Amar calls on Netanyahu to quash military conversion bill


Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he will no longer be responsible for any state conversions if the Knesset passes a bill requiring the recognition of all military conversions.

In a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, Amar called on the prime minister to prevent the bill from passing, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Amar has charged a committee to look into legal and halachic issues surrounding the military conversions. He asked Netanyahu to allow the committee to conclude its work before allowing the legislation to go forward.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” Amar’s letter reportedly said. “This is to inform you, that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to take care of all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”

The haredi Orthodox Shas Party also called on Netanyahu to quash the bill, telling him Tuesday that it is a breach of coalition agreements with Shas, Ynet reported,

The bill to protect Israeli soldiers who have converted to Judaism through military conversion courts from having their conversions annulled was approved Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs. It would force all state agencies, including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars to accept the converts as Jews.

In September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court, during a court hearing to address the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage, that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

Palestinian remarks generate cheer and gloom


Cheerful news reached us last week from Damascus. Hamas’ political chief, Khaled Meshal, told Reuters in an interview on Jan. 10 that Israel is a “matter of fact,” and that Hamas
might consider recognizing Israel once a Palestinian state is established.

Don’t misjudge me. I am not particularly thrilled with the content of Meshal’s statement, especially after learning that one hour later a Hamas spokesman denied any change in Hamas’ refusal to ever recognize Israel. What I do find refreshing, though, is that Reuters asked the question, dozens of linguists and analysts were busy interpreting the answer and news channels from China to Africa were eager to report the results.

What made me cheerful was seeing that the fundamental question of whether the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel, the key to any peace settlement in the region, is back on the table and can be discussed in good company without fear of dismissal or ridicule.

Let me explain. Five years ago, if you were to ask this question among Middle East analysts, you were sure to be scolded by an army of well-meaning conflict-resolution experts for being a spoiler of peace or ignorant of the latest polls from the West Bank.

“It does not matter what the Palestinians think about recognition or legitimacy,” was the standard answer, “what matters are conditions on the ground.”

“The road to peace is incremental,” repeated all the headlines.

Remember Peter Jennings, the legendary ABC News anchor? When he interviewed Hanan Ashrawi on his show and asked her about Israel’s right to exist, she hushed him with: “Chairman Arafat has recognized Israel in 1988,” and this kept poor Peter meek and timid for the rest of the interview.

When the Syrian Ambassador spoke at UCLA in 2005, and I asked him whether he personally recognizes Israel’s right to exist, my learned colleagues were quick to rebuke my question as impertinent — “What further proof would Israelis want to convince themselves of Arabs’ intentions?” they asked.

In other words, the question of Arab intentions, the mother of all questions and the key to all solutions, has been locked in the closet for 10 good years, and it is only Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian election, together with financial sanctions by Israel and Western governments, that have brought it back to the spotlight it deserves. Moreover, now that Hamas is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Hamas’ official stance toward Israel has given Western observers a crisp and reliable thermometer to gauge the Palestinian vision of peace, many times more reliable than the ambiguous polls and speeches we have been reading about in the past.

The emergence of such a reliable thermometer now provides valuable new insights into Middle East affairs, especially for those who believe that honesty and clarity are prerequisites to peace. True, we owe this progress to Hamas, but we have never denied credit where credit is due.

However, before we gloat, I should note that my friends in Israel have been consistently skeptical of all polls and speeches since the outbreak of the second intifada, and they have paid no attention at all to those who debate whether Hamas truly represents the heart and mind of Palestinian society.

Most Israelis today have become resigned to some version of the “salami theory,” according to which the vast majority of Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas alike, will never accept Israel as a legitimate neighbor and no matter what agreement is signed, will continue their struggle to “liberate Palestine” in incremental stages (“shlavim” in Hebrew.)

The current fighting between Fatah and Hamas is viewed by most Israelis as a confrontation between two tactics aiming for the same goal, one calling for dismantling Israel in stages, using diplomacy, international isolation, demography, deceit and occasional terror and attacks, the other calling for open warfare.

This gloomy view, depressing as it is, rests on some hard evidence, which even moderate Palestinians have not been able to dispel. Aside from Arab’s century-long rejection of Jewish sovereignty on any part of Palestine, well funded Palestinian organizations have recently intensified their anti-Israel campaign in Europe and on U.S campuses, aiming not at ending the occupation but at undermining the legitimacy of Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people.

Another indicator viewed with alarm by Israelis is that the subject of “comprehensive peace,” including hopes, images and responsibilities of state ownership, is not being discussed in the Palestinian street. While Palestinians do lay conditions for peace, they refrain from discussing its parameters, even behind closed doors.

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, is the only leader who dared remind his countrymen that compromises on the refugees “right of return” must be made if peace is to be given any chance at all. But all discussions of such compromises are considered taboo by the rest of Palestinian society, for whom “peace” has always meant a return to Jaffa, Haifa and Ramlah.

Finally, Palestinian intellectuals have been a great disappointment to Israeli peace activists. In an unprecedented candid exchange between two of the Middle East’s most respected journalists, Salameh Nematt, an Arab, and Akiva Eldar, an Israeli, Eldar writes (Ha’aretz, December 2006): “The Jewish minority, which calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and steals their olives, is my enemy. I will do everything legally possible in order to protect my Arab neighbors from the obnoxious attacks of this racist minority.

“But Israelis need to know that Arabs who call for the expulsion of Jews from their [Jewish] land and deliberately murder their children are enemies of yours, and that there are many among you willing to defend my family against those who deny my right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Those familiar with Eldar’s record as a peace activist and a champion of Palestinians’ rights and statehood would appreciate his readers’ disappointment — after 30 years of intense outreach efforts, Eldar is still begging his Palestinian friends to acknowledge his “right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Iraq war conspiracy — you can’t blame the Jews


Did the Jews do it?

I mean, after killing Jesus, did the Elders of Zion manipulate the government of the United States into invading Babylon as part of a scheme to abet the expansion of greater Israel?

The question was first posed to me in 2004, when I was speaking at a meeting of Mobilization for Peace in San Jose. A member of the audience asked, “Put it together — who’s behind this war? Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams and the Project for a ‘Jew’ American Century and, and, why don’t you talk about that, huh? And ….”

But the questioner never had the full opportunity to complete his query because, flushed and red, he began to charge the stage. The peace activists attempted to detain the gentleman — whose confederates then grabbed some chairs to swing. As the Peace Center was taking on a somewhat warlike character, I chose to call in the authorities and slip out the back.

Still, his question intrigued me. As an investigative reporter, “Who’s behind this war?” seemed like a reasonable challenge — and if it were a plot of Christ killers and Illuminati, so be it. I just report the facts, ma’am.

And frankly, at first, it seemed like the gent had a point, twisted though his spin might be. There was Paul Wolfowitz, before Congress in March 2003, offering Americans the bargain of the century: a free Iraq — not “free” as in “freedom and democracy” but free in the sense of this won’t cost us a penny. Wolfowitz testified: “There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money.”

A “Free” Iraq

And where would these billions come from? Wolfowitz told us: “It starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…. The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the next two or three years.”

This was no small matter. The vulpine deputy defense secretary knew that the number one question on the minds of Americans was not, “Does Saddam really have the bomb?” but, “What’s this little war going to cost us?”

However, Wolfowitz left something out of his testimony: the truth. I hunted for weeks for the source of the Pentagon’s oil revenue projections and found them. They were wildly different from the Wolfowitz testimony. But this was not perjury.

Ever since the conviction of Elliott Abrams for perjury before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings, neither Wolfowitz nor the other Bush factotums swear an oath before testifying. If you don’t raise your hand and promise to tell the truth, “so help me, God,” you’re off the hook with federal prosecutors.

How the Lord will judge that little ploy, we cannot say.

But Wolfowitz’s little numbers game can hardly count as a great Zionist conspiracy. That seemed to come, at first glance, in the form of a confidential 101-page document slipped to our team at BBC’s “Newsnight.” It detailed the economic “recovery” of Iraq’s post-conquest economy. This blueprint for occupation, we learned, was first devised in secret in late 2001.

Notably, this program for Iraq’s recovery wasn’t written by Iraqis. Rather, it was promoted by the neoconservatives of the Defense Department, home of Abrams, Wolfowitz, Harold Rhode and other desktop Napoleons unafraid of moving toy tanks around the Pentagon war room.

Nose-Twist’s Hidden Hand

The neocons’ 101-page confidential document, which came to me in a brown envelope in February 2001, just before the tanks rolled, goes boldly where no U.S. invasion plan had gone before: the complete rewrite of the conquered state’s “policies, law and regulations.” A cap on the income taxes of Iraq’s wealthiest was included as a matter of course. And this was undoubtedly history’s first military assault plan appended to a program for toughening the target nation’s copyright laws. Once the 82nd Airborne liberated Iraq, never again would the Ba’athist dictatorship threaten America with bootleg dubs of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.”

