Arrested development: Young Jewish activists voluntarily go to jail in support of union rights
Sarah Leiber Church and Laura Podolsky had big plans for the evening of Sept. 28 — getting arrested.
They were part of a protest march that took place along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport aimed at hotels that allegedly have been preventing employees from unionizing. During the late afternoon, approximately 2,000 people marched down the major thoroughfare, cutting off traffic. In what has been called the largest act of civil disobedience in Los Angeles, more than 300 of those people later deliberately sat down in the street, were arrested and jailed for up to 24 hours.
Both Church and Podolsky say their Jewish heritage is an important motivation for their activism for labor rights.
“From a young age I learned there’s a really strong message [in Judaism] about the importance of standing up for justice, and the importance of being directly involved,” Podolsky said.
Both she and Church are members of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a group dedicated to social justice in Los Angeles. Daniel Sokatch, executive director of PJA, estimates that the group had anywhere between 50 and 100 people present at the protest, and that about 10 of those were arrested.
One part of the PJA’s larger goal is to reexamine the meaning of “kosher” among the Jewish population of Los Angeles.
“We’re working to expand the definition of kosher for the Jewish community, to go beyond how food is prepared to how workers are treated in institutions,” said Jaime Rapaport, program director for PJA. For example, she said, “The LAX Hilton is not a kosher hotel. Their kitchen may be kosher, and they may serve kosher food, but the way they treat their workers is not kosher.”
Church, the PJA’s Bay Area program director, said the timing of the protest, during the holiest part of the year, added meaning to her participation.
“The time in the Jewish calendar was very important to me in making the decision to take the steps to risk arrest … it’s a time when you take stock of how you’ve treated people over the last year,” she said. “I can think of no better way to start off 5767 than by supporting hotel workers and hard-working immigrant families in their fight for dignity in the work place.”
The sentiment was echoed by many, including Rabbi Jason Van Leeuwen of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester,who presided over a blessing of the challah in front of the Westin Hotel — one of three blessings that took place: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. The challahs used were round, he said, “as a symbol for the cycle of the year, but also as a symbol of a message to the hotel management — what goes around comes around.”
Church said the religious service had been a highlight of the march.
“They said, ‘We give you bread for the journey,’ and passed out challahs to everyone. I remember hearing from some of the women later that the bread was just exactly what they needed, because they were feeling a little faint; they were feeling a little scared, frankly, and they said that having something to eat whether or not they were Jewish was really important to them.”
When the marching stopped, the sitting began. Those being arrested sat down on Century Boulevard — the main thoroughfare to LAX — where the police warned them that, unless they moved, they faced arrest. All wore matching shirts that read, “I am a human” in English and Spanish, echoing signs held at the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. The 300 arrested offered no resistance as officers put them in plastic handcuffs.
En route to jail they sang songs.
“I wanted to lead songs in Hebrew and teach people, but it didn’t seem like the right environment,” Church said. “But we sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and we sang ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ in English and Spanish.”
Even as they were arresting the protesters, many police seemed supportive of the action.
“I was speaking to one of them who was taking my fingerprints,” Church said, “and he said, ‘You know, I think I support what you’re doing.’ I said, ‘You’re unionized, right?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, and if we weren’t I’d want you all to be out on the streets.'”
This was a first arrest for both Church and Podolsky.
“Jail is cold, dingy and boring,” Podolsky said. “But I would do it a lot more, if it were necessary in order to stand up for these issues.”
Other arrestees shared cells with prostitutes or drug dealers.
Both Church and Podolsky spent the night in jail in South Central, released at 3:30 and 6:30 a.m., respectively.
Van Leeuwen agreed that the action was in accordance with Jewish teachings.
“The Torah repeatedly tells us that we should love the stranger; that they should be subject to laws and rights we’re subject to,” he said.
Though tired from a long march and a night spent in jail, everyone seemed in good spirits by Friday, proud of what they had accomplished.
“It was an incredible experience, and it was also an uncomfortable experience
… it’s something that I look back on with pride,” Church said.
Said Podolsky, simply, “It’s a good way to be Jewish.”
Evangelicals Are Not Our ‘Natural Allies’
A few years ago, a few moderate American Jewish leaders tried to allay Jewish fears that the Christian right was a threat.
