Pro-Palestinian NYU students won’t recant claim that Israeli army influences US police brutality


A pro-Palestinian student group at New York University that blamed Israel for recent police shootings of black men is now scaling back, somewhat, on the accusations it made on Facebook.

In the original Facebook post from July 7, Students for Justice in Palestine at NYU held Israel accountable for the black people “lynched” by police forces in the United States because “many U.S. police departments train with the Israel Defense Forces.”

“The same forces behind the genocide of black people in America are behind the genocide of Palestinians,” the post said.

The post attracted plenty of attention, but not many likes. The majority of the more than 600 comments expressed disgust, amusement and incredulity at the group’s claims.

The NYU Students for Justice in Palestine responded to the backlash by denying it had directly implicated Israel in the killings of black Americans but reiterated that the IDF bears culpability for oppressive practices aimed at African-Americans.

“Our statement regarding the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — and the rampant murders of Black Americans by the police — was not a suggestion that their deaths are part of an Israeli conspiracy. Israel did not literally kill either of these men: that much is obvious,” the SPJ chapter said in its follow-up post on July 9.

The latter post reiterated the assertion that the IDF training of some American police officers is behind a brutal ethos.

“The IDF assists the NYPD and other American police departments in their oppression and murder of black people,” the second post said. “These groups share a common logic that manifests in several types of oppression, white supremacist racism among them.”

The Anti-Defamation League sponsors trips by U.S. law enforcement officers to Israel, where they learn how to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and how Israel protects airports, shopping malls and public events. The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs has run a similar program.

The accusation among pro-Palestinian sympathizers that Israel’s counterterrorism training of American officers contributes to police brutality is not new.

Pro-Palestinian activist Alice Rothschild recently wrote an opinion piece for the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss called “Modern day lynchings: an international view” in which she asserted that such law enforcement exchange programs demonstrate that “parallels between white racism and Jewish supremacy flourish here and abroad.” In 2015 black student groups at Yale, Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley, signed on to a statement calling for solidarity between blacks and Palestinians that denounced “police and soldiers from the two countries [who] train side-by-side.”

On July 8, the Zionist Organization of America called on NYU President Andrew Hamilton to condemn the student group and demand it apologize for “nefariously using Israel as the scapegoat for problems of racism in this country – problems which Israel could not possibly have anything to do with.”

Israel announces new measures to stop Palestinian attacks


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Under pressure to stem attacks by Palestinians on Israeli citizens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved plans to boost police numbers with the deployment of soldiers in Israel’s cities and to increase security checkpoints around Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Government officials also said they would take away the Jerusalem residency permits of terrorists, a move which must be approved by Israel’s Attorney General.

Outside Jabel Mukaber, home to two Palestinian men who conducted an attack which killed two Israelis and injured more than a dozen others, police checkpoints have already been set up, with other neighborhoods reportedly to follow.

Local residents and human right groups have expressed concerns that these security measures fail to reduce the risk of attacks and instead hamper the lives of ordinary Palestinians. They contend that will increase rather than reduce simmering tensions.

At some locations Israeli police set up concrete roadblocks instead of police search teams. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) expressed concern over the use of this tactic which could be longer-term.

“It is ok for the police to curtail freedom of movement for short periods of time for (something) specific. (If) there’s a stabbing on the street it’s acceptable to close the street for a few hours,” Ronit Sela, from ACRI, told The Media Line. Mass unrest such as an ongoing riot could necessitate sealing off a geographic location – a violent incident which was no longer occurring and had been carried out by an individual or small group did not, Sela explained.

Police previously closed off the entrances to whole Palestinian neighborhoods for extended periods of time, beginning last summer when tensions spiked after Palestinians kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and Israeli extremists kidnapped and killed a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.

ACRI’s concern is that rather than a targeted security measure the roadblocks are being used as a blanket punitive measure. The human rights organization received reports from community leaders in several different Arab neighborhoods stating that police had informed them checkpoints will continue until disturbances in their area ended, Sela said. The police are holding the neighborhood to account for what the teenagers living there are doing which is effectively collective punishment, the activist said.

Any notion of collective punishment was rejected by Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli Police spokesperson.

“After recent terrorist attacks and recent disturbances a number of roadblocks have been set up – they’re temporary. They’re not closing off the neighborhood but they’re there in order to make sure that we can identify any suspicious vehicles,” Rosenfeld told The Media Line. Residents in neighborhoods with checkpoints at the entrance could still enter and leave freely, Rosenfeld said, pointing out that such procedures were standard police practice.   

But Palestinians say these moves just make life harder for Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are not involved in the violence.

“All the clashes are by teenagers, they don’t have cars and they don’t do attacks using cars. They’re on foot,” Hatem Khwess, a field researcher for the dovish organization Ir Amim and a Palestinian resident of the Mount of Olives, told The Media Line. Police checkpoints, or concrete blocks placed in the road, will not stop the young men involved in the disturbances.

A lack of investment in infrastructure by the Jerusalem Municipality in east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods was to blame for the feeling of resentment held by the young generation towards Israeli police, Khwess said. “Look in the classrooms – what’s new?” Khwess argued.

Ir Amim and ACRI have both issued reports about a shortage of classrooms in Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem, and a lack of qualified teachers in some subjects. Israel’s deputy mayor Ofer Berkovich says he is aware of the gaps and the city is working hard to eliminate them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected any argument that linked Palestinian violence to frustrations within the Arab community. “Terrorism comes from the desire to annihilate us,” Netanyahu said during the opening of the winter session of parliament.

A motion to deploy army personnel into city centers across Israel was also approved by the Israeli cabinet, something that would represent a step up in security measures. Reports suggest that 300 Israeli Army personnel have been deployed to support police on the ground, though a spokesperson for the military would not comment on this. In Jerusalem’s city center small numbers of soldiers could be seen checking the identification of shoppers and residents, a role normally performed by the border police.

Other measures discussed by the cabinet have been the imposition of a curfew on Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city. Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for not only a curfew but the imposition of full military rule in east Jerusalem if further unrest were to take place in the coming days.

