Israel trip helps Polish Jews in Jewish rediscovery


After Jerzy heard about frequent vandalism at an old Jewish cemetery in his home city of Gdansk, Poland, he decided to visit the graveyard.

It had fallen into such disrepair that “people would go there to drink beer,” said Jerzy, who gave only his middle name due to fears of anti-Semitism. 

He made a few trips to the cemetery, meeting a member of the local Jewish community who invited him to come to Friday night services and Shabbat dinner. 

“I liked Jews all my life,” said Jerzy, 32, who although not raised Jewish had worn a Star of David as a child. “It was the opposite of all of Poland.” Around Gdansk, he said, he sometimes sees graffiti of a Jewish star hanging from a gallows. 

As he learned more about Poland’s Jews, Jerzy began to research his own family history. He traveled to his father’s birthplace near Lublin to find his father’s birth certificate; soon afterward, he learned that his father and his maternal grandfather were Jewish.

Three years later, Jerzy — whose arms are covered in tattoos — has across the back of his neck a huge Hebrew tattoo that reads “Shema Yisrael.” He is converting to Judaism to gain recognition from traditional denominations.

Jerzy was one of 19 participants to travel to Israel last month on a trip for Poles with newly discovered Jewish roots. The trip, according to Shavei Israel, the group that organized it, aims to teach participants about Judaism and to involve them more in Jewish life and support of Israel.

“The Jewish people are a small people, and there are these communities out there that were once a part of us,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel. “When someone discovers or rediscovers their Jewish roots, it makes them more sympathetic to Israel and Jewish causes, so it’s something we stand to benefit from [regarding] diplomacy and hasbarah,” Israeli public relations.

Based in Israel, Shavei Israel also runs programs for those with Jewish roots in Spain, Portugal, India and Russia.

The two-week August trip took participants throughout Israel. They traveled through Jerusalem, to northern Israel and also to West Bank settlements such as Hebron and Mitzpeh Yericho, where they spent Shabbat. Freund said that the visits to settlements do not indicate that the trip takes political positions.

“We stay completely away from political messaging,” Freund said. “There is no political agenda here. The agenda is to give them an opportunity to see the land of Israel and visit important historical sites.”

The group also visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, to gain an Israeli perspective on a tragedy also etched deep in Polish national memory.

Trip leaders did not discuss politics, participants said. Several said that their favorite part of the journey was the feeling of being in a Jewish society where they were free to wear kippot on the street and to try out their Hebrew. 

After doing advanced coursework in Jewish studies, Gosia Tichoruk, 35, learned two years ago that her maternal great-grandmother was Jewish — and therefore that she, her mother and her grandmother were as well, according to Jewish law. In Israel, “The first thing that struck me was you’re walking down the beach, and you have Jews all around you,” she said. “It’s this safety you have, people greeting you with ‘Shavuah tov’ and ‘Shabbat shalom.’ “

Like a few of the participants, Tichoruk has started keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and learning Hebrew. She said Jewish life is sparse in her hometown of Poznan, but cities such as Krakow and Warsaw have more Jewish resources.

The Krakow Jewish Community Center has been a boon to Jedrek Pitorak, 23, who goes there for Shabbat dinners, holiday celebrations and Hebrew classes. Pitorak, who has known he is Jewish his entire life, was one of the group’s most experienced Israel tourists. Unlike many who were first-time visitors, he came here in 2009 on Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sponsors free trips to Israel for young adults.

Pitorak is heartened by “how many small children we see here. It’s a bright sign.” Although he’s involved in the contemporary Polish Jewish community, he does not think his homeland will become a center of Jewish life, as it was before almost all of its Jews perished in the Holocaust. Approximately 4,000 registered Jews currently live in Poland, although community leaders suspect that tens of thousands of Poles may not have identified as Jewish.

“There are many old people and the community is not growing,” Pitorak said of Krakow’s Jews. “If you come to the JCC, you see more volunteers and sociologists than real Jews.”

Participants said that they enjoyed Israel’s religious options, historical sites, beaches and food. But one of the features of Israeli life that Pitorak likes best may surprise Israelis and American tourists alike. He appreciates “how polite the drivers are to each other and the pedestrians.”

Irish candidate quits race for helping ex-Israeli lover


A popular candidate for the Irish presidency dropped out in the wake of revelations that he had sought clemency for an Israeli lover convicted of statutory rape.

Sen. David Norris, an independent, announced the end of his campaign Tuesday after key lawmakers withdrew their support because of the revelations.

“I do not regret supporting and seeking clemency for a friend, but I do regret giving the impression that I did not have sufficient compassion for the victim of Ezra’s crime,” Norris was quoted as saying of Ezra Nawi, who in 1997 was convicted in Israel of having sex with a 15-year old boy.

Norris and Nawi, a gay rights and pro-Palestinian activist, had been lovers from 1975 to 1985.

Nawi sought help from Norris a dozen years after their breakup when he was on trial for statuary rape, and Norris wrote a character reference.

Norris had been favored in early polls to win the Oct. 17 elections. He was five short of the necessary 20 lawmakers to nominate him.

Upon revelation of the 1997 letter, three lawmakers withdrew support, leading Norris to conclude he could not secure the nomination.

Greece-Israel relations soar as ties with Turkey fade


Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Arye Mekel, was on the phone with a journalist earlier this month when the call came in that Israel’s Carmel region was up in flames. The Israeli prime minister needed to speak urgently with his Greek counterpart.

Mekel quickly located Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Poland, where he was meeting with the Polish president. But a Papandreou aide told Mekel the meeting could not be interrupted.

“Tell him Bibi Netanyahu wants to speak with him urgently,” Mekel pressed, using the Israeli prime minister’s nickname.

A few moments later Papandreou was on the phone. In just hours, five Greek firefighting planes were in the skies along with a cargo plane loaded with spare parts, mechanics and pilots. Benjamin Netanyahu greeted them at the airport.

The quick response by Greece was a sign of the increasingly close relations between two Mediterranean countries that until 18 years ago did not even have diplomatic ties.

Papandreou visited Israel in July, and the following month Netanyahu made the first-ever trip by an Israeli prime minister to Greece. In October, the two countries held joint military exercises. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations recently announced that Greece would be the site of its annual leadership mission in February.

“Greece and Israel have opened a new chapter in their ties,” Mekel said. “Our two governments have taken a mutual decision to develop multifaceted cooperation in the fields of politics, security, the economy and culture.”

The subtext behind the sudden flurry of activity between Greece and Israel is the crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey, Greece’s chief rival. Those ties, already on the skids, took a nosedive after the flotilla incident of May 31, when nine Turkish nationals were killed in a clash with Israeli commandos aboard a ship trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

After the incident, Turkey canceled joint military exercises with the Israelis and withdrew its ambassador to Israel.

With Israeli Air Force pilots no longer able to train in Turkish airspace, and the Turkish market for Israeli military hardware and other exports at risk, Israel turned to Greece.

Conditions appear ripe for a boost to Greek-Israeli relations. For Israel, nearby Greece would seem to be a natural ally in a Mediterranean region dominated by Islamic countries.

For Greece, which is in the midst of a severe financial crisis, friendship with Israel is seen as a great asset, particularly due to Israel’s perceived closeness to the administration in Washington. By the same count, Papandreou hopes Greece’s closeness with Israel will convince Diaspora Jews to invest in Greece and support Greece in international disputes.

This wouldn’t be too different from the approach Israel and American Jewish organizations took vis-a-vis Turkey until recently—for example, opposing efforts to have the Turkish massacres of Armenians officially labeled as a genocide.

Greece also seeks an expanded role as a mediator in Middle East peacemaking—a role that until recently was occupied by Turkey.

“Greece could contribute in a positive way,” said the country’s foreign minister, Dimitris Droutsas.

By capitalizing on its close ties with the Arab world, Greece could be a source of trustworthiness, confidence and objectivity for both sides, he said.

For the time being, trade and tourism between Greece and Israel are growing. Approximately 250,000 Israeli tourists will have visited Greece in 2010, a 200 percent increase over last year, and bilateral trade stands at approximately $140 million, according to Mekel.

“Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement,” Mekel said. “Last week, a delegation from Israel came to Greece to present proposals to the Greek government for 13 large-scale joint projects in fields like tourism, agriculture, renewable energy sources, water and waste management, space technology and investments.”

The American Jewish organizational world already appears to be on board.

Aside from the Presidents Conference mission, Jewish organizations lined up behind a U.S. congressional resolution on Oct. 1 asking Turkey to respect the cultural heritage and the religious sites of the Greek Cypriots in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. Turkey invaded the Greek-speaking island in 1974 and retains control of its north. Israeli tourism to the Greek-speaking southern part of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island nation, is robust.

It’s all a major turnabout for two countries that until two decades ago didn’t really get along. In the 1980s, Greece was widely considered the most hostile country to Israel in Europe. Andreas Papandreou, the father of Greece’s current leader, was prime minister, and he pursued a policy of cozying up to Arab regimes. Greek officials recognized the PLO in 1981, and it wasn’t until Andreas Papandreou left office that Israel and Greece established formal diplomatic ties, in 1992.

Droutsas says Greece and Israel were never in conflict, but he acknowledges that government-to-government ties lagged far behind “true relations between the two peoples.” He said, “This gap must be closed and we are determined to strengthen and to deepen these relations at a fast pace.”

They’re catching up fast. Just three weeks after Papandreou visited Israel in July—the first visit since Greek’s then-premier, Constantine Mitsotakis, visited Israel in May 1992 when his country first recognized the Jewish state—Netanyahu spent a few days in Greece. The two prime ministers, both of whom speak flawless English from time spent living in the United States, appeared to be hitting it off as old friends, even cruising the Greek islands together.

Since then the official visits have been fast and furious. Droutsas, Greek Minister of State Haris Pamboukis and Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos all visited Israel. On the Israeli side, the director of political and military affairs at the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad; Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, and minister without portfolio Benny Begin all have gone to Greece.

One area where Israel doesn’t have too many friends here is in the media. Influenced by 40 years of cultivation by pro-Arab and anti-Israel politicians, the Greek media have a mostly unfavorable view of Israel.

But that also has started to change. Mekel, a former journalist who appears frequently on Greek media, says there has been more positive coverage recently of Israel.

The improvement in Greece-Israel ties obviously has been welcomed by this country’s small Jewish community of about 5,000.

“There is no doubt that the improvement of the relations between the two countries makes us feel much more at ease,” said Beny Albala, head of the Athens Jewish community. “We hope that these relations will continue for a long time for the benefit of both countries and our community.”

Israel’s Labor Party Votes to Join Government Coalition


JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Labor Party voted to join the Likud-led coalition government, virtually guaranteeing that Benjamin Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister.

Labor chief Ehud Barak’s bid to join Netanyahu’s coalition came down to a contentious vote Tuesday night by the party’s central committee, with 680 in favor of joining and 570 against.

With Labor behind him, Netanyahu now has the 60-plus Knesset majority necessary to form a government and become prime minister. His other coalition partners include the Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas parties.

Barak argued that Labor joining the Likud-led coalition was best for the country and would not provide cover for a right-wing agenda.

“I am not afraid of Benjamin Netanyahu. We won’t be anyone’s fig leaf or anyone’s third wheel,” Barak told the central committee. “We will act as an opposing force that will ensure there will not be a narrow right-wing government, but a real government that looks after the State of Israel.”

Audience members who disagreed booed Barak.

“We would be entering this government as a third wheel, as a wagging tail, not more than that,”  Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich said before the vote. “There is no shame in sitting in the opposition. On the contrary, it’s an honor.”

Earlier in the day, Barak and Netanyahu came together on a draft agreement stipulating that in exchange for Labor’s joining the coalition, the Israeli government would commit toward working for achieve regional peace, affirm its commitment to all agreements signed by previous Israeli governments, allow Barak to continue on as defense minister and be a full partner in the diplomatic process, and enforce the law on illegal outposts, according to media reports.

Debra Winger explores Jewish/Arab day schools


Students at the Hand in Hand Max Rayne Bilingual School in Jerusalem didn’t know they were meeting a celebrity. They weren’t born when the films “Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment” garnered Debra Winger her Oscar nominations.

But Winger’s tour last month to the Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish day schools was not necessarily meant to move the students, but to enrich her own understanding of pathways for Arab and Jewish co-existence.

“I’d like to think I’m helping, but in the end, it feels selfish — how much I got out of seeing this and what it did to my heart,” the 53-year-old actress told a group of reporters in the library of the school’s new Jerusalem campus.

Raised in a secular Jewish household in Cleveland, Winger volunteered on a kibbutz in 1972 and has maintained her connection ever since. In fact, she was introduced to the bilingual schools following a talk at the Jewish Federation in Florida on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Speaking to the federation audience, she recalled a “fight” she had with an Arab American friend that was triggered by the Second Lebanon War, which broke out while Winger served as a judge for the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“We couldn’t even talk to each other,” Winger told The Jewish Journal, recounting the episode. “She would forward me e-mails with newspaper articles for me to read, and I would reply, saying could you please replace ‘Zionist occupation’ with ‘Israel’ before you send it to me, and then I’ll read it, because I want to hear different opinions, and you have to show some respect.”

Eventually the two reconciled and made their private peace.

“I think in a way we have a deeper, richer understanding and more openness,” she said.

At first, the audience — perhaps expecting a more “what-Israel-means-to-me” type speech — responded with silence to the story. But then Lee Gordon, director of the American Friends of Hand in Hand and the bilingual schools’ co-founder, initiated a contagious round of applause. After the talk, he spoke with her about the schools’ efforts at promoting dialogue.

Initially, Winger was skeptical of the educational franchise.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s another Jewish school that’s inviting a few Arabs, kumbaya, and, you know, it doesn’t ultimately work,'” she said.

But she accepted Gordon’s invitation and went to Israel with her husband, director and actor Arliss Howard, and their 10-year-old son. Upon touring three of the Hand in Hand schools, Winger’s skepticism softened.

“I used to think I could see the face of a peacemaker,” she said, “but clearly, I’ve been wrong way too much. The [students] look like peacemakers to me. They understand the dilemma in a different way.”

At one point, Winger stopped two children in the yard, and they admitted they didn’t know who she was. They thought she was just some American visitor.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Winger asked.

They stared and smiled.

The students carry on their day as usual in what comes across as a typical elementary school. Teenagers roam the halls in jeans and sneakers, and toddlers storm the yard at recess. At one point, Winger joined the children for folk dancing in the yard.

Several clues hint to the school’s uniqueness. Two languages are spoken: Hebrew and Arabic. Some female teachers wear the traditional Muslim hijabs. Universal messages of love and peace taken from the Torah, the Gospels and the Quran, as well as from great Western thinkers, are printed in Hebrew and Arabic on classroom doors.

The Jerusalem student body is equally diverse — 50 percent Jewish, 40 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. The majority of Arabs are Israeli citizens.

A good portion of the classes are taught by an Arab-Jewish team. The school supplements the state curriculum with programs that attend to the dual nature of the school. From fourth grade on, Jews and Arabs study their respective religious traditions independently.

The Jerusalem branch opened 10 years ago, along with the Galilee branch, followed by new schools in Wadi Ara and Beersheva. The new Jerusalem campus testifies to the growth of the school from a small, first-grade class to a full-fledged day school with 450 children. The school is expanding into high school, and this fall will add a 10th-grade class.

Seventh-graders Areen Nashef, a Muslim, and her Jewish best friend, Yael Keinan, both 12 years old, smiled mischievously when they got called out of class to speak with The Journal. This is not the first time they’ve spoken to the press. Friends since first grade, they often get together outside of school and sleep over at each other’s houses.

“I thought Areen was a Jew when we first met,” said Yael who has long, dirty-blond hair and a pink paper clip dangling from her earring. “After a few days, she told me she was an Arab, and after that it didn’t matter.”

Both are proud for breaking stereotypes of the “other.”

“I went to my cousin who lives in Taibe, up north,” said Areen. “They didn’t know that I study at a bilingual school. They study in Arabic and learn Hebrew because you have to communicate. When I told them I study with a Jew, they asked, ‘What, they didn’t hit you, hurt you?'”

Yael, who describes herself as traditional, has encountered similar suspicions.

“I have a friend who couldn’t believe I had an Arab friend. She saw only what she saw on the news,” Yael said.

Both thoroughly enjoy their studies.

“It’s fun to speak more than one language and also learn another culture,” said Yael.

Speaking in Hebrew, the students have much to say about sensitive issues, particularly politics. Areen described wanting “to feel that Jews were hurt by the Nazis.” On the same note, Yael recalled visiting Arab villages that fell to the Israeli forces during the War of Independence.

“I don’t identify with the Jews or the Palestinians,” said Areen. “I just know you have to have two nations. I think you may need a Jewish state, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of another people.”

Diaspora must face painful realities in Jerusalem’s future



The ’emotional approach’: Ofra Haza: Yerushalyim Shel Zahav

So in the end, it has come down to Jerusalem.

The Jewish community is now openly discussing whether Jerusalem should be on the negotiating table for a Palestinian-Israel peace agreement.

  • Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky was widely criticized in the Orthodox community and quietly supported elsewhere for even mildly raising the possibility of such a consideration. His modest proposal got headlines in the Los Angeles Times and triggered a nationwide discussion.
  • Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has written an open letter to Israel’s prime minister insisting that the views of the Diaspora be taken into consideration on the question of Jerusalem. He is confident that the Diaspora would support his view but insistent that the views of the Diaspora need not be taken into consideration on withdrawal from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the Golan Heights or even Gaza. Jerusalem is different he argues.
  • The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has reissued its resolution stating that Jerusalem is the “eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people.”
  • The Union of American Orthodox Jewish Congregations, which for a generation treated all criticism of the democratically elected government of the State of Israel as nearly traitorous, now calls for opposition to that very same democratically elected government on the issue of Jerusalem and presumably on the West Bank, as well.