American Jews had it wrong, they said — former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk really were quite nice, even open-minded fellows and strongly pro-Israel to boot. They were our friends.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) publicly praised Reed’s pro-Israel stance and invited Christian conservatives to ADL banquets. Christians, in turn, organized nationwide prayer vigils and lobbying campaigns to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s vision of a greater Israel.
Basking in the glow of this newfound friendship, Reed proclaimed that the Jewish-Christian alliance for Israel was as important as the black-Jewish coalition for civil rights in the 1960s.
Then, a Hollywood film star produced, directed and bankrolled a cinematic portrayal of Jesus’ final hours that depicted Jews as Jesus’ killers, promoting an age-old anti-Semitic theme. Fearing that the film would stoke new anti-Semitism, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman pleaded that Gibson alter the film, the pope disavow it and the Christian evangelicals that had become Foxman’s allies sermonize against it — to no avail.
Foxman should have seen it coming.
For all their talk of loving Jews and Israel, conservative Christians’ No. 1 priority always has been to expand their influence and numbers at home and abroad.
Several years ago, I interviewed dozens of Christian activists for a book I was writing about a campaign against gay rights that bitterly divided many Oregon communities, where I was living at the time.
When I disclosed my Jewishness to the evangelicals I met in the course of my research, they responded with boundless curiosity and kindness. A few asked if they could accompany me to synagogue, professing their great affection for the Jewish people. Several spoke excitedly of their trips to Israel or their desire to visit there.
I found it all disarming and even a little flattering.
But then the invitations to attend their churches arrived, along with offers to pray for me. I declined them graciously and heard little else until my book, a critical but empathetic account of conservative Christian activists, was published.
The messages then began to get meaner and were often tinged with anti-Semitism.
“How could a Jew possibly write an unbiased account?” one asked.
Another told me to “go back to New York, where you belong.”
Today, some of those activists have gone on to mobilize support for Israel, working to insure that the Holy Land stays in Jewish hands so that “saved Christians” like themselves can enjoy their final rapture out of harm’s way.
Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, these Christians have felt further justified for their alliance with Israel by the conviction that Judeo-Christian culture must protect itself against the followers of Mohammed, in preparation for the coming “clash of civilizations.”
My travels in evangelical America tell me that despite the claims of Jewish conservatives, and even moderate leaders like Foxman, conservative Christians are not our “natural allies.” In fact, most American Jews find themselves deeply at odds with the Christian right over a host of issues.
Witness the overwhelming support that the American Jewish community has given to the issue of gay marriage. In Massachusetts, a near unanimity of Jewish communal leaders support gay marital rights, and opinion polls nationally show Jews to be the most solidly in favor of gay marriage of any religious group.
Christian conservatives, needless to say, are champing at the bit to make gay marriage the next major battle in the “culture war.”
Even when it comes to Israel, evangelicals are out of step with American Jews and Israelis — most of whom would agree to trade land for peace if a viable peace plan were proposed. Evangelicals, by contrast, support the maximalist ideology of the most fundamentalist Jewish settlers, who view territorial concessions as suicidal.
The Jewish-Christian alliance was based on the idea that Israel needs as many friends as it can get. But it needs good friends — friends who believe in the importance of a democratic Jewish homeland, not those whose support for Israel is based on inflexible theological explanations for Israel’s right to exist.
The rift over “The Passion” should be a wake-up call to American Jewish leaders: The Jewish-Christian evangelical honeymoon is over. It may even be time to file for divorce.
Arlene Stein is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and the author of “The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle Over Sex, Faith, and
A Few Jews Focus on Props, Too
With a few notable exceptions, Jewish politicians, activists and community leaders are getting into the controversies over Propositions 53 and 54 late and lackadaisically, having focused most of their attention and fundraising efforts on the recall election.
Proposition 54, The Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), backed by University of California regent Ward Connerly, bans the state from classifying people according to race, ethnicity, color, or national origin.
Supporters maintain it would move society closer to a color-blind society, while opponents maintain it would impede the collection of data needed to redress discrimination.
Though opponents claim it would also block collection of data that could be helpful in addressing genetically transmitted diseases such as Tay Sachs, which affects Ashkenzic Jews, supporters say the measure would not affect health-related issues. The state’s independent legislative analyst said the matter is unclear.
Among Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the Progressive Jewish Alliance oppose Proposition 54.