Such measures were not likely to lead to an increase in security and could exasperate Palestinian residents, Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. “These are measures which only make it more difficult for people to lead their daily lives (and) have no strategic significance,’ Herschman said. The director went on to say that a more effective short term solution to curbing attacks would be efforts to convince Palestinians that their “collective identity in the city” was not threatened.

 

Jerusalem’s population of 800,000 is about 64 percent Jewish and 36 percent Palestinian. Most of the Palestinians are not citizens, but carry the same type of ID cards as Jewish Israelis giving them freedom of movement throughout the city. Almost all of the attackers in the current wave of violence came from east Jerusalem.

Ethiopian-Israelis, police clash at Tel Aviv protest against racism and brutality


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A demonstration by hundreds of Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters in Tel Aviv against racism and police brutality turned violent.

The demonstrators marched to Rabin Square, where clashes with police broke out on Monday evening, resulting in arrests, The Jerusalem Post reported. Rabin Square was the site of previous protests by Ethiopian-Israelis, including one in May that turned violent.

Prior to the clashes, two demonstrators were arrested for blocking a road in central Tel Aviv, according to Israel Police.

The protest began in the afternoon in part also to protest the decision by Israel’s attorney general to close the case against the Israeli police officer who was caught on camera beating an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier without charges.

The demonstrators said they will continue their protests until they see changes, according to reports.

Hours earlier, Israel Police released the findings of a special committee made up of police and representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community to address the community’s needs and the areas of police responsibility.

The committee investigated 300 cases involving Ethiopian-Israeli juveniles and found no evidence of discrimination or violation of their rights. The report recommended that police officers undergo cultural training to better understand the Ethiopian community, to work to increase the number of Ethiopian-Israelis who serve on the police force and to have Amharic speakers in police stations in areas with a high concentration of Ethiopian residents.

There are 663 Ethiopian-Israel police officers, or 2.3 percent of the force. Ethiopians make up about 2 percent of the Israeli population.

Stumbling into Riots


Last Sunday night in Tel Aviv, where I live, I had a 40-minute glimpse into what it’s like to feel like an outsider, like a rejected member of society. I wasn’t given a chance to explain myself, to answer questions, to say, “No I’m just passing through, I’m not looking for violence.” I was simply one of “them”—one of the thousands of Ethiopian-Israelis protesting against discrimination and police violence. I thought: “But I’m not really part of this! I’m different! I’m just an observer!”

I should have realized that once I was on the scene, I would lose any privilege of being simply an “observer.”

Who cares that I had just stumbled onto these riots? That I had decided to walk to my friend’s house to pick up a toothbrush, and, on my way home, had walked right into the main square in Tel Aviv where the riots had migrated? At first, innocent me, I thought it was just a wild party, one of those spontaneous happenings you often see in Tel Aviv. I heard the sound of fireworks and pulled out my camera, thinking I might record something interesting. I’ve been studying film and communications at IDC Herzliya for three years, so pulling out my camera has become an instinct. 

But I quickly realized these were not fireworks—they were stun grenades fired by police. And the people were not party people, they were protesters running away from the stun grenades. Now the people and the police were running towards me. I tried to escape the mob and retreat to my “observer” status, but it was too late. I was now part of the mob. We were all part of the mob.

At one point the police drove what I can only describe as monstrous riot controlling vehicles sporting nozzles releasing foam with the water pressure of a fire truck hose. The crowd began panicking, running in different directions, trying to dodge the foam. Amid the panic, I met a young Ethiopian girl that helped me run away from a stun grenade heading towards my feet. She looked at me and said, “This is Israel, can you believe it?” I didn’t know what to say to her. I was raised to love and admire Israel deeply, to defend Israel come hell or high water. We both kept running and eventually lost ourselves in the crowd.

I made it home safely but I was still shaken. I thought again about the girl’s question: “This is Israel, can you believe it?”

Well, what can I believe? That Israel needs to make good with its Ethiopian population and other minorities, and fight racism and discrimination with all our might? That’s for sure. That Israel is full of problems, like poverty and the high cost of living, that need immediate attention? That’s for sure, too.

But there’s something else I’ve come to believe about Israel. It’s hard to be an observer here. It’s hard to stay on the sidelines. You may think you’re just walking through, that you’re not “one of them,” that you are somehow privileged, but in the end, you get sucked in. You end up joining the mob, becoming a participant. Even when I go film something as innocent as a rave party in the desert, I can’t just be an observer. I become one of them.

I’m not sure what you call this phenomenon. Maybe I’ll just call it Israel.

Shanni Suissa was born and raised in Los Angeles, and is graduating this year from IDC Herzliya in Israel, where there is never a dull moment.

Terror warning puts Jerusalem on high alert


Security forces in Jerusalem went on high alert in response to intelligence reports of a possible terror attack in the city.

The alert level was raised on Tuesday, affecting police, firefighters and Magen David Adom emergency crews, among others. Police conducted security checks on cars entering Jerusalem at several points.

No details were released by Jerusalem police on the contents of the intelligence information. It reportedly was the first time the level was raised in more than a year.

Bulgarian police release photo of bomb attack accomplice


Bulgarian police released a computer-generated image and a fake driver’s license photo of a man believed to be an accomplice in the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas that killed six.

The fake Michigan driver’s license is registered to Jacques Philippe Martin, but investigators have learned that the man from the photo introduced himself by other names, according to the Focus information agency.

The man appears to be wearing a wig in the license photo. It was originally believed that the license belonged to the dead suicide bomber, but it was later determined to belong to an accomplice.

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the July 18 attack on a tour bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Woman praying in tallit detained at Western Wall, questioned by police


Israeli police detained a woman wearing a tallit at the Western Wall and later questioned her for four hours.

The woman was participating Thursday in a rosh chodesh prayer service held monthly at the Wall by the Women of the Wall organization. Police were present during the service and filmed it, according to Women of the Wall.

Wearing a traditional white prayer shawl with black stripes, the woman was approached by police during the service and asked to wear the tallit as a scarf rather than a shawl. The woman complied with the request, according to Women of the Wall.