The issue is far more emotional than it is rational.

I must confess that it would be easy to get carried away by my emotions. I lived in Jerusalem when it was divided, when a wall blocked Jaffa Street, when one needed to go up to Mount Zion to catch a glimpse of the Old City and when Jordan barred all Jews from visiting the Western Wall, then called the Wailing Wall. I remember the days when the only chance to see the Wall was to obtain false papers, indicating that you were not a Jew, to go through the Mandelbaum Gate to the Old City, then under Jordanian control.

I was in Jerusalem as a volunteer for the Six-Day War, when the city was reunited. I remember the excitement and the tears in the eyes of even the most hardened and cynical of Israelis when the 11 o’clock news began with the words:

“An IDF spokesman has informed us that the Old City is ours. I repeat, An IDF spokesman has told us the Old City is ours.”

No one heard the rest of the news, and no one who heard that news can ever forget where they were when they heard those magical words.

My role in the Six-Day War was comically nonheroic. I drove a garbage truck, replacing the ordinary sanitation workers who were called up for duty, as the entire male Israeli population 18-45 was mobilized for war. In that role, I literally participated in the reunification of Jerusalem by knocking down the Mandelbaum Gate and picking up the rubble of its destruction. Later that week, I helped clear the rubble around the Western Wall, as homes were demolished to clear the area for the influx of pilgrims.

And I was there on the first day of Shavuot when 100,000 Jews — young and old, religious and secular, caftan-clad men and miniskirted women — walked up to Mount Zion and walked down the Pope’s Path, which only had been built because Pope Paul VI would not enter Israel through a government-sanctioned border crossing, to enter the Old City for the very first time. We were exultant, hopeful, thankful.

As a religious Jew, I pray facing Jerusalem. I pray of being there next year at the end of the seder and at the very last moment of Yom Kippur. I sing of Jerusalem on Shabbat evenings and yearn for Jerusalem on Shabbat afternoons.

The attachment to Jerusalem is deep, profound and visceral. It touches my soul. It is part of my being. To be Jewish is to be attached to Jerusalem, the Jerusalem on high and the Jerusalem below.

But, let’s face it. If the future of the peace process — more correctly the divorce process — is going to be decided emotionally or religiously, it will never be decided; it can thus never be settled.

Settlement is in the interest of a Jewish state because without some form of national separation, a one-state solution is almost upon us, one in which Jews could soon be a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and a Jewish state or even a state of the Jews would be replaced by a state of its citizens.

It would be no small irony if the Orthodox Union, whose Zionist wing has long advocated “the Land of Israel for the people or Israel according to the Torah of Israel,” was the militant advocate for policies that led to the dissolution of the Jewish state. But religious zealotry has led to Jewish defeat in 70 and 135, and rabbinic Judaism was politically quietistic as an alternative to such policies. Jews are the descendants of Yochanan ben Zakkai not of Eliezer by Yair and those who committed suicide at Masada.

So let us face some painful realities.

With all due respect to the collective wisdom of our presidents and to the Israeli hasbara efforts that originated the phase, Jerusalem was not the eternal, invisible capital of the Jewish people. Nothing in history is eternal. By its very nature, history is temporal.

Jerusalem only became the capital during the time of David; Joshua had brought the ark to Shiloh. After he conquered Jerusalem, David brought the ark there from Kiryat Yearim. Jerusalem was one of two capitals during the period following King Solomon, when the Northern Kingdom seceded. The Babylonian Talmud is more authoritative for rabbinic Jews than the Palestinian Talmud, more central.

Jerusalem became the capital of the Jewish people when we were in exile, yearning for the elemental dignity that independence could provide and yearning for the majesty of an earthly city that could bear the weight of our aspirations.

There is nothing eternal or sacred about the political boundaries of Jerusalem. They have been adjusted time and again, even since 1967, as the politics of Israel had to absorb the changing demographic and political reality. The City of David is outside the current walled city.

People living in Jerusalem and people visiting Jerusalem know that it is a divided city. Teddy Kollek dreamed of a unified city of tolerance, pluralism and peace. He worked for it day and night, but despite his best efforts, such a city has not materialized. His successors barely tried. There are places one does not go; villages one does not visit. Israeli sovereignty has not made for unity.

With all due respect to my respected friend Lauder, the Diaspora is entitled to a voice but not a veto. Israelis pay taxes, serve in the army and the State of Israel is a democratic state that governs with the consent of its people. Israeli leaders will always pay attention to their supporters overseas, but they must act in the interests of the state as they perceive them.

There is no mechanism in the United States — and not in the entire Diaspora — for democratic consensus among the Jewish people. Lauder, whose service to the Jewish people is admirable, well knows that we live at a time when there is a major disconnect between Jewish organizations and the Jewish people.

Every piece of empirical research indicates that the institutions do not hold the allegiance of the younger generation, nor do they represent the views of the Jews in the United States who are far more dovish, peace oriented and in favor of territorial compromise, than the Jewish organizations that claim to represent them.

As to the debate over Jerusalem: It is too early.

Israel has made a decision on the West Bank; it has given up the illusion of the greater Israel — the complete Land of Israel, which has conveniently forgotten about the other side of the Jordan — understanding that it cannot absorb the large Arab population and still remain a Jewish state.

No one knows if there can be an agreement, and even if there is an agreement, whether it can be viable, adhered to by the Palestinians — or by the Israelis. No one knows what it will call for in terms of division — political or actual.

It is clear that Israelis will not give up access to the Western Wall or the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus, as was the case between 1949-1967, or to the many neighborhoods that have been developed to ring Jerusalem. But to take any discussion of Jerusalem off the table before one learns the details is to rule out the possibility of an agreement.

And to argue among ourselves about it before we know what is being offered — in return for what; with what guarantees; with what mechanisms for enforcement — is to conduct an inconsequential monologue. Only negotiations will reveal if there is anything to discuss. And they must proceed for the good for Israel, for the wellbeing of the Jewish people, for the peace of Jerusalem.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a professor of theology (adjunct) at American Jewish University.

Israelis keep a close eye on U.S. elections


Hillary Clinton is the favorite U.S. presidential candidate at Itzik Nir’s tiny juice stand, a veritable neighborhood listening post where opinions pile up as quickly as the signature orange-banana-passion fruit blends are served.

Customers giggle trying to pronounce Mike Huckabee’s name and see Barack Obama as an unknown. They’d rather stick to Clinton, who they see as a sure thing for Israel, Nir said.

“We are so closely influenced by what happens in the United States, so people think it’s in their own self-interest to support Hillary, assuming she will do more for Israel,” he said.

With a mix of concern for their future and amusement at the marching bands and baby-kissing style of U.S. electoral politics, Israelis are tuning in to see who might be the next U.S. president.

“Of course we are all following the elections: This is going to be our president, too,” said actor Michael Koresh, speaking only slightly tongue in cheek. He, too, is rooting for Clinton.

Israeli media had been giving top billing to stories about the U.S. campaign until President Bush arrived in the country Wednesday and the focus shifted to the current American president.

In the lead-up to the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, Israeli TV reporters breathlessly reported on the suspense and twists of the campaigns in live reports from the primaries’ battle grounds.

Just like American reporters, they also speculate on the effect of Clinton’s tears, McCain’s comeback and Obama’s charisma, and they salivate at the signs of a real race.

Israeli reporters also betray some amusement at the festive style of the campaigns, with their requisite balloons, cheerleaders and apple-pie-style applauding crowds.

“Listen to the crowd. Hear their cheers!” one Channel 10 reporter shouted over the din this week at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New Hampshire.

Israeli media are covering the Republican candidates less closely than the Democrats. One reporter even had to be prompted by his anchor in Israel to discuss the subject.

“And there are, after all, Republicans. What about them?” the anchor asked.

Danny Horvitz leaves on the TV set in his corner grocery so customers can watch the latest news, including the results from the U.S. primaries.

“People are watching what is going on because this is about our future, too,” he said.

Israelis seem relatively unfazed by the prospect of a black man or a woman in the White House for the first time.

“It’s more exciting for the Americans than it is for us,” Nir said at the juice stand. “We’ve already had a woman prime minister.”

Robert Grosz and his wife, Eden, have been arguing about Obama’s electability. She says Obama has momentum, but he thinks America is not yet ready for a black president. He’s backing Clinton.

Clinton’s famous husband seems to be her primary advantage in a country that fondly recalls Bill Clinton as a close friend with not only a political but also an emotional attachment to Israel. When Bill Clinton left the presidency in 2000, Israeli polls showed an overwhelming majority would vote for him to lead Israel if only they had the chance.

“I like Clinton because she’s the next closest thing to her husband,” Robert Grosz said.

Representatives of both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad in Israel said they have seen a surge of interest in the elections by Israelis and American Israelis.

Both groups have been flooded by requests by U.S. citizens for information about voting in the primaries — something that did not happen in the same numbers during the last election, they said.

Israelis are catching election fever, said Kory Bardsash, the chair of Republicans Abroad in Israel.

“They are beginning to get wind of it. There is lots of news on Clinton and ‘Who is this Obama guy?’ and ‘Who is the best person?’ ” he said. “I think they are beginning to recognize something is going on here.”

Whoever wins the general election in November, the Israelis interviewed did not seem too concerned that the next president would be anything but pro-Israel.

Shmuel Rosner, Ha’aretz’s U.S. correspondent reporting from New Hampshire, wrote in his blog that the U.S. elections and the changes it might bring are “a strange riddle for the Israeli decision-maker.”

He said the mix of familiar faces like Clinton and Rudy Giuliani and lesser-known quantities like Obama and Huckabee makes the election stage a bewildering place.

“The winds of sweeping change raise some questions: What will the approach of the elected officials be toward Iran? How will they want to advance the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue?” Rosner wrote.

Grosz said he and his wife find the American campaign style both hokey and a waste of money.

But Grosz said he does wish Israel would take one lesson from America’s political system of representation: “I wish I could have a senator — someone I could speak to and feel represented by,” he lamented. “There is lots to learn from Americans.”

Olmert’s embrace of hawks could cost him Labor support in coaliton


In a bold gambit designed to bolster his shaky coalition, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is bringing a hawkish party into his coalition, guaranteeing him the support of 78 members of the 120-seat Knesset and possibly one of the most stable governments in Israeli history.

The move significantly strengthens Avigdor Lieberman, hardline leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, and leaves the rest of the Israeli right in disarray.

It also raises questions for the dovish Labor Party, Olmert’s main coalition partner.

The accession of Yisrael Beiteinu could herald the end of any potential peacemaking between Israel and its neighbors, and Labor will have to decide whether it can continue serve in the same government. The fact that Lieberman has been accused of racism with regard to Israeli Arabs compounds Labor’s dilemma.

Lieberman wants to focus on the strategic threat posed by Iran as well as on reforming Israel’s notoriously unstable form of government. A Yisrael Beiteinu proposal to adopt a full-blown American-style presidential system is unlikely to pass, but Lieberman’s drive for reform probably will spur changes aimed at strengthening the larger parties within the current European-style parliamentary system, paving the way for more stable government.

Indeed, the reason Olmert turned to Lieberman was because his coalition, barely six months old, was under pressure over the state budget. To avoid yet another early election, Israel’s prime minister needs to pass the budget by the end of each year, but with Labor rebels threatening to vote against it, pundits were predicting elections by spring.

With Lieberman in the coalition and assuming Labor decides to stay, Olmert’s budget worries are over. With his own Kadima Party, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu, the Pensioners Party and the Sephardi Orthodox Shas Party, Olmert’s coalition includes nearly two-thirds of the Knesset and is unlikely to face any serious challenge to its parliamentary majority — unless one or more parties defect.

Olmert describes the new coalition as perfectly balanced, with Yisrael Beiteinu to the right, Labor to the left and Kadima in the center, which is precisely where he wants it to be in terms of electoral appeal.

But whether the left-right balance makes for levelheaded decision-making or instead creates paralysis is one of the perennial conundrums of Israeli politics. In this case, left-wingers fear Lieberman may be able to stymie any peacemaking initiatives and even prevent the evacuation of illegal Jewish outposts in the West Bank, as called for by the “road map” peace plan that remains nominally operative.

Evacuation of outposts could be a first test case. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the Labor leader, has instructed the army to come up with detailed evacuation plans, and there could be a showdown within the next few weeks.

Lieberman has signed onto the guidelines of Olmert’s coalition, which include outpost evacuation and peace moves, but pundits are asking whether being in government will moderate Lieberman or whether Lieberman will radicalize the government.

Left-wingers also are highly critical of Lieberman’s appointment as strategic affairs minister, with special responsibility for the Iranian threat. They say Lieberman — who once spoke of bombing Egypt’s Aswan Dam — is the last person who should be dealing with the nuclear threat posed by Iran.

In an editorial titled “Lieberman is a strategic threat,” the left-leaning Ha’aretz wrote that “the choice of the most unrestrained and irresponsible man around for this job constitutes a strategic threat in its own right. Lieberman’s lack of restraint and his unbridled tongue, comparable only to those of Iran’s president, could be disastrous for the entire region.”

Lieberman was born in Moldova in the former Soviet Union in 1958, and immigrated to Israel when he was 20. He came to prominence as Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-hand man, rebuilding the party from 1993-1996 and helping to mastermind Netanyahu’s national election victory in 1996.

Lieberman made his name as a political strongman, earning the sobriquet “director-general of the country” when he ran the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu.

After falling out with Netanyahu, Lieberman left the Likud in 1999 to found Yisrael Beiteinu, a mainly Russian immigrant party, winning four seats that year, three in 2001 and 11 in elections last May.
Uncompromisingly hawkish, he opposed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal, once resigning from a Sharon government and once being fired.

That did not stop Sharon from describing Lieberman as one of the best ministers in his administration, and few doubt Lieberman’s competence. The problem left-wingers have is with his hawkishness on regional affairs, and his perceived racism with regard to Israeli Arabs.

Lieberman caused a furor in the Knesset last May when he labeled Arab legislators who expressed sympathy for the terrorist group Hamas and refused to honor Israel’s Independence Day “collaborators.”

“The Second World War ended with the Nuremberg trials and the execution of the Nazi leadership. Not only them, but all those who collaborated with them. I hope that will be the fate of the collaborators in this house,” Lieberman declared from the Knesset podium.

Arab Knesset members were outraged. Legislator Ahmed Tibi retorted that Lieberman was “a man for whom fascism has become a way of life and racism a tool of the trade.”

The Yisrael Beiteinu leader also has two controversial proposals with regard to Israeli Arabs: He wants to pass an amendment to the citizenship law that would require them to swear an oath of loyalty to the state, and favors a land swap with the Palestinians that could leave more than 250,000 Israeli Arabs on the Palestinian side of the border.

Such views are enough for some Laborites to rule out any possible coalition with Lieberman, but others say that whether Labor remains in the coalition depends on the government’s policies and actions.
Labor’s Central Committee is set to meet Sunday to decide. Most pundits believe the decision will be to stay, at least for the time being.

Ironically, Lieberman’s move fragments the right at a time when opinion polls show the Israeli public shifting rightward after the Lebanon war. The big loser is Netanyahu — who, before Lieberman’s move, seemed poised to return to power in early elections next year.

Now, if the new coalition holds, elections are due only in 2010 — by which time the polls likely will be giving very different answers to very different questions.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report

Peretz Win Portends Political Shakeup


The election of Amir Peretz, a 53-year-old underdog, as leader of the Labor Party is almost certain to change the face of Israeli politics.

The result of the Nov. 9 Labor primary vote makes more likely the formation of a new centrist party led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, backed by defectors from Labor and Likud. It creates the potential for a profound change in voting patterns, with many traditional Likud voters among the Sephardi working class likely to consider voting for the Moroccan-born Peretz. It puts Labor squarely on the left of the Israeli political divide and clarifies its differences with Likud on key peacemaking and economic issues.

At the very least, it almost certainly means that elections, currently slated for November 2006, will be moved up to the first half of the year.

Polls last Friday suggest that Labor under Peretz would do well in those elections. Polls in the Haaretz and Maariv newspapers show Labor rising from its current 21 Knesset seats to 27 or 28, with the Likud under Sharon winning 37 to 39.

The Haaretz poll also shows that if Sharon, who is facing strong internal dissent from Likud members who opposed his Gaza withdrawal plan, breaks away from Likud to form a new centrist party, it would win 32 seats to Labor’s 27, with a Likud rump led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finishing third with 25 seats.

These results reflect the situation before campaigning has even started. A good campaign could establish the untried Peretz as a bona fide national leader, and some pundits believe he could even win the election for Labor.

Conversely, now that he’s Labor leader, Peretz will become the prime target of Likud barbs. Should he fail to rise to the occasion, Labor’s electoral fortunes could plummet.

Much will depend on what happens inside Labor. Peretz won 42.3 percent of the votes in the primary, scoring a stunning upset over incumbent Shimon Peres (40 percent) and former party leader Benjamin Ben Eliezer (16.8 percent), despite the party establishment’s efforts to stop him.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled out of the race two months ago and joined Peres in an overt bid to block Peretz. Three days before the election, Science Minister Matan Vilnai did the same.