It was more like a corporate takeover, except with Abrams tanks instead of junk bonds. It didn’t strike me as the work of a kosher cabal for an imperial Israel. In fact, it smelled of pork — pig heaven for corporate America looking for a slice of Iraq, and I suspected its porcine source. I gave it a big sniff and, sure enough, I smelled Grover Norquist.

Norquist is the capo di capi of right-wing, big-money influence peddlers in Washington. Those jealous of his inside track to the White House call him “Gopher Nose-Twist.”

A devout Christian, Norquist channeled $1 million to the Christian Coalition to fight the devil’s tool, legalized gambling. He didn’t tell the coalition that the loot came from an Indian tribe represented by Norquist’s associate, Jack Abramoff. (The tribe didn’t want competition for its own casino operations.)

I took a chance and dropped in on Norquist’s L Street office, and under a poster of his idol (“NIXON — NOW MORE THAN EVER”), Norquist took a look at the “recovery” plan for Iraq and practically jumped over my desk to sign it, filled with pride at seeing his baby. Yes, he promoted the privatizations, the tax limit for the rich and the change in copyright law, all concerns close to the hearts and wallets of his clients.

“The Oil” on Page 73

The very un-Jewish Norquist may have framed much of the U.S. occupation grabfest, but there was, without doubt, one notable item in the 101-page plan for Iraq which clearly had the mark of Zion on it. On page 73, the plan called for the “privatization…[of] the oil and supporting industries,” the sell-off of every ounce of Iraq’s oil fields and reserves. Its mastermind, I learned, was Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.
For the neocons, this was the big one. Behind it, no less a goal than to bring down the lynchpin of Arab power, Saudi Arabia.

It would work like this: The Saudi’s power rests on control of OPEC, the oil cartel which, as any good monopoly, withholds oil from the market, kicking up prices.

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.

Former Jewish Agency head tapped as Israel’s next ambassador to U.S.


One of Sallai Meridor’s first acts as chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency for Israel was to deliver relief to a Muslim country, Albania.

The delivery of food and medicine to refugees from the Kosovo crisis in April 1999 was a first for the organization best known for rescuing Jews — and was a sign that the scion of one of Israel’s founding families had a perpetual yearning for a wider diplomatic role.

A little more than a year after Meridor shocked the Jewish world by quitting the agency before his term ended, telling friends he hankered for a diplomatic role, his wish is about to come true: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nominated him on Oct. 4 to be Israel’s next ambassador to Washington.

The one sentence statement from the Prime Minister’s Office simply said Olmert and Livni “decided that Mr. Sallai Meridor will be appointed as Israel’s ambassador to Washington in place of Danny Ayalon, who is completing his four-year term.”

Meridor, 51, still faces confirmation by the Cabinet and must be cleared by the Foreign Ministry’s legal team. But with Livni and Olmert in agreement — and they are at odds on just about everything else recently — his appointment is a sure thing.

Sources said he is set to start in January.

Meridor’s appointment comes at a critical time. The U.S.-Israel relationship has arguably never been stronger, but the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace that both countries had embraced has been crumbling amid chaos among the Palestinians and growing regional threats from Iran and Iraq.

It also comes after Olmert’s political fortunes were severely hampered by the damage Israel suffered this summer during its war with Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border. The Israeli prime minister is hoping to revive talks with the Palestinians.

Traditionally, Israel’s ambassador to Washington goes beyond the role of intermediary between Jerusalem and Washington, with the ambassador often involved in helping to set Israeli policy.

Meridor had already been seen as a shoo-in because of his decades-old friendship with Olmert.
Both men are “princes” of the Likud Party establishment who have moderated their hawkish views. Olmert now leads the centrist Kadima Party, which broke away from the Likud last year.

That friendship is probably the critical element explaining Meridor’s appointment, according to Jewish leaders who have known both men for decades.

“The most important thing for an ambassador to the United States is to have the confidence of the prime minister, and they go back many years,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Meridor also has a reputation for integrity, rolling back the Jewish Agency’s notoriety for patronage during his 1999-2005 term, and cutting its expenses.

The Jewish Agency, involved in the rescue and absorption of Jewish immigrants to Israel as well as Jewish education around the world, is the primary overseas recipient of North American federation funds.

As head of the agency, he pushed for the accelerated immigration of the Falash Mura community from Ethiopia, and the establishing of MASA — a program to bring thousands of Diaspora youth to Israel for long-term study and visits. He advocated aliyah from Western countries and established a partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which helped boost immigration to Israel from North America and most recently, England.

He is well-known — and praised by American Jewish officials of both political and philanthropic organizations.

Sallai has a tremendous intellect and the capacity to multitask at the highest level of detail,” said Jay Sarver, the chairman of the agency’s budget and finance committee. “He has a deep, deep Jewish identity and neshama, and a deep belief in Zionist action.”

Stephen Hoffman, the president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the former president of the United Jewish Communities, worked closely with him during his term at the agency.

“He is a good listener and he is articulate in English as well as Hebrew,” Hoffman said. “He thinks strategically and looks at a lot of different angles, is cautious and gathers a lot of opinions before he makes a move.”

Friends say that the more recent role at the helm of the Jewish Agency obscures his talents as a diplomat. As an adviser to Moshe Arens, who served as foreign minister and defense minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he cultivated a friendship with James Baker. That was exceptional because Baker, the secretary of state to the first President Bush, was not known for friendly relations with Israel.

Dennis Ross, the veteran peace negotiator and diplomat, worked for Baker at the time. Meridor knows how to explain Israel’s needs, he knows how to work effectively with American administrations, he knows how to see the big picture,” Ross said. “Israel could not have made a better choice.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, said they looked forward to working with someone with solid Washington experience.

“He is a highly effective advocate, is well-acquainted with the ways of Washington, D.C., and will surely bring his considerable talents to bear in his new post,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.

Meridor has often straddled two worlds – as a West Bank settler who lives in Kfar Adumim, a settlement near Jericho likely to be dismantled in the withdrawals that Olmert has advocated.
His dual majors at Hebrew University were in the history of Islamic peoples and the history of the Jews. He speaks Arabic.

“Sallai has the ability to take people, to appeal to people from the right and the left and make people feel comfortable whether he agrees with their opinions or not,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who admires Meridor despite their disagreements on last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “In this kind of job, that’s an important trait.”

Klein noted Meridor’s profound affection for the whole biblical land of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.

Nation & World Briefs


Church Condemns Israel’s Barrier

A Protestant church has condemned Israel’s West Bank security barrier. The proposal, passed Saturday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s assembly, denounced the barrier for causing hardships for Palestinians, and also called on the denomination to play a role in “stewarding financial resources — both U.S. tax dollars and private funds — in ways that support the quest for a just peace in the Holy Land,” The Associated Press reported. But it did not specifically mention divestment from Israel or companies that do business with Israel. The vote is the latest taken by Protestant churches to protest Israel’s security barrier.

Travel Warning Issued on Gaza

The U.S. State Department warned U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the Gaza Strip. The advisory, an intensification of prior warnings, calls on U.S. citizens to “avoid crowds, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness and exercise caution in public places or while using public transportation” during Israel’s withdrawal, which began this week. It also reiterates prior calls on Americans to avoid travel to Gaza, postpone unnecessary travel to the West Bank and weigh the necessity of travel to Israel.

Roberts Backed ‘Moment of Silence’ in Schools

While working in the Justice Department for the Reagan administration in 1985, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts wrote in a memo to his supervisor that he would not object to a constitutional amendment on school prayer. Referring to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a school prayer law in Alabama, Roberts wrote that the idea that the “Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection — or even silent ‘prayer’ — seems indefensible.”

The memo was among nearly 5,400 pages of records pertaining to the Supreme Court nominee released by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Roberts also wrote in a memo that a California group’s memorial service to protest abortion was an “entirely appropriate means of calling attention to the abortion tragedy.” Roberts’ confirmation hearings are expected to begin early next month.

Sharon: More Withdrawals Possible

Ariel Sharon said additional West Bank settlements could be handed over to the Palestinians as part of a future peace agreement. Asked in an interview with the Yediot Achronot newspaper if Israel eventually would withdraw from other West Bank settlements, he said, “Not everything will be there. The issue will be raised during the final-status talks with the Palestinians.” Still, Sharon insisted that the large West Bank settlement blocs would remain intact. In addition, he reportedly noted, “I never replied when asked what the boundaries of the settlements blocs are — and not because I’m not familiar with the map.”