As she left the Western Wall plaza she was detained by police, who said the woman returned to wearing the tallit as a shawl, and taken to police headquarters in the Old City, where she was questioned for four hours.

Upon her release she was ordered to stay away from the Western Wall for seven days.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallitot, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.

Last month, three women from Women of the Wall were stopped for questioning after praying at the Wall in prayer shawls. They also had been asked to wear the tallitot as scarves rather than shawls.

Israeli Police conducts large-scale drill ahead of West Bank evacuation


Israel Police began an extensive drill on Monday in preparation of the expected evacuation of the Ulpana Hill neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

More than a thousand police officers took part in the Jordan Valley drill, joined by special forces, mounted units and riot control forces.

Five apartment buildings in the neighborhood are slated by the Supreme Court for demolition because they were built on privately owned Palestinian land. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last week approved a plan to move residents of the five buildings to a nearby tract of land that was appropriated by the state in 1970 for military use.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israeli policemen suspected of robbing Palestinian workers in Jerusalem


Three Israeli border policemen were arrested on Wednesday over suspicions that they had systematically accosted Palestinian workers in Jerusalem and stole their money.

In a court hearing discussing their remand on Thursday, representative of Israel Police’s Internal Affairs Division Shalom Amar, said that the three suspects were in the habit of “targeting working-class people, workers suspected of illegally entering Israel.”

The policemen, after leaving their bases without permission, allegedly, “using threats, escorted the [Palestinians] into alleys near Damascus Gate in the Old City.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Jerusalem mosque torched as rightists clash with police


Israeli right-wing activists clashed with police in Jerusalem, after a mosque in the capital city was targeted by arsonists.

The torching of the mosque on Wednesday morning followed a series of other so-called price tag attacks in the West Bank in reaction to the possible evacuation of illegal outposts.

The Nebi Akasha mosque, built in the 12th century and not in use for several years, was set alight and the words “price tag,” as well as “Mohammed is dead” and “A good Arab is a dead Arab,” were spray painted on and around the site.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

On Tuesday night, two trucks and a car were set alight in a Palestinian village near Nablus. A Jewish woman was also arrested in connection with rocks thrown at Palestinian cars in the northern West Bank. The incidents reportedly were triggered by the movement of an Israel Defense Forces convoy, which sparked concern that it was on the way to dismantle the Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost, scheduled to be razed by the end of the calendar year, according to Haaretz.

When police in Jerusalem attempted to arrest suspects Wednesday in connection with recent price tag attacks, activists began clashing with officers and rioting, including slashing tires and breaking the windows of several police cars, Haaretz reported.

Also on Wednesday, a special meeting convened by Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed recent acts of violence by extremist settlers, and decided to recommend to Netanyahu that acts of violence by right-wing activists be called terror acts and the perpetrators terrorists.

Knesset’s oldest guard dog retires


The Knesset’s oldest guard dog has retired.

Kai, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever, was forced to leave his position after failing to pass a fitness test, Ynet reported.

The dog had participated in a variety of security missions, including sniffing for bombs. He has lived in the Knesset Guard’s kennel since he was a puppy, according to Ynet.

Two of the dog’s young offspring are slated to replace him. Kai will receive a certificate of merit at a good-bye party in his honor.

The Knesset found the dog a home with a family in Rehovot.

Police car firebombed during outpost demolition


An Israeli police officer’s car was firebombed during the dismantling of illegal structures at a West Bank outpost.

Six people were arrested Thursday in the attack on the car earlier in the morning, according to reports.

Some 200 Israeli soldiers and police arrived at the Alei Ain outpost near the Shiloh settlement in the northern West Bank at 3 a.m. Thursday to demolish the illegal structures.

At least 11 people were wounded in skirmishes between the two sides during the operation.

Alei Ain residents had prepared for the evacuation by blocking roads to the outpost with rocks and nails. They claim that they passively resisted the evacuation but police used excessive force, beat them and used stun grenades unnecessarily.

Police bike tour seeks funds for Israeli cyclists


“We ride for those who died” — that’s the motto of the national Police Unity Tour (PUT), a grueling, three-day bicycle ride in which teams of police officers from across the United States pedal to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The annual spring event is held to honor the memory of officers killed each year in the line of duty.

This year, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Lisa Herman wants to extend the tour’s motto to include a Jewish scope. Herman is gathering support to bring over two officers from Israel’s Northern Command to ride with the Southern California team in honor of Deputy Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, who died last December after sustaining critical burns in the Carmel Mountains wildfire.

Tomer, then chief of the Haifa Police Department, was driving behind a bus of prison guard cadets that was surrounded by flames en route to evacuating a local jail. Tomer, 53, had been the highest-ranked policewoman in Israel.

“The way she died was so tragic and heroic. I felt it would be meaningful to ride for her on the tour,” said Herman, a field course coordinator for the LAPD Training Division.

As the Carmel fire blazed out of control in early December, Herman watched the news in horror as more than 40 people lost their lives in Israel’s worst natural disaster in recent decades. She contacted the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles about inviting a couple of Haifa law enforcement officers to ride in the PUT, and the Israeli government responded with enthusiasm. Karen Ofer, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) medic, and Mor Shlomo, a combat fitness trainer, were selected from among their peers to travel to the United States for the tour.

Herman, a member of the Happy Minyan, is now looking to raise $8,000 from the local Jewish community for the pair to participate. The funds would cover airfare, food and lodging, entry to the tour and bicycling equipment. So far she has raised about $7,000 from congregations including Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob, B’nai David-Judea and Sinai Temple, and also from the Israeli Leadership Council. The tour’s entry fees go toward the construction of a new law enforcement museum in Washington, D.C.

Herman says she would also like to raise a few thousand dollars extra to send back to Israel to help replant the charred Carmel Mountains, rebuild homes gutted in the blaze, and aid victims of burns and trauma from the area. The fire burned about 12,000 acres of land and consumed 5 million trees.

Commemorating Tomer during the 2011 tour would be especially significant because this year marks the 100th anniversary of women being able to serve in the LAPD, Herman said.