Jewish politicians including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Con. Howard Berman (D-26th) and Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss oppose it as well.
The statewide Jewish Public Affairs Committee, a coalition of mostly Federation-based groups, has not taken a stand on RPI, though the San Jose/Silicon Valley Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) unanimously passed a resolution opposing it.
"There’s been a trend among JCRCs of not wanting to get involved in controversial measures," JPAC Director Coby King said. "Federations don’t see how taking a position benefits them."
For many groups, RPI brings dangerous echoes of the highly controversial Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative designed to dismantle state affirmative action programs based on sex or race. That ballot measure caused considerable division between liberal and more conservative Jews. "A lot of people feel [Proposition 54] is not worth the risk," King said.
Democrats for Israel’s Howard Welinsky said his organization follows the Democratic party position on such measures, and the party opposes it. Welinsky, who sits on the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, said Proposition 54, "will make it impossible to determine if there are civil rights violations or equal opportunity violations."
The Southern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition has not taken a position on RPI, said the chapter Chair Bruce Bialosky, because members have been so focused on the recall. But Bialosky, speaking for himself, said he would support it. "As long as we continue to classify people by race," he said, "we are going to continue to think of them by race."
If Proposition 54 is getting relatively attention, Proposition 53 is going positively unnoticed. If it passes in Tuesday’s recall election, Proposition 53 will set aside up to 3 percent of the annual state budget for repairs of California’s infrastructure of highways, hospitals and libraries.
"One of the tenets of the Jewish religion is to improve our community, to leave our community a better place than we found it," said State Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge). Richman, who is Jewish, helped create the legislation that later led to Proposition 53. "If California is going to be successful in the future, then we need to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place," he said.
The measure’s supporters include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and Caprice Young, former Los Angeles Unified School District president. Opponents include the California Tax Reform Association and the Congress of California Seniors.
State Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) said he finds himself, "smack dab in the middle," about supporting Proposition 53, formerly known as the "Funds Dedicated for State and Local Infrastructure" state constitutional amendment.
"The basic concept is that we have not done enough and are not doing enough … to pay for the infrastructure needs of the state," Koretz said. "When you have a surplus, this would trigger some of that surplus money to go to infrastructure. It’s one of many initiatives that can strain a state budget left with fewer and fewer options. I see its pluses and its minuses."
On the left, Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) director Daniel Sokatch called Proposition 53, "another conservative, far-right fake fix-all. It’s not going to solve any problems, just shift the problems around."
Despite no formal endorsement, RJC of Southern California Executive Director Michael Wissot spoke supportively of Proposition 53.
Richman said Proposition 53 protects against pulling funds out of the state education budget and transferring that money to rebuild roads, hospitals, libraries and state buildings.
The assemblyman added that from the 1960s through the 1970s, California politicians regularly poured 15 percent to 20 percent of annual state budgets into building the state’s extensive freeway system — plus hospitals and libraries and other public entities to be covered by Proposition 53.
But since 1990, Richman said, "our state has spent two-tenths of 1 percent of the General Fund annually on infrastructure. There’s no question why our roads are congested why they’re crumbling. This money is specifically going to infrastructure projects and capital outlay, not for operations."
Koretz also noted that, "There are Jewish values, I would say, on both sides of this issue. It’s really a compelling case of what do you do right? We can never do everything right. It’s a question of are you more concerned about social services or are you more concern about the long-term effects of the state crumbling?"
"I’m actually leaning in favor of it," the assemblyman said. "I think the pluses and minuses are about equal. People need to think this through themselves."
News That’s Fit to Paw Print
In 1999, Lori Golden left a 25-year career in freelance television production when she found industry changes and “ageism” working against her. Struggling to make ends meet, Golden taught herself desktop publishing and, soon after, The Pet Press was born.
The paper’s primary goals are the promotion of animal adoption and rescue from overcrowded shelters, spaying/neutering and responsible pet care. Each issue spotlights a personality involved in some form of animal welfare work.
“Just because a person loves her dog or cat doesn’t mean she rates a cover story,” Golden said. Celebrity activists that have been featured include Betty White, Bea Arthur, Richard Pryor, Buddy Hackett, Ed Asner, James Cromwell, Shannon Elizabeth and Mary Tyler Moore with her dog, Shana Meydela.