It’s still unclear whether Labor heavyweights will accept Peretz’s leadership or chip away at his authority from within the party, perhaps even breaking away to join a new centrist grouping under Sharon. Amram Mitzna, who like Peretz raised great hopes for change when he was elected Labor leader three years ago, resigned after he was constantly undermined by party rivals.

Will Peretz prove to be made of sterner stuff?

His challenges are great because of the very real possibility of a mass defection from Labor — possibly including Peres — to join Sharon. After the primary results were announced, Peres waited a day and half to congratulate Peretz on his victory and even after doing so, confirmed that he was taking a “time out” to consider his political future.

Peretz moved quickly to keep the party intact. He convened Labor’s Knesset faction last Friday and asked them to give him a chance to establish himself as leader. He met separately afterward with Peres, urging him to stay in Labor and help lead it.

Whether all this will be enough to keep Labor together remains to be seen.

Sharon’s next moves will be decisive. After Likud rebels voted Nov. 7 in the Knesset against two ministerial appointments Sharon wanted to make, aides to the prime minister say a split in Likud is all but certain, and that it’s only a matter of timing. After the rebel vote, Sharon warned darkly that “there will be consequences.”

Whether or not there are major political realignments, elections will probably be moved up to some time between March and May of next year. Peretz has made it clear that he intends to pull Labor out of the governing coalition within six weeks, and he and Sharon are due to meet soon to agree on a new election date.

Some Likud leaders, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, express concern at Peretz’s potential to attract working-class Likud voters. Peretz said in an interview that surveys he conducted showed that the Sephardi poor no longer see the Likud as their natural political home, opening up huge electoral possibilities for Labor.

Peretz was born in Morocco in 1952, came to Israel at age 4 and grew up in a poor home in the southern development town of Sderot. A gifted and charismatic speaker with a trademark handlebar mustache, he became mayor of Sderot at 31, a Labor Knesset member at 36 and chairman of the Histadrut trade union federation at 43.

In 1997, Peretz left Labor to form his own political party, One Nation, which won just three seats in the last election. He brought his party back into Labor late last year with Peres’ help, ironically.

Peretz’s political views are clear: On the Palestinian issue, he’s a dove who believes in the feasibility of a final peace agreement; on the economy, he believes in free-market forces to create wealth and government intervention to distribute it more evenly.

On both the Palestinian and economic issues, he talks about a “moral road map” and says the occupation of the West Bank must end because it’s corrupting for Israelis. He promises that if he becomes prime minister, he will raise the minimum wage to $1,000 a month.

His political opponents on the right and in the center paint Peretz as a dangerous peacenik and Bolshevik who will take untenable risks with the Palestinians and whose radical populism will destroy the economy, which after the Sharon government’s free-market reforms has pulled out of a deep recession and shown growth.

For now, Peretz is getting sympathetic press. Several pundits praise him for being ready to go for a final peace deal and drop Sharon’s conditioning of peace talks on the dismantling of Palestinian terrorist groups.

On the economy, leading analysts dismiss the Bolshevik tag and depict Peretz as a sane and well-balanced social democrat in the model of Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.

It’s far too early to judge how significant Peretz’s emergence as a key player on the national stage will be. But if Israel’s normally hard-nosed commentators are anything to go by, his upset victory could prove to be a portentous development.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

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A Mitzvah Is Its Arab-Israeli Enmity Vanishes at Hospital


After exhausting the capabilities of Palestinian hospitals in Jenin and Nazareth, the mother of a 4-year-old boy with stomach cancer learned that his best chance for survival lay beyond the Green Line at Afula’s Emek Medical Center, about 10 miles from Jenin.

Quelling her own fear of becoming a target of Jewish hostility, because of the intifada, Samera permitted doctors to quietly arrange for her son, Halid, to be admitted to Emek’s pediatric oncology unit. While the rest of her family remained in Jenin, she lived in Nazareth for six months in housing arranged by one of Emek’s Arab staff members.

"She was received with compassion and warmth," said Larry Rich, Emek’s development director, who spoke with mother and son before the patient’s release last year.

"Halid, do you know your doctor is a Jew?" Rich recalled asking. "He said, ‘He’s a good man.’"

The grateful mother embraced Rich.

"It made my heart swell," he said in an interview during a recent trip to the United States.

To avoid being branded as a collaborator, most Palestinians would not admit to accepting aid from Israel. Samera bravely told her story to A-Sinara, the largest Arabic-language newspaper in the region. Her experience "was diametrically opposed to everything she’d been told," Rich said.

Yet, not even a small child is free of politics in a nation where every joy seems superseded by bitterness. When Halid’s condition worsened, Samera’s return was forbidden, according to Rich. The boy died earlier this year.

The 435-bed Emek hospital is a remarkable example of Arab-Israeli cooperation in the bitterly divided Middle East. Even so, because of its proximity to terrorist activity, its emergency room has swarmed with bombing casualties, and several among its staff have suffered disabling injuries from suicide attacks.

The hospital’s staff, about an 80-20 mix of Jews and Arabs, closely mirrors Israel’s population, where 1.1 million Israeli Arabs make up 18 percent of the nation. But the hospital’s patient population is a more diverse 50-50, where Jew and Arab often are roommates.

"Something magical happens here," said Rich, when families visiting at bedside drop their guard and commiserate together. "People begin to talk. The horns melt away. There’s no difference between them."

"We don’t represent the solution to the Middle East, but we are an example, a living philosophy of coexistence through medicine," Rich said.

Emek’s Detroit-born development director is taking on a quixotic challenge: trying to shine a light on the hospital’s good work by sharing its story with the American Jewish community, as well as the American Muslim community. His aim is to loosen purse strings and puncture stereotypes hardened on both sides by enmity over endless bloodshed.

The medical center has treated more than 800 victims of terror since the second intifada began in September 2000. Its emergency room treats more than 130,000 people annually.

Yet, anemic funding of Israel’s national health-care system has forced Emek to curb elective surgeries, hiring and research. Israel’s depressed economy has made more daunting a $100 million growth plan to add 12 operating rooms to Emek. The facility is one of 14 hospitals operated by Clalit Health Services, an HMO with 3.6 million members.

"Our current surgical facilities cannot cope efficiently with the normal caseload of a growing population," wrote Orna Blondheim, Emek’s director, in a pitch to potential donors.

On his first fund-raising trip to the United States and Canada that began in April, Rich spent six weeks going to 28 cities to describe the work of Emek’s 250 physicians and 600 nurses. In Irvine, about 75 people heard him on May 26 at an event organized by the Beth Jacob Congregation.

Rich realizes he faces a forbidding rival in the fund-raising machine of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. In 2002, the group raised $53 million divvied up among six major projects. They include its best known, the Hadassah Medical Organization, comprised of two medical facilities in Israel — the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem and the Hadassah University Hospital at Mount Scopus.

In Orange County, Rich’s sponsor was Tim Timmons of San Clemente, a one-time seminary student who has visited Israel 30 times and makes his living as a motivational speaker. Using his own Rolodex, Timmons tried to assist Rich line up speaking engagements.

"He’s not getting the response from Jewish organizations," said Timmons, who suggested he contact a Lebanese-born friend with political connections.

"I was warned not to overplay the coexistence message," Rich said. "I thought about it. I’m not going to buy into it."

Real Peace Moves, or Just Politics?


After more than two years of a downward spiral in
Israeli-Palestinian relations, the prospect of a new regional balance after an
anticipated American war on Iraq is concentrating Israeli and Palestinian
minds.

Both sides want to be ready for any new American demands
after the dust settles in Baghdad. And so, after months of icy silence, Israeli
and Palestinian officials have started talking again — and the upshot could be
a new cease-fire.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says his aim is to create a
basis for a major peace initiative later in the year. His critics, however,
aren’t so sure: They accuse Sharon of going through the motions to keep the
international community happy and to lure the Labor Party into his coalition.

Talks have been taking place on three levels:

Sharon himself met Ahmad Karia, the speaker of the
Palestinian Parliament, to discuss renewing the peace process and what it could
offer the Palestinians;

Sharon’s bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, has been discussing
cease-fire terms with the Palestinian Authority’s interior minister, Hani
Hassan, who is in charge of Palestinian security affairs; and Ohad Marani,
director general of Israel’s Finance Ministry, negotiated with P.A. Finance
Minister Salam Fayyad the transfer of $60 million in Palestinian tax money that
Israel had withheld since the intifada began in September 2000.

In addition to those cynics who say Sharon’s recent flurry
of moves aren’t sincere and intended to attract the Labor Party to the
government, others say Sharon simply recognizes that the overthrow of Iraqi
dictator Saddam Hussein will create a window of diplomatic opportunity in the
region, and is signaling to the international community that he is prepared to
move toward a Palestinian state as envisaged by President Bush.

But Sharon doesn’t want to be rushed. Therefore, he recently
set up a team under dovish Likud Party legislator Dan Meridor to coordinate
future moves with the United States, preempting pressure on Israel from the
international community, especially the European Union.

Meridor is said to be working on a new Israeli-American
peace plan based on understandings reached by Sharon and Bush in a number of
recent conversations.

Sharon also invited Fayyad to his farm, where he outlined
reforms the Palestinian Authority must make before serious peace talks can
resume.

Sharon’s main demand is that P.A. President Yasser Arafat be
stripped of his executive powers and pushed into a ceremonial role, with real
power transferred to a prime minister. Fayyad is a leading candidate for the
job — and would probably be the first choice of Israel and the United States.

In the few months since he took charge of Palestinian
financial affairs, Fayyad has proven himself competent and trustworthy,
sincerely committed to Bush’s vision of Israeli and Palestinian states living
as peaceful neighbors and cooperating economically.

With Fayyad as prime minister, Israeli and American
officials believe Bush’s two-state vision could become a reality. But it’s not
clear whether Fayyad has sufficient standing among the Palestinian public to
win the job. Nor is it clear whether American and Israeli support will hurt
Fayyad’s chances of taking power.

Most pressing, however, is a cease-fire, without which
nothing will go forward. In talks with Hassan, Israeli officials are reviving
the idea of a “rolling” cease-fire that would begin in a limited geographic
area and, if it holds there, would spread until it encompasses the entire West
Bank and Gaza Strip.

At that point, Israeli troops could withdraw to positions
they held before the intifada began, and more comprehensive peace talks could
begin.

The trouble is that similar ideas have been tried before and
failed. Putative cease-fires in Gaza and the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Hebron
failed to hold when the Palestinian Authority declined to confront terrorist
groups.

Hassan suggested that things will be different this time.
Speaking in Nablus last weekend, he said he soon would present a detailed
Palestinian proposal for a cease-fire beginning in Ramallah, where Arafat has
been holed up in his battered headquarters for more than a year.

This time, Hassan said, a cease-fire would be respected by
all parts of Arafat’s Fatah movement, including Al-Aksa Brigade terrorists who
have carried out dozens of bombings and other attacks against Israel.

Hassan acknowledged that one of the main reasons for the
Palestinians’ newfound seriousness is the anticipated war on Iraq, which he
believes will radically change the rules in the Middle East.

The Palestinians must change course, he believes, by
stopping terrorism and turning to political moves.

“It is time to harvest the political fruits,” Hassan said,
“and we cannot afford to make any mistakes this time.”

Both Jordan and Egypt are actively involved in the efforts
to revive the political process. On Sunday, Weisglass went to Amman to brief
the Jordanians, while Ephraim Halevy, the new chief of Israel’s National
Security Council, has been keeping Egypt updated.

Jordan and Egypt also are motivated by visions of a changing
Middle East: Egypt especially hopes to impress a presumably victorious United
States by helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Egypt has made a major effort to get all Palestinian
terrorist organizations to stop attacking Israel, and risked losing face when
the radicals refused.

Undeterred, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Sharon
for talks in Sharm el-Sheik, the first invitation by an Arab leader since
Sharon was first elected prime minister in February 2001.

Still, some pundits argue that Sharon is only feinting
toward a peace deal to entice Labor into his coalition. If so, it’s not
working.

Labor Party leaders say they don’t believe Sharon has any
real intention of moving toward peace. In a recent meeting with Amram Mitzna,
they note, Sharon lectured the Labor chairman on the importance of Netzarim and
Kfar Darom, two Gaza Strip settlements that Mitzna says should be evacuated.

Mitzna maintains that Sharon’s attitude to the settlements
shows he isn’t ready to make peace, and that he wants Labor in his coalition so
he can drag his feet indefinitely. Sharon aides retort that the prime minister
sees a post-Iraq situation in which peacemaking with the Palestinians will be a
real possibility: After Saddam falls, Sharon reckons, Arafat will be the next
to go.

Then, Sharon said, people like Qurie, Fayyad and Hassan, who
want a new deal for the Palestinians, will be able to make reciprocal moves toward
peace without hindrance.

World Briefs


Amnesty Blasts Suicide Attacks

A report by Amnesty International calls Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians “crimes against humanity.” None of the Israeli military’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip justify Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, the report added.

Land Bill Stand Reversed

Israel’s Cabinet retracted its support for a bill that could bar Israeli Arabs from owning homes on state-owned land. The Cabinet voted 22-2 Sunday to refer the bill for review by a governmental committee on constitutional affairs. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the decision, saying it could harm Arab-Jewish relations. Last week, the Cabinet created a furor when it voted to back the bill.

Yeshiva Bill Sparks Threat

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers threatened to bolt the Israeli government over a bill granting draft exemptions for yeshiva students. The lawmakers took issue with a provision in the bill requiring yeshiva students to serve 12 days a year in the Civil Guard. Meanwhile, the secular Shinui and Meretz parties threatened to submit no-confidence motions in the government, charging that the bill institutionalizes draft-dodging.

Deri Released on Parole

Aryeh Deri, the former leader of Israel’s Orthodox Shas Party was freed Monday after serving two years of a three-year sentence for accepting bribes and misappropriating state funds. Deri said upon his release that he would fight to clear his name. When granting him early release, a parole board ruled that he cannot enter politics for one year.

Toronto Murder Suspect Arrested

Toronto police arrested Christopher Steven McBride, the prime suspect in the murder of a Chasidic man, late Monday night following a raid on an apartment in the city’s West End. Police soon began to interrogate the prisoner, who is a slight 20-year-old with a shaved head and tattoos.

According to police, David Rosenzweig — a father of six who was wearing a kippah — was approached from behind by two men and a woman early Sunday morning. After one of the men stabbed him in the back, all three assailants fled the scene. While not ruling out that the attack was a hate crime, police said Monday there is no concrete evidence that Rosenzweig was murdered because of his religion.

Bedouin Judge Sworn in

Israel’s first Bedouin judge was sworn in. Nasser Abbed-Taheh, 39, was one of 35 new judges who were sworn in Monday at a ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.

Paris Exhibit Vandalized

An exhibition in Paris about children who were deported in 1942 by the Nazis was vandalized by a 55-year-old woman. Christiane Castillon, who had no prior police record and is not believed to belong to any extremist organization, explained the July 7 incident by saying that “people make too many allowances for Jews where the Holocaust is concerned.”

Seeds of Peace Founder Dies at 59

John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace, died July 10 of lung cancer at 59. In 1993, Wallach proposed to then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that the group be created to bring Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian youths together on neutral soil in the United States. Each summer since then, hundreds of Israeli and Arab teenagers have gathered in the woods of Maine in an effort to increase mutual understanding.

Shabbat Law Vetoed in Brazil

A law that would have recognized Saturday as a day of rest was vetoed by the governor of a Brazilian state. The bill would have given official recognition to the beliefs of some 12,000 Jews who live in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Following the governor’s veto, a movement has been launched in an effort to reverse that decision.

ADL Provides Workplace Guide

The Anti-Defamation League released a guide detailing U.S. laws on accommodating religious observance in the workplace. “Religious Accommodation in the Workplace” offers employees and employers general information on relevant federal laws. It is available at www.adl.org.

Briefs by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

LAX Trail Cold


As the families of Victoria Hen and Yaakov Aminov continued their mourning during the 30-day sheloshim period, the FBI continued its tight-lipped investigation into their July 4 murder at the Los Angeles International Airport.

“There have been no new developments and we will not issue a statement until the conclusion of our investigation,” FBI spokeswoman Cheryl Mimura said.

Neither El Al Airlines, at whose airport counter Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot and killed the two victims, nor the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, had any comment, pending the FBI’s report.

Aminov’s wife, Anat, and their five children, together with a son from his previous marriage, flew to Israel to bury their husband and father, and will not return until the end of Sheloshim on Aug. 4, said Rabbi David Adatto of Congregation Yad Avraham in North Hollywood.

The Hen family sat shiva for their daughter and sister at their home in Chatsworth, and are planning a communitywide sheloshim ceremony on Aug. 4 at Hen’s graveside at Eden Memorial Park.

Family spokesman Joseph Knoller received one unexpected call when Omar Ricci, chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), asked whether he could meet with the Hen family to offer his condolences and express his shock and condemnation of a fellow Muslim’s murderous act. Knoller said that the family declined the visit as “premature” and inappropriate until Ricci rendered a public condemnation on television.

Ricci, whose parents are Italian and Pakistani, told The Journal: “I felt the need, as a husband and father, to visit the Hen family, regardless of the strife in the Middle East.”

Asked whether the Muslim community had been made aware of his condemnation, Ricci said that it had been posted on an extensive e-mail network, the primary means of communication among Los Angeles Muslims.

