in the Antelope Valley have turned up an abundance of guns and Nazi memorabilia. “Signs and pictures — it’s right there, hand-in-hand with the firearms,” Torres said. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Chaplains Foundation Honors Schulweis, Interfaith Group

An Israel-Palestinian interfaith group and Rabbi Harold Schulweis were honored last weekend aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach for reaching out to other religions.

The honors came from The Immortal Chaplains Foundation, created in memory of the four U.S. military chaplains — two Protestant, one Jewish and one Catholic — who drowned together after giving their life preservers to soldiers on a sinking troopship on Feb. 3, 1943. Organizers said the foundation uses the chaplains’ self-sacrifice as an example to honor others for altruistic, interfaith deeds.

Schulweis and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous created by him have spent two decades honoring non-Jews who rescued Jews in the Holocaust. In recent years, the longtime rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom has spoken out against the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, another outreach prompting The Immortal Chaplains’ honor.

“From their point of view, it was an appreciation of somebody to emphasize the need for goodness,” Schulweis said in an interview. “You had here people of different faiths and backgrounds who had found so much in each other, so much in each other to love and to appreciate.”

The other honoree at the Feb. 5 ceremony was Yehuda Stolov and his Jerusalem-based Interfaith Encounter Association, which has had more than a dozen dialogues, retreats and other interactions between Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze in the Holy Land.

“For me, the main thing is the recognition of our work and the possibility to leverage it to get more awareness to what we’re doing and get more funding,” said Stolov in an interview. He was scheduled to speak this week in Southern California about his interfaith work. — DF

 

Violent Crime Rises in Israeli Society


“Suddenly, I receive a telephone call: My brother, Avinoam, is dead. ‘Impossible,’ I say to myself: ‘Avinoam, my kid brother, murdered?'”

It was a lovely April day when the young couple went down to the popular Nirvana beach in Haifa with their two dogs for a stroll and a cup of coffee. It was the last day in the life of Avinoam Shoshan, 31. He was murdered on the beach promenade in front of hundreds of people.

Why? Because Shoshan’s dog got into a fight with another dog. It was too much of an insult for the owner of the other dog, so he pulled a knife and stabbed Shoshan to death.

Almost three years have passed, but Ziva Shulav, Shoshan’s sister, relives that day over and over again.

She was one of the key speakers at a December symposium on violence in Israeli society held in Haifa. It was organized by the municipality and the Ibn-Khaldoun Society for the Advancement of Democracy.

“Everyone talks about political terrorism,” Shulav said, “but people in Israel are also subject to civil terrorism, and this is often accepted as an inevitable divine punishment.”

“We talk a lot about the symptoms for this phenomenon but not enough about the causes of violence,” said Gideon Fishman, head of Haifa University’s Minerva Center for the Study of Youth. “If we do not explore the causes, nothing will help — neither more policemen nor more punitive measures.”

The sociological explanations are numerous and not necessarily convincing:

  • Police and military brutality against Palestinians has spilled over to Israel proper and is manifested by wilder driving habits and a propensity to violence.
  • The large immigration from the former Soviet Union has led to more alcoholism in Israel, thus raising the number of alcohol-related acts of violence.
  • The abundance of drugs — according to government statistics, every 10th Israeli youth is exposed to drugs — helps instigate acts of violence.

Israelis adore America. They like to dress American-style and are addicted to American cinema, junk food and music. But until a few years ago, stories of violence in America were dismissed as something that “could not happen here.”

No more. Stories such as Shoshan’s murder have become routine. According to police, in the northern part of the country alone, a murder takes place every seven and a half days, a rape every 10 days, a bodily assault every 30 minutes.

On the national level in 2005, police recorded a rise of 3.2 percent in physical violence , following five years of continuous decrease. An increase of 4.9 percent was reported in cases of violence against minors.

Eighteen and a half percent of crimes in the first six months of 2005 were crimes of violence, compared to 17.3 percent in the same period in 2004. Police opened 15,606 files on suspicion of violence in 2005, compared to 13,253 in 2004.

Tzahi Ya’acov, 16, was stabbed to death last February in the middle of a mall because he drew the attention of another minor to a 100-shekel bill — about $25 — on the shelf of a shoe store.

“I want to see the man who will dare touch this bill,” said the youth, and his friend went over to Tzahi and stabbed him. The prosecution recently reached a plea bargain with the defense, downgrading the charges from murder to manslaughter.

A recent survey conducted by Haifa University’s sociology department showed that out of 800 interviewees — half of them Arab, half of them Jewish — nearly 40 percent said the level of violence has increased in their neighborhoods.

In addition, 45 percent said anyone can easily get a weapon, though possession of arms in Israel is strictly licensed, and 72 percent said punishment of violent criminals is too light.