Fund to Buy Up Gaza Hothouses

A private international fund agreed to pay Jewish farmers in Gaza $14 million to buy most of the hothouses they will leave behind. Representatives for the Gaza farmers signed the deal Friday with the Economic Cooperation Foundation, the Jerusalem Post reported. The deal came days before Israel began evacuating the Gaza settlements. The foundation, which organized the collection of private donations to fund the project, will transfer the hothouses to a Palestinian Authority company. James Wolfensohn, Mideast envoy for the Quartet — the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that is driving the “road map” peace plan — was instrumental in raising funds for the transfer, and himself donated $500,000.

Bedouin Soldier Behind Bars

An Israeli soldier who killed a British activist in the Gaza Strip was jailed for eight years. Wahid Taysir, a volunteer from Israel’s Bedouin Arab minority, was sentenced by a court-martial last week to 10 years in prison for manslaughter and another 18 months for obstruction of justice but was told that three and a half years of the sentence would be suspended. It was the toughest punishment handed down to an Israeli soldier for an unlawful killing in a combat zone during the Palestinian intifada. The ex-sergeant confessed to shooting Tom Hurndall, a member of a pro-Palestinian activist group, in the southern Gaza town Rafah in 2003 and to falsely telling investigators that Hurndall had been armed. The court-martial said it chose not to give the defendant the maximum possible sentence of 27 years in prison because of his exemplary combat record and to pre-empt accusations that it was scapegoating a member of an ethnic minority.

Minority in the Homeland

Jews are no longer the majority of residents in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined, a study found. According to data supplied last week by the liberal daily, Ha’aretz, Jews constitute slightly more than 49.3 percent of the population in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The figures were supplied by Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s statistics bureaus. The paper included as non-Jews some 185,000 foreign workers in Israel and almost 300,000 immigrants who are not Jewish under Orthodox law. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that the Gaza withdrawal would help Israel demographically by ridding it of responsibility for 1.4 million Palestinians. According to Ha’aretz, demographers say that after the Gaza withdrawal, the percentage of Jews within Israel’s borders will be around 56 percent, a majority that should last for around 20 years.

Oy, Mr. Tallyman

Harry Belafonte retracted his recent statement that Jews were “high up in the Third Reich.” But the singer and political activist told the Jerusalem Post that Jews had contributed to Nazism.

“Was it rampant? Absolutely not,” Belafonte told the Post. “But these things happen and people are not exempt from their behavior.”

To support his contention, Belafonte referred to “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers,” a book that detailed how some Germans of partial Jewish descent served in the Nazi army during World War II.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

The DeLay Factor and the Jews


The recent clamor over Howard Dean’s demand for U.S. "evenhandedness" in the Middle East was sweet music to the ears of Jewish Republicans, who hope 2004 will be a watershed in their long but frustrating effort to rally Jewish voters to their cause.

But the Republicans could overplay their hand, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who sometimes makes Ariel Sharon sound like a peacenik, is just the man to do it.

The Texas congressman, who has emerged as a powerful friend of Israeli nationalists and right-wingers, was on the attack last week, lashing out at Dean, the surprise frontrunner in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

But DeLay’s pro-Israel ardor, while galvanizing to a small Jewish minority and useful to mainstream leaders, could neutralize the positive political impact of President George W. Bush — whose support for both Israel and an active peace process may play well among Jewish swing voters.

During his 18 years in Congress, DeLay, a former Houston exterminator, has been known mostly for his intense partisanship, his hard-right views on domestic subjects and his close relationship with groups like the Christian Coalition.

For much of that time he was considered cool to Israel — hostile to foreign aid, and not particularly sympathetic to the pro-Israel cause on Capitol Hill.

That began to change in the mid-1990s as pro-Israel conservatives courted the increasingly powerful DeLay, and as a key segment of his core constituency — conservative Evangelical Christians — began to put their version of "Christian Zionism" at the top of their list of priorities.

Some analysts say that agenda is based heavily on Christian biblical prophecies, which require constant warfare in the Middle East and a terrible fate for those Jews who do not jump aboard the millennial bandwagon.

Whatever their motives, their support has been welcomed by pro-Israel groups, which face mounting hostility from liberal "mainline" Protestant denominations. It was especially welcomed by the Jewish right, which for the first time had a politically powerful champion in Washington.

DeLay was reborn into the pro-Israel faith with a vengeance.

In 2000, he was one of only three lawmakers voting against a congressional resolution praising Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon, claiming that Israel was making a big mistake giving back any land.

In 2002, DeLay headed a congressional effort to deflect pressure on Israel from the leader of his party, President Bush.

This year, he delighted hard-liners when he told the pro-Israel lobby that Israel has a perfect right to keep Gaza and the West Bank.

"I’ve toured Judea and Samaria," he said, "and stood on the Golan Heights," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

He repeated that claim last week to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Jewish right-wingers here applaud such talk; mainstream Jewish leaders, while not entirely comfortable with it, are grateful for his support, and some swallow their discomfort over his hard-line views.

But if DeLay is the spearhead of a new GOP effort to woo Jewish voters, the party may be in trouble. Poll after poll shows that American Jews remain committed to the fundamentals of land-for-peace negotiations.

Despite the way Jews from across the spectrum have rallied behind a terror-beset Israel, there is very little support here for the settlers who are determined to hold onto their West Bank and Gaza outposts, or the neo-Kahanists who dream of "transferring" Palestinians somewhere else.

American Jewish leaders have expressed great skepticism about the Bush administration’s "road map" for Palestinian statehood, but polls indicate most American Jews support its principles.

DeLay may score points with some top Jewish leaders, who are interested mostly in his ability to serve as a counterweight to administration pressure on Israel, and with single-issue pro-Israel groups, which easily overlook a domestic record that makes him the prince of the Christian right.

But the majority of Jews are centrists whose votes are shaped by a wide array of issues, not just Israel. On both the foreign and domestic fronts, Jewish voters, while not as liberal as they once were, are poles apart from DeLay and his ultra-conservative colleagues.

On the Middle East, President Bush has struck a balance that may appeal to that Jewish mainstream: strong, unequivocal support for Israel, but also for a genuine peace process that everybody knows can only end with the creation of a real Palestinian state.

That combination could be especially attractive next November if the Democrats nominate a challenger beholden to the party’s left flank, where Israel isn’t exactly the most popular cause in town.

DeLay represents a support for Israel’s most extreme factions and a harsh vision for the future of the region that is repellent to many of the Jews the Republicans hope to attract.

War necessary and just under Jewish Law


One cannot answer the question of whether going to war with Iraq
is morally justified without first establishing what state we are in now.

The truth, which many American Jews find too bitter to
swallow, is that we are in a state of total war already. We face an implacable
enemy who has struck and killed Jews repeatedly, who has vowed to wipe out the
State of Israel while making clear — in Djerba, in Mombasa, in Pakistan — that
all Jews worldwide are targets of this murderous hostility.

The very same enemy is at war with the United States of
America. Sept. 11 represents open warfare and mass murder, but this war has
been waged, overtly and covertly, for decades. The aggression includes
relentless indoctrination of hatred against Americans, aid to America’s
enemies, bombing of U.S. embassies and terrorist violence against its allies
and interests.

The “co-incidence” of war on America and the Jews is not a
coincidence. America is seen as the source of economic dynamism sweeping away
traditional hierarchies and of cultural transformation that is undermining
authoritarian faiths and inherited structures. The West, modernity, media,
“uppity women,” homosexuality, unlimited cultural choices, the decline of
Islamic civilization in the arts, science and human rights are all lumped
together and blamed on the “Great Satan”: America.

These hated values are further stigmatized by hanging them
on Jews and on Israel, the “Little Satan.”

Anti-Semites charged that Jews introduced modernity and
capitalism in Western Europe; other anti-Semites blamed Jews for communism in Eastern
Europe. Now, Islamic Jew-haters blame them for purveying the evils of Western
capitalist democracy.

Arabists have recently claimed that America is hated because
it supports Israel. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Israel is
hated as the outpost of Western civilization successfully placed in
Dar-al-Islam (the land divinely ordained for Muslim rule only) and maintained
by its Western technology and skills.

Some argue that the war is being waged by Al Qaeda, not Iraq.
No. This 50-plus-year war has been waged by a loose, shifting collection of
states and groups, not infrequently divided and fighting among each other but
all drawing upon Arab cultural resentment and radical Islamic fundamentalism.

The question is whether our overt war against Al Qaeda
should be extended to Iraq.

The answer: Iraq, by its behavior since 1990, has confronted
the United States and made war a needed response. Iraq invaded Kuwait. After
losing the Gulf War and to avoid invasion, it promised to disarm. Instead, Iraq
frustrated and expelled inspectors while renewing its effort to achieve nuclear
arms.