The Southern California PUT, slated for the week of May 8, will include about 200 riders from local police departments, sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement agencies. Starting in Somerset, N.J., the group will bike approximately 250 miles to the U.S. capital over three days. Along the way they will attend memorial services in the hometowns of slain officers in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Local residents and police usually come out to wave flags and show their support, Herman, who has ridden in the tour for the past three years, said.

On the third day, riders from all participating states will join ranks, and the group, expected to include about 1,500 cyclists, will ride the last 50 miles to the National Mall together. The event will culminate in a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, at which the names of officers slain during the last year will be read. The televised vigil typically attracts up to 20,000 attendees.

Herman served in the IDF as a combat fitness trainer in the early 1990s — an experience that later led her to join the LAPD. She believes inviting Ofer and Shlomo into the PUT would help strengthen U.S.-Israel ties.

“It’s one more way for Israel to be represented in a positive light,” she said. “This is an important time for Israel to come out and talk about security, and the tour would offer a unique opportunity for [the officers] to get to know law enforcement agencies from all over the U.S.”

LAPD special forces have done joint training with Israeli officers in the past. This spring, an LAPD bomb squad will travel to Israel to glean expertise from bomb technicians there.

“Any cause that will shine a better light on our relationship with Israel is important to us,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, who helped raise funds for Herman’s campaign. “The connection between the U.S. and Israel is a strong one that goes beyond financial support. Interaction between the two countries is beneficial to both.”

Not only would the Israeli officers benefit from riding in the PUT, their presence would also be a boon to members of local law enforcement agencies, said LAPD Sgt. Gil Curtis, president of the PUT’s Southern California chapter.

“I think it would be a great opportunity,” Curtis said. With the officers riding alongside each other, “you gain a sense of camaraderie and sharing a common goal, and also being able to learn about policing issues from a different country. It would be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

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Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rape; U.S. funding Hamas opponents


Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rapeIsraeli police recommended indicting President Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. Katsav rejected calls to resign, and his attorney said Monday morning that he will quit only if an indictment is submitted. Investigators presented their findings and recommendations to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office. The most serious charge is for the alleged rape of two women, but police also accused Katsav of purchasing dozens of gifts with money taken from the President’s Residence budget, Ha’aretz reported. Katsav’s attorney noted that the police recommendations have no legal validity because only the state prosecutor can decide on an indictment.

U.S. funding Hamas opponents

The United States has launched a funding campaign aimed at bolstering groups in the Palestinian Authority opposed to the Hamas government. Reuters reported over the weekend that the Bush administration has earmarked up to $42 million for overhauling Hamas rival Fatah, providing schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that offer an alternative to Hamas’ Islamist teachings, and bankrolling Palestinian journalists and watchdog groups that would monitor the Hamas government. The report cited official documentation and was tacitly confirmed by a U.S. envoy in the region. The report suggested that Washington is pursuing a “hearts and minds” campaign in the Palestinian Authority aimed at undermining Hamas and boosting the Fatah leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks peace talks with Israel.

Bush signs Darfur Act

President Bush signed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Jewish groups led lobbying for the act, signed by Bush last Friday. The act bans dealing with Sudan until it abides by a peace treaty with tribes in the Darfur region and allows an international peacekeeping force. Government-allied Arab militias have slaughtered tens of thousands of people in the Darfur region, atrocities the Bush administration and Jewish groups have labeled a genocide.

Israel welcomes North Korea sanctions

Israel welcomed the U.N. Security Council resolution punishing North Korea for its nuclear testing. Israeli officials said Sunday that the unanimous Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its controlled nuclear blast last week could send a message to Iran about its own atomic ambitions.”Iran, like North Korea, is a poor country. Such sanctions have a deterrent power,” one official said.Under the sanctions resolution passed over the weekend, arms shipments going in and out of North Korea are subject to monitoring, a step that could help stem the flow of missile and nuclear technology if applied to Iran, Israeli officials said.

Missiles said to be reaching Gaza

Palestinians are smuggling advanced shoulder-fired missiles into the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said. Brig. Gen. Yossi Beidetz told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been bringing both anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza in preparation for a major confrontation with Israel. The anti-aircraft missiles would complicate Israeli air force efforts to provide cover for ground troops operating in the coastal territory, Beidetz said. He added that Syria is still smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in violation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended this summer’s Israel-Hezbollah war.

EU backs forum on Anti-Semitism

The European Union endorsed a high-level conference on anti-Semitism in Bucharest next year. The endorsement was made at an annual meeting last week in Warsaw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human rights unit.”These OSCE conferences have become not only opportunities for political leaders to speak to the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism, but they focus attention and government action on steps to address it,” said the American Jewish Committee’s Andrew Baker, who attended the Warsaw meeting and lobbied for the Bucharest conference.

A final decision on the conference is due in December. Jewish groups have worried that the conference will be canceled; several countries wanted the OSCE, which includes 55 member states, to focus on other priorities. The conference would follow similar OSCE events in recent years in Vienna; Cordoba, Spain; and Berlin.

Turkey defends book fair selections

Turkish officials defended themselves against charges of choosing anti-Semitic books for a recent book fair in Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center complained last week that three anti-Semitic books were displayed at a Turkish Culture Ministry stand at the October fair in Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest book shows. The ministry said the Publishers Association chose the books, but the association said it was not responsible for the books at the ministry’s stand. The association also denied that any of the books on display was anti-Semitic, but the Wiesenthal Center noted they included an account of alleged Jewish plots against Turkey titled, “The Greater Israel Strategy,” and “Password Israel,” which claims that codes in the Torah show how Jews are planning World War III and the destruction of Turkey. Last year, “Mein Kampf” reportedly became a best seller in Turkey, and several anti-Israel books enjoyed popularity as well.

Russian Jews protest Hitler restaurant

Jewish leaders in a Russian region are protesting against the use of Adolf Hitler’s name by a new pub. The pub, set to open soon in the city of Ekaterinburg, is named Hitler Kaput. In a letter to the local mayor, leaders of the Jewish community said that any use of Hitler’s name to attract public attention is unacceptable. Authorities haven’t yet responded to the Jewish community.