There was one hopeful finding in the survey: Only 3 percent of respondents said they had experienced violence themselves. The figure was slightly higher — 5 percent — among Arab respondents.

“These are more or less the figures,” Dov Lutzky, deputy commander of Israel’s Northern Police Command, said in an interview. “Violence is on an upward trend, but it’s not as dramatic as it may seem listening to testimonies in the symposium.”

“The worst case of violence is in the Arab sector,” said lawyer Sylvia Freiman, the district attorney for northern Israel. “Arabs often have a mentality of ‘we’ and ‘them’ and refuse to seek the help of the police.”

As’ad Ghanem, head of the Ibn-Khaldoun Association, said he no longer reprimands young drivers who drive too fast because “I’m afraid they will come out and beat me with a club.”

Shulav and other bereaved families have set up a society of Families of Murder Victims, similar to groups in the United States and United Kingdom.

The only mention of political violence in the symposium came from a Muslim religious leader. Sheik Mohammad Sharif Ouda is head of the Ahmadiyya community in Haifa, a small community that is strictly antiviolence.

“I accuse religious education of encouraging violence,” Ouda said in an interview. “Muslim children hear of jihad in school, Christians carry the heavy burden of the Inquisition’s heritage and Jews say ‘spill your rage onto the gentiles.'”

Shulav said that when she attended the shiva for Mayan Sapir, a 15-year-old who was murdered and raped by a 16-year-old in Rishon Lezion, Sapir’s mother begged Shulav’s forgiveness.

“‘When I read about your brother’s murder,'” Shulav recalled the mother saying, “‘I felt sorry for the family, but just like everyone else, I continued to go about my business. I beg for forgiveness for having failed to get up and cry in protest. Murder and violence are no longer a matter for the criminal world only.”

Shoshan’s murderer was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In the Ruhana murder, the verdict will be handed down soon — but for now, the alleged murderer’s father still walks around his village, proudly waving his gun.

 

A Child’s Murder, a Mother’s Strength


“The Blessing of a Broken Heart” by Sherri Mandell (Toby Press, 2003).

When a crime takes place in my neighborhood, I play a mental trick. Of course that (naive) person was mugged. She was walking alone after dark. Naturally that (careless) family was burglarized — they left their garage door unlocked. Why was that (foolish) person robbed in broad daylight? Because they live south of Third Street instead of north of it like me and my savvy neighbors. If the crime gets close, I just stretch. That robbery was on my block, true, but, please note, it was on the odd numbered side of the street.

Sociologists call this the “just world” phenomenon. We attribute meaning and logic to disturbing events so that we can get out of bed in the morning believing that the world is stable and predictable, that if we live according to the rules nothing bad will happen to us or our loved ones, that victims of misfortune deserve what happens to them.

When I started reading “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” Sherri Mandell’s book about the murder of her 13-year-old son, I had plenty of grist for distancing myself from the horror of her loss. On the day he was killed, her son, Koby, and a friend skipped school (there you go) to go hiking in a scenic gorge near their home in a West Bank (need I say more?) settlement. There, they were brutally bludgeoned to death in a cave by Palestinians from a nearby village. The cave was located in an area in which travelers are required to have an armed army escort (case closed). That no one had ever been harmed in the gorge did not enter my computation.

By the time I finished this beautiful book, all of my tricks had failed me. Mandell, a journalist, chronicles her experiences during the year after her son’s death with unusual breadth and compassion. She invites us to join her as she observes the different faces of mourning.

In this startlingly moving passage she talks to her daughter:

The night of the funeral, I go to Eliana, 10 years old, to comfort her. We are in her room, on her bed. Her hair is dark and tussled; her eyes look at me with infinite kindness. She rubs my back, asks if she can bring me tea. I tell her: “I’m the mother and I’m here to take care of you.”

She says, “No, I’m your mother.”

I say, “No, I am still your mother and this is very hard now, but we will get through it, we will go on, and I will still be your mother.”

“No,” she says,” I’ll be your mother.”

“No, I am your mother, and I know this is hard, but your are my child, and I will take care of you,” I say firmly.

“Okay,” she says, “I’ll be your grandmother.”

And to her 6-year-old son:

Gavi asks me: “Who is Koby’s mommy now?”

I wonder what to answer. It’s true that I am still Koby’s mommy, but I no longer am the one who takes care of him. I answer, “God is his mommy.”

“Oh good,” Gavi answers, “then he can see a falling star whenever he wants.”

Mandell also explores the stages of her own grief. At first she wonders, “I am like the canary in the coal mine. I have been sent out to the land of the dead to see, can one live there?” She is surprised that the Jewish period for mourning a child is only 30 days. Then she comes to understand that when you lose a child, you grieve for the rest of your life.

