German Jewish activist voted sexiest female politician


A 25-year-old Jewish woman has been voted Germany's sexiest female politician.

Marina Weisband, 25, a leading member of the “Pirate Party Germany,” took first place in a Playboy online poll with 29 percent of the votes. According to the Bild Zeitung newspaper, 1,000 people took part in the poll.

Coming in second was the Left Party politician Sahra Wagenknecht, with 28 percent of the vote.

Weisband came to Germany with her family from Ukraine in 1994, in the wave of Jewish emigration following the fall of the Berlin Wall and. the collapse of the Soviet Union. She joined the Pirate Party – a progressive liberal party that promotes Internet freedom – in 2009 and served as its executive director from May 2011 to April 2012. During her tenure, she reportedly took on the issue of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism among some party members.

Weisband now is pursuing a PhD in psychology. She has not ruled out a return to political activism but will not run as a candidate for the Bundestag this year.

The Bild newspaper notes that Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, age 58, got only 3 percent of the Playboy vote.

Support for IsraelElementary to Watson


She may not know the word shteibel, but she knows what’s going on.

"I represented [them] before, you know, in the ’80s when I was a state senator," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), referring to the Jews of Hancock Park. "They wanted to pray, to have a temple in a house. I helped them get the permits."

When Watson runs for reelection this November, she’ll face some disadvantages not usually encountered by an incumbent politician. For one, she will have only represented her constituents for 18 months. She had won the House seat in a special election last year to replace the late Julian Dixon.

Another disadvantage is redistricting, which has changed the shape of her congressional district and added new voters groups that she has never represented in Congress before. Those new constituents include the active Jewish community of Hancock Park.

"I’m very pleased to have Hancock Park back," said Watson, whose redrawn 33rd District will retain her base in Culver City, Ladera Heights and South Los Angeles, at the same time adding Hancock Park and parts of the Hollywood and Silverlake areas. Watson represented much of the same area, including part of Hancock Park, when she became the first African American woman elected to state Senate in 1978, serving five terms.

In 1976, she became the first African American woman on the Los Angeles School Board. Before returning to elected office last year to fill Dixon’s congressional seat, Watson served two years as ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia.

As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Watson is aware of the tensions between African American and Jewish leaders that have grown during this election cycle, particularly the primary defeats of African American incumbents Earl Hilliard in Alabama and Cynthia McKinney in Georgia. Both incumbents were defeated with the help of Jewish organizations and individuals, largely from outside their House districts, concerned over their anti-Israel voting records.

In contrast to the two defeated House members, Watson has regularly supported Israel in Congress. She even met with Agudath Israel of America’s 2002 National Leadership Mission to Washington.

Watson, who sits of the House International Relations Committee, was quick to emphasize that the addition of the Jewish community in Hancock Park to her district does not add many Jewish voters to her constituency. The congresswoman explained that she lost Jewish voters in Cheviot Hills, the Pico-Robertson area and other parts of West Los Angeles in the same redistricting.

Her well-documented support for Israel, she said, is the result of her "long relationship with Israel, going back to the ’60s." In that decade, during a teaching stint in France, Watson made a side trip on her own to the Holy Land. "I’m a Catholic by the way, so the Via Dolorosa was an important place to visit."

In the 1980s, already familiar with the issues of the region and the importance of a strong Israel, Watson made an official trip to the country with a delegation from the state Legislature. During the visit, Watson conceived and later helped bring to Tel Aviv a statue honoring [African-American] Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, who helped negotiate the end of Israel’s War of Independence.

In November 2001, she delivered the keynote address at the "All Eyes on Israel" conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee on Campus (AIPAC), where she said that United States has no greater friend than Israel. "I just think we need to be there for Israel," she told The Journal, "and we certainly are."

Watson’s voting record reflects her visits to Israel and her public statements in support of the country. In December 2001, she voted for a House resolution urging action against Palestinian terrorism. In March of this year, she signed a letter to President Bush urging the addition of the Palestinian groups Tanzim, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Force 417 to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

Watson has also voted in favor of the congressional resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in the fight against terrorism, and in favor of a strong foreign aid package for Israel. Elliot Brandt, AIPAC western regional director, called Watson "stellar in her support of Israel."