A higher level communication took place between Israeli and Muslim leaders in Los Angeles. MPAC Senior Adviser Dr. Maher Hatout wrote to Israel’s Consul General Yuval Rotem expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and reiterating the condemnation he made of the attack. Rotem was quoted in last week’s Journal saying that as far as he knew, the Muslim community had kept silent following the attack. “Such a statement is not only wrong,” Hatout wrote, “but also inflammatory.”

Rotem acknowledged Hatout’s condemnation in a return letter. “By immediately and unconditionally condemning acts of hatred and terror we are able to demonstrate … our commitment to peaceful coexistence,” he wrote.

The men cc’d their letters to Gov. Gray Davis, who thanked them in handwritten notes for their outreach efforts.

Meanwhile, the question of whether the killing represented an act of terrorism or an “isolated incident” remained unresolved. Israeli spokesmen, both in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, called on their long expertise to unhesitatingly define the act as a clear case of terrorism, while the FBI continued to look for motives and outside connections.

Local Jewish leaders this week took issue with The Los Angeles Times’ Sunday front page profile of Hadayet. The Times deployed three reporters and 10 contributing writers from Cairo to Orange County.

The general tone was indicated by the headline in The Times, “Those Who Knew LAX Killer Say Personal Agenda Died With Him,” and a kicker above the headline, quoting Hadayet’s wife, “There is nothing to suggest he was a bad person.”

The article traced Hadayet’s career from his life as a well-to-do banker in Cairo to a difficult time as an independent limousine operator in Irvine. After dozens of interviews, The Times reported that “the emerging consensus is that Hadayet was an ordinarily religious man with little appetite for politics, who opened fire on the El Al ticket counter, following a personal agenda that died with him.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, immediately fired off a letter to Times editor John Carroll, in which he took issue with the article’s tone and content and described it as a “whitewash.”

“There is zero perspective from the victims, from police or Jewish sources,” Cooper wrote. “When touching on [Hadayet’s] motivation, the article reads that he ‘occasionally mention a hatred for Jews … [but only from] a cultural perspective….’ What does ‘occasional’ hate mean — are there cultural hate crimes or cultural terrorist acts? Did the Times bother to report that the widow of the shooter told wire services, she did not believe he even committed the murder? Has the Times assigned any of its crack reporting team to see if this guy has links to terrorist movements? … Get a grip!”

Cooper’s anger at the Times was palpable in a phone interview. “If it were up to me,” he said, “I would advise the Jewish community to pick up its marbles and go elsewhere. Unfortunately, there is no elsewhere to go to.”

Throughout the last week, a large number of donations, mostly in small amounts, continued to flow to the memorial funds established by the victims’ families.

The need is direst for the large Aminov family, bereft of its breadwinner, Adatto said.


Program Remembers Israel’s Victims of Terror

The Jewish community will commemorate the lives and deaths of more than 500 victims of terror in Israel on Sunday July 21 at 11 a.m. at Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles.

Included among the victims are the 13 killed in Israel this week and two Angelenos shot on July 4 at LAX.

The program will include an address by Israeli Deputy Consul General Zvi Vapni, remarks by Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel and an invocation by Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

In addition, families of some of the victims will speak and there will be a poetry reading.

A large board will display photos of the victims, and each person will be handed a card with the name of one victim and a pebble, to be placed on a table next to the photo display.

The commemoration is part of a national observance held in 20 American cities and is coordinated by the American Zionist Movement, according to Bernard Weisberg, chairman of the Los Angeles event.

Eight organizations are co-sponsoring the commemoration.

For security reasons, those planning to attend are required to phone (323) 655-2842 in advance and leave their names. Those who fail to do so, are requested to arrive early to clear security.

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.

Dirty Facts


The lawyers have a term for it, of course. A situation where certain facts don’t make their client look so good, even though their client is innocent and righteous. They’re called “dirty facts.” The Middle East is hardly a courtroom, yet I think the term applies. I’m thinking of things like Israelis bulldozing homes with people inside them. Like sharp-shooting soldiers taking out old women in the street. Like denying food, water and medical care to those who are injured and dying. Get the picture?

These could certainly be considered “dirty facts” when describing Israel’s behavior in the ongoing military offensive in the occupied territories. When they’re reported, independently, repeatedly, by respected news organizations, both print and broadcast, they do have a tendency to undermine the overwhelming public support Israel correctly enjoys in this country. But if you bring these “dirty facts” up, if you discuss them, debate them, invite people of all backgrounds to examine them, does that make you less Jewish? Less concerned? Less horrified by the barbaric suicide bomber attacks on innocent civilians? I would maintain the answer is a resounding no, yet that is often the accusation, and it’s happened to me. In my case, it’s particularly offensive as someone who grew up a Conservative Jew, whose great-grandfather started the temple in my home town, who was bar mitzvahed, who’s daughter was bat mitzvahed, whose son will be bar mitzvahed, who goes to temple, who’s proud to be Jewish. These dirty facts are just that — facts of life in a war that seemingly has no early end. What the Palestinians are doing is simply wrong. What Israel is doing is trying to right centuries of wrong in the best, most forceful and decisive way they know how, at a terrible price in both life and prestige and sometimes even respect.

Where is this coming from? Well, in talking with some of the fine folks at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose work is more relevant now than ever, it came to my attention that at least a dozen people e-mailed the ADL to complain that I was “too critical of Israel” on my weekly radio show on KABC. This after spending half of a recent program with an Israeli-born doctor who quite eloquently portrayed the plight of the Israeli people and also briefly expressed empathy for the innocent Palestinians who are suffering, emphasis on the innocent.

But it seems to be all or nothing with some people. It’s a no-win situation. These seem to be the same people who accuse some of being unpatriotic if they question George W’s erasing of years of hard-fought civil rights in the name of fighting terror in this country. That’s absurd. This is America. We all have the same goals, or we should. We want to see terror and terrorists wiped out. We want to make sure Israel survives and flourishes, we want justice and humanity, its form still to be determined, for those Palestinians who deserve a place to call their own. What is the “better” or “right” way to do all this? I don’t know. If I were Ariel Sharon, what would I do? Perhaps the very same things he is doing. That’s why all this is so maddening and so heartbreaking. Yet through it all, we express our opinions. We discuss. We talk. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. But if a Jew in this country points out that Israel has been less than perfect, that Israel cannot always, automatically, every time claim the moral high ground, he’s criticized like he’s committed a sin.

Here’s a news flash. Israel is not perfect. Sharon is not perfect. They admit it. Having said that, when it comes to ‘choosing sides,’ there’s no question whom to support. And there’s no question that I can “take the heat” for at least trying to encourage intelligent debate about the ongoing violence. I don’t write this now motivated by some whining plea for understanding or sympathy. I don’t need it and don’t want it. I write it to remind people that everyone’s entitled to their opinion and that expressing a thought that doesn’t automatically fall in line with the conventional wisdom of a certain group of people shouldn’t make you an outcast, shouldn’t be taken as a violation of faith. And in radio, the idea is to generate discussion. Not to inflame or embellish, but to talk responsibly. Some say those in the media will do anything for ratings or for attention. Some might. Not me.

It’s been interesting to note that in a year -and-a-half of hosting the radio show, talking about everything from capital punishment to presidential politics to the mayor’s race to the police chief’s future, nothing has generated calls, emotion, passion and even hatred like the violence in the Middle East. Nothing. Not even close. And that’s not surprising. Emotions are running high on both sides. That will certainly continue. Something else that will continue, for now, will be the bloodshed and loss of life on both sides, while the soldiers, terrorists, politicians and diplomats work toward the ultimate and inevitable solution, a Palestinian state, side by side and, hopefully, in peace with Israel. And every time the Los Angeles Times prints a front-page article detailing the destruction of a Palestinian home or family, and every time a talk show host discusses what’s happening and tries to keep an open mind to varied points of view, it doesn’t mean that other Jews claiming some higher moral ground need to be outraged and angered. Outrage and anger is what we need to continue to direct at Yasser Arafat and his misguided and cowardly suicide bomber brigade. Let’s remember where we are and who we are. OK?

The Good Fence


Secretary of State Colin Powell spent a week in the Middle East and managed to extract from Israeli and Arab leaders concessions that were promising and far-reaching — for 1991.

That was when another Republican secretary of state, James Baker, flexed the muscle that another President Bush had built up in waging a war against Arabs, and convened a Middle East peace conference in Madrid.

Is this a case of, as our friends the French would have it, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, or is it more like a bad meal coming back up on you?

While Powell was finessing "progress" toward a solution, the Israeli body politic, according to polls, had already decided on one.

It’s called a fence.

According to a recent poll published by Ma’ariv, over 70 percent of Israelis support putting up a fortified electronic barrier between the West Bank and Israel. The fence would follow the contours of borders largely agreed to by both sides in previous negotiations.

The Israelis would be on one side of the fence, Palestinians on the other. That means Israel would have to evacuate Jewish settlements that are not largely contiguous with the Green Line — meaning about 40,000-60,000 settlers.

It also means Palestinians could do what they want on their side. They could declare a state and organize it and eventually negotiate with their neighbor. Or they could declare holy war and hit targets outside Israel, risking more retaliation. Given Yasser Arafat’s track record, he might just choose to do both simultaneously.

Supporters say the fence would put an end to the suicide attacks that have debilitated Israel’s economy and morale.

There is just such a fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and since it was erected not a single suicide bomber has passed over the border from Gaza. To most Israelis, that alone is a winning argument.

Hundreds of former Israeli army officers have signed a resolution in support of the fence. From a security standpoint, they say, the fence is the best interim solution, until the sides can reach a political settlement.

Who opposes the idea? The hard right and the far left — which may be as good an indication as any of the plan’s quality.

The right doesn’t want to give up on settlements. Its view is that Jews have a right, going back to the Bible, to the lands of Judea and Samaria. But the cold facts are that the only way Israel can retain Gaza, Judea and Samaria and remain a Jewish state, is to banish the 3 million Palestinians who live there, or create an apartheid-like regime.

The right also says that Israel without Judea and Samaria would create a fragile, narrow-waisted country. A Palestinian army with Iranian-supplied weapons could muster in Tulkaram, some 7 miles from Netanya. This is correct, but it’s also true that Israeli forces would destroy that army long before the threat became a reality.

The generals who signed on to the fence idea know it is much easier to protect a country contained within secure borders than one spread out on both sides of a porous border.

The far left sees the fence as a barbed wire garrote around the Oslo dove. It would indicate that, at least for now, Shimon Peres’ new Middle East vision of regional trade and travel is a pipe dream.

True, as both Peres and Ariel Sharon point out, you can’t build a fence high enough to keep out mortars or Scuds. But that is what Merkava tanks and F-16s are designed to do. What they can’t do is keep 16-year-old Palestinians girls with backpacks full of explosives out of Israel. A fence can do that.

The most convincing argument against a fence is that the Palestinians would see any pullback, even of settlements that never should have been built in the first place, as a sign of weakness. Emboldened by this "victory," the Palestinians would press their terror campaign even harder.

Proponents of the fence argue that the terror campaign would come to a full stop at the new border. The separation could lead to a nasty divorce or a good-faith mediation, but at least it would be a separation.

It may not be the perfect answer, it may not be the only one, but it is worth serious exploration. As we rally for Israel on April 21 at Woodley Park, let’s hope the Israeli government spokesmen who address us there go beyond vague calls for support, and speak to the specifics of this promising first step.

Islam Is the Answer


I was visiting a dear Palestinian Muslim friend in Jerusalem some years ago during the first intifada. I had noticed that he was becoming more religiously observant at the time. His wife had begun covering her hair, and he was more punctilious in his prayers and in what he ate and drank. His cousin and business partner had made the Hajj pilgrimage, and he was also making plans to do so.

During one of our many conversations, he lamented the failure of the world to help the Palestinians create a future for themselves. The West had failed them, as had the communist world. The pan-Arabism of Egypt’s Nasser had failed, as well as had other expressions of secular nationalism. It was clear that he was seeking a political, as well as an existential, answer in his return to religious tradition. Islam had become a vehicle for his own personal and communal quest, and he was relieved and comforted by his increased observance.

I also noticed during that visit that many children were running around within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem with a T-shirt that said in Arabic, “Islam Is the Answer.” No question appeared on the T-shirt.

Back in the United States today, the public debate is beginning to slow over whether Islam is to blame for the horrific events of Sept. 11 and the great increase in terrorism by Muslims during the past few decades. It is slowing, in part, because Americans are gaining more insight into the complexities of the contemporary Middle East, thanks to the sudden surfeit of articles in the print media and on the Internet.

While much of the material out there is still shallow, partisan or simply full of errors, some excellent essays have been produced that have clearly raised the level of discussion. The debate seems to be concluding with a consensus forming around the position that Islam is not the cause of this terrorism. Rather, the cause is rooted in a complex bundle of factors.

These factors include the failure of the Middle East to compete with the West economically, politically and militarily in the modern era; and more than a century of Western colonialism, imperialism and now globalism that have successfully exploited Middle Eastern resources cheaply and caused great hardship and resentment among the local populace.

Other contributing factors are bad Middle-Eastern governments run by brutal and selfish leaders who have no desire to share the national wealth with their citizens, plus a narrowing of the direction of anger since America has emerged in the last decade as the greatest and most visible world power.

On the other hand, despite our growing realization that Islam is not the cause of this conflict, we have learned that — at least to those terrorists who justify their violence according to what they interpret as Islamic values — this is a religious war. We have not taken the bait. In fact, our refusal to target Islam, despite the religious rhetoric of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, has been exemplary.

It is true that the politics of this war require that we remain careful not to alienate Muslim countries and friends on whom we must rely today. But we have, as a whole, also demonstrated moral and intellectual integrity when we refuse to wage a war against Islam.

There are good Muslims and bad Muslims, just as there are good Christians and bad Christians. We have been careful to separate Islam and terrorism. But many of us still feel uneasy. If there are lots of good Muslims out there, as we suspect, why aren’t they standing up en masse and condemning the likes of Osama, Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

This is very troubling. If Islam is not the cause, then why aren’t Muslims doing more to separate themselves from the radicals? We just aren’t getting what we really want from the “good Muslims” we know are out there. We want them to show us that they are just like us, that they are civilized like we are, that they share our American values of pluralism, universalism and individual autonomy and freedom.

It’s not going to happen. Not now and not soon. Oh, there are clearly some Westernized Muslims who have assimilated our core American values, and there are other moderates here and abroad who struggle with the difficult and problematic religious teachings of Islam, just as we do with our own religious teachings. However, modern Islam is different in fundamental ways from modern Christianity and Judaism. We need to know more about this, as well.

While Islam is clearly not the cause of the increase in terrorism, it has been used successfully as a powerful vehicle for it. Islam’s holy scriptures and traditions, its laws and its customs, its very self-concept as portrayed in its classic sources provide Muslim believers with a set of assumptions and principles that can easily be understood to justify violence against non-Muslims, and especially non-Muslims who are perceived as threatening Islam or its adherents.

Of course, one could say the same thing about Judaism and Christianity. The Christian Inquisition and Crusades killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people who either weren’t Christian or who weren’t Christian enough. And although Jews have lacked the political and military power to wage war on non-Jews for thousands of years until only recently, the forced conversions of the Idumeans in the first century BCE and today’s vigilante killings of Palestinians by Orthodox Jewish settlers clearly demonstrate that Judaism may also have been recruited in order to justify the persecution and slaying of the Other.

The Hebrew Bible has many passages that call for war against the opponents of ancient Israel. The biblical worldview establishes a universe divided into two social groupings: Israel and everybody else. And the everybody else, the Other, is almost always considered the enemy.

Israel needed to carve out a safe haven for itself, where its unique monotheistic theology could be put into ritual and moral practice, and the political environment was such that it had to do so through military means. God is even depicted in the Bible as fighting on behalf of Israel so that it would succeed. Some verses even call for the complete destruction of certain peoples living in the Holy Land who were obstructing Israel’s entry, an act that today would be universally condemned as genocide.

Biblical laws and stories clearly depict a historical context in which warring was common and in which violence was a normal part of life. In fact, it seems that it was because of the violent nature of the world in which ancient Israel lived that it longed for a future when violence would cease entirely, even to the extent that a lion and a lamb could lie together in the same field without fear.

The Bible depicts a violent reality, and the religious system of the Bible incorporated that reality into its own ethos. But today, there are no people who practice the religion and mores of the Hebrew Bible. There are no more Israelites. Only Jews and Christians.

Although both Judaism and Christianity accept the divine sanctity of the Hebrew Bible, both religions emerged after the biblical period, during the period of Late Antiquity when the Roman Empire controlled Palestine and much of the Middle East. It is common knowledge that Christianity is different from the religion of the Old Testament, but some are still unaware that Judaism (sometimes referred to as Rabbinic Judaism, as opposed to the religion or the Judaism practiced during biblical times) is a different religion from that of the Hebrew Bible.

What is different about it? Nearly everything: its liturgy, its forms of worship, its codes of laws and its theologies.

Both Christianity and Judaism emerged as weak religious expressions under the yoke of a very powerful and businesslike Roman Empire. This is not to suggest that, in contrast to the Biblical Period, the era of the Roman Empire was not rife with violence as well. It was, although the nature of its violence was different and tended to be directed downward from the top, in contrast to the biblical situation, in which all the actors tended to play on a common field.

The point is that neither Christians nor Jews found that violent actions against the pagan Romans brought it success. The rare times violence was attempted resulted in disaster.