“You don’t need the rituals to remind you to grieve,” she writes. “You will think of your child forever.”

Later she sees how agonizing it is to modify the reflexes and habits of love. “Six months after your death,” she writes Koby, “my body has phantom legs that walk to your bed to wake you for synagogue. My body lags in recognizing your absence. It is still moving towards you, like a flower to the light. The phantom legs walk to the door to welcome your home form school, bring you chips and salsa when your return.”

Slowly, Mandell learns how better to communicate with God. “God speaks to me. I know that. But sometimes his voice is silent. Other times he mumbles. I have to keep learning, so that I can recognize his language. I have to keep my heart open….”

She understands that without an intimate knowledge of death we are not fully alive.

“The thought of life without death scares me now,” she writes. “Grieving is also the place of God, the sacred place that connects heaven and earth. It is up to us as grievers to discover and dwell in that space. The sage says, ‘Each moment is a miracle and an agony. A miracle that the world exists in all its glory. An agony that this world is one of suffering and pain.”

I watch the news of unending conflict in Israel, and much as I wish it to be otherwise, the suffering of its families too often remains on the odd numbered side of my street. “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” gives the struggle a precious face and, at the same time, illustrates the power of Jewish faith, ritual and community to heal.


Wendy Mogel is the author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.” She is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles.

Community Briefs


Grocery Shop for Israel

Boost Israel’s gross national product while buying itsgrocery products.

That’s the idea behind Fine Foods From Israel, acollaboration among the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, The JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles and the Israel Export and InternationalCooperation Institute, and includes a diverse range of sponsors, likeStandWithUs.com, Israel Discount Bank and various schools and synagogues.

The March 19-31 citywide event, which urges Angelenos to”Savor the Flavors of Israel,” features the participation of 90 markets,including 56 Ralphs supermarkets and kosher outlets such as Valley Glatt KosherMarket and Elite Market in the Valley, Kosher Club and La Brea Kosher Market inLos Angeles, Fairfax Market (Sami-Makolet) and Picanty in the Fairfax District,and Elat Market and Nut House in the Pico-Robertson area. Store discounts,promotions, and food samples will allow customers to partake in fresh produceand dairy products, Mediterranean cuisine, kosher goods and other specialtiesof Israel.

“It’s good timing,” said Doron Abrahami, consul for economicaffairs of Israel in Los Angeles, “because it’s two weeks before Pesach andeverything you can buy for Pesach, you can buy Israeli products.”

Israel, which presently has a $100 billion economy, shipsabout $38 billion in total exports, an estimated $1 billion of thatfood-related.

“Trade can always be improved,” said Teri Cohan Link of theCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, “and with what’s going on in Israelright now, there’s been a serious disruption with trade.”

“Beyond whatever we do philanthropically, it’s importantthat people do consider purchasing Israeli products,” Federation President JohnFishel said.

The campaign will also encourage locals to purchase at least$1,000 of Israeli goods annually.

For more information, call (323) 658-7924 or visit www.finefoodsisrael.com. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Bratton on Terror

With only 9,000 officers for a city of 5 million, the LosAngeles Police Department has been woefully underequipped to tackle the 250,000gang members roaming the city, Police Chief William Bratton told a packedaudience at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on March 6. This isone of a number of appearances Bratton is making in the Jewish community.

With 650 murders in 2002 and homicides increasing 100percent in two years, the LAPD has been unprepared to deal with terrorism,Bratton said, explaining that scandals such as Rampart have driven away 1,000 officers,and the impending war has also siphoned off additional officers.

“Next to New York and Washington, we are the biggest targetin the country,” he said. “We are a city that is not prepared. L.A. hasunderinvested in its police force.”

Bratton has hired a new team of top brass and consultants,including terrorism expert John Miller, one of the few journalists to conduct aface-to-face interview with Osama bin Laden.

“We are much better off now than we were four months ago …a year ago, and we’re getting better all the time,” Bratton said. “I think wecan do it. I have a lot of faith in this department.”

Bratton, who is married to Jewish Court TV anchor RikkiKlieman, said he wants to restore prestige to the force. “My goal, quitesimply, is to reduce crime, fear and disorder,” Bratton said.

Bratton will be the guest speaker at The American JewishCommittee’s Civic Achievement Award Dinner honoring Rick J. Caruso on March 20.For information, call (310) 282-8080.

For a previously published Journal interview with PoliceChief William Bratton, go to www.jewishjournal.com/archive . Keyword: Bratton. — MA

Purim for Soldiers

West Coast Chabad Lubavitch has sent more than 2,000mishloach manot (Purim baskets) to Jewish soldiers serving in Kuwait. The packageswere packed by Chabad schoolchildren in California and then airlifted to the Mideaston Tuesday.