In conjunction with chemical and biological weapons, these
instruments are intended to conquer Israel, to subdue and extort Iraq’s
neighbors and to intimidate and drive out the West. Should Iraq succeed in rearming,
it would not hesitate to use these terror weapons — or to supply them to Al
Qaeda or other terrorist groups and regimes — for use against the United
States, Israel or Jews anywhere or against other populations.

Here we come to the core questions: Maybe Iraq can be
hamstrung or delayed? Maybe, even if armed, Iraq’s dictator will not strike in
fear of American retaliation — just as he has held back since 1991?

This is precisely the needed judgment call. Unlike a
situation in which we have been openly attacked, and striking back in
self-defense is self-evidently justified, the Iraq situation is debatable.
Maybe Saddam Hussein will never attack, and we can get by without a war.

My personal judgment is: Taking the risk of no imposed
disarmament is intolerable. No dictator so vile and no regime so dangerous dare
be allowed to become a nuclear-biological threat. We need only remember the
massive losses of life due to the world’s initial appeasement of Hitler and
Stalin.

If the United States strikes preemptively, it risks
inflicting limited deaths. If we allow Saddam to maneuver successfully and gain
a first strike, the death toll will be staggering. The calculus of risk tilts
overwhelmingly toward preemptive action.

Jewish tradition values peace as the highest good. It
envisions a messianic age in which war will disappear. However, until the world
is perfected, Jewish law rules that there are two legitimate types of wars.
Other types of wars are illegitimate and condemned.

The first is a war of self-defense “to save the people of
Israel from an enemy coming at them.” (Maimonides, Yad Hachazakah, Book of
Judges). Self-defense is considered a milchemet mitzvah (a commanded “good
deed” war).

The second type of legitimate war is in a situation when it
is not clear that the enemy will definitely attack. However, the government
feels that a preemptive strike is warranted for greater security or for
expanded boundaries yielding greater defensive depth against a possible future
onslaught. Since the war is not definitively one of self-defense, it cannot be
labeled a mitzvah.

However, the ruler is authorized to pursue this course of
action by his definition of national security. This war is categorized as a
milchemet reshut (permitted war).

Given that this war is not self-evidently justified, extra
restrictions are placed on the government:

  • Going to war must be approved by the Sanhedrin (a
    legislative-judicial body) and not just the executive branch.

  • There are a wide range of exemptions from service, including
    those people who are afraid (which I interpret to include those who morally
    object to the war).

  • The permitted military tactics are more tightly regulated.
    Maimonides rules that in both kinds of war, one must first offer peace to the
    enemy. Only if the enemy refuses to surrender can one proceed.

In my judgment, the Iraq situation is a classic case of a
permitted war. The Bush administration has decided that America’s security
demands preemptive action now. Since the justification is not self-evident, it
is right that Congress be asked to approve — it already has done so — and that
a wide range of exemptions (and expressions of opposition to the war) be
allowed.

The likely loss of life among U.S. armed forces and Iraqis,
both military and civilian, is tragic and heartbreaking. However, given Saddam
Hussein’s cruel and barbarous reign, many more lives will likely be saved by
his overthrow than will be harmed in this war.

Personally, I hope for much more. Smashing this dictatorship
will erode terrorists’ standing everywhere, encourage moderates and unleash
forces of democratization throughout the region. States that harbor terrorist
groups will be shocked into distancing themselves from these reprehensible
forces.

Of course, this demarche could fail; if so, the forces of
terror would be strengthened. This is the risk of freedom. There are no
guarantees in history anymore.

In my judgment, the risks of not acting are far greater; the
cancerous growth of violence and terror cannot be stopped any other way. If we
fail, we must take responsibility for our actions. If we succeed, democracy and
human dignity will take a giant leap forward.

Israel, too, may gain new neighbors willing to make peace.
For the Jewish people, then, what is good for America and American lives, will
be a blessing for Jews as well. In other words, if this war succeeds, then, as
the Bible promises, what is a blessing for the Jewish people will again be a
blessing for all the families of the earth.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg is the president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation.

Americans Fight Terror With Aliyah


Howard and Dora Green were inside Jerusalem’s packed Sbarro pizzeria last August when a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed more than a dozen others.

The Greens suffered personally from the terrorist attack — their niece still lies in a coma in Tel Aviv — but it prompted the couple to emerge stronger and more dedicated to preserving the Jewish people.

The "best way to fight back" said Howard Green, is to make aliyah. Nearly one year later, the Orthodox couple from New York has moved to Israel. They were among nearly 400 North American Jews — 150 under the age of 12 — who made aliyah in what is believed to be the largest group of North Americans to immigrate at one time to Israel.

Israel was "always a dream we could never fulfill" for financial or other reasons, said Dora Green, 51, as she prepared for her departure from JFK International Airport on Monday.

But now, with her husband’s retirement benefits and a financial boost from a new organization dedicated to easing the financial burden of aliyah, the Greens are officially new immigrants.

In fact, the group that helped the Greens, Nefesh B’Nefesh (From Soul to Soul), was founded by someone dedicated to replacing lives lost to terror with new Jewish immigrants.

After his cousin was killed in a 2000 terrorist attack in Israel, Rabbi Joshua Fass of Boca Raton, Fla., wanted to "come stand in his stead."

Describing his inspiration to others, the 29-year-old Orthodox rabbi found a burgeoning group of like-minded prospective immigrants whose only impediment was finances. In November, he resigned from his congregation and joined local businessman and congregant Tony Gelbart to launch the group. They placed ads in Jewish papers across the country and urged the North American offices of the Israel Aliyah Center to direct prospective immigrants their way.

Of the $3 million Nefesh B’Nefesh raised, $2 million came as a grant from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which raises money primarily from Christian donors.

Nefesh B’Nefesh offered the new immigrants from $5,000 to $25,000 in grants, averaging $20,000, to ease their move to Israel. The group includes Jews from 23 states and Canada. The first planeload of new immigrants arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport to great fanfare on Tuesday morning. Three-fourths of the group are Orthodox, according to Fass, who went with his wife, Batsheva, and three small children.

But others among them said a secular Zionism propelled their move. Mike Lewin was leaving his best friend and family behind in Cleveland to begin a new life.

"I’ve always been a strong Zionist," said Lewin, 28, who describes himself as a Reform Jew in America and a secular one in Israel.

It’s a feeling that’s grown, he said as he was leaving, since his first visit there as a 16-year-old on a federation-sponsored teen tour. "Not every Jew needs [to make aliyah]," he said, but those who are ready "to make a commitment should go," he said.

One of the main reason American Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, don’t make aliyah is because they can’t afford the expense of relocating, said 63-year-old Stan Rabinowitz, a ba’al teshuvah (return to Judaism).

Indeed, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, says that if Nefesh B’Nefesh proves that to be the case by continuing to raise the numbers of American aliyah, then American Jewry must address the issue. Eckstein, who himself recently made aliyah, said, "This aliyah happened because Christian Americans helped make it happen."

North American aliyah has steadily decreased by 15 percent every year for the last five years, with slightly fewer than 1,200 North Americans making aliyah last year. But this year, Dan Biron, executive director of the Israel Aliyah Center, which handles immigration to Israel by North American Jews, expects an increase of 20 percent due to the work of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Nefesh B’Nefesh plans to continue operating out of Florida and Israel with 130 more scheduled to depart later this summer, and another 1,200 immigrants next year.

World Briefs


Bush Speaks Out for Israel

President Bush spoke out in defense of Israel and reiterated his criticism of Yasser Arafat. "Israel has a right to defend herself," Bush told reporters June 10 as he met in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Bush again spoke of his disappointment with Arafat’s leadership. The preconditions for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord are not in place, he said, because "no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer later said Bush believes diplomatic talks should proceed at the same time as Palestinian reforms. Sharon has demanded reform as a precondition to talks.

UJC Passes Budget

The umbrella group for North American federations passed its 2002 budget. Meeting in Chicago, the board of trustees of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) approved a $42.5 million budget, down from last year’s budget of $44.7 million. The new budget includes cuts in UJC’s regional staff members.

Ads Show Christians Support Israel

An interfaith group is running an ad campaign underscoring evangelical Christians’ support for Israel. "Evangelical Christians are among the strongest supporters of Israel in the world today," says an ad that appeared in the June 11 Washington Post. The campaign is being spearheaded by Stand for Israel, a project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Similar ads are planned for other major newspapers and on radio stations.

Jewish Group Plans Armed Patrols

A militant Jewish group, armed with shotguns and other weapons, plans to start patrolling Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The little-known Jewish Defense Group is taking the step after a suspected terrorist jailed in Iraq said in a TV interview that the terrorists who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing originally wanted to target Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Rabbi Yakove Lloyd, the founder of the Jewish Defense Group, told The Associated Press that there would be about 50 to 200 people involved in the street patrols, some carrying shotguns in bags, others with bats and pipes. The plan has met with criticism from some local Jews.

