Community Briefs

L.A. Officials Honor Israel

Senior City of Los Angeles officials, visiting Israel under the auspices of the L.A. Jewish Federation, presented a proclamation from the L.A. City Council to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai praising Israel as a “bedrock of stability, democracy and modernity with shared common values of pluralism and cultural diversity.” (From left) City Council President Alex Padillo, Huldai, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and City Councilman Jack Weiss. Photo courtesy Israeli Free Sun

Kuehl: Anti-Hunger Groups Shouldn’t GiveUp

About 22 percent of Israelis suffer from the fear a food shortage called “hunger insecurity,” according to Los Angeles-based Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON. That figure is an increase from prior Israeli surveys on hunger.

“It’s a spike because of three years of terrorism,” MAZON Executive Director H. Eric Schockman told The Journal. Though Israel lacks regional food banks and other American solutions to hunger, Schockman does not believe in creating a new Israeli government hunger office but said that Israel’s 150 anti-hunger agencies must start communicating. “They don’t talk to each other.”

California’s various MAZON-funded anti-hunger groups met Nov. 9-10 in Santa Monica, and heard state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) outline how she sees the new Schwarzenegger-run California government handling budget cuts, especially to social service agencies.

“There is very little else to cut but education and social services,” Kuehl said to about 100 nonprofit executives. “It’s always going to be a struggle. We have to be the squeakiest wheel we can possibly be.”

Kuehl also said that anti-hunger groups should never stop asking for state funds because, no matter how much money a nonprofit raises, “It will never be as much as I’ve got to give out.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Wolpe Recovering From Surgery

Rabbi David Wolpe was released from the hospital last week following a successful surgery to remove a brain lesion. Wolpe, Sinai Temple’s senior rabbi for the last seven years, first experienced a seizure on Oct. 23 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was speaking at the dedication of a new Hillel House.

Wolpe is recuperating at his home and plans to return full time to his duties at Sinai and in the community at large. He and his family thank the community for their prayers, concern, calls, e-mails, letter, donations and most of all, love.

In lieu of flowers, balloons or food, donations can be made to Sinai Temple or Sinai Akiba Academy. Any inquiries, cards, or well wishes should be directed through Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024, Attn: Tracy Schatz. — Staff Report

Israeli Cultural Attaché Resigns

The Israeli cultural attaché in Los Angeles, Moti Reif, resigned this week following a sexual harassment complaint filed against him in Israel’s Foreign Ministry earlier this month. Reif, a former model and TV producer, was appointed to Los Angeles some three months ago, amid heavy criticism from Israeli ministry officials who said Reif had no diplomatic experience. There are no current plans to replace him. — Staff Report

Israel Actions Stir Protests

"Bush, Sharon, you will see, Palestine will be free," chanted some 100 demonstrators, waving placards and walking in a circle in front of a high-rise housing the Israeli consulate last week.

"Shame on you, shame on you," shouted the 50 counterdemonstrators on the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, waving Israeli flags.

By the standards of the civil rights and Vietnam War protests, the event on July 25 wasn’t much of a show, but what was there gave a clear edge to Los Angeles Jews for a Just Peace (LAJJP) over the StandWithUs supporters across the street. LAJJP, formerly known, or unknown, as Not in Our Name: Jewish Voices for Peace, had the obvious advantage in preparation and organization.

Four Israeli and American spokespersons were on hand to pass out press kits, the placards ("End U.S. Military Aid to Israel," "End the Occupation") looked professional and monitors saw to it that the protesters didn’t annoy the considerable number of policemen present. Leaflets also demanded the "right of return for Palestinian refugees" and "self-determination and equal rights for all peoples in the region."

Harking back to the 1960s and ’70s, there was a bit of spontaneously rehearsed street theater, with four young people dressed in makeshift uniforms and a Star of David pasted on their helmets, dashing into the middle of busy Wilshire Boulevard during traffic light changes to set up 10-second "checkpoints."

In another shtick, they "arrested" a heavily pregnant woman with a kaffiyeh draped around her head.

Barry Trachtenberg, a 32-year-old graduate student in Jewish history, said that LAJJP could count on 80-100 activists, but in this event was "honored" by the support of Christians and Muslims.

Among the former were two middle-aged female expatriates, one from Ireland and the other from England, holding up a large PLO flag.

One Arab participant was Michel Shehadeh, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Orange County, who said he had come "in support of my Jewish friends, who are working for peace."

Shehadeh was asked whether he knew of any demonstrations in the Arab street against the policies and tactics of Palestinian militants, including suicide bombings. "Once we [Palestinians] are free, we will hold our government accountable," he said. Lending a weird touch of déjà vu was a man passing out a slick, multicolored leaflet with a photo of Lyndon LaRouche, warning that "Targetting [sic] One Billion Muslims Will Start a Clash of Civilizations!" The flier also urged support for the ex-convict and perennial candidate in the 2004 presidential race.