“Many of the Jewish men and women serving in the militaryare convinced that the Jewish community in the United States is unaware of theJewish population in the military,” said Lt. Col. (Rabbi) Mitch Ackerman, whowill be traveling to Kuwait this Purim as an Army chaplain and who helpedChabad organize the airlift. “This support or recognition creates a mostpositive experience and is greatly appreciated.”

Ackerman will personally deliver many of the packages to thesoldiers, and he will also be reading the Megillat Esther to the soldiers in Kuwait.

“These mishloach manot packages are a way that we can bringthe spirit of Purim to the soldiers now,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, publicrelations director for West Coast Chabad Lubavitch. Cunin noted that in the1940s, the Lubavitcher rebbe had distributed prayers to the Jewish members ofthe armed services.

“People are often surprised that Jewish kids are serving inthe military, but it is very common,” Cunin said. “We are doing our best toshow that they have the support of the Jewish people all around the world.” –Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer

Your Letters


Homeland Insecurity

In his editorial (“Homeland Insecurity,” July 12), Rob Eshman suggests that the availability of legal guns in the United States should be seen as a problem when considering Muslim terror.

When the Hutu and Tutsi tribes were slaughtering one another in Rwanda, half a million people were murdered with machetes, yet no one is obtuse enough to suggest that there was a “machete problem” in Africa. It was a function of human evil. During the Cambodian genocide, 1 million souls were murdered using only plastic garbage bags. Cambodia did not have a “garbage bag problem.” It was, as it always is, a problem of human evil.

Muslim terrorists will kill with box cutters, with Boeing 707s, with nails and screws and rat poison and with guns, because they are barbarians intent on murder. To suggest, even tangentially, that the Muslim terrorist attack at LAX could have been avoided by gun control is an obscenity.

Robert J. Avrech , Los Angeles

Ed. Note: The editorial intended no such suggestion, tangentially or otherwise.

What in heaven’s name does it matter whether the horrendous act is called crime or terror? What matters is that a beautiful young woman, with her whole life ahead of her, and a lovely family man in the prime of life were killed by a man wielding a semiautomatic pistol and a magazine of bullets in his pocket. What matters is that we here in America never know when some idiot will pull out a gun and shoot, whether we are at the airport, the mall, a community center or an office.

I can’t recall that The Jewish Journal has ever written about the proliferation of lethal weapons in our country. This is thanks to the powerful National Rifle Association spouting its interpretation of the Second Amendment. If guns where not so easily accessible here, thousands of people would still be alive. That’s what matters.

Ruth Prinz, Santa Monica

Happiness Turns to Grief

Some may avoid labeling this a “terrorist act,” so as to feel as though America got through Independence Day safely (“Happiness Turns to Grief,” July 12). Yet, it is naive to deny that Hesham Mohamed Hadayet was most likely driven by a hatred for Israelis and pro-Israel America; hatred shared with the Egyptians and the Saudis who attacked us on Sept. 11. If the FBI is unable to realize that this was a crime of hate committed by a terrorist, then our intelligence services are in need of far more than a Cabinet reorganization.

Brian Goldenfeld, Woodland Hills

Unwanted: City Breakup

Rabbi Mark Diamond’s comments (“Unwanted: City Breakup,” July 12) are most insulting. To say that those of us in the Valley who are pro-secession do not care for the poor is, at best, insulting. Does the rabbi think that only anti-secession people donate time and money to charity? This demonization of the pro-secessionists is totally without merit.

However, it is not new to Wendy Madnick’s writings: “To the extent that anti-Semitism exists, it doesn’t make sense to separate,” noted Ruth Galanter. “It’s better to be part of one large community and reach across the greater Los Angeles community to build relationships.” (“Valley Secession: Better for Jews?,” March 29). Why weren’t these remarks challenged? I assure you that the Jewish community is not divided in any way shape and or form when it comes to anti-Semitism. I assure you that when our brothers and sisters in Los Angeles are harmed by anti-Semites, Valley Jews will be there, shoulder-to-shoulder, in solidarity with them.

Rabbi Don Goor said, “Don’t separate yourself from the community, Al tifrosh min hatzibur.” This is a monumental misuse of the Talmudic dictum for his political self-interest. I appreciate the rabbi’s point of view on secession, but to misuse Talmud in this way is inappropriate. I can assure the Jewish people of the Valley that a vote for secession will not violate “Al tifrosh min hatzibur,” rather, it will bring you closer to the ideal suggested by the sages of our tradition.

To suggest that the people of the Valley who are pro-secession will become morally bankrupt once secession succeeds insults our intelligence.