Distribution Sped Up for Swiss Claims

A United States-led tribunal is relaxing the standards for paying claims to Jews whose Holocaust-era accounts were frozen by Swiss banks. The Claims Resolution Tribunal also plans to speed up distribution of $800 million from Swiss banks to Holocaust victims and their heirs. The tribunal was set up to help distribute money from a $1.25 billion settlement by Swiss banks. The tribunal said that as of last month, it had received more than 32,000 claims and had paid out $16.9 million in 135 claims.

ZOA Activists Visit D.C.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) held a pro-Israel lobbying mission on Capitol Hill. ZOA activists visited Washington June 11 and 12. The 250 activists urged officials to stop pressuring Israel, cut diplomatic relations with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and end all U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

Shoah Art Travels Into Space

An Israeli astronaut plans to bring a Holocaust-era drawing with him into space. Col. Ilan Ramon contacted Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial requesting an item from the Holocaust to take with him when he blasts off July 19 aboard a NASA space shuttle. Yad Vashem chose "Moon Landscape," a drawing by Peter Ginz, a 14-year-old Jewish boy, created during his incarceration in the Terezin transit camp. Ginz was later killed in Auschwitz.

Senate Passes Mideast Aid Bill

The U.S. Senate passed an anti-terrorism bill that includes additional aid for Israel and the Palestinians. The $31.5 billion bill provides $200 million for Israel, as well as $50 million earmarked for the United States Agency for International Development to distribute in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The bill now heads to conference committee, where it will be negotiated against a House version.

New Deadline for French Bank Claims

The United States and France extended by six months the deadline for Jewish claims against French banks. The claims may be filed by Jews who say their accounts were frozen during the Nazi occupation of France. The new deadline is Jan. 18, 2003.

ADL: Anti-Semitism on Rise

A new Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey shows an increase in American anti-Semitism in the wake of Sept. 11.

The survey by ADL and Marttila Communications, called "Anti-Semitism in America: 2002," is based on interviews with 1,000 Americans of different ethnic, religious, age and regional backgrounds. The margin of error was 3 percent.

The interviews were held in late April and early May, just after the Israeli army’s controversial incursion into the Jenin refugee camp.

Among the survey’s most dramatic findings: 17 percent of respondents were "strongly" anti-Semitic, a 5 percent increase from 1998, while 48 percent appeared to hold no prejudice at all, a 5 percent decrease from 1998.

Briefs by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

It Takes a (Democratic) Village


So what will it take to end the decades of conflict between the Israelis and its Arab neighbors?

Let’s first recognize the problem: For decades, we’ve assumed it’s an issue of land. But is that really so? If land were the issue, Yasser Arafat would have at least negotiated former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s 2000 offer at Camp David to convey virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to the Palestinians — everything Arafat had demanded prior to then. Also, other Arab nations that have no land disputes whatsoever with Israel would not challenge Israel’s very right to exist.

Well, you may conclude, it’s a clash of religions then. But if this were so, we would expect to see Jews exploding themselves in Arab flea markets.

Why have we assumed that the conflict stems from land and religion? Because that’s what the Arabs have told us. And so we’ve spent decades trying to resolve the conflict along those lines, always ending in failure or questionable results at best.

We need to view this conflict through a different and correct frame.

But what is that frame? It is recognizing that the pain between Arabs and Israelis is the result of the Arabs’ own ruthless and corrupt hold on their people. In short, it is dictatorship vs. democracy.

Close your eyes and imagine a war today between the United States and Canada, England and Spain or Australia and Japan. But the notion of war among those countries is absurd, you say. Why? Because all of these countries are democracies.

The first order of business of any democracy is prosperity for its people. Indeed, unless a government can show that it has improved its citizens’ lives, those citizens will vote it out. By contrast, the first order of a dictatorship is power and maintaining it. To do this, you have to control the media, bribe your generals, whip up religious fervor, create secret police forces and foment hatred against outside enemies, real or imagined.

Where democracies seek stability and growth, dictatorships crave enemies, and see prosperity as a threat. These differing agendas are at radical odds with one another and cannot coexist. And so there can be no true peace in the Middle East until the Arabs shed this craving — and democratize. This is the problem. Despite the media portrayals, we will discover that Israel was never the problem at all, not even a part of it. It has been just a victim of the Arabs’ problem.

Many might claim the Arab culture runs too deep, that several generations must pass before one can even talk of democracy. But history is a continuous series of surprises. In 1945, the Japanese shed centuries of brutal rule by emperors, whom they had revered as gods. It soon became one of the most prosperous of democracies. In 1988, you could not convince anyone that the entire Soviet empire would collapse in the following year. But it did.

Until now, Israel and the United States have at best urged Arafat to curb hate in the media, mosques and schools, and to provide a social infrastructure. But this is asking Arafat to provide all the benefits of a democracy, while letting him continue a dictatorship. It’s a self-contradicting agenda.

This is why Israel recognizes that the entire Palestinian infrastructure must change. We cannot expect meaningful progress in the Mideast while the Arabs continue their suppression and manipulation of information. Unless we replace these dictatorships with democracies, they will forever inflict pain. Dictatorships are like mosquitoes in a swamp: You can kill many, but unless you clean out the swamp, they will come back.

If we truly want peace in the region, we need to discard our framing the conflict around land and religion. We should instead ask ourselves the far more difficult question of how we can foster democracy in the Arab world. It will be hard work, but this is the reality we must face if we want the lasting peace that we now see among our world’s great democratic nations.

This Year in Orange County


Next year in Jerusalem.” We spoke these words at the end of our Passover seders, as we always do. But this year, we winced as we recited the familiar formula. Today, the ancient Jewish desire for a homeland is colliding with the modern Arab desire to deny the Jews a homeland in a battle that features suicide bombers, F-15s and automatic weapons.

So we hedge. I hear it in shul after services on Saturday morning. I hear it hanging around the nosh table at Jewish events and standing around the playground waiting to pick the kids up from day school. I hear myself saying it at home: “We were hoping to go to Israel this summer, but the way things are now….”

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, maybe Hawaii.

Our lack of enthusiasm is understandable. It’s not as though tourists are immune to the suffering: 9-month-old Avia Malka, whose family was visiting from South Africa, was murdered in Netanya by a Palestinian terrorist on March 9.

And we’re not just frustrated tourists: we’re horrified onlookers. Ambulances with Hebrew letters, bathing the surrounding carnage in red strobe lights, fill our TV screens. Soldiers weep — my God, those kids are soldiers? — as their comrades are carried off. There’s no use rationalizing that an average person in Israel is less likely to be killed (unless he’s behind the wheel) than an average person in Los Angeles: we don’t suffer through a parade of horrifying visuals from Los Angeles each night on the news.

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, safe at home.

As if the actual tragedy of attacks on pregnant mothers and infants weren’t bad enough, we’re regularly insulted by the coverage of the atrocities in the mainstream press. The names of Tracy Wilkinson and Mary Curtius, who cover Israel for the Los Angeles Times, are rarely uttered by O.C. Jews without an accompanying epithet. The Register runs hot and cold, depending on whose wire coverage they pick up for the day: Reuters, bad; The New York Times, good, or, anyway, not as bad.

Indeed, while the events in Israel seem to leave O.C. Jews with a deer-in-the-headlights helplessness, the coverage of those events drives us to an uncontrolled rage. Can you say “CNN” without a sneer?

Has your previous disdain of the Fox News Network turned into a giddy crush on Bill O’Reilly? As Americans, we demand objective reporting; as Jews, we know biased, slanted coverage of Israel when we see it.

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, in front of the computer, pecking out letters to the editor.

OK, we may feel we have some influence on the press. But can we possibly have any effect on the main event, the ongoing nightmare in Israel?

As a community, definitely. Our combined efforts have started to bear fruit in the attitudes of our neighbors and the actions of our president. As the death toll mounts, though, it is easy to feel despair, to decide that nothing I can do as an individual can possibly make a difference. It is in those low moments that I remind myself that I cannot stand by and watch as vicious and evil thugs, taught from birth to hate and trained from childhood to kill, take the lives of Jewish children.

Make no mistake: it is the children they are targeting. Near Tekoa, two 13-year-old boys were abducted and beaten to death as they hiked in the hills. On the Ben Yehuda Street mall, no victim was over the age of 21. At the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, teenage girls formed the majority of the victims. The list is sickeningly long.

So I can’t sit still. Neither could Susan Glass, president of the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee. Glass, who is also active locally in the Federation and Jewish Family Service, participated in a Federation Solidarity Mission to Israel in December. Although this was her sixth trip to the country, Glass saw the tragedies there as a call to action. “I felt I had to go,” she told me.

