A large and diverse crowd turned out Sept. 10 to show support at a meeting of the Santa Monica Committee for Racial Justice. Photo by Oren Peleg

Crowd supports Santa Monica group targeted by hateful instigators

A diverse and animated crowd with hundreds of people turned out at a meeting of the Santa Monica Committee for Racial Justice on Sept. 10 to show support for the group, which has been targeted in recent months by individuals spewing hateful rhetoric.

The group’s previous two monthly meetings were interrupted by individuals who made racist and anti-Semitic remarks. At the meeting this past Sunday, however, the scene remained mostly calm, as dozens of Santa Monica police officers on foot and horseback helped maintain order. The meeting at the Virginia Avenue Park’s community center, which covered the topic “Raising Socially Conscious Children,” was filled to capacity, with additional supporters gathered outside behind barricades.

Police estimated the crowd at the park grew to about 300 people, and said no arrests were made.

Trudy Goodwin, one of the co-founders of the Committee for Racial Justice, said she and other committee members viewed the broad show of support as a triumph.

“It was inspiring,” Goodwin said. “It pretty much lets us know that we’re on the right road here, in our attempts to bring people together and foster more understanding between ethnic groups and cultures. I couldn’t believe the number of people from the Santa Monica community that showed up to show their support for racial justice.”

The committee was created six years ago by members of the Church in Ocean Park, an interfaith congregation, and has since expanded to include community members from outside the church. Today, the committee holds monthly workshops that focus on educating the community about racism and devising ways to address it.

Previous meetings this summer were disrupted by people associated with groups called the Red Elephants and the Beach Goys. In July, five agitators attended the committee’s meeting, and in August their number increased to about 50, some of whom hurled racist and anti-Jewish slurs. Those incidents were captured on video and viewed widely on the internet.

At last Sunday’s meeting, the lively, diverse crowd apparently staved off any hate-fueled attack. Among the supporters, people sported “Black Lives Matter” shirts, waved Mexican flags and wore hijabs. A traditional Aztec dance troupe from South Central Los Angeles also performed at a nearby playground in colorful garb and feathery headdresses.

About a dozen people clad in all black with baseball caps and berets and wearing bandanas covering their faces, identified themselves as members of the so-called anti-fascist group antifa. Several of them who talked with the Journal said they came to “keep the peace” but they declined to give their names.

Yosi Sergant, 41, of Culver City, a community organizer who attends the IKAR community, said he came to stand in solidarity with the committee. He said that although he was deeply troubled by the anti-Semitic outbursts at the committee’s last two meetings, he had other reasons that compelled him to come to the park. 

“It certainly makes me uncomfortable and directly targets me and my heritage, but it’s simply the tip of the spear of the same forces that are incarcerating millions and millions of people of color here in the United States and forcing Dreamers out of the country,” he said. “While I show up because I am directly challenged and directly targeted, I also show up because we are all targeted.”

Goodwin said the meeting was “one of the best meetings we’ve had,” with speakers able to disseminate information without interruption.

The lone moment of tension arose when R.C. Maxwell, an outspoken, African-American supporter of President Donald Trump, showed up with a small camera crew to film interactions with members of the crowd. An internet personality who regularly contributes to conservative media, Maxwell frequents protests by progressive groups. In August, he was attacked by a counterprotester during an “America First!” rally in Laguna Beach.

At the Santa Monica park, many of the people dismissed Maxwell as an “internet troll,” including Sergant, who briefly engaged Maxwell before stepping away and then reappearing with a tray of food.

“A little pasta salad for de-escalation,” Sergant cried out before setting the tray down on a table near Maxwell, for anyone to enjoy.

After engaging in a brief shouting match with the crowd across a police barrier, Maxwell and his group were escorted out of the park by helmeted police officers.

Sarah Spitz, 65, who has lived in Santa Monica for 35 years, praised the Committee for Racial Justice and police for taking steps to ensure there wasn’t a repeat of last month’s chaos. 

“I think everyone prepared very well for calming things down and keeping things from blowing things out of proportion,” she said. “The event was basically a non-event.”

When Spitz left, she thanked police officers for being there.

The next meeting of the Committee for Racial Justice is scheduled for Oct. 1.

President Donald Trump on Feb. 28. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters

There is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism

The actual percentage is yet to be exactly known, but it is already clear that a serious number of the major anti-Semitic incidents taking place — such as defacing Jewish graves, painting swastikas on Jewish students’ dorm room doors, and calling in bomb threats to Jewish institutions — are being perpetrated by leftists who wish to perpetuate the belief that Donald Trump’s election victory has unleashed a national wave of anti-Semitism.

The same seems to hold true for post-Trump anti-Muslim and anti-Black incidents.

I could cite dozens of examples. Here are a few:

Last week, it was reported that a Black, left-wing journalist was arrested for phoning in bomb threats to the ADL and half a dozen other Jewish institutions.

On Feb. 27, the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined: “Racist graffiti found at Lakeville South High School.”

The article began: “Swastikas, racial epithets and other racist graffiti were found etched on bathroom stalls at Lakeville South High School on Monday.”