Therefore, although both Judaism and Christianity inherited the violent traditions of the Bible, they buried or ignored the old exhortations to violence as best they could in their newly emerging post-biblical religious literatures. One cannot find a god of war in the religious literatures of emerging Christianity or Rabbinic Judaism, no divine call for war or conquest. Both religious civilizations had to be content with a kind of religion that would no longer be anchored to a land or a polity, as had biblical religion. These vital aspects of biblical religion simply dropped out of the religious expressions of its heirs.

It was always theoretically possible, of course, to make an end run around Jewish or Christian tradition in order to go directly to the ancient texts of the Bible, still held sacred by both new religions. Some Jews and Christians occasionally did so during the long ages from Late Antiquity to Modernity in their attempt to revive certain pre-Christian and pre-Rabbinic ideas. However, it was always a great effort, because it meant countering the new foundation texts of Christianity and Judaism, and it often failed. When Christianity found itself a political and military power as well as a religious system, it was forced to combine Caesar’s and God’s jurisdictions, and many of its leaders had no problem doing so.

But it was forced to develop a new and innovative system to justify warring. It was not part of the foundation texts of Christianity. Some Jews in Israel now find that they need religious, as well as nationalist, reasons to justify their taking up arms, but they are forced like their Christian compatriots centuries earlier, to develop a justification that ignores much of the foundational messages of Rabbinic Judaism.

Exegesis is powerful. Where there is a will, there is often a way to locate the right sacred texts and then find a way to read them so that they can be understood to support a broad array of beliefs and behaviors. But in Judaism and Christianity, engaging in such activity in relation to warring was an effort and sometimes required real interpretive pyrotechnics. The basic religions themselves and their formative sacred texts did not offer much support.

This is not the case for Islam. Islam emerged out of seventh century Arabia, a place and a time of much physical fighting and aggression. Pre-Islamic Arabia consisted largely of tribes in perpetual war against one another.

Fighting was built into the culture in a complex and integral way, because it served to keep down the natural growth in human population in an extremely harsh physical environment that could support only small numbers relative to area. Warring would distribute and redistribute limited resources (from raiding and plundering) and ensure survival of the fittest.

Raiding between tribes was such a part of the universal culture that three or four months of the year were designated as “time-out” periods, when no fighting was allowed. This was necessary in order to allow trade between tribes that were constantly battling, and to promote mixing of the gene pool between tribes otherwise always separated and in a state of war. Raiding and battling was so deeply imbedded into the pre-Islamic Arabian ethos that the great British scholar of Islam, W. Montgomery Watt, referred to it as the old Arabian “national sport.”

Islam emerged out of this environment, which resembled far more the environment of the Hebrew Bible than that of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. And Islam had to fight to survive. It was opposed by powerful individuals and tribes, and it had to defend itself for its own survival. As it evolved into a religious system, that system began to resemble the organization of the tribes of Arabia.

The early Muslim community referred to itself as the Umma, a term that has the meaning of nation, religion and tribe (from the word umm or mother). Muhammad the Prophet was rejected from his own tribe of Quraysh and banished from the community of his birth.

He created a new concept for Arabia in the umma (religious tribe) when he settled in Medina. He found that his religious tribe, like the kinship tribes throughout the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, was in constant conflict with the other tribes in the area. It was only natural and only to be expected that in order for his followers to survive in such a harsh economic and political environment, they would have to fight their way to establishment.

The Koran, the divine revelation sent down by God to Muhammad through the intermediacy of the angel Gabriel, confirmed the need for fighting. In some verses it gives permission to the early Muslims to fight in defense; in others it encourages the Muslims to go out and initiate the fighting.

In fact, many verses urge the early Muslims to go to war when they didn’t seem to want to: “Fighting is commanded of you even though it is hateful to you; but it may well be that you hate something that is good for you, and it may well be that you love something that is bad for you; God knows, but you do not” (2:16). Dozens of koranic verses promote fighting against unbelievers — that is, those Arabs in the vicinity that were organized around kinship tribes rather than the new religious tribe-community of Islam.

The second most sacred religious literature in Islam, the Hadith, comprising the sunna (words and behavior of the Prophet Muhammad), also has a great deal to say about warring. Entire books of sunna, with such titles as The Book of Jihad or The Book of [military] Campaigns, contain the record of anything Muhammad said or did in relation to war. In the later legal literatures, this material was systematized and formed the basis of treatises and law codes about war and fighting.

Warring thus became deeply integrated into the Muslim self-concept, and this occurred quite early on in the emergence of the religious civilization of Islam. As is well-known, the early Muslim community became extremely successful at fighting, and within a generation after the death of Muhammad, succeeded in conquering the great Persian Empire and pushing the Byzantine Empire off most of its Middle Eastern holdings.

This incredible and quick success also became integrated into the Islamic worldview. Muslims, like Christians before them when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, saw history as proof that God loved the religion of the victors. The astonishing success of the conquest demonstrated the truth of Islam. Islam was held up by its followers as the perfect religion, the best expression of monotheism.

As in the case of biblical religion, Islam soon saw the world in the binary terms of believer/non-believer, but because it had become a great world power, it established this worldview in relation to a much larger piece of world geography.

The binary nature of the Islamic worldview is best- expressed by the two terms, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. The former is the world of Islam, in which Islam is the hegemonic religio-political system, where Islamic law obtains and where Muslims and non-Muslims live under Islamic rule.

The Dar al-Harb is the world of war. This is the rest of the world not yet under Islamic rule. Muslims have interpreted the meaning of world of war in two basic ways: it can refer to an uncivilized world where lack of good government and religion cannot avoid constant warring among its own peoples, or a world in which Islam is in a state of constant war. This binary worldview is deeply ingrained in the religious civilization of Islam.

As the scholar Majid Khadduri, put it in his opus on war and peace in Islam, “The Islamic state, whose principal function was to put God’s law into practice, sought to establish Islam as the dominant reigning ideology over the entire world.” But like all empires, the caliphate could not expand ad infinitum, and it eventually weakened and disappeared.

The religion was forced to come to terms with the failure of the universal state. It did so in a variety of ways, but it never severed itself from the combativeness of the Koran and Hadith, as did Judaism and Christianity from the martial worldview of the Bible.

No New Testament or Talmud mitigates the militancy of the foundation texts of Islam. It is still there and largely unchallenged, and it still infuses the worldview and self-concept of Islam.

Neither did the discourse of modernity enter Islam as it did Christianity and Judaism. Islam had its reformist movements during the first part of the last century, to be sure, but they have become largely discredited because of their close association with the West and the activities of first colonialism and then imperialism. Muslims may choose to ignore or moderate the militant nature of classical Islam and its binary division of the world, but this takes some effort and must be a conscious act.

Such an approach is much more likely when Muslims are living in a pluralistic Western society than when they are living in the Dar al-Islam. It is easy and natural for Muslims in the Islamic world who are unhappy with their lot to observe the West as a world of infidels who, indeed, had a part in bringing on their suffering. It also is easy and natural for Muslims in the Islamic world to long for the good old days when the Islamic state provided adequately for the physical and spiritual needs of its citizens.

Islam, like all world religions, is an extremely complex phenomenon. It has its ascetics and mystics, as well as its militants, moderates and radicals. Most Muslims are neither ascetic nor militant. They are simply people who try as best they can to live out their lives fully and happily within the framework of a deep and wise religious civilization. Like most people, they abhor the death of the innocent, they believe in fair play, and they long for compassion as well as justice.

But with all this, Muslims who have grown up within the framework of Islamic civilization tend to see the world in certain ways that are fundamentally different from most Westerners. Especially among the angry and disillusioned, Islam has become the answer. The problem is that there are just not enough questions.

Dr. Reuven Firestone will be teaching “Introduction to Islamic Civilization,” beginning this January. For information, call (213) 749-3424 ext. 4242.



Reuven Firestone is professor of medieval Islam and Judaism at Hebrew Union
College in Los Angeles. He has authored “Jihad: the Origin of Holy War in
Islam” (Oxford University Press, 1999), “Journeys in Holy Lands: The
Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis” (State University of New York
Press, 1990), “Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims”
(Ktav, 2001) and dozens of articles on Islam and its relations with Judaism
and Christianity.

Back on Track?


It is too early to tell whether the long-awaited and controversial meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat will produce a true cease-fire and a resumption of peace negotiations between the two sides.

Wednesday’s meeting, which produced a commitment to turn a shaky, week-old truce into a lasting cease-fire, had a symbolic significance that went beyond any of the details contained in its final communique.

It almost brought down Israel’s unity government, with intense arguments raging about whether to hold the meeting at all. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon found himself awkwardly placed between his government’s rightist faction and Peres, his Labor Party foreign minister.

And it became entangled in a web of diplomatic maneuvering by the United States to form an international coalition against terror.

If the Peres-Arafat meeting does prove a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and the course of events in this troubled land is markedly changed, the catalyst will have been the terror attacks on America and the diplomatic aftermath.

The Palestinians say the armed intifada is now effectively over, or at least greatly reduced. They cite the categorical orders issued publicly by Arafat, in Arabic, last weekend to military and paramilitary groups under his command to cease their attacks on Israel and Israelis and to rein in the opposition and fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

They cite, too, the fact, confirmed by Israeli military sources, that the level of violence, though not completely halted — Palestinian gunmen carried out two fatal ambushes of Israeli women driving on West Bank roads — has dropped considerably during the past week.

Israeli sources also say that Arafat, for the first time since the intifada began exactly a year ago, is acting in earnest to restrain would-be terrorists.

This sentiment — along with much international pressure — helpedprovide the opening for Wednesday’s meeting near the Gaza airport.

In a joint communique issued after two hours of talks, the two sides renewed their commitment to recommendations made in May by the Mitchell Commission, a U.S.-led international panel that set out a series of confidence-building measures to help end the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The communique said the two sides would resume security cooperation, Israel would lift its blockades on Palestinian population centers and Arafat would clamp down on Palestinian attacks against Israel.

Peres and Arafat also agreed to hold a second meeting "within a week or so," the communique said.

Arafat’s decision to end the violence is seen as a direct response to the popular Palestinian reaction that followed the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Palestinian and outside observers say Arafat and his top leadership were appalled by the scenes of public rejoicing in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan.

For the Palestinian leadership, these scenes, captured by Western media despite the Palestinian Authority’s strenuous efforts, evoked memories of Arafat’s dalliance with Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War and the huge price, in terms of Western support and popularity, that the Palestinian cause paid for that blunder.

Indeed, American public support for the Palestinians fell dramatically after Sept. 11, according to polls.

Arafat knows, say analysts, that if the Palestinians’ standing continues to plummet in American public and governmental opinion, there will be powerful forces in Israel that will move to exploit his weakened situation, perhaps even by removing him and his coterie altogether.

On the Israeli side, that is precisely the sentiment one hears on the political right — much of which is represented in Sharon’s Cabinet.

"If I was hesitant before Sept. 11 about a Peres-Arafat meeting, but did not act to block it," says Eli Yishai, the Shas Party leader, "after Sept. 11, I see no reason to proceed with it. It will only strengthen Arafat and weaken us."

Yishai cited top Israeli intelligence officers who had warned that such a meeting would give Arafat legitimacy in American eyes and enable him to be part of the anti-terror coalition being built by the Bush administration. Early in the week, Yishai swung his considerable political weight against the meeting — and succeeded in having it delayed.

Without saying so explicitly, Yishai plainly agreed with hard-liners in Israel who believed that the new world configuration against terror immediately following Sept. 11 presented the Jewish state with a golden opportunity to defeat and perhaps even remove Arafat.

After all, Arafat had encouraged — or at least not prevented — acts of indiscriminate terrorism perpetrated against Israel over the past 12 months.

Another powerful player on the right, with influence over Sharon, is former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a slew of statements since Sept. 11, Netanyahu openly compared Arafat to Osama bin Laden and said Israel should take this opportunity to get rid of him.

The former premier is plainly preparing his political comeback, preparing either to directly challenge Sharon for the Likud leadership or to lead a right-of-Likud alliance of parties to topple the premier.

Political pundits here attributed much of the prime minister’s apparent zigzagging about the Peres-Arafat meeting to the Netanyahu effect.

Peres’ view, diametrically opposed to that of the hard-liners, is that the trauma of Sept. 11 provides a new opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians to set aside violence and return to diplomacy.

Peres also feels Israel must, for its own national interests, respond favorably and promptly to Washington’s request that it do its part to resume peace talks as its indirect contribution to the evolving anti-terror coalition. Peres broadly implied that there was massive pressure from Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Beyond the considerations of party and domestic politics, Sharon seems genuinely torn between his gut sympathy for the hard-liners and his realization that this position is out of synch with the U.S. administration, now girding itself for war.

Bush and his team, whatever their personal views of Arafat, clearly do not wish to extend their anti-terror war to include the Palestinian leader, or even the Palestinian radicals, at least at this initial stage.

What they do want is quiet on the ground and progress, or at least the impression of progress, in the long-stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Change of Pace


The election of Ariel Sharon in Israel is likely to bring a new dynamic to the relationship between the United States and one of its strongest allies.

In contrast to the close engagement that characterized U.S.-Israeli relations during the past eight years, the new administrations in Jerusalem and Washington are likely to pursue, at least in the short term, a hands-off approach toward each other.

With his Likud Party back in power, Sharon is less likely to seek active engagement from the U.S. government. And President Bush, settling into his own new administration, is less likely to want to give it.

"I think the new administration’s attention is specifically and intentionally elsewhere," Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, said referring to the Bush administration.

Bush’s announced agenda has been almost entirely domestic. His Middle East agenda has focused largely on Iraq, rather than on the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Most analysts believe that because of Sharon’s reputation as a military leader who opposes concessions to the Palestinians, he will be greeted by the Bush administration and Congress with respect, but with cautious pessimism.

It is too early to tell if the cordial relations that are likely to appear in the first few days and weeks will evolve into cooperation or confrontation, the latter of which was the case the last time a Republican administration in Washington — under the elder George Bush — faced a Likud government in Israel, then led by Yitzhak Shamir.

Much will be determined by events on the ground: What kind of government will Sharon form? Will Israeli-Palestinian peace talks disintegrate into all-out confrontation? What policies will the Israeli premier pursue in fighting Palestinian violence?

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the United States will wait and see whether Sharon is able to form a government and whether it incorporates members of the Labor Party.

The first test of the relationship between the two leaders may come when Sharon first comes to the United States and the Bush team must decide whether to invite him to the White House.

"They may be hesitant giving him the red carpet, but they are going to give him a chance," Makovsky said.

President Bush called Sharon on Tuesday to congratulate him and tell him he looked forward to working with him, "especially with regard to advancing peace and stability in the region."

At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell signaled Tuesday that while the Bush administration would not be "standoffish" with regard to Middle East peace, it would view it "in a broad regional context so that the quest doesn’t stand alone in and of itself."

He also said he expected to visit the Middle East and Persian Gulf and Europe later this month and urged calm in the Arab world.

For its part, the Arab world, analysts say, will be watching the United States’ interaction with Sharon.

It will be looking to see if the Bush administration will break from what they see as one-sided policies during the past eight years, said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Middle East history and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.

"I think, because of his record, Sharon will probably be held to a different standard than another Israeli government," Khalidi said. "If the Bush administration looks carefully at the mood of the Arab world in the last five or six months, they will listen to the anger that has permeated Arab opinions."

Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy said it was already working with official Washington to make sure that the new prime minister would "receive general support."

Just minutes after Sharon was elected on Tuesday, Mark Regev, a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy, said, "There are lots of biased and partisan selective histories of Sharon. "It’s very important to get the true picture of Sharon out there."

Tom Smerling, Washington director of the Israel Policy Forum, said Sharon will use his personal skills to reach out to both the Israeli public and the United States leadership.

Smerling predicted Sharon will attempt to soften his public image, much as he did while campaigning the past few months, from that of a military leader responsible for Israel’s engagement in Lebanon to that of an elder statesman.

Some analysts said it will be easier for Sharon coming into power with a new Republican administration, as opposed to one too closely tied to the Clinton administration’s investment in the peace process.

Sharon’s reception in Congress, however, could be a mixed bag.

On the one hand, Congress as a whole tends to be supportive of the State of Israel, passing large annual aid packages to the Jewish state and issuing resolutions such as supporting Jerusalem as its capital.

Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations predicted that Sharon will have strong support, at least early on, from key religious conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

These Republicans, he said, had embraced hard-line Israeli politics when Clinton took office as a weapon with which to criticize the Democratic president.

But many other members of Congress have been strong advocates of the peace process, and some may be less inclined to support an Israeli leader that takes a tougher line on concessions for peace and is still seen by some to be the spark that set off the latest wave of Palestinian violence.

Former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a strong proponent of the Middle East peace process, said his former colleagues will be "skittish and very apprehensive" about the new Israeli leader.

"The balance of sentiment in Congress is pro-Israel pretty strongly and they will stay that way," Lautenberg said. "But I don’t know, if you measured it in degrees, whether it will be the same as in the past."

Officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have gone on the offensive in recent weeks, seeking to educate lawmakers in the new Congress about the facts on the ground and the causes of the latest casualties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An official of a major Jewish organization said it is becoming clearer that Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in late September was not the cause of the violence, and that lawmakers who are less familiar with the situation in the Middle East must be taught that.

"Ariel Sharon does not come into power without significant baggage, no one can deny that," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But, he said, it is more important to focus on the situation that brought him to power — specifically Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s refusal to agree to concessions made in the last phases of the peace process.

AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr said his lobbying organization is not taking any votes for granted in Congress but remains confident that the pro-Israel lawmakers will continue their support despite hesitancy about the new leadership.