Larry Ruby, Woodland Hills

Missing in Action

Amram Hassan’s opinion piece (“Missing in Action: The Community,” July 12) shamed me terribly as it should everyone in our community. Not a peep was heard from most of us, nor did our leadership call for the mass demonstration the occasion demanded. In stark contrast, the African American community imported leadership from across the country and demanded attention for an incident, although important and serious, that was not half so grievous as the hate crime terrorism that we, as a community, endured. Can you imagine what demonstrations would have taken place if it had happened to their community?

It is not too late to come together and memorialize the two who gave their lives for us. Yes, for us. For their deaths should alert us to the hate and dangers that perpetually surround us. We should demonstrate that those who preach hate should be pariahs in this community. This event should not pass unnoticed and unchallenged.

Dr. James Hangman , Los Angeles

Kudos

Until recently, The Jewish Journal might have been a “Journal about Jews and Israel,” but items consistent with a “Jewish” Journal were rare. Recently the content of The Journal and, in particular, Managing Editor Amy Klein’s columns (for example “For These Things, I Do Weep,” July 5) have a very different character.

The writings draw on the traditional Jewish calendar — Shabbat, Purim, Passover — and the classical sources — the Tanach, the liturgy and the Talmud — to make fresh arguments and to express deeply held and deeply Jewish reactions and emotions. I do not always agree with the points being made, but the writing is rich, the knowledge of and feel for the sources is profound, and the style is appropriate if this is truly to be a “Jewish” Journal.

 

Jacob Alex Klerman, Los Angeles

Stroke of Halacha

Since Miranda Pollack (“Stroke of Halacha,” July 5) worked in a nursing home and a VA hospital, she should have known better than to blame halacha or Jewish law or the rabbis for her mother’s plight. The Jewish Journal is also remiss in not providing perspective. She and her sister (and their mother) were negligent in not providing for a living will and/or advanced directives for an 80-something-year-old woman, and then procrastinating when a Do Not Resuscitate order was proffered by hospital staff.

Based on past experiences as a physician involved in similar cases, Jewish law does not require that ventilatory support be provided in a case where recovery from the offending condition is remote. However, once a patient is on a ventilator and life is dependent on that machine — one is not permitted to “pull the plug” according to halacha. This is true regardless of one’s own or the hospital bioethics committee’s interpretation of a “good quality of life.”

There are physicians, Jewish and non-Jewish, who recuse themselves from a patient’s care where the family or the hospital insists on “pulling the plug.” This unfortunate situation was entirely preventable and should serve as a cautionary note to others who care about living a Torah way of life in a modern, technologically advanced society.

Dr. Howard Winter, Beverly Hills

Corrections

The eulogy for Dr. Pauline Glanzberg Rachlis (Obituary, June 21), should have said she graduated from Vienna Medical School and was survived by her son, Rabbi Arnold Rachlis.

Another of ‘Iran 10’ Released


The second of 10 Iranian Jews jailed on charges of spying for Israel has been freed, but Jewish leaders don’t see it as a shift in Iranian policy.

"We take no delight in an innocent man serving more than 1,000 days in a prison for exercising his religion," said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Los Angeles-based Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, referring to Hebrew teacher Faramarz Kashi, 35, who was released Tuesday.

Thirteen Jews originally were arrested on espionage charges in the winter of 1999. Many of the accused "confessed" to the charges, though Jewish groups scoffed at the idea that the confessions were offered freely. Several later recanted.

Media and foreign ambassadors were not allowed to observe the court proceedings, in which the prosecutor also served as judge.

Three of the accused were acquitted, but the other 10 were convicted in July 2000 of national security violations and given sentences ranging from four to 13 years.

The sentences were reduced to two to nine years on appeal.

Israel denies that any of the Jews were its spies. Jewish groups contend that the case demonstrates Iran’s virulent anti-Semitism.

"The arrests were politically motivated, the charges were politically motivated and the convictions were politically motivated," said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation. "This case has nothing to do with justice or with law. It was all politics from the beginning."

The other eight prisoners, Kermanian believes, will be released only when Iran views it as politically advantageous.

"I honestly think that Iran has been moving away from even the minimum moderations it gained during the first term of President Khatami," he said.

After spending three years in jail, Kashi was released Tuesday as "a result of ongoing efforts on behalf of the prisoners, in which many people have been involved," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Efforts included "the pressures that were brought to bear, the continuing interest of families there, and perhaps [Iran’s] own domestic interest," Hoenlein said.

Kermanian said he doesn’t think American or Jewish pressure played a role in Kashi’s release.

"What pressure?" he asked. "He spent every day of his sentence in jail."