Like others who have visited during the year-and-a-half Palestinian campaign of terror, Glass was received with warmth and gratitude by Israelis who don’t always enjoy a reputation for either. “They know it’s not easy” for Americans to visit during this time, she said. “Seeing how much they appreciate our visit, you get solid evidence that the visit is important to them.”

Important to them, yes, but also important for us. There has been a Jewish state throughout my lifetime: will there be one for my grandchildren? And what will I tell those grandchildren when they ask me what I did to make a difference when Israel’s existence was at stake, when Jewish blood was being spilled?

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, on the phone, at the keyboard, standing at rallies, calling congressmen, e-mailing senators, writing letters, organizing, speaking, demonstrating … and yes, perhaps, for the sake of my future grandchildren, if only for a week or two: This year in Jerusalem.



E. Scott Menter is an Orange County businessman and writer.

Questioning Sharon


Since Israel launched Operation Protective Wall five weeks ago, rabbis and lay leaders of national and regional Jewish organizations throughout the United States have urged American Jews to stand with Israel and express their steadfast support for its leaders. Even those American Jewish leaders who have been critical of Israeli government action in the past have suspended their criticism of Israel in the name of unity.

Disgusted with Yasser Arafat’s duplicity and his rejection of ostensibly generous territorial concessions reported to have been offered at Camp David, liberals such as Alan Dershowitz and Arthur Hertzberg have joined the leaders of mainstream groups like American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League in rallying on Israel’s behalf. With a few notable exceptions, liberals have endorsed Ariel Sharon’s policy of incursions into the West Bank and defended this policy against its many critics in the United Nations, the European Union and even the Bush administration.

There is a long Jewish tradition of "circling the wagons" in periods of crisis. At a time when Israelis are afraid to step on a bus or go to a movie and Jews in Europe face burned synagogues and violent assaults, it is tempting to put aside our differences and criticisms in the name of the time-honored principal of kol Yisra’el ‘arevim zeh ba-zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another).

American Jewish leaders must not succumb to this temptation. Critical thinking and clear-headed analyses of Israel’s long-term interests are needed now more than ever. Sadly, many of our rabbis and lay leaders appear to have sacrificed these interests for the sake of easy gestures of solidarity and unity.

Those who have called for American Jews to stand with Israel in its hour of need argue that Israel’s very existence is threatened by the wave of terror unleashed by Arafat, and that the current Israeli policy of military incursions into the West Bank is the only way to eliminate the "terrorist infrastructure" responsible for the murder of many innocent men, women and children in Israel. This policy is justified, they tell us, because every nation has a right to defend its citizens from terrorist attacks.

And yet as many Israeli security experts, generals and journalists have noted, Operation Protective Wall is liable to lead to more suicide bombings, not fewer. The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) assault in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and other towns and villages in the occupied territories has only created more hatred, despair and desire for revenge. The number of desperate, enraged Palestinians who are willing to blow themselves up has surely tripled during the last three weeks.

The most recent suicide bombings indicate that all of Israel’s military might cannot stop fanatics from making their way into Israel. What use are Merkava tanks and F-16s when the only "terrorist infrastructure" required for a devastating attack against Israeli citizens is explosives and a volunteer to make the short walk from Qalqiliya to Kfar Sava?

It is also clear that as horrifying and demoralizing as suicide bombings are, they pose no threat to the existence of Israel. The IDF is much stronger than any army in the region, and for all of the world’s criticism, no country with existing diplomatic relations has cut them off, let alone threatened to launch a war. Indeed, many Arab countries recently offered to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal from the occupied territories. Moreover, the Jewish state still has privileged trading relations with the United States and the European Union.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy is aimed not at defending Israel’s existence or "uprooting terrorism." Rather, he hopes to prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state by creating "buffer zones" around populated areas of the West Bank and replacing Arafat with a leader more to his liking. To this end, Operation Protective Wall was launched to eliminate the implements and symbols of Palestinian independence. How else to explain the destruction of water and electricity supplies (and the offices which supervised them), the Palestinian Authority police (responsible for imposing order and reigning in terrorists in any future settlement), cultural institutions, even the studio where Palestinians and Israelis co-produced an Arabic-language version of "Sesame Street"?

While there has been no shortage of Israeli critics who have challenged the wisdom of his current policies, American Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum have contented themselves with expressions of support and unity, rather than asking hard questions: Who will fight terrorism after the IDF eliminates all the Palestinian police units? How will Israel’s campaign against the entire Palestinian population help against terrorism? How will it advance peace, or at least the security of Israelis?

What is needed now are not empty expressions of solidarity, but rather the mobilization of wisdom and common sense directed toward a long-term strategy to end the occupation and establish secure borders. Anything less is an abdication of responsibility — and of Jewish values as well.

The Best Defense: U.S.A.


The Jewish world is trembling. Ask American Jews who would ordinarily be visiting Israel. Ask college students who want to spend a year in Jerusalem, or out-of-business hotel owners in Tel Aviv. Ask the average Israeli who hesitates when entering a cafe, stepping on a bus or visiting a mall. Ask the one in 10 Israeli citizens currently out of work. Ask the Argentine Jew who might otherwise move to Israel but prefers to stay put. Or the French Jew whose synagogue has been bombed, while a rabid anti-Semite finishes second in a presidential election.

For the first time in decades, people are beginning to talk seriously about Israel’s ability to survive. Not coincidentally, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, people are worried about genuine anti-Semitism. But the hatred is spewing from the West, not the East, reviving stark images of the 1930s.

The natural response of most American Jews in this time of crisis is to rally to Israel’s defense. But the best defense of Israel may ultimately be our support for a credible and productive U.S. role in the Middle East, one that will only benefit Israel’s security interests.

As the leaders of an American population that strongly supports Israel, how will we enable President Bush to define America’s role as a mediator? Some in the American Jewish community have reacted negatively to Bush’s recent diplomatic initiative. Many see a divine injustice in offering the Palestinians anything when all they have offered is violence. Critics feel the president is hypocritically rewarding terrorism, a move that will ultimately sacrifice Israeli security. They argue that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, must be crushed through military force.

But following the Afghanistan model will not work to Israel’s benefit. While Afghanistan harbored international terrorists that waged war on the West, the Palestinian territories are home to an entire people whose political status is still undecided. That is why every attempt to further isolate Arafat through force only makes him stronger. In contrast, only a small minority in Afghanistan mourned Bin Laden’s defeat.

Bush realizes that Israel cannot win this war the same way America won in Afghanistan. Even those who support military activity against the Palestinians admit there is no military solution to the conflict. Simply put, tanks and helicopters cannot permanently defeat suicide bombs.

The relative pause in the weeks following Operation Defensive Shield should fool no one. Terror may have been delayed, but only a political solution will put an end to the problem.

Despite this dismal reality, some have no appetite for the diplomatic horizons Bush seeks to offer. They spoke clearly at the April 15 Israel solidarity rally, when the representative of the administration, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, was nearly booed off the platform for voicing sympathies with ordinary Palestinians.

Bush’s choice to send Wolfowitz, both a staunch Israel supporter and a leading advocate of action against Iraq, reflected the unique foreign policy dilemma now facing the White House. At both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, sympathy for Israel is unequivocal; no one questions Bush’s commitment to the security of America’s most important Middle East ally. But the entire Arab world is ablaze in opposition to current Israeli policies regarding the territories, and America simply cannot ignore the threat posed to our key Arab allies.

The fall of these friendly regimes to hostile fundamentalists would mean the end of even a modicum of stability in the Middle East. It would certainly jeopardize Israel if hostile regimes develop weapons of mass destruction amid intensified regional turmoil. Furthermore, any plans for regime change in Iraq would be shelved indefinitely. As the crisis continues, the only winner is Saddam Hussein, who continues to openly sponsor suicide terror and enjoys each day the United States is diverted by an angry Arab world.

These are the scariest times Jews have seen in decades. There may be no solution for an ageless anti-Semitism, but there is one way to secure an Israeli future free of Palestinian terrorism — enabling President Bush to lead the parties to a political agreement. As the president proved in leading both sides to a resolution of the impasse in Ramallah, negotiations are still possible. They do not necessitate a capitulation to terror, nor will they entail sacrificing Israeli security. Returning to negotiating means acknowledging that a purely military approach to the Palestinians will condemn the region to eternal conflict, and sentence world Jewry to never-ending fear.

The best hope for avoiding disaster, and for true Israeli security, is an active and credible role for the United States in a political process. In its moment of fear and anxiety, the American Jewish community can enable progress by lending its support to the president in his current efforts. Indeed, we should be encouraging the United States to take a more active role, not discouraging U.S. diplomatic efforts that will benefit the state of Israel.