Survivor, Author Normal Salsitz dies

Author Normal Salsitz died of pneumonia Oct. 11 in Boston at age 86. Salsitz, a Polish-born Jew, wrote “Against All Odds,” which tells the story of how he and his wife survived the Holocaust by pretending to be Christian. Salsitz received a false baptism certificate from a Polish priest and fought with the Polish underground against the Nazis. At one point, he killed a group of Polish partisans intent on murdering Jews.

Ukrainian leader coming not coming to Israel

Ukraine’s president will not visit Israel next month, contrary to reports. A press officer for Viktor Yuschenko said last Friday that earlier reports of a state visit to Israel in early November were “a newspaper hoax.” Earlier this month, some media reported from Berlin that Yuschenko announced his upcoming visit to Israel when he and Israel’s vice premier, Shimon Peres, received a prestigious international award in the German capital. A member of Yuschenko’s administration said that the visit is likely to take place at a later date but could not specify when. This is at least the third time in two years that a potential visit by Yuschenko to Israel has been postponed.Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Turmoil Grows as Withdrawal Nears


With Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip scheduled to begin on Aug. 15, escalating right-wing and settler protests threaten to plunge the country into anarchy and could provoke a strong anti-settler backlash.

Protesters last week blocked major highways, poured oil and scattered spikes across a busy road; occupied buildings in Gaza, and threw stones at Palestinians and Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The army and police responded by temporarily declaring the Gaza Strip a closed military zone, ejecting the extremists from occupied buildings and making dozens of arrests.

In an unprecedented spate of interviews and public statements, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned what he called the “hooliganism” of the far right, and vowed that he would not be deterred by it.

However, will authorities be able to maintain law and order in the face of even more extreme protest plans?

Even if they do, Sharon faces other serious challenges. Right-wing soldiers have begun refusing to obey orders, a phenomenon that some fear will spread. There also is talk among rebels in Sharon’s own Likud Party of a move to replace him as prime minister with the more hawkish finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. (See related story on Netanyahu’s visit to Los Angeles on page 20.)

On the other hand, there are signs that the settlers and other withdrawal opponents may have gone too far and have seriously undermined their cause. The media is rife with angry anti-settler columns, and the latest polls show a dramatic increase in support for withdrawal.

The last week of June may prove to have been a turning point. The repeated blocking of traffic on major thoroughfares has incensed ordinary Israelis, and the cat-and-mouse games that anti-withdrawal teenagers played with police trying to keep the roads open have exasperated authorities.

But more devastating for the settler cause have been the images of violence: the near-lynching of an 18-year-old Palestinian by right-wing extremists, and an Israeli soldier injured after being hit by a boulder. It was also feared that the oil and spikes on the highways could cause fatal accidents.

Right-wing leader Moshe Feiglin said that the possibility of a few Israelis dying now as a result of the protests pales in significance next to the large numbers of Israelis, he says, “will surely die” if the withdrawal goes ahead.

The oil and spikes prompted outspoken attacks on the protesters in the press. The most vehement came from crime correspondent Boukie Naeh in Yediot Achronot: “If the police don’t break your bones, I will.”

“The Israeli army and the police should kill a few members of your criminal Jewish gangs and stop the anarchy,” Naeh wrote. “Because if they don’t deal with you today, tomorrow you’ll burn down my house just because I don’t agree with you.”

Avi Bettelheim, deputy editor of the rival Ma’ariv newspaper, was more sanguine. He argued that the mayhem of the past few weeks has done much to discredit the settler cause, and said he now believes the withdrawal will go through more smoothly.

A July 1 poll in Yediot Achronot seemed to bear Bettelheim out. After a steady decline to 53 percent at the start of June, the poll showed support for the government’s withdrawal plan climbing back to 62 percent.

However, other observers aren’t convinced police will be able to handle future protests.

Writing in Ha’aretz, Amos Harel asked, “If the police deploy a 6,000-strong force throughout the country but are unable to prevent roads from being blocked, what will happen during the pullout, when a larger number of police will be busy evacuating” the Gaza Strip?

There is another looming threat that could compound the manpower issue: soldiers refusing to carry out evacuation-related orders. Three soldiers already have refused to participate in withdrawal-related operations, and have been sentenced to up to 56 days in jail.

Moreover, Orthodox soldiers, serving according to a special arrangement with their yeshivas, known as hesder yeshivas, are asking to be exempted from having to evacuate settlers.

The army does not intend to make it easy for soldiers who refuse orders. Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, military chief of staff, has warned that if hesder rabbis continue telling students to refuse evacuation-related orders, the IDF may reconsider the whole hesder project, which mixes religious study with army service.

Sharon, clearly disturbed by the threat of anarchy and refusal, gave brief interviews to all the major Hebrew dailies. He told Ha’aretz that “under no circumstances can we allow a lawless gang to take control of life in Israel.”

In Yediot Achronot, Sharon declared, “What we are witnessing is not a struggle over the withdrawal from Gaza, but a battle over the character of the state.”

He told Ma’ariv, “This wild behavior will stop. Period.”

Despite all the opposition, Sharon is determined to go through with the withdrawal.

One thing that could still stop Sharon would be a Likud Party coup to oust him and install Netanyahu in his place. Addressing a major economic conference in Jerusalem, Sharon declared that he was aware of how his opponents “are planning my political ouster.” Although Sharon didn’t mention him by name, everyone knew he meant Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s moves will be crucial. He is under pressure from the far right to put himself at the head of the Likud rebels and move to topple Sharon. But as a would-be prime minister himself, Netanyahu needs to be careful not to ally himself too closely with the far right.

Netanyahu voted Sunday to delay the withdrawal by three months, although the Cabinet defeated the proposal by an 18-3 vote.

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Top Cops Patrol Israel Beat


"I went with police one night on patrol on Ben Yehuda Street," recalled Irvine Police Chief Michael Berkow. "There was a rock concert that night, about 20,000 people on the street, probably 80 percent 13, 14, 15, 16 years old, the rest parents with toddlers.

"We had all heard their point, that life goes on as usual, but I thought no one would show up. This is the most bombed street in Israel, and I couldn’t imagine a better target…. I’m a guy who lived in Mogadishu for a year," Berkow said, "I was a little taken aback in Jerusalem."