Golden attributes her inspiration for The Pet Press to her own dog, Maxx, whom she rescued from an L.A. shelter. “She was dedicated, loving and loyal, and always by my side in good times and bad. I thought about all of the other wonderful dogs just like Maxx who were lying in animal shelters in Southern California,” she said.
I quickly discovered the phenomenal benefits of the barter system,” Golden said.
“It was a struggle, but because of a lot of chutzpah, and my father’s fantastic support and belief in me, the paper is now doing just fine.”
The free monthly paper, headquartered in Northridge, reaches more than 95,000 readers throughout greater Los Angeles and has grown from 20 pages to 40.
“The Pet Press is distributed to pet-related venues and many other places, including libraries, car washes and my favorite locations — Jewish delicatessens from Calabasas to Long Beach … and all points in between,” Golden said.
Although Golden admits she only attends services once a year for the High Holidays, in keeping true to her profession she makes The Pet Press available for the animal lovers who attend.
“Although I miss the excitement of entertainment,” she said, “I take great pride and satisfaction in knowing that my efforts are appreciated, and that I’m helping to save the lives of countless numbers of cats and dogs.”
Police: Suspects Financed TerrorIndirectly
There’s no evidence that members of the Islamic Movement arrested this week in Israel used funds to directly finance terror attacks, Israeli police said.
“We do not claim that the money was used to buy explosive belts” for suicide bombers, a police spokeswoman said.
But the movement is suspected of transferring money from abroad to help support families of suicide bombers.
“Without this financial support, Hamas would not be able to carry out terror attacks,” the spokeswoman said. Israel arrested 15 members of the northern branch of the movement on Tuesday.
Court Hears Petition Against ChiefRabbi
Israel’s High Court on Wednesday heard a petition challenging the appointment of the chief Ashkenazi rabbi. The petitioner, a Tel Aviv accountant, cited allegations against Rabbi Yona Metzger, including sexual harassment and forgery. Metzger’s attorneys rejected the allegations as baseless. The accountant also said Metzger is not qualified to serve as a rabbinic court judge because he did not complete the appropriate studies. Israel’s state attorney recommended that the court reject the petition on the grounds that under current law, the appointment of a chief rabbi can be canceled only if the rabbi resigns. The court will publish its decision at a later date.
Crown Heights Conviction
Lemrick Nelson was found guilty of violating the civil rights of yeshiva scholar Yankel Rosenbaum during the 1991 Crown Heights riots. However, the jury in the civil trial found Wednesday that Nelson was not responsible for Rosenbaum’s death. As a result of the conviction, which came a day after the jury said it was deadlocked, Nelson faces up to 10 years in jail.
Man Beaten in Berlin
An Orthodox Jew was beaten up in Berlin. Tuesday’s attack on the 19 year old, who wears a black hat and sports a beard, occurred in the Berlin subway. Three youths made anti-Semitic remarks to the man. They then followed him out of the subway, throwing fruit at him and asking if he is Jewish. They beat him when he refused to answer. The men are believed to be of Arab descent, police said. Earlier this week, a non-Jewish man who was wearing a Star of David also was beaten in Berlin by attackers who mistook him for a Jew.
British Burial Practices Questioned
Britain’s chief rabbi is calling for certain post-mortem procedures to be phased out after it was revealed that a Jewish man was buried without his brain, contrary to Jewish law. Jonathan Sacks made the call after the publication of the Isaacs Report, a three-year government study that reveals that tens of thousands of brains were removed from British corpses without the consent of relatives. The report focused on Cyril Isaacs, who committed suicide in 1987 and whose brain was removed for medical research into mental illness, unbeknownst to his family. He had suffered from depression.
N.J. Pressed to End Poet Laureate Job
A Jewish coalition is calling for the elimination of New Jersey’s poet laureate post. The coalition, which includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, U.S. Jewish groups and New Jersey rabbis, wants the position eliminated in order to oust the current holder, Amiri Baraka. Baraka made headlines last year when he read a poem that said Israel was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Harvard Center Investigates Donor
Harvard’s divinity school may return a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates with ties to a controversial Arab think tank.
The executive director of the Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up once denounced Jews as the “enemies of all nations.”