World Briefs


Seven Killed in Bus Bombing

A Palestinian suicide bomber killed seven people and wounded more than 30 in northern Israel on Wednesday morning. A number of Israeli Arabs were among the dead, Israel Radio reported. The bombing took place on an Egged bus near the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, close to Afula. The bus was ripped in two by the large quantity of explosives carried by the bomber. The Palestinian Authority denounced the “operation,” saying it opposed attacks on civilians within Israel proper. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the blast. In other violence, an Israeli was wounded in a shooting attack near the West Bank city of Nablus. A senior U.S. official said Yasser Arafat must intensify his efforts to end violence.

Israel, Jews Blast Annan Leak

Israel and American Jewish groups criticized Kofi Annan for his letter blasting the Jewish state’s recent military offensive against the Palestinians. “The tactic of using the media for selective criticism [is], at the least, counterproductive,” the Israeli mission to the United Nations said. “It is regrettable that the secretary general’s letter fails to reflect the basic fact that it is Palestinian terrorists that are deliberately targeting civilians.” In his letter, which he released to the press Monday, Annan accused Israel of launching illegitimate attacks on Palestinian civilians and said Israel’s incursion into Palestinian cities and refugee camps earlier this month resembled “all-out conventional warfare.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said the letter, and Annan’s reference days earlier to Israel’s “illegal” occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, “undermine his credibility and confidence in the U.N. Secretariat and further compromise the international body.”

Report: Boy Killed by Palestinians

A Palestinian boy whose death became a symbol of the intifada actually was killed by Palestinian gunfire, according to German ARD Television. The footage of the death of Mohammed Al-Durrah was censored by the Palestinians to make it look as if he had been killed by Israeli gunfire, ARD officials said.

ADL: Russian Anti-Semitism Up

The number of serious anti-Semitic attacks increased in Russia last year, from 18 in 2000 to 24 in 2001, according to a new Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report. ADL officials, as well as other United States-based experts, attribute the growth to a general rise in hate crimes and to better monitoring. The report also stresses the unprecedented growth of ultra-nationalist and xenophobic organizations in Russia in 2001, some of it on the Internet.

Berlin Cemetery Damaged in Attack

Right-wing extremists likely were behind an explosion at a Jewish cemetery in Berlin. Police are investigating whether Saturday’s homemade grenade attack that damaged a courtyard was the work of Arab terrorists or right-wing fanatics.

Reform Help Sept. 11 Victims

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations Disaster Relief Fund has donated $1.5 million to help victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. With more than 5,500 donations from individuals, corporations and Reform congregations, the movement selected nine organizations to receive $500,000 in grants to help primarily with legal services, medical services and job training and placement.

Arabic ‘Mein Kampf’ Is Best Seller

Arabic-language copies of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” are selling briskly in London and the Palestinian territories. The Arabic edition, published by a Lebanon-based company, has a picture of Hitler and a swastika on the cover, according to the British Daily Telegraph newspaper. The translator wrote in the foreword that “National Socialism did not die with the death of its herald, rather, its seeds multiply under each star.”

PRO


Scottish philosopher David Hume hit the nail on the head when he observed that "the heart of man always attempts to reconcile the most glaring contradictions." Hume, of course, wasn’t thinking of Palestinian apologists back in 1749. But he certainly wouldn’t have been ashamed of applying his pithy aphorism to their persistent bouts of moral incoherence.

These groups and individuals inhabit a universe not always readily accessible to those among us with less sensitive moral antennae. It is a plane of existence that in fact thrives on contradiction –where falsehood doubles as truth, iniquity moonlights as righteousness and aggression masquerades as peacemaking. This is the blurry world of the human rights organizations and their uneasy relationship with the state of Israel.

Among the more aggressive crusades from these groups in recent weeks has been the attack on Israel’s decision to bulldoze Palestinian houses suspected as fronts for a smuggling operation. While the outcry has lingered for weeks, not one of these same organizations has either successfully challenged Israel’s claim that the houses were being used for smuggling weapons. Nor have they allayed the suspicion that one day those same weapons would be employed in the killing of Israelis.

And therein lies the glaring contradiction. One only needs to examine the antics of many of these same organizations in Durban, South Africa, last September to understand how the words "human rights" lose all moral weight when hurled at Israel. How else to explain the time and energy expended by the organizations, including the venerable Rabbis for Human Rights, to have Israel singled out and isolated from among 200 other countries as a racist state, even while slavery still thrives in Africa, while genocide is perpetrated in Europe and while women throughout the Muslim world are treated as little more than chattels?

Viewed in the context of its neighborhood and current dire circumstances, Israel is, in fact, a model in the protection of human rights. Its basic laws, religious and press freedoms and vibrant democracy give minorities rights they couldn’t dream of possessing in surrounding countries. More conspicuous are the failures of the same human rights organizations to address violations when they are suffered by Israel. In its 10-page 2001 report on Israel, Human Rights Watch devotes precisely 20 words to Palestinian killings of Israelis, apparently finding it inconsequential that Jewish holy places had been sacked and desecrated, that scores of Israelis had been shot dead or that a baby’s head had been blown off by a sniper in Hebron. In its own report for that year Amnesty International does not mention the words "terrorist" or "suicide bombing" once to describe Palestinian violence. According to a leader of that organization, those terms are viewed as value judgments that could compromise its reporting.

Did anyone mention bias? Back in the late 1980s, Thomas Friedman explained the world’s obsession with Israel as being tied to the expectation that it should always conduct itself in accordance with Judeo-Christian values. That view finds its phantom echo in the equally supercilious demand of the Rabbis for Human Rights that Israel should not be 5 percent more moral than the rest of the world but 100 percent more so. It is all based on the asinine assumption that Jews are so inherently humanistic that they should feel impelled to sacrifice their lives or security in the name of a standard of conduct no other people subscribe to. Scratch a Jew and you find a martyr. Never has such a vile anachronism deserved more discredit.

The fact remains that Israel is at war — not with its moral conscience, as some would like us to believe, but with an enemy as implacably committed to its destruction and to the murder of Jews as any other in the past. As George Orwell once said, there is one quick way to end a war — lose it. No nation has ever claimed victory against an annihilationist foe by wearing its heart on its sleeve or boasting of its moral scruples. The United States today makes little secret of its decision to use extra-judicial means to eliminate the terrorist menace to its population. Why should Israel be any different?


Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and the senior editorial columnist for Jewsweek.com.

Nostalgia


I asked Avraham Burg what he feels is the greatest misconception American Jews have about Israel. The Knesset speaker and Labor Party leader was sitting still for a moment in a Beverly Hills hotel. Too many of them, he said, harbor some nostalgic vision of Israel as a land of milk, honey and heroes, and are uninformed of the complex challenges it faces. "And," he added with a wink, "you know the old saying: nostalgia ain’t what it used to be."

The challenges Israel faces become more urgent as each day seems to bring fresh tragedies. This week, it was a Palestinian terrorist who opened fire with an automatic weapon in downtown Jerusalem, killing two people, wounding 40.

More ominous, of course, was Israel’s Jan. 6 seizure of the Karine A, which was smuggling 50 tons of Iranian-supplied arms bound for the Palestinian Authority.

On Wednesday, Burg, over the protest of many of his fellow MKs, met in Paris with his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qorei. Qorei invited Burg to visit the parliament in Ramallah at the head of a Knesset delegation.

What, any rational person might wonder, is there left to talk about?

"There is no military solution to this conflict," Burg tells me. "In two and a half years, we’ll be right back where we left off when Oslo failed. Even if there is a war between now and then, a regional conflict, we’ll have to go back and start from there."

It’s unlikely that the actions of either Burg or Qorei will move the heads of their governments, Ariel Sharon or Yasser Arafat. Sharon has articulated no solution to the crisis, and his promise of security has been undermined by some of the bloodiest months of terror Israelis have ever lived through.

Arafat, the virtual skipper of Karine A, is too clever by half in pursuing American-brokered negotiations and Iranian arms shipments simultaneously.

Burg, 47, an observant Jew and a former army commander, says he isn’t fooled. But it is in Israel’s interest, not just the Palestinians’, to implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission report calling for an immediate end to violence and for Israel to cease construction of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, then to head back to the negotiating table.

The alternative Burg’s political opponents have to offer at the moment is a further crackdown. But it’s hard to imagine what more Sharon, hardly a man known to pull punches, can do. He has used tanks to imprison Arafat in his compound, sent Israeli forces on regular missions to liquidate Palestinian militants and sealed borders. Given time, Sharon’s supporters argue, these measures might work. So far, they concede, things have only gotten worse.