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) in Washington, D.C., knows that Israeli experience is as valuable to U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as American support is to Israel. Now local police are getting that experience firsthand, as JINSA begins a new program to send high-ranking officers to Israel. The defense policy think tank has been sending generals, admirals and military academy students to Israel since 1973.

Ten police officials from across the U.S. traveled to Israel in late August with JINSA. Three from Southern California met with about 30 local supporters on Sept. 18 to discuss the value of continuing the new program. JINSA supporter David Justman, who hosted the meeting at the Regency Club in Westwood, described the organization as "doing for the military what AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] does for the political side."

While in Israel, the officers met with Israeli Minister of Public Security Uzi Landau and National Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishsky. They visited sites of bombings at the Dolphinarium nightclub and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. They also met with the general manager of Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, the tallest buildings in the Middle East, which have faced — and thwarted — several attempted terrorist attacks since 2000.

The three Southern California police officials on the trip were LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Bostic, Garden Grove Police Chief Joseph Polisar and Berkow.

Bostic has served 29 years with the LAPD, the last seven as deputy chief. For the past three years, he has overseen the department’s human resources operation. "It’s as dull as it sounds," he said, so the trip to Israel, for him, was an "opportunity to be a real police officer again."

Berkow, who has also served as South Pasadena police chief, has published articles on ethics, internal affairs and early warning systems for police. Berkow has also worked for the Justice Department, leading police training projects in Somalia and Haiti, and consulting with the national police forces of Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Hungary and Romania. Berkow, who has a law degree from Syracuse University, described himself as "a New York Jewish lawyer."

Garden Grove’s Polisar, "also a New York Jew," told the JINSA supporters that he had honeymooned in Israel. He serves on the board of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a group from which JINSA has already received dozens of requests for next year’s trip.

Others on this first JINSA law enforcement exchange included Police Chiefs Ralph Mendoza of Ft. Worth, Texas and Joseph Morris of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority, and Sheriff Kevin Beary of Orange County, Fla., who is president of the Major County Sheriff’s Association.

For Bostic, who had never visited Israel before, the learning experience began at the El Al ticket counter, with the "kid" who asked a few questions about his luggage. "He already knew who I was. So that was unnerving. Then about five minutes into our little conversation, I realized I was being very professionally interrogated."

As with JINSA’s Israel tours for military brass and cadets, the goal of the police trip was twofold: to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Israeli security establishments and to "exchange ideas and tactics to help the United States get up to speed as quickly as possible," Justman said.

In addition to visiting the sites of previous attacks and high-security areas, the officers met with their Israeli counterparts, going on patrols. Morris presented the public security minister with a Star of David made from steel recovered from the World Trade Center.

The Southern California police officials on the trip said they have already begun applying what they learned in Israel to prepare for possible terrorist attacks. Berkow, who joined the Israeli police patrolling the rock concert, has a specific goal for that ride-along. "In Irvine, we have the Verizon Amphitheater [and] the Spectrum," he said, "so seeing the kind of nuances they deal with was directly applicable."

The three Southern Californians said they were impressed by the flow of information and coordination by the Israeli police. After a week of observing what Bostic called "incredibly seamless operations," he noted, "There’s a lot to learn about that."

Polisar, who admitted that the United States’ roughly 17,000 police agencies "do a poor job of talking to each other," said he admired the Israelis’ ability to work together. "No police force on the face of the planet has greater expertise," he said.

For the law enforcement officials on JINSA’s first police trip to Israel, perhaps the greatest lesson was in exactly what they should be expecting in the future. "America needs to stand up and figure out that they [Israel] are our first line of defense," Bostic said. "We’ve got to be aware that everything’s coming."

High Security Holidays


Last Sunday, a bomb squad van, police cars and fire trucks rushed to Temple Beth Torah in Culver City.

Last Yom Kippur, a car crashed into a small synagogue on Pico Boulevard, and off-duty police officers immediately evacuated the nearby B’nai David-Judea.

While both incidences turned out to be false alarms — in Culver City someone had thrown out smoking dry ice, and the driver of the car that crashed into the Pico synagogue had suffered a heart attack — it shows, nonethless, that everyone’s on high alert.

With the High Holidays upon us, now coinciding as they often will with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and ongoing violence in Israel, the buzzword among Jewish leaders is "proactive." Fifth District City Councilman Jack Weiss uses it when describing the meetings he has led with synagogues, police and political leaders. Rabbis and synagogue administrators use it when describing security precautions they are implementing. The message is, there have been no threats or warnings of danger, but Jewish institutions are well prepared, just in case. As Anti-Defamation League (ADL) regional director Amanda Susskind says of a recent security meeting, "The motto for the day was vigilance, not panic."

"In some cases it’s as simple as installing some cameras. Be aware that shrubbery can be a hindrance to security," Susskind says. "It has to be tailored to the institution. We are asking people to be vigilant on behalf of their synagogue or the institutions they belong to. Like a Neighborhood Watch on a bigger scale."

The ADL’s director of security, Bob Martin, advises Jewish institutions and facilities on "target hardening — making the facility as unattractive as possible to people looking for trouble." Martin also stressed the importance of congregants being alert in the coming weeks, even though their synagogues have security plans. "Security is everybody’s business. It’s not like an umbrella — you don’t just put it up when you think it’s going to rain."

He also emphasized, "The time to find out who is the head of your local police division is not when you have a crisis."

Rabbi Denise Eger has not waited for a crisis. Her Congregation Kol Ami holds two High Holiday services which fall under two different law enforcement jurisdictions. At the congregation’s new building in West Hollywood, they have found sheriff’s deputies "extremely responsive, extremely helpful" in planning for the holidays; the larger rented-for-the-holidays facility in Hollywood is patrolled by the LAPD, who have been "outstanding" as well. "We have been in regular contact with our sheriffs," she says, and notes the added benefit of having LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish as a congregant.