"There’s going to be an overwhelming willingness here, because it’s Israel, to work with the leader of Israel, no matter who it is," Kohr said.

JTA staff writer Michael J. Jordan in New York contributed to this report.

Bridging the Gap


Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon may find that the worst thing about his landslide victory Tuesday over incumbent Ehud Barak was precisely his 25-point margin of victory.

The very magnitude of Sharon’s victory triggered Barak’s decision, two hours after the exit polls, to announce his resignation from active politics. Political pundits here believe that with Barak gone and a leadership battle set to begin within the Labor Party, Sharon’s chances of setting up a Likud-Labor unity government have substantially declined.

The huge success of Sharon, a 72-year-old former general, was grounded in large part on a vast boycott of the elections by Israel’s Arab community. Making up some 12 percent of the electorate, Israel’s Arabs stayed away in droves. Only 13 percent of them came out to vote, and many of those placed blank ballots in the voting envelopes.

Knesset member Abdel Malek Dahamshe, leader of the Islamicist faction in the Knesset, said the Arab boycott had led many leftist Jewish voters to stay away from the polling stations or to cast blank protest ballots, driving home the blow to Barak.

"No party will take us for granted again," Dahamshe predicted.

The Arabs mounted their boycott in reaction to the deaths of 13 Israeli Arabs in clashes with the police in early October, during the first phase of the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Whatever the motivation, many Jewish voters did indeed skip this election: At under 59 percent, it was by far the lowest turnout ever registered in Israel. By comparison, turnout at the last general election in May 1999 was nearly 79 percent.

Some Jewish leftists have suggested that the boycott or blank-ballot phenomenon may grow into a mass protest movement.

One of these is Motti Ashkenazi, the man who launched the grass-roots protest movement after the 1973 Yom Kippur War that eventually forced Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to resign. Ashkenazi feels the protest trend Tuesday reflected a profound disillusionment not only with Barak but with the entire political leadership of the left and says that if the movement takes hold, it could give rise to a sweeping renewal of the nation’s political leadership.

Others, however, regard the mood of apathy in this campaign as potentially dangerous to Israel’s democratic character and institutions. While a low turnout is normal in the United States, it may mark a trend that signifies a deep crisis of political trust in Israel.

While the prime minister-elect made no direct reference in his victory speech to the low turnout and its causes, he did issue an impassioned call for national healing and reconciliation.

"The State of Israel," Sharon began, "has tonight set out on a new course of striving for domestic peace within itself and for peace with others."

Sharon recognized "the powerful public longing for unity" and pledged to create "the widest possible government," urging Labor to join him "in a true partnership for security and peace."

Certainly Sharon’s core coalition represents a more varied swath of Israeli society than the left-liberal minority government Barak led by the end of his 19-month term.

Having fallen out with his original Orthodox and Russian immigrant partners, at the end Barak could count only on the support of Labor and Meretz. Barak will continue as prime minister until Sharon manages to form a government.

Sharon has picked up the support of all the factions that defected from Barak, and his government is likely to contain rightists, centrists, fervently Orthodox, modern Orthodox and the two large Russian immigrant parties.

If Labor does not join him, however, Sharon’s weakness will be this multiplicity of small and mid-sized parties, all of which he will need to keep under his tent to retain a working majority in the Knesset. A tally of the parties allied to Likud, together with all the Barak defectors, gives Sharon a slim majority of 63 Knesset seats out of 120. And the various components will be pulling in disparate directions.

This was precisely why Benjamin Netanyahu, who briefly contemplated a political comeback in December, preferred to stay out of the arena at this time, waiting until the Knesset implodes and new general elections are held for both premier and parliament.

In Sharon’s favor, however, is the inescapable fact — inescapable for the small parties — that if Sharon loses power there will be general elections, and many of them may not be voted back into the Knesset.

Sharon’s close aides hope this consideration will be enough to hold things together at least for a year. Netanyahu’s supporters, on the other hand, predict general elections in the fall.

In any case, there is still the possibility of a unity government, even with Labor in the throes of a leadership battle.

In his concession speech Tuesday night, Barak urged his party not to reject Sharon’s unity overture out of hand but to examine whether joint policy lines could be found that would enable the two movements to work together.

He warned, however, against "sham unity" that would require Labor to abandon its basic peace policy.

That policy, Barak said, may have "come before its time" for both Israelis and Palestinians, but ultimately would provide the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.

Sharon Deserves a Chance


The people of Israel have once again affirmed their democratic birthright by voting for their preferred political leadership in open and competitive elections. Israel is an island of democracy in the Middle East, and the decision of its electorate deserves respect from the international community.

Those who seek to portray the election of Ariel Sharon for prime minister as a blow to the peace process oversimplify the state of Israeli politics and fundamentally misconstrue what has already become of the Oslo accords.

Israel’s political spectrum is much more nuanced than many outside observers acknowledge. To a very large extent, the policy differences between the Labor and Likud parties have been blurred in recent years. The debate between Sharon’s Likud Party and Ehud Barak’s Labor Party is not about the need for peace but about the nature of it. This election does not represent a choice between peace and war or between one candidate who favors negotiation and one who rejects it. The fact is that Barak and Sharon agree upon many broad goals, but they differ on the modalities in which national objectives can be achieved. Such distinctions in approach are perfectly understandable and indeed desirable, for any democracy that fosters a healthy debate between its major political parties.

The Israeli electorate’s decision was not about peace, but about security. Israelis want their children to ride the school bus without the bus exploding. They want to go shopping and visit friends without fearing for their lives.

In casting a preference for Sharon, the Israeli people have not rejected the principles behind the Oslo accords. Notwithstanding Palestinian propaganda, Sharon’s election will not be the cause of a breakdown in the peace process. Palestinian inflammatory incitement, violence and suicide bombings have already abrogated the very meaning and essence of Oslo.

As the past seven years of the peace process have unfolded, it seemed steadily likely that a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be based on a two-state solution for two peoples. Yet by rejecting proposals which granted the Palestinians an independent state on almost all of the disputed territories (including parts of Jerusalem), and by insisting that millions of Palestinians be allowed to move into Israel (thereby effectively propelling Israel to commit national suicide), it is the Palestinian Authority that has turned its back on Oslo’s two-state ideal.

The Palestinian Authority has demonstrated that, at least at this moment in time, it is simply incapable of internalizing the permanence of the State of Israel in the Middle East. Palestinian leadership has proved itself either unwilling or unable to educate its people, especially children, about the necessity of peace. In agreement after agreement, the Palestinians resolved never again to use violence as a bargaining tool. All disagreements were to be resolved through negotiation. Obviously, this has not occurred.

The Palestinian eruption of violence, not the election of Sharon, produced an inevitable stalemate in the Oslo process. Attempts to portray the situation otherwise simply misrepresent a painful reality.

In response to the Palestinians forsaking the road of peaceful settlement, Israel has no choice but to seek new and creative strategies for the future. In the absence of a final peace agreement, long-term solutions must be found that simultaneously strive to prevent bloodshed and ease tensions in the region.

Israel will never depart from the path of peace. This has been true for governments led by the Labor Party and for Likud-led administrations as well.

Consider the records of the previous Likud leaders:

Prime Minister Menahem Begin signed the most important peace treaty in Israeli history (with Egypt). He and Defense Minister Sharon proceeded to do what was considered politically unthinkable and dismantled Israeli settlements. The Likud-led government then returned the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egyptian control.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir defied many critics’ expectations by exhibiting remarkable restraint and sound judgment during the Gulf War. He chose not to retaliate against Iraq’s unprovoked missile attacks on Israel and subsequently led Israel to the Madrid Conference, which paved the way for the first direct negotiations between Israel and many of its adversaries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would also again break the conventional wisdom of the time by signing the Hebron and Wye River Accords with the Palestinians, thereby transferring large sections of the historic land of Israel to Palestinian control. This marked a political milestone that brought large segments of Israel’s more conservative citizenry to internalize the inevitability of painful territorial concessions.

Because all these former Likud prime ministers broke taboos and transcended the stereotypes assigned them by others, it would be unwise and unwarranted to prejudge the election of Sharon.

Sharon was elected to devise sensible approaches to protect Israeli citizens against the violence and terror that has been thrust upon them.

He will proceed with the mandate conferred upon him by the people. He deserves a chance to initiate an open and honest dialogue with the people of Israel, with the Palestinians, and with Israel’s friends and allies throughout the world.

The Convention Comes to Town


The story goes that a young man gets an entry-level job with the Democratic National Committee in the nation’s capital and for his first assignment is told by his boss to buy Christmas decorations for the upcoming office party.”I’m not sure whether I’m the right person,” protests the young man. “You see, I’m Jewish.”

“So is everybody else,” says the boss. “Get the decorations.”Slightly exaggerated, of course. When the Democrats meet for their national convention Aug. 14-17 at the Staples Center, best guesstimates are that around 10 percent of the delegates will be Jewish, but the curve rises sharply among party leaders, and even more steeply among big financial contributors.

Besides offering party politics and political parties, the convention will serve the useful purpose of bringing together many of America’s most influential Jews for the first time since the unsuccessful Camp David negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. “They’ll have plenty to talk about,” says well-connected activist Donna Bojarsky.

The chain starts with venture capitalist Eli Broad and music mogul David Geffen, two members of the three-man team that brought the Democratic convention to Los Angeles.

Co-chairs of the convention are California’s two Jewish senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Guiding much of the proceedings will be Democratic Party chairman Edward Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia.

Among Al Gore’s closest advisors is Leon Fuerth, the presumptive nominee’s longtime national security aide, who is considered a sure bet to fill the post if Gore becomes president.

Influential foreign policy advisors are Los Angeles attorney Mel Levine and Marc Ginsburg, who co-chair Gore’s Middle East advisory committee, and Joan Spero, an expert on international economic policy. Veteran publicist Steve Rabinowitz is a Gore consultant.

Key campaign strategists at the Democratic National Committee in Washington and Gore headquarters in Nashville include general election campaign chairman John Giesser, Josh Wachs, Laurie Moskowitz, Eric Kleinfeld, Debbie Mohile and research director David Ginsberg.Contributing or raising the really big bucks on the West Coast are the DreamWorks trio of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Geffen, ex-MCA chief Lew Wasserman, TV mogul Haim Saban and Westwood One founder Norman Pattiz. On the East Coast, some other heavy hitters are David Steiner of New Jersey, New Yorkers John Tisch and Steve Ratner, and Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress.

Patrolling the Jewish beat for the party is the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), whose executive director, Ira Forman, is sanguine that 75 to 80 percent of Jewish voters will mark their ballots for Gore in November.The council’s deputy executive director, David Harris, sees a Jewish edge for the party on three main issues: Israel (“George W. has no record on Israel, and Dick Cheney has a poor record,” he says), church-state separation, and reproductive rights.

Closer to election time, NJDC plans to mail up to 500,000 voter guides to Jewish households, targeting some 35 districts with competitive House and Senate races.

Jewish activists were also strongly involved in last week’s deliberations of the platform committee in Cleveland, among them Howard Welinsky, chairman of Democrats for Israel. His amendment to the Middle East plank, warning against “a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood,” was adopted.

Parties are a Los Angeles specialty, and Jewish hosts aim to hold their own. The largest blowout will be on Sunday, Aug. 13, the day before the convention opens, when more than 1,000 people will celebrate at Sony Pictures Studios.

In a remarkable display of Jewish unity, the affair will be co-hosted by the NJDC, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, United Jewish Communities, representing all Jewish federations in the United States, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

“This is the first time we’ve had such across-the-board sponsorship,” says AIPAC spokesman Ken Bricker. “It’s a great way to express Jewish unity on Israel.”

AIPAC will hold other events between Aug. 12 and 16: a private party honoring Los Angeles activist Ruth Singer; a reception for Democratic candidates running for open House seats; a luncheon with the Black Congressional Caucus; a breakfast with the Democratic Leadership Council; a reception for Leon Fuerth, Gore’s national security advisor; a luncheon for Democratic governors; a break-fast with the Hispanic Congres-sional Caucus; and a luncheon with U.S. senators.

In addition, the NJDC will host receptions for Democratic Party chief Edward Rendell and for young leaders, while the American Jewish Committee plans events for Congressional leaders and for heads of ethnic and religious groups. In a tangential event, Dr. Steven Teitelbaum will hold a fundraiser for First Lady Hillary Clinton on Aug. 13 to aid her U.S. Senate race in New York state. Contributions are $1,000 per person. For information, phone Amy Hayes at (917) 613-6419

Speaking of really big parties, the City of Los Angeles, not always treated kindly by the East Coast press, will throw a $1.5 million affair for an expected 15,000 thirsty members of the world media.

The presence of this massive media phalanx, all looking for action as relief from the talking heads at the convention podium, has attracted a variety of protest groups and fringe parties.

Overlapping the Democratic Convention will be the following announced gatherings: People’s Convention (for progressive groups), Reform Party Convention, Mothers’ Convention (welfare reform), North American Anarchist Convention, Homeless Convention, and Youth Convention.Promising the most fun is the Shadow Convention, conceived by feisty columnist Arianna Huffington, which is scheduling interludes for satire and humor at its daily sessions.

The serious part of the agenda, spotlighting “the corrupting influence of money in politics, poverty and growing inequalities between poor and rich, and the failed war on drugs,” is attracting a considerable contingent of liberal Jews.

Stanley Sheinbaum, a longtime Democratic stalwart and financial angel, will bypass his old comrades in favor of the Shadow Convention.

So will progressive activist Rita Lowenthal, who is incensed at the jailing, rather than medical treatment, of nonviolent drug users, and Ralph Fertig, a freedom rider of the 1950s, who is particularly concerned about the widening gap between rich and poor. He will also march in a demonstration drawing attention to the plight of Kurds in the Middle East.

The Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle, the Sholem Community and the Progressive Jewish Alliance will participate in a rally in the garment district to protest worker exploitation in sweatshops, an issue that is drawing heavy Jewish support.

Police and public officials are predicting that some 50,000 protesters will descend on downtown Los Angeles. Spokesmen for the protest movements say these estimates are vastly exaggerated, mainly because organized labor, which provided most of the bodies for the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, is staying on the sidelines in Los Angeles.

The loose coordinating body for the convention protests is D2KLA, whose main march on Aug. 14 will proceed under the slogan “Human Need, Not Corporate Greed,” says spokesperson Margaret Prescod.

Another major protest force will be the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society, which has been training its adherents in civil disobedience tactics and nonviolent resistance.

Prescod and Ruckus program director Han Chan are in close agreement that between 10 to 20 percent of their adherents are Jewish, with a somewhat higher percentage in the leadership ranks.

That’s well below Jewish participation in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protest movements of the 1950s and ’60s, which frequently ran as high as 30 to 40 percent and considerably higher among the leadership of such organizations as the radical Students for a Democratic Society.

“I think the difference is not that there are fewer Jewish protesters than in the past, but proportionately they are less significant because of the upsurge of other activists, mainly Latinos and Asian-Americans, who were largely absent in the 1960s,” says James Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, the legal support group for the Los Angeles protesters.

Tom Hayden, a leader of the street protests that almost paralyzed the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and now a California state senator, detects another difference between Jewish activists then and now.

Hayden, who is of Irish descent, believes that “the Jewish kids active in the 1960s, though they may have been alienated from their parents, were consciously Jewish in their approach to politics, citing Scripture and Jewish social tradition to explain their activism. This kind of underpinning didn’t surface during this year’s Seattle protests, and I see little of it now.”Finally, the Washington-based Arab American Institute will host its traditional public reception on the evening of Aug. 15 at the Figueroa Hotel. The event, this year themed “Meet Us at the Casbah,” generally downplays politics and attracts Jewish, Israeli and other connoisseurs of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Widening the Wall


Campaigners for religious pluralism drove two gaping breaches this week through Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox control of the Western Wall. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that women may pray together at Judaism’s holiest shrine, wearing tallitot and reading aloud from the Torah. At the same time, Ehud Barak’s government signed a deal permitting Conservative Jews to conduct mixed services at a separate stretch of the 2,000-year-old Herodian wall.

Anat Hoffman, a leader of the Women at the Wall, who have challenged Orthodox dictation for 11 years, celebrated the Supreme Court decision as a great day for pluralism. “From now on,” said Hoffman, a Reform activist and Meretz member of the Jerusalem City Council, “the ultra-Orthodox will not be the only ones to decide in what way Jews will pray at the wall. This makes the wall a part of Israel. Women are now going to have a voice in what might be the final frontier after politics and the army.”

Despite regulations threatening them with six months in prison for “offending religious sensibilities at a holy place,” Women at the Wall have always insisted that their services are compatible with halacha, Jewish religious law. At least half the members of their core group of 15 women are modern Orthodox. Hoffman estimates that an overwhelming majority of their wider support network of 110 women hails from the Orthodox community.

One of them, Haviva Ner-David, is going one step further and studying to be Israel’s (and perhaps the Jewish world’s) first Orthodox female rabbi. Reading a scroll at the wall, she argued, brought them closer to Torah. “We will be reading it ourselves,” said the American-born mother of three, who settled in Jerusalem four years ago. “We won’t be standing at the other side of the partition hearing men reading from it. The Torah is mine, and I don’t have to be a spectator.”

Asked why she needed to pray with a women’s minyan at the wall, Ner-David, author of the recently published feminist memoir “On the Fringes”, explained: “Whenever I came to Israel, the Kotel was a powerful spot for me. It symbolized the land of Israel in a religious way. But while my father and brothers could join a minyan and pray, I was left out. Praying there with a group of women is perfect for me. Once I moved to Israel, it was a natural place to daven.”