Originally sentenced to five years, Kashi had his sentence reduced to three. Hoenlein said Kashi had served the entire three years, counting time he was held while awaiting trial.

The first prisoner to be released, last March, was merchant Ramin Nematizadeh, whose sentence was reduced from four years to two. Nematizadeh also was involved with teaching religious school.

Kermanian acknowledged that the intervention of Western countries had been "instrumental" in saving the Jews from a death sentence when they were tried in 2000.

At the time, the prisoners were held in solitary confinement so authorities could squeeze confessions out of them, Kermanian said.

Now their conditions are relatively better, he said: They are allowed kosher food two or three times a week, and visitation rights have increased from once a week to twice a week.

However, their families, "who depend on them for their livelihood, are suffering and are in dire need," Kermanian said.

In addition, the fate of the imprisoned Jews "must make us all think about the future of the 25,000 Jews left in Iran," Dayanim said.

"The condition of the community has deteriorated substantially since the verdicts were announced," he said, as the entire Jewish community now is "regarded by their compatriots as traitors or spies."

Furthermore, Dayanim said, "avenues have been hindered" that would provide emigration for Iranian Jews.

"For some reason, governments, including the United States, are denying many of the refugee claims by Iranian Jews," he said.

Hoenlein said several visas had been delayed in the general tightening of immigration processing after Sept. 11. However, the government had given assurances that the problems would be resolved shortly, he said.

Dayanim said the plight of the Iranian Jewish community is "fully on the radar screen of the American Jewish community," but is less important to the American or Israeli governments.

A State Department official said the department had commented several times during the trial of the Iranian Jews.

Their situation is "something we are aware of and we are monitoring," the official said.

"I can tell you that the issue of Iranian Jewry is prominently featured in every high-level diplomatic effort made by the Israeli foreign service," said Ido Aharoni, spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York. Aharoni said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is "personally pressing the issue,” noting that Peres recently directed the Foreign Ministry to compile a list of statements made by Iranian leaders against Israel.

The Long Wait


The waiting game continues in Iran, as the judiciary there has postponed at least for another week a decision in the appeals of 10 Iranian Jews convicted on charges of spying for Israel.The delay is ostensibly because the three judges reviewing the appeals are divided on whether the charges the Jews were convicted of actually constituted a crime.

But few observers doubt that domestic Iranian politics are at play.

If anything, they say, the delay undermines the efforts by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami – on the eve of his address to the United Nations this week – to spruce up his image as a reformer and to bolster his claim that he is truly in control of his county and not the Islamic fundamentalists.

The delay also did nothing to defuse a flurry of street protest and behind-the-scenes diplomacy that greeted Khatami as he and 150 other heads of state arrived in New York for the U.N. Millennium Summit.Jewish groups sponsored two media events just blocks away from the United Nations, while an Iranian exile organization held a noisy anti-Khatami demonstration within earshot of visiting dignitaries from around the world.

“We cannot tolerate a situation where it is a crime simply for being Jewish,” said New York Gov. George Pataki, who headlined Tuesday’s first street event, sponsored jointly by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. A second event, held later, was organized by AMCHA – The Coalition for Jewish Concerns.

“Mr. Khatami, to you, your Parliament and your judiciary, human rights and dignity must be the right of every citizen,” Pataki said.

“You claim to be a reformer. Show it and release these 10.”

Convicted July 1, the 10 Jews have already served some 18 months in prison. Their sentences range from four to 13 years, but Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, says his sources indicate that several more may be released, with jail terms reduced for the rest.

But he wouldn’t bank on it.

As delaying the appeals decision demonstrates, said Hoenlein, “the only thing predictable about Iran is that nothing is predictable.”

Thus, the need to prod Khatami, both publicly and privately.

Hoenlein, who met with Iran’s Parliament speaker last week, still holds out hope that he will be able to plead his case directly to Khatami this week. There was talk of such a meeting on Monday at the United Nations, when Khatami spoke with a reportedly “pre-selected” gathering of Iranian emigres, including a few Jews.

From the Jewish side, Hoenlein conceded there was internal debate on whether a meeting with Khatami would somehow be manipulated by the Iranian media for domestic consumption. Hoenlein said a meeting would take place only if Jewish leaders were guaranteed their say. In the end, that point was moot, because American Jewish leaders weren’t invited at all.

“We should meet with Khatami to send the right message that the appeals should succeed and security guaranteed for the entire Jewish community,” Hoenlein said at Tuesday’s media event.

On the arrests and trial of the Jews, however, non-Jewish Iranian Americans have been notably silent.In part, they say, it’s been due to a lack of organization and the fact the community has yet to find its political voice, like, say, the Cuban-exile community. One activist even says she was unaware of the rallies of American Jews.