In addition, the Web site for the center, which is described as a “fulfillment of the vision” of Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, features a list of speakers including a Holocaust denier and one who alleges that the United States was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
A spokesman for the school said a researcher recently had investigated the ties, but the spokesman declined to discuss the researcher’s findings, according to newspaper reports from Boston.
French Rabbi Scandal Deepens
A member of a Paris synagogue whose rabbi is accused of staging his own stabbing last January wrote a threatening letter to the rabbi shortly after the incident, police believe.
The man, whose identity has not been divulged, was arrested and appeared in court last week, the Le Monde daily reported Monday. Gabriel Farhi, the rabbi of Paris’ Liberal Synagogue, was treated for knife wounds following an alleged stabbing outside his synagogue on Jan. 3. Around two weeks later, he received a threatening letter regretting “that the job had not been completed.”
Anti-Israel Boycott Fails
A British teachers union rejected a motion to boycott Israeli academics. By a 2-1 vote, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) rejected a motion by Sue Blackwell, a pro-Palestinian activist from Birmingham University, for AUT members to “review immediately, with a view to severing, any academic links they may have with official Israeli institutions, including universities.”
Andy Marks, founder of the International Academic Friends of Israel, said, “We are pleased that the AUT came to the right conclusion. However, it concerns us that such a motion ever made it on their agenda.”
Orthodox Group Eyes Liquor Ban
A rabbinical group will consider banning hard liquor in Orthodox congregations. Rabbi Hershel Billet, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, told the New York Jewish Week that he will propose restricting the use of hard liquor on Shabbat and other religious occasions during the group’s annual convention later this month.
Billet is the rabbi of Young Israel of Woodmere, N.Y., which recently issued its own liquor ban after a teenage member drank too much and got sick at a “Kiddush.”
3 Charged in Tel Aviv Bombing
British police charged three people in connection with the recent deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Zahid Hussain Sharif, 46; Paveen Akthor Sharif, 35; and Tahari Shad Tabassum, 27, all from Derbyshire in England, were charged with failing to disclose information about a terrorist act. Paveen Sharif also was charged with aiding and abetting acts of terrorism overseas.
General Strike Resumes
Israeli public sector workers renewed a general strike Tuesday after negotiations between Treasury and trade union officials on an emergency economic plan broke down. Seaports, trains and government offices were shut down, while schools opened an hour late and hospitals operated on a Sabbath schedule. There also were disruptions at Ben-Gurion Airport, where work stoppages by baggage-handlers Monday prompted the pilot of a Czech airlines flight to take off without boarding outgoing passengers and with the luggage of those who had just disembarked still in the cargo hold.
El Al to Fly on Shabbat?
The privatization of Israel’s national airline could lead to El Al flying on the Sabbath. El Al’s stock will be sold on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange by the end of the month, according to a decision made Tuesday by the Knesset Finance Committee. El Al’s new management would decide whether the airline would fly on Shabbat.
Bush Won’t Party for Israel
President Bush will not attend a gala for Israel later this month in Washington because he never received an invitation, White House officials say. Organizers of the Spirit of Israel Concert had touted the expected appearance of Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the May 19 event. But White House officials told JTA they did not receive an invitation and have a state dinner planned that night with the president of the Philippines.
Condoms for Israel
Student activists in San Diego passed out condoms that read, “Israel: It’s Still Safe to Come.” Activists with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life at the University of California at San Diego dispersed the condoms with a pamphlet promoting Israel’s record in protecting the rights of women and gays, in contrast to other countries in the region, the San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage reported May 2. The move is part of UCSD Hillel’s “Got Israel” campaign
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency
A District Divided
As the City Council begins it consideration of Redistricting Commission-drawn district maps, a conflict between Valley activists and Jewish interests seems to have been resolved. But as proposed districts are scrutinized and rescrutinized block by block, the question of whether the 5th City Council District will contain three core Orthodox neighborhoods remains open.
Council District 5 has historically contained core Jewish communities on both sides of Mulholland, including the Chandler corridor and the Fairfax and Pico-Robertson areas. A push to include five districts wholly within the San Fernando Valley and only one district split between the Valley and city threatened to separate Valley Jewish communities from their city counterparts, diminishing a strong Jewish influence in the City Council.
For the first time, wrangling over Council district lines was conducted in open hearings this year, with the new city charter creating a special Redistricting Commission composed of 21 members appointed by the City Council, mayor and city attorney.