They are not there yet, however. The Supreme Court gave the government six months to draft rules for the women’s services. The Orthodox establishment is girding for battle. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, who is Orthodox, has threatened to ask an expanded Supreme Court bench to think again.

“Unfortunately,” said Na’amah Kelman, a Reform rabbi and educator, “the court didn’t give clear directives about where and when. I hope it’s not going to be open season for the Orthodox parties to start blackmailing the coalition.” Haviva Ner-David feared they might be attacked physically.Rabbi Moshe Gafni, an ultra-Orthodox Knesset member, condemned the court ruling as “a shocking insult and a stab in the back for the religious public.” Oded Weiner, who supervises holy sites for the Religious Affairs Ministry, added: “The judges did not properly assess the backlash their decision will produce. Past experience has taught us that whenever the Women at the Wall arrive to pray, riots break out. I am afraid that the legitimacy they have achieved will lead to even more severe rioting.”

The prospects for the Conservative mixed holiday services at the wall seem more promising. The new agreement, negotiated with the Israeli Masorti movement by cabinet secretary Yitzhak Herzog, won the blessing of the Sephardi chief rabbi, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. Herzog is the son of the late President Chaim Herzog and grandson of a former chief rabbi.

Men and women will pray together at the southern end of the Western Wall, outside and below the paved plaza. The site, an archaeological park, is controlled by the Antiquities Department, not the Religious Affairs Ministry.

“We have not given up our right to hold services at the Western Wall plaza,” insisted Rabbi Ehud Bandel, the Masorti president. “It is the right of every Jew to pray there according to his customs and beliefs. But we have compromised for the sake of peace and unity and to show that our involvement at the Kotel is sincere. The agreement gives us a permanent site for egalitarian services, with men and women praying together at the wall.”

And if they are met by violence, as they have been in the past? “We hope the government will not submit to violence,” Bandel replied. “In any case, we will never raise a hand against others.” The first test will come at Shavuot on June 9.

Post-Zionist Headache


Changing the way a nation and a people think about themselves is not an easy job. But Yoram Hazony and his Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.-based Shalem Center is attempting to do just that for Israel and the Jews.

Hazony’s arrival on the Jewish intellectual scene is a signal that the backlash against post-Zionism has begun. So here’s the question: Is it too late for the proponents of mainstream Zionism to reverse a trend that has called into question the morality of having a Jewish state?Given the fact that this week we celebrate only the 52nd anniversary of Israel’s rebirth as a sovereign Jewish state, that is a remarkable question to be asking. But for Hazony, a 30-something Israeli who was raised and educated in the United States, the most important questions for Israel are not about how much territory to exchange for a peace treaty, but how Jewish and Zionist are the people who will be living in the country, no matter its size.Hazony, who worked as an aide to Benjaman Netanyahu in the early 1990s, before Bibi’s election to the premiership, left politics in 1994 to found the Shalem Center. The point of this nonpartisan think tank is “to prepare a reasonable alternative” to the post-Zionist view of Israel. He’s set out his views on this problem in a book that has just been published this month by Basic Books, “The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul.” I had a chance to sit down with Hazony and discuss his book and his views on the state of Israeli society recently while the author was visiting the United States.Hazony’s work represents the most comprehensive account yet written about the phenomenon of post-Zionism, along with its origins and how it conflicts with the basic ideology of the people who created Zionism and brought Israel to life: Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion.What is post-Zionism? It is the transformation of Israeli society into a culture whose primary values are not specifically Jewish. Post-Zionism is the process by which Israel ceases to be the Jewish state and becomes merely the state of its inhabitants.For many people here, the phrase “post-Zionism” is associated primarily with the politics of the Israeli left and what the Jewish state might look like in the aftermath of a comprehensive peace.

Israelis forget why they are fighting.

Hazony sees Israel’s problems as going much deeper. The issue is not that Israelis are weary of war and unwilling to go on struggling. As tired of the conflict as most of them certainly are, they are not reluctant to fight for their survival. Rather, he says, the problem is that increasingly large numbers of young Israelis no longer “understand why they should do so.”In discussions with men he served with while on Israeli Army reserve duty, this cross-section of Israeli society revealed to him that most had no idea of the value of the Jewish people, its contributions and struggle, or why there should be a Jewish state at all. The gap between the generation of the founders and the generations that have followed is truly troubling. The consensus that a Jewish state was a moral imperative has eroded. Is Hazony exaggerating? A quick look at recent cultural and political developments inside Israel confirms his concerns.The change in Israel’s secondary-school history textbooks is only the most well-known example. As reported in a front-page story last summer in The New York Times, the new book drops the traditional Zionist view of the War of Independence and subsequent struggles, looking at them instead from a “universalist” frame of reference. The real question is whether or not Israelis believe that the struggle for the Jewish state itself was justified.

The switch here is not from a Likud to a Labor point of view. Hazony explains that post-Zionist ideology is, in fact, an abandonment of the Labor Zionist values promoted by Ben-Gurion. Rather than being a modernist fad, post-Zionist thought can be traced directly back to intellectual trends that were prominent in the Jewish world prior to World War II and the Holocaust.Indeed, Hazony devotes considerable space to the leftist critics of both Herzl and Ben-Gurion, especially the famous intellectuals who worked at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, such as the famed philosopher Martin Buber. These critics opposed the idea of a Jewish state and pushed for a binational state of Arabs and Jews.Hazony sees this non-Zionist school of thought as dominating Israel’s intellectual and cultural worlds. If a nation’s leading intellects all believe that the only obstacle to peace has always been “right-wing militant Zionist nuts” like Ben-Gurion, says Hazony, a process of self-delegitimization of Zionist values can snowball. Recent decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court that have undermined the legal basis of Zionism give credence to Hazony’s fears.Hazony argues that “the Israeli man in the street still has a strong Jewish identity and believes in Zionism as a just cause,” but the abandonment of Zionism in Israeli education, films, theater, literature and law is taking a terrible toll on Israeli society.”How long can a country survive if its intellectuals are working to debunk the basic culture the country is built on?” Hazony asks.

Preparing for a comeback of Zionist thought.

His response is to use the Shalem Center to create a different way in Israeli intellectual life. Shalem promotes not just Zionism but the basic works of liberal democratic thinking, such as the writing of John Locke, as well as the opponents of socialism, such as Frederick Hayek. His group is promoting student programs, publishing a journal called Azure, and commissioning the first Hebrew translations of works like “The Federalist Papers.” The goal is to promote democratic behavior and belief in the rule of law, as well as Zionism.Given that the post-Zionists have control of most of Israel’s institutions of higher learning and culture, the odds are heavily stacked against Hazony. But before the politics of post-Zionism can be reversed, the way must be prepared by intellectuals dedicated to a revival of Zionist values.Yet as Israel celebrates its 52nd birthday, one need only reflect on the fact that 100 years ago, few believed that there would ever be a Jewish state, let alone a drift to post-Zionism. In this age of Jewish miracles that Zionism produced, it would be foolish to bet against Yoram Hazony. n

Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@jewishexponent.com.Dr. Yoram Hazony, president of the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center and a former adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, will present “The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul.”

Ivry to Jews: Don’t Lecture Us


David Ivry isn’t the slickest or most media-savvy envoy in recent years, but he knows what he wants, and has the right credentials to get it.

As he starts his term, Israel’s new ambassador in Washington is laying down clear markers. Ivry and his bosses are tired of American Jews second-guessing them on critical security matters — Jews who have generally not experienced more danger than the risk of paper cuts as they defend Israel with reams of press releases.

But stern talks won’t be enough. To get that message across, Ivry will have to address real concerns his predecessors helped create. And he will have to help reeducate American Jews on security matters that are far more complex than the dogma of pro-Israel faith suggests.

Israel’s current leaders are betting Ivry — a former general and top Defense Ministry official with a quiet but firm demeanor — is just the man to do the job.

At a recent meeting with veteran pro-Israel activists, he used the direct language of a former commander, not couched diplo-speak, to deliver this message: Don’t you dare challenge the security credentials of Israel’s most decorated soldier, Ehud Barak. Don’t suggest Barak and his generals are wimps who can be pushed around by Washington.

The message was more polite but no less clear to leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby group.

Ivry’s blunt, confident style is more like that of the last general to serve as ambassador to Washington — Yitzhak Rabin — than any more recent envoy.

But his task is a daunting one; his predecessors did a good job teaching American Jews about Israel’s security needs. Now, some of that education is coming back to bite them.

The Golan Heights are indispensable, American Jews were told over and over again; the Lebanese security zone is necessary to protect Northern Israel; Palestinian statehood is unthinkable.

Those positions were presented as absolute doctrine intended to spur political activism, not complex strategic perspectives that could be modified as conditions warranted.

Today, a strong majority of Israelis want out of Lebanon. Many have grave reservations about abandoning Golan, but the belief is more nuanced than it is among American Jews; increasingly, Israelis are ready to at least discuss the subject.

A broad spectrum of Israeli leaders concede the inevitability of Palestinian statehood; now the only questions are how, when and how big.

American Jews haven’t caught up; they’re still thinking in terms of yesterday’s slogans, which were effectively taught by Ivry’s predecessors.

That’s the gap in thinking Ivry will try to narrow during his tenure here. Israel did a very effective job of hasbarah — and now, perhaps, it has to undo some of its success.

The primary target of his government’s ire is the political right, which argues Israel is making suicidal mistakes. More and more, they are scattering political time bombs in the path of the peacemakers. Accusations of blunders and betrayals fill their pronouncements.

But the left has been guilty of security second-guessing, as well; it would be naive to think the peaceniks won’t squawk if Barak backs away from the current negotiations.

Ivry’s bosses in Jerusalem want nothing less than a realignment of relations with politically active American Jews, and the ambassador could be the primary instrument of that effort.

They still want American Jewish support, but they also want Jews here to stop trying to sabotage negotiations the generals now see as critical to their country’s long-term security.

Some of their desire is politically self-serving. After all, many of the One Israel officials now in power didn’t protest left-wing criticism during the Netanyahu years.

But an even larger part reflects the fact that Israel is coming to terms with the tough choices it has to make for a new era. Those choices are hard enough without American Jews carping, complaining and complicating.

David Ivry, a soft-spoken former general who would rather talk about missile defenses than politics, was chosen for the Washington job, in part, because he is a man who can deliver that message with authority.

In his first few weeks on the job, the new envoy has made it clear he will not seek confrontations with American Jews, but also that he will not shrink from them when Jewish groups cross the line.

But Ivry will also have to become as effective an educator as his predecessors.

He will have to lead a major effort to explain why yesterday’s absolutes — about Golan, a Palestinian state, Lebanon — are no longer quite so absolute.

“Don’t worry, we know what we’re doing,” won’t be enough.

Ivry is unlikely to stop the flow of invective from the far right. It’s the Jewish middle he needs to address — a group whose legitimate anxieties the Israeli government has yet to allay.

Crisis of Confidence


If Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak looks nervous these days, it’s because his famous luck seems to be running out. He modeled himself after another lucky politician named Bill Clinton, and now he’s paying for it.

Barak has never hidden his admiration for Clinton’s political skills. Last year’s successful Barak election campaign was lifted straight out of the Clinton playbook, from his expensive polls and rapid response teams to his “economy, stupid” message and his “New Labor,” bash-your-own-party centrism. He even hired Clinton’s campaign staff.

Now he’s acquired Clinton’s troubles, too. Barely a half-year in office, Barak faces a criminal investigation into suspected campaign finance abuses, and his enemies are howling for his head. Like Clinton, Barak will probably survive his crisis, but in a weakened state, shorn of public trust and the maneuvering room that goes with it. He could end up looking something like Clinton does today. That would make anyone nervous.

It’s making other people nervous, too. The Israeli police investigation launched this week is the first-ever major probe of foreign money in Israeli politics. Technically illegal, the practice has been an open secret for years, touching every major party, providing an estimated $10 million to $15 million in recent elections.

Israeli press reports routinely detail politicians’ “fundraising” meetings in America, listing attendees and describing what they ate. Every party is involved, though Likud, Labor and the ultra-Orthodox Shas are acknowledged champions.

“By and large the Likud outraises Labor among American Jews, because its people are more passionate,” says Jack Bendheim, chairman of the New York-based Israel Policy Forum, a pro-Barak monitoring group. “Liberals tend to feel it’s interfering in Israeli politics.”

Activists here and in Israel say the practice is essentially an Israeli version of America’s “soft money.” It usually stays within the letter of the law, even while flouting the law’s intent, by exploiting loopholes.

Donors may write checks directly to Israeli campaign vendors, like printers or busses. Or they may give tax-deductible gifts to Israeli non-profit groups — yeshivas, clubs, social-service agencies — which then provide “volunteers” for the cause.

What’s odd about the current scandal is that it targets only a piece of the phenomenon, at least so far. Five Israeli parties are cited in the state comptroller’s report that led to the police probe, but Barak’s campaign is the main focus. It’s accused of dodging spending limits by creating phony non-profit groups, covertly funded by foreign donors. The foreign donors are from Europe and Canada, not the United States.

Whether investigators will broaden their sights — to other parties, other funding sources — remains a mystery. That’s why people are sweating. Even as is, the scandal has touched a nerve in Israel, igniting a crisis of confidence in Israeli democracy. Like Americans, Israelis are now outraged and frightened at the flood of money soiling their politics. And, like Americans, Israelis feel helpless to check it.

Coupled with a stunning string of other high-level financial scandals — implicating Israel’s president, the previous prime minister and the former head of the third-largest political party, Shas — the Barak scandal has jolted Israelis’ longtime cynicism about political ethics. Campaign finance, traditionally a yawner, suddenly looms high on the agenda. If America is any example, the issue could stay out front for some time.

America’s last campaign finance scandals date to 1996, when the Clinton campaign was accused of a host of improprieties including foreign donations. Three years of congressional hearings turned up few indictable transgressions. Yet the stench of abuse still lingers. That should be a lesson to Israelis. These things don’t disappear. They fester.

“What’s happening in politics is geometric increases in the amount of money spent, and fewer and fewer citizens participating,” says Democratic fundraiser Steve Grossman, former Democratic National Committee chairman and a onetime president of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse. “If you look at the multiple scandals in Israel and if you look at the situation here, there’s a recurring theme,” Grossman says, “and that is that politicians are driving away the very people they are trying to reach.”

Citizens say it doesn’t matter what they do, because at the end of the day the big money decides the issues.”

America’s frustration may now be reaching a critical mass. Campaign finance is emerging as a central issue in this year’s presidential election. It’s a key theme in Bill Bradley’s Democratic insurgency. It’s the whole theme of John McCain’s Republican insurgency. It hovers as a constant reproach over the campaign of Vice President Al Gore, who barely escaped indictment in the 1996 Clinton scandals. And it pervades the campaign of George W. Bush, who’s raised more money at this stage — $68 million and counting — than any candidate in history. All told, spending for this year’s presidential and congressional campaigns is expected to top $3 billion, breaking the estimated $2.2 billion record set in 1996.

Fixing the system is another matter. The topic has become a political football, locking the parties into predictable positions dictated by self-interest. Democrats want restrictions on big gifts from corporate fat cats, most of which go to Republicans. Republicans want to stop political giving by labor unions, which generally benefit Democrats. “Neither party has any real interest in change,” says Larry Makinson of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Nobody is in a tighter spot than the American Jewish community. As a subculture that uniquely combines affluence with liberalism, Jews are one of the few available sources of big money for Democrats. That, combined with a deep-rooted tradition of giving, results in a lopsided situation where Jews are the biggest single source of funding for Democrats. Though numbering 2.2 percent of the population, they provide an estimated 50 percent of Democratic finances in presidential campaigns and 25 to 40 percent overall.

That provides a lot of political clout. “We’re so generous in our giving that under the current system we enjoy a good deal of influence,” says Washington lawyer-lobbyist Morris Amitay, a former AIPAC executive director. “Looking at the broad question of whether you want to take money out of politics, that depends on whether you enjoy being pandered to. I know I do.”

But for many big Democratic donors, the current system is untenable. It’s corroding democracy. And it’s putting ever-increasing pressure on a Jewish donor pool that isn’t growing. “I think the state of Israel would do just fine if soft money were eliminated from politics,” says Grossman, the former AIPAC president. “And I believe we have such a toxic situation here that we need to fix it regardless.”


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

What To Do About Kosovo?


Israelis are divided over NATO’s military campaign against Serbia — and opinions and policy are being informed as much by history and the Holocaust as by current political realities.

Israeli sympathy for the Serbs, who were fellow victims of the Nazis during World War II, is countered by the images of massacres and streams of refugees as ethnic Albanians flee their native Kosovo.

Some 72 percent of Israelis support Israel’s relief efforts for the ethnic Albanians who are fleeing Kosovo, according to a poll by the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke for many when he said last week: “Israel condemns the massacre being carried out by the Serbs and denounces any mass murder.”

Others, recalling how some Albanians actively supported the Nazis, find themselves less sympathetic to the plight of the Kosovar Albanians.

And still others, believing that the “friend of my enemy is my enemy,” are focused on the outside support for the Kosovo Liberation Army, which spearheaded the fight for independence from Serbia before Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic clamped down on the region with an iron fist.

Elyakim Haetzni, an outspoken supporter of Israeli nationalism, lashed out last week at the “leftists” who, in their support for the Kosovo refugees, are “ignoring the fact that the KLA was collaborating with the Iranians and other enemies of Israel.”