On the north side of Wilshire Boulevard, Jack Salem was defiantly holding his "Stand with Israel" placard and observing that the peace chanters were literally and figuratively "on the wrong side of the street."

Allyson Rowen Taylor, vice president of StandWithUs, attributed the modest turnout on her side to having had only two days to organize her counterdemonstration via e-mail.

Meirav Eilon-Shahar, Israeli consul for public affairs, noted in a phone interview that "in a democratic country, like the United States or Israel, it is the prerogative [of LAJJP] to demonstrate, though I believe their thinking represents a very small part of the American Jewish community.

"The day we see Palestinians demonstrating in front of the PLO embassy in Washington, that day we’ll know that the Palestinian Authority is on the way to becoming a democracy," she said.

The Democracy Trap

In diplomacy, it’s important to be careful what you wish for, because you may get it in spades.

That’s the joker in the deck as the Bush administration begins looking for ways to implement President Bush’s latest Mideast vision — a stunning policy turnabout that demands serious democratic reforms in the Palestinian Authority as a prerequisite to U.S. support for statehood. The most critical reform is the removal of Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader and terrorist-in-chief.

The new policy demanding "a new and different Palestinian leadership" will also generate pressure on the administration to apply the same principles to its dealings with other Middle Eastern states. These include allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which regard every flicker of democracy as toxic. That represents a giant time bomb in broader U.S. policy in the region.

The most obvious gap in the new Bush approach is its assumption that the Palestinian people really want peace, and that it’s just a corrupt, unaccountable leadership that wants to intensify the fight against Israel, said Daniel Pipes, a longtime peace process critic and president of the Middle East Forum.

"It assumes that the Palestinian people have accepted Israel, and that bringing good governance will bring peace," he said. "There’s no evidence to back that up. The Palestinian public is extremely radical."

Polls show strong popular support for suicide bombings and inconsistent support for peace negotiations with Israel. According to some analysts, the new squeeze on Arafat — who has called for presidential elections in January — has just increased his popularity, at least for now.

That opens up several prospects that could upset the administration’s new plans: Arafat could get resoundingly reelected, or he could be replaced — democratically — by someone even worse, possibly by Islamic radicals.

"What happens if you have elections and the Palestinians choose somebody you don’t happen to like?" asked Edward S. Walker, president of the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. "Do you go back then and say, ‘That’s not what we had in mind?’

"The problem is, if you want democracy and are serious about it, you have to accept the results. And the results today would not be something that would please the United States or Israel," he said.

Walker said that Bush’s focus on exporting democracy to the Palestinian Authority ignores critical questions of sequencing. "What’s missing is the how-to-get-there part," he said. "Democratization has to be integrated into changes of attitude on the ground, otherwise, elections are going to wind up with some very unfortunate results."

Walker, like other supporters of an active peace process, also worries that the green light Bush flashed to Ariel Sharon last month could lead to Israeli policies that just fuel the anger among the same Palestinian voters who they are counting on to "reform" Palestinian governance.

In the long term, the new U.S. policy of demanding democratization could produce a climate more favorable to peace.

Robert J. Lieber, a professor of government at Georgetown University, said that "democracy by itself is not the answer, but it could provide a contribution to the answer. A demagogue and a dictator may be more likely to resort to inflammatory appeals to legitimate himself than a democratically elected leader," he said.

The problem is how to get there and what role democratization should play in the effort to tamp down today’s violence. The new Bush approach seems unlikely to help produce a stable cease-fire now, and it could make the effort all the more difficult. Free, open elections in the current climate are unlikely; so is the prospect of more moderate leadership rising to the fore.

The policy also poses serious problems as far as other U.S. allies are concerned. Washington has been more than willing to look the other way as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, among others, trample human rights and quash any hint of democratic reform. They may be authoritarian regimes, but they’re our authoritarian regimes.

"That hypocrisy has always been a problem in our dealings in that part of the world," said a top pro-Israel activist here. "It will be much harder in the weeks and months ahead to pretend that the Saudis believe in the same values we say we’re fighting for in the region. If we try, we risk our credibility."

There will be huge pressure on the U.S. by its Arab allies for the administration to continue the sham that we are all fighting for the same values, despite the demand for democratization in Gaza and the West Bank. Then, if the president succumbs, the smug Europeans will use that as an excuse to spurn Washington’s appeals for support.

The new focus on democracy will touch off diplomatic currents that will affect U.S. policy in unforeseen ways. And for now, it is unlikely to do much to tamp down terrorism that has produced so much recent Mideast misery, especially in the past 21 months.