It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a non-white student: “A ‘non-Caucasian’ Minnesota high school student has been disciplined after it was determined he was responsible for racist and antisemitic graffiti found in a school bathroom. The scribblings included a picture of a lynching, the phrase ‘Hail the Ku Klux Klan,’ the ‘N’ word, and a swastika” (The College Fix, March 2).

On March 1, the Toronto Sun headlined: “Bomb threats targeting Muslims close Concordia buildings.”

The article continued: “ … a group threatened to detonate ‘small artisanal explosive devices’ once a day until Friday in order to injure Muslim students. The group, which described itself as a chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada, or C4, complained about Muslim prayer services on campus.”

The next day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported: “The man charged in connection with Wednesday’s bomb threats at Concordia University, Hisham Saadi, was a PhD student in economics there. … Saadi is of Lebanese origin.”

The College Fix, which accumulates data on these hoaxes, reported that “At Massachusetts’ Williams College, two students admitted to trashing the school’s Griffin Hall with a ‘red wood-stain substance resembling blood’ and spelled out ‘AMKKK KILL.’ ” The college newspaper, The Williams Record, later reported that the two students did it “to bring attention to the potential impact of the presidential election on campus.”

At Bowling Green State University on the day after the election, a Black student alleged three white males clad in ‘Trump’ shirts called her a racial slur and threw rocks at her. ABC News reported shortly thereafter that the police concluded she made up the story.

MSNBC posted a tweet that contained what appeared to be a video of a female Muslim student beating up a ‘racist’ male pupil at Washburn High School. “Don’t mess with Somali girls in Minnesota,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell announced. “The dude tried to knock her hijab (headgar) [sic] off, she gave him a hard lesson.”

The video, titled “Welcome to Washburn,” went viral after it was posted to Facebook, with more than 6.5 million views, more than 161,000 shares and more than 29,000 comments.

But the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared the footage a “hoax” and a “play fight” intended as a joke. And school staff confirmed the alleged incident never happened.

Another anti-Muslim incident that was widely reported was proven to be a hoax. A female Muslim student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette alleged that right after the election, two white men, one of whom was wearing a Trump cap, attacked her and stole her wallet and the hijab she was wearing. Her story prompted the ACLU of Louisiana to issue a statement denouncing both the incident and Donald Trump; the FBI launched an investigation; and the story was covered by The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN.

The Muslim student later admitted to police that she made up the whole story.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a San Francisco man who raised a Nazi flag on the roof of his home right after the election was a left-wing Trump-hater.

There are so many examples of hoaxes perpetrated by Black, Muslim and white leftists that they could fill this issue of the Jewish Journal.

The entire notion of a Trump-inspired crime wave is fake news spread by the mainstream media. For more examples, see “There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave In ‘Trump’s America.’ ”

Donald Trump is no more anti-Semitic than the columnists of this newspaper. Nor is Breitbart.com anti-Semitic. And there is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism in America.

This is only one more example of left-wing hysteria — like heterosexual AIDS in America; the “rape culture” on campuses; the alleged crisis of racist cops wantonly killing innocent Blacks; and global warming threatening life on earth.

Jews who think there is such a wave do so because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it. In other words, a lot of Jews want to believe that Jews are hated in America more than ever. Yet another way in which leftism has poisoned Jewish life.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Two seconds: An exploration of racial (in)justice and privilege in the United States

On Friday July 10, at 7:22 a.m., Steve Julian, the host of KPCC’s Morning Edition reported the following, “About 20 minutes ago a Color Guard in South Carolina lowered the Confederate flag at the state capitol, stretched it out, rolled it up, tied a string around it. That flag no longer flies.”


In the summer before my sophomore year of high school, my family moved from Orange County, California, to Nixa, a small town in Southwest Missouri.  I started at Nixa High School two months later.  A few new realities hit me too slowly.  In reviewing these facts twenty years later, it seems as if they would have been immediately obvious.  But, as a 15 year-old, I remember them striking me in the chest as sharp realizations.  I confronted them first in US History class:

· This is not California.  I am living in a new state with a different capitol and a different history. 

· Missouri was divided during the Civil War.

· Nixa was in the South.

· There is a Civil War battleground a few miles from my house.

· I have classmates wearing Confederate flag t-shirts.  I have classmates who display Confederate flags on the back windows of their pickups.

It had never dawned on me before that moment to think that much about the Civil War, our nation’s history of slavery, or Civil Rights.  My family had moved to the South and I hadn’t even realized it. 

The battle of Wilson’s Creek took place on August 10, 1861.  The battlefield lies 9 miles northwest of my family home.  According to the Civil War Trust, “This Confederate victory buoyed southern sympathizers in Missouri and served as a springboard for a bold thrust north….  Wilson’s Creek, the most significant 1861 battle in Missouri, gave the Confederates control of southwestern Missouri.”[1]

I was living 9 miles from a battleground that decided the fate of the new state in which I was living, making my new hometown a part of the south.  And I had no idea.

This is the definition of white privilege.  I moved to an essentially all white school in the middle of nowhere and I never once thought about my safety.