"This is obviously a year of great concern," admits Howard Lesner, executive director of Sinai Temple. Yet Lesner is comfortable with his temple’s increased security — including 24-hour guards, no parking anywhere around the synagogue and just single points of entry by car and by foot. "We’ve managed to do that without turning it into a prison," he says. "We have a direct relationship with the police, our security company is owned by police officers. If a police officer wants a cup of coffee, or to use the restroom, he knows Sinai is a good place to go."

Developing and strengthening the relationship between Jewish institutions and law enforcement was a major topic at the University of Judaism in August, when the ADL joined Weiss, L.A. Mayor James Hahn and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the Bureau of Jewish Education in leading a security forum geared toward the High Holidays. FBI Assistant Director Ron Iden addressed the group, as did the ADL’s Martin and LAPD Deputy Chief Willie Pannell.

"Historically, we’ve been involved with the Jewish community around the High Holidays," says Pannell, who was recently named deputy chief of operations-South Bureau. On September 11, he was still in his previous position of commander of the criminal intelligence bureau, which includes anti-terrorism. "Los Angeles has a large and prominent Jewish community, where a terrorist could get the most bang for the buck, if you want to use that expression," he says.

With Jewish community experience dating back to his days as a street cop, working the Pico-Robertson area and serving as an off-duty security officer at Wilshire Boulevard Temple for many years, Pannell has particular respect for the Museum of Tolerance, where Police Academy trainees are sensitized to the needs of the Jewish community. Because of this, and because of strong outreach and support from the Jewish community, he says, "There’s an awareness on the part of the street officer, a view that this is a serious concern, not just a community requesting something extra." Specifically, Pannell says. "What we’ve done over the years [is] to gear up during the summer, meet with local rabbis and prominent organizations. We’re telling our captains to be aware, particularly around prominent synagogues, to beef up with extra patrols, meet with Jewish leadership. We talk to them about private security, lighting, watching the packages that come in, entrances and exits."

"It’s a challenging yom tov," says Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, "It was challenging last year. We want to make our Jewish institutions warm, welcoming places — tempered with practical concerns."

Susskind sounds a note of hope: "Last year, we were all in a state of shock. I don’t think there was as careful planning as has been possible this year," she says. "At least on the West Coast, there was still a measure of disbelief that it could happen here. Then, the July 4 shooting at LAX. The rise in anti-Semitism around the world is also causing concern. And as the year unfolded and the conflict in Israel intensified, we have yet another cause for concern." The way Susskind sees it, "We’ve learned a lot in the past year."

Or, as Diamond says, "Things are in hand, let’s do what Jews do this time of year."

Community Briefs


Daniel Pearl Laid to Rest

Family and close friends buried slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl Sunday morning and vowed that his example would continue to inspire “millions of friends and strangers touched by his life and death.”

Pearl, 38, was kidnapped and killed last January in Pakistan while working on a story on Islamic extremists. His body, in an oak casket covered with red flowers, was returned to the United States from Karachi on Thursday. The private funeral service and burial were held Aug. 11 at Mount Sinai Memorial Park.

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino conducted the service, during which he praised “the heroism of a man, who, when confronted by the killers of the dream, responded by saying, ‘I am a Jew, my father is a Jew and my ancestors were Jewish.'”

Professor Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father, chanted “Kaddish” and a friend, violinist Mitchell Newman, played Bach’s “Partita.”

Pearl’s family released the following statement: “We finally laid to rest our beloved son, husband, brother and father in his hometown, overlooking the concert hall where he loved to perform with his youth orchestra. Danny will continue to inspire his family and the millions of friends and strangers who were touched by his life and death.

“He will always be remembered for his pursuit of truth and dialogue, his respect for people of all backgrounds and his love of music, humor and friendship. This legacy will be preserved through the Daniel Pearl Foundation, and will forever fuel our resolve to see humanity triumphant.”

The family requested that in tribute to Daniel and his love of music, well-wishers initiate and support musical events in their communities on Oct. 10, Daniel’s birthday. Such events will be coordinated on the Web site of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org). A collection of Pearl’s stories, “At Home in the World,” was published last month by Simon and Schuster.

Pearl’s family is considering a more public memorial service at the end of sheloshim (the traditional 30-day mourning period) and the unveiling of a headstone. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Kosher Businesses Burglarized in WestValley

A series of burglaries affecting several West Valley kosher restaurants and markets has concerned patrons wondering if they were hate crimes.

Los Angeles police said the burglaries are part of a general crime wave and so far there has been no evidence that Jewish-owned establishments are being targeted.

Rami’s Pizza in Canoga Park, Encino Grill & Wok and Super Sal Kosher Market, also in Encino, were all hit within a five-day period between July 30 and Aug. 3. The crimes were of the “smash and grab” type, with thieves breaking in through store windows sometime between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to steal cash and other valuables. The market experienced a loss of $300 in cash, according to police records, but proprietor Yossi Rabinov of the Encino Grill said his losses were minimal.

“They took a pushke. I guess it looked like a money thing, so they took it,” Rabinov said.

This was the second break-in for Rami’s Pizza this year, according to owner Uziel Gluska. After the first incident, back in April, Gluska said he stopped leaving bills in the cash register overnight “so this time, they only got the coins, about $5 at most.”

Neither of the restaurant owners felt the crimes were aimed at kosher places in particular.

“My neighbor across the street is Persian and the man who owns the cleaners [nearby] is either Persian or Armenian and they also got broken into, so if anything it’s anti-foreigner,” Gluska said.

The first weekend in August saw an unusually high number of burglaries, according to Detective Steve Galeria of the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Valley Division.

“They [the thieves] are targeting businesses along Ventura Boulevard and on Sherman Way right around Reseda Boulevard,” Galeria said in an Aug. 12 interview.

Detectives caution business owners in the Encino, Van Nuys and Canoga Park areas to take precautions. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

Davis Against Divestment

Gov. Gray Davis has spoken out sharply against petitions launched at UC Berkeley and UCLA calling for the divestment of state-held stocks in corporations doing business with Israel.

“As long as I am governor of this state, we will continue to stand side by side with our friends in Israel, both in business and friendship,” Davis pledged in a written statement. “The people of Israel are going through tremendous difficulties right now. They live with daily unrest, violence and death. California will not abandon its friends in their time of need.”