But even left-wing Israelis are not unanimous in support of the NATO raids.

Among them is Raul Teitelbaum, a veteran journalist who, at the end of 1943, was among the Jews of Prizren, Kosovo, who were put on a transport to Bergen-Belsen by members of an Albanian division that was working on behalf of the Nazi SS.

“Of course, there were among the Albanians those who fought against the Nazis,” Teitelbaum told JTA. “But those who now say that the Albanians were known to have given shelter to the Jews are manipulating history.

“Clinton says the bombings in Yugoslavia are a lesson of the Holocaust. How can one compare this with the Holocaust? How can tiny Serbia be compared with a world power like Nazi Germany? How can Milosevic be compared with Hitler?”

Teitelbaum also questioned the effectiveness of the NATO raids.

“In a way, President Bill Clinton is the best ally of President Milosevic,” he said. “Thanks to the bombings, there is no longer any [internal] opposition to Milosevic. Thanks to the bombings, Milosevic is able to carry out ethnic cleansing on a scope he had never dreamed of before.”

On the other side of the divide, people such as Labor Knesset member Shlomo Ben-Ami, a historian, had only praise for the NATO operation. In his view, the operation has changed international norms of behavior in the face of atrocities that used to be considered “an internal matter.”

“Kosovo is a belated response to the Nazis,” said Ben-Ami. “From now on, intervention on a moral and humanitarian level is justified.”

Just the same, he conceded — as the Pentagon has already done — that the NATO strikes were unable to stop Serbian roundups of the ethnic Albanians.

“Alas, even the greatest military power in the world, the NATO alliance, cannot prevent a genocide,” said Ben-Ami.

As the public debate continued, the Israeli government, caught up in an election campaign, appeared uncertain how to respond to the NATO offensive.

Israel’s relations with Serbia have been problematic ever since the disintegration of Yugoslavia earlier in the decade. Despite memories of the Serbs as fellow victims of Nazi oppression and despite the fact that Bosnian Moslems were being aided by volunteers from Iran, Israel could not allow itself to support Milosevic, an international outcast.

Israel’s diplomatic relations with Serbia were resumed only three years ago, after the war in Bosnia had cooled. Since then, Israel’s arms industry has sought to sell military equipment to Serbia.

The Serbs have reportedly appealed to Israel for military supplies, according to the April 1 edition of the newsletter Foreign Report. In addition to what the London-based newsletter described as a “shopping list of military equipment,” it says the Serbs are also seeking medicines and credit. The Israeli response is not known.

It was not until March 31, a week after the offensive began, that Netanyahu, denying allegations that he had failed to express his position on the Kosovo crisis, came out in support of the NATO operation.

But his foreign minister, Ariel Sharon, was less enthusiastic regarding the NATO strikes. In remarks quoted last week by Yediot, Sharon told a closed-door audience that Israel had reason not to support the strikes, out of fear that the Jewish state might one day be similarly targeted.

The newspaper said that he asked his audience to imagine what might happen if the Arab residents of the Galilee ever demanded that their region be recognized as autonomous — with links to the Palestinian Authority. Would NATO strike at Israel under such a scenario, as it had done in the wake of the Kosovo Albanians’ attempts at autonomy, Sharon asked.

“Israel must look to the future. It should not give legitimacy to an intervention like that exercised by NATO,” Yediot quoted Sharon as saying.

Sharon subsequently denied the report, as he stated that Israel expects “NATO forces do their utmost to end the misery of innocent people and renew the negotiations between the parties as soon as possible.”

But the subject came up again during a meeting with European ambassadors, when Sharon was asked by the ambassador of Italy what Israel would do if the Palestinians asked for international intervention, as the ethnic Albanians had.

“I hope the question remains hypothetic,” said Sharon. “Israel will never succumb to international pressure.”

While most Israelis are spurning such historical analogies, one journalist saw a parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and the Palestinians.

Harking back to the 1948 War of Independence, Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz wrote: “Kosovo has already been here. At the time, there was no NATO and no television from all over the world, but during 20 months, between December 1947 and September of 1949, between 600,000 to 760,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were deported from their homes and turned overnight into refugees.”

Meanwhile, as the debate continues, Israel has begun sending aid to the Kosovo refugees.

Last Friday, an Israeli plane carrying warm clothes, tents, medicines and other equipment was sent to help those refugees who had fled to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

And during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, the government agreed to send additional aid, including a medical team of eight doctors to set up a field hospital in either Albania or Macedonia. Health Minister Yehoshua Matza is leading the mission.

JTA correspondent Douglas Davis in London contributed to this report.

‘I Am a Coalition of One’


Regarding the domestic political pressures thatBinyamin Netanyahu faces in his decision-making on the peace process,the prime minister himself probably summed it up best in the “Israelat 50” interview he gave to Newsweek: “I am a coalition ofone.”

The prime minister may have to contend with theClinton administration, he may have one half-opened eye on what’sgoing on with the Palestinians, but he has little to fear on thedomestic front — either from politicians or public opinion.

Not long ago, it was believed that the right-wingfaction in the government — mainly the National Religious Party, butalso hard-liners in the Likud — was constraining Netanyahu frommaking too many concessions to the Palestinians. The prime ministerhas reportedly made this case time and again to his Americaninterlocutors.

But this argument went out the window recentlywhen Netanyahu initiated negotiations to bring the Moledet (Homeland)Party into his coalition. Moledet ‘s platform for peace with thePalestinians is to “transfer” them all out of the West Bank and Gaza.The PM can hardly complain of right-wing pressures when he is tryingto co-opt the most ultranationalist party in the Knesset.

Still, as word came from Netanyahu’s circles thathe was moving closer to accepting the American proposal for a secondIsraeli redeployment from the West Bank, forces on the right werethreatening to bring him down.

Aharon Domb, head of the settlers’ YESHA (Judea,Samaria and Gaza) Council, said, “It turns out that the primeminister is moving in the direction the Americans are leading him,and if he harms the settlements or Israel’s national interests, in myestimate, he won’t have a government.”

Transport Minister Shaul Yahalom of the NationalReligious Party warned, “If this arrangement means that any of thesettlements are isolated or threatened or limited in their ability togrow, then we will not support it.”

But what option does the right have? Twice before,right-wing leaders have given back territories to the Arabs –Menachem Begin in the Camp David Accord and Netanyahu in the HebronAgreement — and both times, they won their Knesset majoritiesdespite considerable opposition within their own ranks. Support fromthe Labor Party made up the difference. Opposition leader Ehud Barakhas pledged that if Netanyahu makes a credible peace offering to thePalestinians, Labor again will provide the “safety net” to neutralizeright-wing defectors.

And if the rightists in the Cabinet organize toscotch the second redeployment before it ever gets to the Knesset,Netanyahu can turn to the Labor Party to join him in a national unitygovernment — a national unity government for peace, which would beterrifically popular with the public and difficult for Labor to turndown even if it wanted to.

Ultimately, bringing down Netanyahu means callingnew elections, and the right wing has no candidate who approaches himin popularity. Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon is leading thecharge by the right, but he is pushing 70 and likely has too extremean image to attract the all-important electoral center. The primeminister is even less threatened by his opposition on the left.Barak’s poll ratings are going steadily down, and he now trailsNetanyahu consistently by about 7 percent. As Barak tries desperatelyto portray himself as a centrist and distance himself from Meretz,his politics have come to seem indistinguishable from Netanyahu’s.When the prime minister was refusing to withdraw from 13 percent ofthe West Bank, as the Americans and Palestinians demanded, Barak saidthe he would refuse, too.

“As an opposition leader, he’s pathetic,” sayspolitical commentator Sylvie Keshet. “He ought to listen to RubyRivlin, who is the Likud’s comedian in the Knesset. Rivlin has begunusing Labor’s own slogan: ‘With Barak we will win!'”

As for the Israeli street, it’s as quiet as aShabbat afternoon in Jerusalem. Demonstrations by Peace Now and otherleft-wing groups can hardly attract more than a couple of hundredwell-behaved people to chant — with audible lack of conviction –“Bibi go home.” Peace Now leader Mussi Raz says, lamentingly,”Unfortunately, you can only get masses of people out to protestafter the violence breaks out, not before. That’s the way it wasduring the Lebanon War, that’s the way it was during theintifada, andthat’s the way it is now.”

Last weekend’s riots by Palestinians, in which atleast five of them were shot to death by Israeli army troops, didn’tseem to faze most Israelis. The majority of the Israeli publicdoesn’t get too worked up about politics unless Israelis are beingkilled. A second major concern of theirs is that the country’srelations with the United States not be harmed.

There has been relatively little terror onNetanyahu’s watch. For all the tremors in the prime minister’srelations with the Clinton administration, they remain fundamentallystable. Since Netanyahu is giving most citizens what they want, andsince there is no viable alternative to him, the prime minister canlikely maneuver as he pleases on the second redeployment andafterward, with no serious political worries on the domesticfront.

If, however, the bloodshed crosses the border intoIsrael, and if Netanyahu finds himself frozen out by the UnitedStates — say, by an American withdrawal from the peace process –then he will no longer have such an easy life at home.

 

Yeasty Mix at UJA Conference


It was a moment that almost perfectly defined thisweek’s United Jewish Appeal young leadership conference inWashington. In one section of the vast Washington Hilton ballroom,hundreds of young Jews were intently listening as special U.S. peaceenvoy Dennis Ross and Israeli Ambassador Eliahu Ben-Elissar gavesharply differing views of the current Israeli-Palestinianstalemate.

But just a few feet away, in an equally crowdedarea of the partitioned hall, Rabbi Debra Orenstein, leader of asynagogue on Long Island, exhorted listeners to find “spiritualepiphanies” in the mundane, and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner led the crowdin stretching exercises before exhorting them to work actively tobring more spirituality and meaning into their lives.

“The Kabbalists tell us, if your back hurts, it’sno fun learning anything,” he said.

That mix — everything from sessions on raisingJewish children to a rousing campaign-style speech by Vice PresidentAl Gore — represented the “yin and yang of this conference: Israel,and the connection people feel to the Jewish state on one hand, andthe personal quest for a more Jewish life on the other,” according toone young-leadership veteran.

Longtime observers described a continued shift inemphasis to a range of self-improvement interests, from Jewishspirituality to advice-column pop psychology, and, at the same time,a renewal of interest in Israel, which they say had been dwindling atrecent UJA conventions.

“There is a real interest in making personalconnections to Israel that I think has surprised some people,” saidRabbi Daniel Allen, executive director of the United Israel Appeal.”And the issues of Jewish spirituality and Israel are connected here;people are looking for a way to energize their relationship withIsrael in a very personal way.”

That craving, he said, transcends politics, and itdefies the conventional wisdom that the pluralism controversy isturning Jews away from Israel in droves.

“This conference gives people a chance to focus onanything that may spark their interest in anything Jewish,” said RonKlein, a conference co-chair. “It really gives people a sense of theunparalleled freedom and opportunity we are fortunate to have asAmerican Jews.”

Klein, a veteran of five previous conferences,said this year’s event was different because, “in the past, there wasalways an issue of imminent danger to focus on. This year, we facethe challenge of motivating people and raising their consciousnesswithout overwhelming crisis.”

The result is a shifting focus “to our corevalues, to what makes us different as a people,” he said.

UJA young leadership gatherings are always ayeasty mix — part singles weekend, part spiritual smorgasborddesigned to draw the young and the detached back to a more personalJudaism, part political-action seminar for tomorrow’s leaders.

And the glitzy Washington event, in particular, isdesigned to inculcate the habit of lifelong giving. Participants arestroked and coddled and told how important they are — not aninaccurate assessment in a Jewish world whose philanthropicstructures are threatened by assimilation and epidemic apathy.

“This year, people are talking about money again,”Rabbi Allen said. “For a few years, it was taboo, but now we’re goingback to UJA basics; there are sessions on how to raise money, how tosolicit. Fund raising isn’t a dirty word to this generation. That, inmy view, is very healthy for the Jewish community.”

This year’s conference represented a continuationof the recent trend to more spiritual content.

“People asked for more spirituality and Judaism,”said Baltimoran Howard Friedman, program chair. “Every year, we’veseen a greater interest in these kinds of programs, and we’veresponded.”

At the same time, he said, the conference’sstanding as a premier singles event has grown. “The conference hasbecome more of an attraction for Jewish singles, which is wonderful;it’s the best possible setting for Jewish people to meet.”

UJA officials estimate that a little more thanhalf of the 3,000 participants are single.

In a keynote speech that could serve as a summaryof the convention’s underlying theme, Rabbi Donniel Hartman,associate director of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem,called on delegates to find new ways to identify with Judaism andJewish tradition.

“I am not in love with my Judaism because of thehatred of others; I need to find my own connection, a connection thatgives me meaning,” he said.

He urged the audience to create a “covenant ofmeaning. If you’re looking for God and you’re looking forspirituality and you don’t find it in your synagogue, don’t leave;join your rabbi and your ritual committee and change your shul. It’sin your power to demand something more of Judaism.”

But, in another example of the intriguingjuxtaposition of styles that characterized the conference, he wasfollowed by comedienne Rita Rudner, who described her own Jewish pastin comic terms — including her family’s membership in “the BethIsrael Temple and Yacht Club. It was a very fancy temple; we used toread from the Torah in French.”

The best-attended session on Sunday — as UJAofficials predicted — was a singles event featuring Jeffrey Zaslow,a syndicated advice columnist who offered advice on “the art andscience of ending your status as a Jewish single.”

But there were a host of smaller workshops onmeatier spiritual topics, including an overcrowded session withwriter and talk-show host Dennis Prager, who spoke on finding theholy in the mundane.

UJA officials tried to downplay interest in thepluralism controversy, but sessions on the subject were among thebest-attended at the conference. But unlike other venues, there waslittle rancor.

“The religious pluralism issue in Israel is amajor driving force for many people here,” said Alan Gallatin, a NewYork tax consultant and young leadership veteran. “Many people hereare anxious to learn what is being said about it and what thedifferent viewpoints are. They know it’s a big issue, but they don’tnecessarily understand what the issues are. So they’re here tolearn.”

Editorial


Last weekend, I was at a gathering of maybe 80people, brought together to listen to a prominent Israeliintellectual who proceeded to dazzle us with his accounts ofpolitical, military and religious life in the Mideast. Actually, itwas more than dazzling. He was informative; he was insightful; he waswitty.

But when I casually reached for pen and notebook– I was the only journalist in the room — he laughed and admonishedme. Of course, this was all off the record. And off he soared:

  • Telling us about Prime Minister Netanyahu and the religious parties in Israel, and how they, in their separate ways, were forging a government that could not govern. How they, in the process, were ruining Israel.
  • Describing the migrant workers from Eastern Europe and Asia, anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 (some legal, others not), whose presence in Israel was generating a great increase in drug use, alcoholism and prostitution. And, in neighborhoods adjacent to the Asian workers, a sudden disappearance of cats.
  • Analyzing the peace process, which, despite the stalled state of play, the failure of the Palestinians to make good on many of their promises and the prime minister’s dislike of the Oslo agreements, was nevertheless irreversible.
  • And, of course, charting the intricate political tactics and maneuvers behind the conversion bill. One point Americans should understand, he added, was that most Israelis, whatever their religious stance, had little comprehension or interest in Diaspora Jewry.

That comment — that Israelis were uninvolved withJews in America, or elsewhere in the Diaspora — caught me unaware.On reflection, it was something I knew, something I had experiencedbut had never before verbalized for myself.

It was evident at the media panels and conferencesI attended in Jerusalem, only I chose not to view the comments inthat particular light. And it was an inescapable conclusion to adialogue last month with six Knesset members who were visiting LosAngeles. They had traveled here to observe and to talk with AmericanJews; and, more specifically, to meet with a cross section of ourlocal Jewish community, listening to our concerns about the NeemanCommission and its political aftermath.

At one session I attended, the MKs patientlyexplained that the Commission was really about politics, notreligion, and that we Americans didn’t seem to understand the actualdetails of the Conversion Bill — otherwise, we would not be soexercised over it. Everyone in the room was left with a suddenawareness of just how much distance separated us from the Israelis,despite the fact that we all happened to be Jews.

Here it was again — the distance, the wide gap –only posed in terms of something that was a cross between innocenceand unconcern, albeit not on the part of the speaker. He had spentseveral years in the United States — Washington, in particular –and had traveled widely throughout the country. He took the seemingindifference seriously.

 

Many Americanyouth enjoy visiting Israel, so why not a program to bring Israeliyouth to the United States?

 

His remedy was imaginative: Start a program thatwould function something like a Jewish Peace Corps, with youngstersfrom all nations, including Israel, joining to work on projectstogether in different parts of the world. In short, apeople-to-people program, but concentrated primarily among teen-agersin the year or two between high school and college (an involuntaryclass bias here).

My thought is less grand, more miniature in scaleand logistics. Just as we are striving today to bring large numbersof American teens to Israel — for a school term, a summer, a month– so we might begin to think as well of bringing most Israeliyoungsters to the United States. (There are several small-scaleprograms in place already.) It has the virtue of linking families, ofcasting light on different kinds of Jewish experiences, and ofimplying a certain equality in the authenticity of Jewishidentity.

One caveat: It might lead to a great deal ofmobility, as Israelis — who have their own contemporary problemswith the nature of Jewish identity in the 21st century — adopt abinational lifestyle. But, then again, the meaning behind the act ofdeclaring “I am Jewish” is likely to preoccupy many of us, Israelisand Americans alike, as we spring into the new millennium.

 


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