And time is not on Israel’s side. The economy is at its worst level since 1953. Per capita growth has fallen by 2.9 percent. Israelis spent $600 million more abroad in the first 10 months of 2001 than the Israeli economy earned from visitors — its first "tourism deficit" since 1991. "Anyone who thinks that security does not have a major influence on the economy simply does not understand," David Brodet, former director general of Israel’s Finance Ministry, told The Jerusalem Report. Israel, said Brodet, will end up having to "go schnorring, from foreign Jews’ donations and U.S. aid."

That aid will be harder to get out of an America whose ongoing efforts to fight terror and appear "fair" in the eyes of the Muslim world depend on the cooperation of Arab states.

Which leaves us, the second largest urban concentration of Jewry outside Israel, to decide how much and when and to whom to give when Israel asks. The simple answer is "yes, how much?" But as Burg came to remind us, the simple days are gone, if they ever existed in the first place.

Washington Watch


Last week’s terrorist bombing of a U.S. Navy destroyer that was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden may boost a new anti-terrorism bill introduced early in the month by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The new legislation is intended to implement the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorism, issued earlier this year.

The measure directs the president to establish a joint task force to develop new strategies for limiting fundraising in this country for international terror groups and would require a number of federal agencies to report to Congress on how they are beefing up enforcement of anti-terror laws.

And it calls for better sharing of information between intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The measure also expresses the sense of Congress that both Syria and Iran should remain on the official list of nations that sponsor international terrorism until they provide evidence they are no longer doing so.

After the terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen last week, Kyl added language pressing for an investigation into the bombing, something the administration has already been pursuing.

“The perpetrators of this cowardly attack and other terrorist groups must understand that the United Sates will not be deterred from meeting our global responsibilities by such senseless acts of violence,” Kyl said. “It is also imperative that we take steps to improve U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.”

Kyl’s bill is unlikely to advance before Congress adjourns this week or next. But congressional sources say the lawmaker wanted to get the measure on the record before adjournment and get a head start for the next Congress.


Subdued Response to
Farrakhan March

Five years ago, Jewish groups around the country were mobilized to fight Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March on Washington’s Mall.

This week, Farrakhan’s latest gathering, the Million Family March, prompted a much more subdued reaction.

The reason? Jewish officials believe that while Farrakhan’s events seem to be gathering broader support, including support for this week’s march by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Black nationalist’s slurs against Jews and other groups have hobbled his efforts to win greater personal credibility.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said Farrakhan’s attempts to mainstream himself have produced mixed results, a fact that was apparent at Monday’s march in Washington.

“He clearly wants to become more mainstream,” Foxman said. “And he’s gradually increasing his support from other groups. But I don’t think it’s a serious effort; I don’t think it’s doing much to increase his legitimacy.”

This week’s Million Family March – which most observers said drew far fewer marchers than the name suggested – was in many ways a failure, Foxman said.

“There were fewer elected officials and public officials than at the Million Man March,” he said. “The march only happened because [the Rev. Sun Myung] Moon funded it. This march was bought, paid and delivered by Moon. That’s not at all mainstream; that’s going off the board in the other direction.”
Moon’s Unification Church played a major role in Monday’s rally.

Foxman admitted that many believe Farrakhan is shifting away from the anti-Semitism and anti-white racism that have made him anathema to Jews, a view ADL does not share.

“We believe he hasn’t changed,” he said. “If anybody doubts that, they should have watched him on Tim Russert.”

Farrakhan appeared on Russert’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday; when asked why he didn’t apologize for his anti-Semitic remarks in the past, he declined to do so, saying that “you want me to apologize for speaking the truth. You want me to apologize for being bold and fearless.”

He added that he hopes Blacks and Jews can “restructure a relationship that is more equitable, that is more reciprocal rather than a master-slave relationship or that paternalistic relationship of the one who has the money to fund Black organizations, to fund Black newspapers, to fund Black magazines so that it quiets our voice.”

That, Foxman said, “shows this man hasn’t changed at all.”

This week Foxman wrote a letter to Russert, criticizing him for “having once again provided Minister Louis Farrakhan with the prestigious forum of ‘Meet the Press’ to express and promote his vicious, unrelenting anti-Semitism.”

Illusions at the L.A. Times


Last Friday the Los Angeles Times published a Column One story on its front page with the headline: Danger in Denying Holocaust? The Times’ story, written by staff writer Kim Murphy, purported to be an objective, balanced account of two equally reasoned positions. It was depicted as a conflict between scholars: Those who were Holocaust deniers and debunkers arrayed against those who claimed the evidence supporting the Holocaust was irrefutable.

Murphy also developed a parallel theme, portraying, somewhat sympathetically, Holocaust deniers who were being punished for their ideas.

It was a perspective that inflamed some members of Los Angeles’s Jewish community, particularly survivors and their families. The most emotional respondents were quick to claim anti-Semitism, but that, on the face of it, is misguided. The Times is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel. That still leaves the question hanging: Why would the Los Angeles Times take such a tack, one where equal weight and legitimacy is given to each view? And why would its editors let such reporting sail by?

I called Kim Murphy, the staff writer who researched and wrote this particular Column One story. Murphy is based in Seattle and has been assigned to cover the hate movements in America. She is 44 and has experience as a foreign correspondent in the Times’ Cairo bureau, and in the Balkans as well. She has also put in time as a metro and Orange County reporter. She is no novice.

From her point of view, her job “is to present all points of view fairly and accurately;” and to write an account that is balanced and objective. If that appears to legitimate the arguments of the Holocaust deniers, that is not her problem. In the end, she explained, the readers should be able to make up their own mind. “I trust the judgment of our readers,” she asserted.

Despite Murphy’s statement to me (and her belief), her story is neither balanced nor objective, though she is correct: each side is given its say.

Her bias or point of view can be found in the tone and the structure of the piece; in effect, in the choices she has made. For example, all of page one focuses on the Holocaust deniers, who are depicted as victims. The story actually follows the headline: Yes, it suggests, there is danger in denying the Holocaust, in pursuing freedom of speech or thought, at least in this instance.

The lead anecdote gives us a humanizing account of a Ph.D. candidate punished for his independent inquiry into theHolocaust’s “existence.” He loses his wife and his position at the university, and is sentenced to prison. It is ironic that in presenting two sides of an argument about the Holocaust, it is the deniers who are the martyrs, not the survivors. The merits of the survivors’ position are given to us on the jump page in the last section. There are no anecdotes; no human interest stories; no glimpses of lives lost or endured. Only exposition and generalization.

Murphy told me that she had interviewed at least one survivor and had read some literature of each side. She had traveled to Germany once, but had never visited a death camp. More to the point, she offers no balancing details that jump out at us rendering the human side of the Holocaust; only the deniers are given a dramatic voice. Why? Reporter’s choice.

The same kind of bias occurs when it comes to quotes. David Irving, the British revisionist who has filed a libel suit in London against an American historian because of her comments about him in her book on the Holocaust, is introduced in this manner: “He has described Auschwitz as ‘a very brutal slave labor camp, where probably 100,000 Jews died.'” It is a revisionist perspective, but to someone unfamiliar with the facts not necessarily an unreasonable statement.

Why this quote and not, say, this one, from among many: “I don’t see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz. It’s baloney. It’s a legend. Once we admit that it was a brutal slave camp and a large number of people died elsewhere in the war, why believe the rest of the baloney? I say, quite tastelessly in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.” Irving said that in Calgary, Canada in 1991. Why not that quote?

If the writer does not see that she is shaping a “balanced” report on Holocaust revisionists by emphasizing freedom of speech instead of the weight and seriousness of their contentions, why did not the editors catch it? Roger Smith, the Column One editor, was quick to apologize for any hurt survivors felt. “Don’t fault us for bad intentions,” he said. The aim was to give a forum to both sides, to dramatize the conflict that is out there. In the process, he explained, the paper hoped to alert the reader to arguments deniers make. The newspaper would not side with one faction or the other, he said. It was up to the reader to proceed further and make up his own mind.

Invariably such a presentation validates both views. And places, I believe, a heavy burden on the reader, especially the uninformed reader, to explore further and make up his own mind.

I asked Smith if he, the editor, had read any of the writing of either side, before or after the story had crossed his desk. No, I have not, he said.

The best newspapers expect their reporters and editors to make judgment calls: To determine when two sides require equal space; and to organize a story in a way that is comprehensive and complete, with hierarchical attention paid to details.

It is doubtful that any newspaper would give equal balanced space to contending points of view about pedophilia on the Internet; or to those who condemn and defend homosexuals; or argue that blacks are or are not inferior to whites; or debate whether slavery in the United States was necessarily deplorable.

There are certain truths, cultural truths, that are assumed to have been verified by evidence. The existence of the Holocaust is one such truth. One such fact. You would not know it from reading the L.A. Times. — Gene Lichtenstein