Nevertheless, Tuesday may have marked a watershed moment. Several at the protest, organized by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, spoke out about the trial, describing as a transparent attempt to frighten the masses and impose conformity on all Iranians.

They also noted Iran’s financial support and training for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.Charges of espionage are a “typical punishment for those the regime wants to discredit,” said Mitra Bagheri, a member of the council’s foreign relations committee, who recently relocated from Paris to New York to help organize Iranians here.

“I don’t think people in Iran believe anything the government says, because it tells big lies, and the truth is always the other way around.”

Says Anahita Sami, 18, the move against Iran’s Jews is part and parcel of the campaign against all of Iran’s minorities.

“It’s so obvious the Jews were not guilty of anything,” said Sami, a student at George Washington University.

“This is happening to innocent Iranians all the time. They want to control people through the word of God and to keep the pressure cooker from exploding by brainwashing them.”

Another activist cautioned Americans not to judge all Iranians by the current regime.

“One thing has to be made clear,” said Kasra Nejat, president of the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri.

“The Iranian government, the supreme leaders – the whole system is corrupt. It has nothing to do with the Iranian people. That’s why we’re here, because this government doesn’t represent real Iranians.”

SNew Weinberger Bombshell: Judge Asked for Pollard Memo


Caspar Weinberger has dropped a bombshell that could dramatically affect the fate of Jonathan Pollard.

In an interview in the September 1999 issue of the Middle East Forum, the former defense secretary says that his still-secret memo to Judge Aubrey Robinson was written at the request of the presiding judge, who “made a formal, official request to me to supply” an assessment of the damage caused by Pollard’s espionage. The Weinberger memorandum, which is still classified, has been withheld from the Pollard defense team.

The revelation is important because the Weinberger memo remains central to Robinson’s decision to overturn Pollard’s plea bargain agreement with the United States Justice Department, and it is routinely cited as evidence of the severity of Pollard’s crime in passing classified information to Israel.

It is improper to secretly solicit information and then, on the record, imply that [U.S. Attorney Joseph] de Genova introduced it.” said Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

Although Dershowitz allowed that not all information is shared, “anything the judge asks for has to be put on the record. For the judge to solicit a substantive memorandum and then to use it in this way raises fundamental questions.”

In the interview with the Forum’s Daniel Pipes, Weinberger repeats his statement about the involvement of Robinson five times.

* “I said everything I knew about Pollard at the request of the United States District Court.”

* “I gave the judge an affidavit that was classified because it went into great detail about the extent of the damage that was done and the number of lives of our people that were endangered.”

* “That covered a lot of sources and methods at the court’s request.”

* “What I had to say, I said at the court’s request in the classified affidavit.”

* “We were impacted very severely. That was the exact subject matter of the information that the judge wanted in the case, and he made a formal, official request to me to supply it to him, and I did.”

Robinson did not inform the defense that he had invited a submission from the secretary of defense and made no provision for the defense to see the submission in advance. Nor did he allow the defense counsel adequate time to study the submission and prepare a legal defense to challenge it.

In a Tuesday, Sept. 28, letter to the NJJN, Pollard spelled out what he saw as the consequences for his case.

“If Weinberger is lying about the judge having solicited his memorandum, then this seriously calls into question his credibility as an ‘assessor’ of my actions,” Pollard writes.

“On the other hand, if he’s telling the truth and the judge did, in fact, engage in such ex parte behavior, then somebody’s going to have to stand up and call for a full-scale investigation of the judge’s behavior. His apparent unethical actions in this matter were later compounded by his decision to uphold the government’s refusal to share Weinberger’s memorandum with my lawyers during the…appeal over which he presided.”

In making the new revelation, Weinberger does not back away from his assessment that Pollard caused significant damage to the United States.

“The whole case was a source of very considerable potential and actual danger and damage to the United States, primarily from the vantage point of information, intelligence sources, and methods that were lost,” Weinberger told Pipes. “We were impacted very severely.”


David Twersky writes for the New Jersey Jewish News.

Terms of Endearment


With everything going on lately — the royal demise, the presidential trial, Mike Tyson’s latest bust — you may have missed the big legal story out of Israel last week.

That’s a pity. Besides being a blockbuster news event, this story tells you a lot about Israel today. It also reveals a great deal about us American Jews.

Our focus: the decision by Ezer Weizman, Israel’s figurehead president, to reduce the sentences of eight Jews imprisoned for killing Arabs, or trying to. Sentences were also reduced for five Israeli Arabs convicted of trying to kill Jews or, in two cases, murdering Arab collaborators. All the crimes had what Israelis call “a nationalist background,” meaning the motives were tribal, not personal. The mass clemency was one of the biggest Israeli news stories in weeks.