Faculty and student advocates of divestment cite Israel’s alleged human rights violations against Palestinians as the basis of their demands. Davis, who is running for reelection, noted that California exported $818.2 million worth of products and services to Israel in 2001, making Israel the state’s 22nd largest trade partner. Leading exports included industrial machinery, computers and electronic and electrical equipment.

In addition, Israeli investments in California, mainly in Silicon Valley high-tech companies, grew from $4 million in 1990 to more than $162 million in 1998, the latest figures available.

The value of Israeli exports to California is harder to pin down, because figures are available only for the United States as a whole and are not broken down by individual states.

But Doron Abrahami, Israel’s consul for economic affairs in Los Angeles, estimates that the two-way trade between California and Israel averages out at $2 billion a year, thus giving Israel a slight edge in exports over imports.

Some 200 offices representing Israeli companies operate in California, mostly in the Silicon Valley, said Abrahami. He noted that the biggest Israeli exporter is Intel, whose plants in Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem annually export $2 billion in computer chips to the world.

The single largest American investor in Israel is Burbank-based Shamrock Holdings, which has invested between $700 million and $800 million in Israel over the past 15 years. — TT

A Russian Godfather?


To the general Israeli public, the “Lerner Affair” reveals the frightening tentacles of the Russian mafia in Israel, and the danger it poses to this country’s economic and political system. To many in the Russian immigrant community, however, the Lerner Affair is a case of harassment — a high-profile attempt by the established Israeli “elite” to cast all Russian immigrants as criminals.

Gregory Lerner, who immigrated to Israel in 1990 and is alleged to be the leading Russian mafia figure in Israel, was arrested seven weeks ago. He is suspected of having defrauded Russian banks out of $85 million, and of trying to bribe Israeli bank officials and politicians to expand his multimillion-dollar economic interests in Israel. Suspicions that he was involved in the murder of a Russian banker and in an attempt to murder another are reportedly no longer on the police’s investigations agenda.

More than 120 Israeli police detectives are working on the Lerner case and are being assisted — many Russian immigrants would say, “deliberately misled” — by their Russian counterparts. In his bail hearings, Lerner has been brought into court in a bulletproof vest because police fear that somebody might want to kill him rather than risk the possibility that he will implicate others.

Three Israeli government ministers and seven Knesset members, along with other politicians, are reportedly on the police’s list of people to be questioned in the affair. Some are seen only as sources of information; others may end up as suspects.

Labor Party Knesset member Nissim Zvili, an information source, was recently questioned about Lerner’s offer to give Labor free campaign broadcast time on Russian-language cable TV during last year’s election campaign. Zvili told police that he turned down the offer because it was against the law to accept it.

Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, leader of the Yisrael Ba’Aliyah party, has admitted to having accepted a $100,000 donation from Lerner three years ago for “Olami,” a Russian immigrant welfare association that Sharansky headed. Olami was the organizational core that grew into Yisrael Ba’Aliyah. Later, however, Sharansky reportedly refused Lerner’s entreaties to help him start a bank in Israel, and he distanced himself from Lerner.

Nevertheless, Sharansky reportedly is on the police’s list of future interviewees, as are Labor Knesset members Ehud Barak, Haim Ramon and Sonia Landver, Likud Knesset member Michael Kleiner, and Yisrael Ba’Aliyah Knesset members Yuri Stern and Roman Bronfman.

Israeli police have warned for some time that the wave of Russian immigrants which began in 1989 included some highly placed members of the Russian mafia. The entry of these criminals into Israel, along with the no-questions-asked policy of Israeli banks toward suspicious money, made this country a favored spot for money laundering. The Russian mafia made big plans for Israel, police say.

Two years ago, police Inspector-General Assaf Hefetz, after consulting with police in Russia and Ukraine, said, “They [the Russian mafia] are trying to exploit their resources by backing candidates in the coming elections [in Israel] and gain a position of power.”

Yet much of the influential Russian-language press in Israel is playing up the harassment angle.

Stern has called the investigation of Lerner “ridiculous” and has claimed that it is a glaring example of the Israeli establishment’s discrimination against Russians. He warns that such discrimination will boomerang against the establishment and give Yisrael Ba’Aliyah a tremendous protest vote.

“If this treatment continues, we’ll double our [current seven] Knesset seats in the next election,” he said.

Lerner’s home in Israel is a heavily guarded villa in the seaside city of Ashkelon. He traveled to his office in Tel Aviv in the company of bodyguards. He claims to have started out in Israel with $16, and once told a local Ashkelon newspaper: “The stories connecting me to the Russian mafia were invented out of thin air. I have businesses around the world, and, naturally, there are those who, for reasons of competition or greed, will try to hurt me and my family. There is no such thing [in Israel] as the Russian mafia, just as there is no Hungarian or Romanian mafia.”

While few Russian immigrants are prepared to assume that Lerner is innocent, the great majority complain that the case has fed the widespread Israeli notion that all Russian-immigrant businessmen are mafiosi.

“Nearly all the Russian mafiosi who came to Israel have gone back because, with all due respect, Israel was too small-time for them,” Kontorer said.

Simon Feldman, a journalist for the Russian-immigrant newspaper Novosti Nedeli, said that Israelis in general and Israeli police in particular don’t understand that much of the evidence against Lerner coming out of Russia is tainted.

It is unknown what effect the case will have on the presence of the Russian mafia in Israel. For now, most speculation involves its political and social effects.

While Stern’s assessment of the case’s value in Knesset seats was likely a hopeful exaggeration, Kontorer, a Russian Israeli journalist, said that the affair “isn’t hurting Yisrael Ba’Aliyah’s popularity at all.” As for how the Russian-immigrant community will come to view Lerner, this won’t be known until his legal fate is decided.

Kontorer, who thinks that the evidence against Lerner is weak, guesses that the businessman may eventually get convicted on a minor charge, or possibly even escape indictment altogether, which would leave him “not badly off” in the court of Russian-immigrant public opinion. “But if he is brought to trial and found innocent,” Kontorer said, “then he’s going to come out of this thing a hero.”

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