Watson is expected to easily win reelection in the heavily Democratic district. The California Public Policy Foundation predicted a "slam dunk" for the Democrat in its California Political Review newsletter.

The prediction, based on Democrats making up 69 percent of registered voters in the district, questioned only whether Republican challenger Andrew Kim will be able to match Bush’s 13 percent showing in the district 2000 election.

In a district which she called "hugely diverse," Watson represents approximately one-third African American voters, one-third Hispanics and one-third "everybody, everybody." The district includes Little Armenia, Thai Town, Koreatown and a Greek community. Luckily, Watson said, in foreign policy and her home district alike, "I’m a negotiator, not a pugilist."

Embracing Diaspora


The old-time Zionist religion had it that the only good Diaspora Jew was the one who made aliyah and settled in the ancestral land.

Now, after decades of inner-focused effort to build up the new land and survive, the Jewish state is rediscovering its distant relatives and, what’s more, is ready to accept them, on their own terms, as equals.

Stretching out a hand to the brethren abroad has become a sudden Israeli cottage industry. For the first time, a cabinet minister for “World Jewish Affairs” has been appointed. Senior politicians and think tanks vie to come up with imaginative plans to redefine relations between the world’s two largest Jewish communities in Israel and the United States.

In a reversal of fortunes, Israel is putting up $100 million to support an educational program for Diaspora youth through the “Birthright Israel” program.

Not least, Israel’s foreign ministry has made a major commitment in staff and money for new outreach programs, most notably the Young Jewish Leadership Diplomatic Seminar.

The inaugural run of the 25-day summer seminar has concluded and the newly coined “diplomats,” most in their twenties and hailing from 18 countries, have returned from Israel to their hometowns.

Among the 34 participants were two young professional women from Los Angeles, who came home with a new appreciation and knowledge of Israel — both its strengths and its unresolved problems.

Neither Lauren Rutkin, 29, or Marjan Keypour, 28, arrived at the seminar as novices. Both had visited Israel twice before, and their jobs — Rutkin as associate director of the local AIPAC office, and Keypour as a staff member of the Anti-Defamation League’s community services department — inevitably have a Zionist component.

In that sense, they differ from most of their American peers, to whom the Jewish state is “not central, not terribly important,” said Rutkin.

Even for vacation trips, noted Keypour, most American twentysomethings “want a paradise atmosphere, not the war zone depicted on their television.”

But even for the relatively knowledgeable participants from Los Angeles, the daily dawn-to-dusk sessions were intensive learning experiences.

They heard, and questioned, an array of experts on Israel’s foreign relations, the peace process, the country’s Arabs, Hebrew poetry, movies, theater, economics, media, jurisprudence, academic life, environment, urban sprawl, religion and more.

“There was no sugar coating of existing problems,” said Rutkin, and Keypour agreed that “they presented the facts and allowed us to draw our own conclusions.”

The two women did encounter the old-line Zionist perspective in the person of the formidable President Ezer Weizman, and felt some resentment at his insistence that Jewish life in the Diaspora was meaningless.

As often happens in such settings, the two Angelenas learned as much about differing Jewish viewpoints from their fellow participants from different countries as from the lecturers.

“I found out that such terms as ‘Conservative’ or ‘Reform’ Judaism mean different things in different countries,” said Keypour. “Religious pluralism was the number one topic of debate.”

What both women missed were personal contacts with Israelis of their own age, and Keypour added that the program was a mite too cerebral.

Future participants, particularly if first-time visitors to Israel, “should experience the country also on a more spiritual and emotional level… to smell the flowers and touch the stones of the Western Wall,” Keypour said.

But overall, Rutkin said, she returned feeling “more connected with Israel and the Jewish people, and energized in my commitment.”

She will apply her experiences to encourage the next generation of young leaders to spend time in Israel, starting with her three sisters. On a personal note, she has decided to celebrate a belated bat mitzvah in November.