Making the story even bigger was the name of the convict heading the list. The name that made jaws drop throughout Israel. The name Ami Popper.

Never heard of him? Sure you have. Think hard.

It was late May 1990. Ami Popper was the youngster from Rishon Letzion who walked to a bus stop on the edge of town one morning, found a group of Arab day laborers waiting for work, and opened fire with a submachine gun, killing seven, wounding 10 more.

See? You have heard of him.

You probably also remember what happened next. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir immediately denounced the carnage, calling it the “deranged” act of a lone “madman.” And there it seemingly ended.

But it didn’t end there. Appearing in court that fall, Popper was found perfectly sane and fit to stand trial. He did and was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms for his deliberate terror.

He was already a cause célèbre by the time of his trial. Right after the killing, the daily tabloid Yediot Aharonot carried a conversation with Ami’s neighborhood friends. They gathered on a lawn and spoke of his character and courage. Several wished they had done the same thing.

In prison, Popper became something of an icon to Israel’s radical right. He turned Orthodox, developed ties with the religious nationalist movement. He married a fan, a New York-born immigrant from a family that admired Meir Kahane.

Since then, Popper’s name resurfaces periodically when the far right compiles lists of prisoners it wants freed, usually as a “quid pro quo” for Arab prisoners released in some diplomatic deal. Popper’s name is always near the top of the list. In short, he’s become a symbolic fixture on Israel’s cultural landscape.

Symbolic of what? In fragmented Israel, that depends on which side you’re on. To the left, Popper represents the bloody logic of the right’s refusal to compromise for peace. To the right, Popper symbolizes the left’s eagerness to demonize the right for the aberrations of a few.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. Popper is a marginal, reviled figure. But while few endorse what he did, many more understand it — enough so that reducing his sentence sounds politically enticing to a right-wing government.

That, in fact, is why Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi concocted the clemency last fall. It was a way to placate the right following the Wye agreement, in which Israel agreed to free Palestinian prisoners. Hanegbi said that it was unfair to free Arab killers “with Jewish blood on their hands,” and not show mercy to Jews guilty of the same tribal passion. He didn’t propose freeing them, merely shaving their terms. Popper’s life-plus was reduced to 40 years, meaning he could be out in 18.

But the Wye deal began to collapse. Israel released a batch of car thieves instead of Fatah terrorists, as the Palestinians had expected. Rioting ensued. Talks broke down. Netanyahu’s government collapsed, and new elections were called. Hanegbi’s clemency plan suddenly became irrelevant — yet politically more irresistible.

Why the president embraced it is a different story. Weizman is a Laborite with no right wing to placate. But in Hanegbi’s clemency, he saw a chance to generate momentum for a Palestinian prisoner release, an essential step toward restarting the peace talks.

It was a bad gamble. Netanyahu immediately announced that he regretted the sentence reductions, and certainly wasn’t going to follow up by releasing any Palestinian murderers. Murderers belong in jail.

In Weizman’s view, this isn’t about criminal justice. It’s about ending a 100-year war between Jews and Palestinians. His view — shared, incidentally, by Israeli military intelligence — is that when you end a war, you expect to get your fighters back. That’s difficult in this case because of the horrific “missions” the other side sent its fighters to carry out. Still, that was the nature of this awful war. Now it’s time to make peace.

Amid the complications, there’s one question that’s never been asked. This may be the hardest question of all. What does Ami Popper say to American Jews?

Nearly all of us remember, if only dimly, the day he fired his shots. Yet almost none of us ever heard the rest of the story. The last we heard, he was still a lone madman. The ugly truth never reached us.

No great surprise here. Everyone knows our news media doesn’t cover Israel too thoroughly. Besides, there are certain facts about Israel that American Jews would rather not know. We look to Israel for comfort, not grief.

But think of what we lost by not knowing. First, we lost the context of later events. When Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Arabs in Hebron in 1994, American Jews were shocked beyond belief. Israelis, who knew about Ami Popper — and a dozen lesser cases like his — were horrified, revolted, but not surprised.

Secondly, we lost resilience. Israel is a complicated, tortured, deeply imperfect nation. It contains evil along with the good. It has sinned along with being sinned against. We American Jews ignored that for years. That left us unprepared when we found Israel sinning against us, in denying legitimacy to American Jewish religion. Lacking scar tissue on our hearts, we were stunned and hurt. Then we started losing interest.

Today, rabbis, teachers and Israeli representatives across America report a growing apathy toward Israel. American Jews don’t want to hear about it anymore. Something’s broken, and nobody knows how to fix it.

One way is to go back to where we went wrong and start telling the truth. Hiding from the truth isn’t a sign of love. Mature love means embracing the other as family, eyes open, warts and all.


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.