Though the final redistricting plan will be decided by the City Council, the Redistricting Commission collected and helped implement public input. On average, Los Angeles’ 15 Council districts encompass 246,000 people each. The Council will approve a final map by June 30.
Redistricting commonly pits myriad interests against each other. Part of the difficulty in keeping the Chandler corridor in the 5th District derived from unrelated disputes between neighboring districts.
Valley activists like Richard Close, chair of the secession group Valley VOTE, wanted five Council districts entirely within the Valley to better represent concerns specific to the Valley.
City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the 5th District, and chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting (composed of five councilmembers) says, "It’s interesting to see how the overheated desire of those who want to split the city apart almost directly conflicted with the representative needs of an important constituency."
Weiss adds that, unlike pro-Valley secession activists, he approves of the Valley-City districts. "I think it is good for the City of Los Angeles to have districts that straddle Mulholland. It forces officials to be less parochial," he says.
Close was appointed to the Redistricting Commission by former 2nd District City Councilman Joel Wachs. For Close, keeping Jewish neighborhoods together takes a back seat to ensuring proportional Council representation for the Valley. "There were drafts discussed without [the Chandler corridor] in the 5th District," he explains. "The problem is, the 5th District is probably the longest district. We understand that Jack Weiss wanted the Fairfax district as well as the Chandler-Burbank area. Many ethnic groups came to us and testified to their interests. But if you have one ethnic neighborhood down in San Pedro and another in Chatsworth, you just can’t draw that into a district. The big problem we had was compactness was not consistent with some community interests.
"When we do districts, we’re supposed to be blind to race, religion and ethnicity," Close says. But the commission does consider the needs of "communities of interest." Commissioner Ron Turovsky, appointed by Weiss, says the ties that bind a community of interest can be a "whole range of factors," including ethnic or religious groups as well as distinct neighborhoods.
Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek Congregation was among those voicing concern that Los Angeles’ Orthodox community would be split. "We do see ourselves as a single entity," he says. "You’re talking about a very large Jewish community that is very unified — which can be very advantageous." Together in the same council district, says Tendler, "We have shared issues and shared support."
The Jewish community and Valley representation controversies were only a small part of the litany of issues faced by the Redistricting Commission over the course of 11 public hearings since November 2001.
The map of the 5th District that the Redistricting Commission has sent to the City Council includes the Chandler corridor area, attached via Laurel Canyon Boulevard to the main body of the district, which includes Bel Air and Westwood and extends east as far as Highland Avenue.
Close is pleased that the plan, as proposed, includes the five Valley districts, but says, "The real question is, is the City Council going to meddle in the process?… Was the Redistricting Commission just a façade?"
At the final hearing on March 26, Ruth Galanter, whose 6th District has been moved from Venice to Van Nuys, told the commission, "Of course we’re going to meddle with the lines you decide."
At the same meeting, 13th District City Councilman Eric Garcetti called the redistricting process "intensely imperfect." That process, now nearly completed with the finalization of the commission’s proposals, is still subject to tinkering. But Weiss believes the Jewish communities of the 5th District will stay together.
"We’re talking about a community that has made their interests known," Weiss says.
As terror struck New York and Washington, D.C., Jewish activists were still recovering from the ideological bomb of a U.N. conference that lashed out at Israel as racist and apartheid.
The final governmental declaration adopted here last Saturday by the U.N. World Conference Against Racism was dramatically toned down in its criticism of Israel.
But an earlier declaration by non-governmental organizations remains on the ledger as, in the view of Jewish activists, the most damning indictment of Jews since World War II.
The impact of the NGO declaration may be seen when a series of U.N. forums resumes later this month.
Israel and the United States withdrew their delegations from Durban several days after the NGO declaration, and vigorous lobbying by European governments managed to remove direct references to Israel from the conference’s final governmental declaration.
That prompted back-slapping in Jerusalem — but the document nevertheless criticizes the Jewish State by implication.
Compromise language adopted Saturday, after the conference had been extended a day in the search for a settlement, condemned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The Arab bloc’s last-minute effort to label foreign occupation “among the forms and sources of racial discrimination” was also rejected.
But the conference did recognize the “plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.”
In Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior breathed a sigh of relief that the document did not “include one word condemning Israel.” Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described it as an “accomplishment for Israeli foreign policy.”
Beneath the spin, though, lay a more ominous truth.
It would be one thing for the United Nations to acknowledge the Palestinian “plight” at say, the U.N. General Assembly. It’s another when the linkage is made at an anti-racism conference.
The implication is that Palestinian suffering is a result of racism — and that Israel therefore must be practicing racism.
In contrast to the governmental declaration, the NGO declaration requires no parsing. It accuses Israel of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” “racism” and “apartheid.”
It calls for the creation of an international tribunal to investigate war crimes and other crimes that Israel allegedly has committed against the Palestinians.
And it unveils what Jewish observers say is a strategy aimed at dismantling Israel through extreme international isolation.
In linking Israel with the old South Africa as pariah apartheid states based on notions of racial superiority, the NGO declaration proposes a similar recipe for dismantling — “mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel” and the “launch of an international anti-Israel apartheid movement” through “a global solidarity campaign network of international civil society, U.N. bodies and agencies, business communities, and to end the conspiracy of silence among states, particularly the European Union and the United States.”
While the “apartheid” tag is new, some Jewish activists suggested it is merely an escalation in the Palestinian diplomatic offensive against Israel.
“No doubt, the language adopted here is another brick in the wall for those using international human-rights mechanisms to delegitimize or even dismantle the Jewish State,” said Stacy Burdett, the Anti-Defamation League’s associate director of government affairs. “This movement has always existed. But our opponents have demonstrated an unprecedented sophistication and cunning.”
While the language may have changed, the intent remains the same, said Irwin Cotler, a Canadian parliamentarian and renowned human rights lawyer.
“In a world in which human rights has emerged as the secular religion of our time, Israel, portrayed as the worst of human-rights violators, is the new anti-Christ,” said Cotler, who worked closely with the Jewish caucus in Durban.
“Classical anti-Semitism was discrimination against or denial of the right of individual Jews to live as equal members of a free society,” he said. “The new anti-Jewishness is discrimination against [Israel], or denial of the right of the Jewish State to live as an equal member of the family of nations.”
The declaration was so harsh that U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said she would not recommend it to governmental delegates as a guideline for their own declaration.
However, Robinson said, she also was determined that the final declaration recognize the Palestinians’ “suffering” — indicating her belief that a racism conference was the proper context for Palestinian complaints.
While some observers and activists dismissed the NGO declaration as irrelevant, the Palestinians and their allies will be able to claim that the “voice of civil society” has spoken, since roughly 8,000 NGO delegates from around the world were on hand.
Jewish activists suggested that the NGO statement was so caustic that Palestinian sympathizers felt they could ease off in the government document, appearing magnanimous and open to compromise.
But Jewish observers said they wouldn’t be surprised if the “racist, apartheid” mantra comes up again when the U.N. General Assembly reconvenes in New York later this month, at an upcoming U.N. conference on children, at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and in other forums.
In addition, pro-Palestinian student groups plan to launch a nationwide campaign Oct. 12-14, urging people and institutions to divest from “Israeli apartheid,” a la South Africa.
The declaration raises other questions.
Some wonder whether the European defense of Israel in the waning days of the conference was motivated by a sense of justice or Europe’s longtime desire to play a more influential role in the Mideast crisis.
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country currently holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency, hinted as much when, at a press conference late Friday night, he boasted that the continent is emerging as a “peace power.”
Since the intifada broke out a year ago, the Palestinians have been pushing to marginalize the Americans — whom the Arab world considers hopelessly allied to Israel — and to “internationalize” the Mideast crisis by bringing in other parties.
When the European Union came to Israel’s defense at Durban, a Jordanian journalist lashed out at Michel, suggesting that the E.U.’s hard bargaining was damaging its status as a “neutral” player.
Finally, with the Mideast conflict drowning out practically all other causes at Durban — and detracting from a potentially historic apology for slavery — there was concern about who would be blamed for the missed opportunity.
Some at Durban grumbled about U.S. Jewish groups and Israel, alleging that they have too much influence in Washington and orchestrated the U.S. pullout.
“Those groups who didn’t get their issues aired fully will be looking for someone to blame,” said Alan Gold, a spokesman for B’nai B’rith International. “And the historic scapegoating is of the Jews.”