Keypour, who arrived in this country 11 years ago from Iran, said she would focus her efforts on the young people in her own community, whose indifferent attitudes toward Israel mirrors those of other young Jews in Los Angeles. She also plans to talk to the Sinai Temple New Leadership, on whose board she serves.

Arthur Lenk, consul for communications and public affairs at the local Israel consulate-general, sees the seminar as a partial antidote to young American Jews, who view Israel as “just another country. “

“On our side, it has become clear that Israel does not solely exist for its own citizens, but has no less a responsibility for Jews everywhere,” said Lenk, who himself made aliyah from the United States.

“It’s part of Israel’s maturation process that we can say, sure we want you to settle here, but if you don’t come, that doesn’t make you any less of a Jew,” he observed.

Lenk, who interviewed 15 applicants for this year’s pilot program said that the feedback had been positive enough to plan for a similar seminar next summer.

Breakfast with Mr. Security


Arik Sharon,the last of the great Israeli war heroes/politicians.

Photo by Peter Halmagyi

Last Saturday morning, as the Middle East peaceprocess careened toward yet another crisis point, Ariel Sharon washolding court at a back table in the Peninsula Hotel in BeverlyHills.

Sharon’s ample presence was further magnified by astony security detail and a handful of well-heeled local supporters.”This is a real hero!” proclaimed Uri Harkham, the Israeli-immigrantowner of the Jonathan Martin clothing company.

Sharon is indeed the last of the great Israeli warheroes/politicians. Credited with defeating the Egyptian army inSinai, he also carries the stigma of failure for the 1982 LebanonWar. But this morning, he seems to be luxuriating in his ability toexert a powerful hard-right pull on Binyamin Netanyahu, in whosegovernment he serves as minister of infrastructure. “I’ve been incontact with the prime minister four or five times in the last 48hours,” he tells The Journal. Indeed, one Israeli analyst speculatedin the morning press that Netanyahu dared not accede to Washington’srequest for a 13-percent pullout from the West Bank so long as Sharonwas out of the country.

But, The Journal asks the general, what’s the bigdeal over a couple of percentage points? “This isn’t the stockmarket,” he says. “Every percent is meaningful.” There arefresh-water sources, crucial security emplacements, holy sites, notto mention Jewish settlements. American Jews, Sharon says, just don’tunderstand this. That explains why, in a recent Israel Policy Forumpoll, 80 perecent of them said they support President Clinton’sefforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “Who knowsfrom here what our security requirements are?” asks Sharon. “Whoknows here what happens in another state, even?”

As a combat hero and builder of numerous West Banksettlements, Sharon’s credentials as Mr. Security are impeccable. Hissupporters will tell you that only Arik can be trusted not to giveaway the store, and Sharon boasts to a reporter that even thePalestinians prefer dealing with him. “They know exactly where Istand.”

This gives Sharon, who is 70, the veto on the nextphase of Oslo. If Mr. Security says 13 percent is fine, so will mostIsraelis. If not, not. That arrangement brings a slim smile toSharon’s lips. In The New York Times last month, Thomas Friedmansuggested that Sharon now has a chance to enter the history bookslike that other war hero/ peacemaker, Yitzhak Rabin. “I am familiarwith that article,” Sharon says. “Of course, I would like to see thenext step [of Oslo] and to contribute to it, but I feel I have beencontributing to peace.”

The Journal brings up Dan Kurzman’s new biographyof Rabin. In it, Kurzman writes that Rabin had warm personal feelingsfor his fellow officer, though they had sharp politicaldisagreements. Sharon says the fondness was mutual, the disputes notso sharp. “You know, Rabin told me, ‘If I would have been able, Iwould have dragged it [Israeli withdrawal] out for 20 years.'”

Sharon says he thought Rabin himself had beendragged into signing the Oslo accords. He doesn’t allow for thepossibility that Rabin, who also was a Six-Day War hero and Mr.Security during the intifada, might have actuallyseen no better deal for Israel’s security than Oslo. For Sharon, onthe other hand, waiting 20 years may be just about right.