I was living in Israel on September 11, 2001 and was out of the country for the first months of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Living in Israel at this time meant living smack in the middle of the Second Intifada. We listened to bombs exploding as we fell asleep at night.  When I finally returned home to the US in May and I approached the passport counter, I remember feeling very American.  And, I surprised myself when, looking into the eyes a uniformed Border Control agent, what I felt was incredibly safe. Throughout my life, when I have looked at law enforcement officers, I have felt safe.


Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was pulled over on July 10, 2015, for failing to signal a lane change.  And then the situation “escalated.”  The truth is: “escalated” is a euphemism for what happened next.  Let’s be clear here, at this point, the encounter between Sandra Bland and State Trooper Brian Encinia should have been over. Bland had been issued her traffic citation and she should have been free to go.  Instead, Encinia asked Sandra if she was ok.  She told him she was irritated.  She said she was changing lanes to get out of his way and now she was getting a ticket and she was irritated.  Actually, what she said was, “I am a little irritated.”[2]

Encinia then asked Bland to put out her cigarette.  She said, “I’m in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?”  He said, “Well, you can step on out now.” 

You can step on out now. 

And then the officer who pulled Sandra over proceeded to threaten her with a stun gun, “I will light you up,” he said.  “I am going to drag you out of there.”

And then he pulled her from her vehicle.  He handcuffed her.  She said he pushed her to the ground.  She was charged with assaulting a public servant. Bland was arrested and taken to jail.  In released video footage from the jail, we see her emerging from the bathroom after changing out of the long dress she was wearing into an orange jumpsuit.  As she sits down on a bench, next to the folded mattress and blanket she had just been issued, we see her wiping her eyes. 

I wonder: At what point did her outrage mix with blood chilling fear?

Three days later, she was found dead, strangled in her cell with a trashcan liner around her neck.  Her death is being investigated as a murder.

Why?  How?  How in the world is this possible?  In the United States.  In 2015.  How?  How is a woman threatened with a stun gun, pulled out of her car, handcuffed, and arrested?  For failing to signal a lane change. 


On November 22, 2014, a man in Cleveland, Ohio, made a call to 911.  The caller reported seeing a person, he thought it was a juvenile, holding a gun, he thought it was fake.

Video images released after the fact show a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, playing with an airsoft gun.[3]  When I saw the video, that is just what I saw.  A boy playing with a toy gun.  He reminded me of my nephew.  What happened next is horrifically unimaginable.  Except it was very real.  Cleveland Police officer Tim Loehmann and his partner arrived on the scene. 

One one thousand.  Two one thousand.  Bang. 

Two seconds.

That is how long from when Loehmann arrived on the scene to when he shot Tamir Rice dead.

Two seconds.

He was a 12-year-old boy.

When I first saw the video, I was sure it was a time-lapse reel.  I was sure the footage had been accelerated.  In fact, I tried googling the unaltered original.  But, no.  What I was seeing was unedited, real.  A police officer pulling up to a scene, jumping out of his car, and shooting a child dead. 

Minutes later, Tamir’s 14 year-old sister came running up.  She saw her brother lying dead.  She rushed to him.  Police tackled her to the ground and put her in handcuffs.[4]  I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma she experienced at the hands of law enforcement that day.  14 years old.  12 years old.  These children were b’nai mitzvah age.


When I first saw the video of Sandra Bland’s arrest I started to cry.  What if that were me?  I was breathless, shaking, imagining the fear she must have felt, face slammed into the ground.  I’m sure I would have been angry and defiant and outraged.  And so incredibly scared. 

But, of course, this would never happen to me.  Not in a million years.

This is my white privilege.  I am free to drive my car.  And, if I do something wrong, I may or may not be pulled over for a traffic stop.  And, if I were to get frustrated at a stop, I can easily imagine it being excused.  And, I would drive away.


In a conversation about white privilege, a colleague once challenged me with the following:  Privilege means believing that you can work the system.  Any system. That you can talk your way out of things, that you can negotiate, that you can change an outcome. And you can do all this with a feeling of confidence.  And safety.


A recent poll shows that 55% of Californians and 85% of African-Americans in California believe that “blacks and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system.”[5]  A 2015 report by a police department in California found that blacks were stopped twice as often as their driving age demographic representation, and that blacks and Latinos were searched at three and two times the rate of whites, respectively.[6]


This summer I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me.  The book is composed as a letter, from Coates to his sixteen-year-old son.  He writes the book in response to his son’s feelings of despair when he learns that the police officers responsible for Michael Brown’s death and for subsequently leaving his body to roast for four hours in the summer heat on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri, would go free.[7]

Coates describes the moment like this:

That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free.  The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished.  It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished.  But you were young and still believed.  You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying.  I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you.  I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay.[8]

Coates reveals a heartbreaking truth.  He goes on to explain:

What I know is that when they loosed the killer of Michael Brown, you said, “I’ve got to go.”  And that cut me because, for all our differing worlds, at your age my feeling was exactly the same.  And I recall that even then I had not yet begun to imagine the perils that tangle us.  You still believe the injustice was Michael Brown.  You have not yet grappled with your own myths and narratives and discovered the plunder everywhere around us.[9]

Each time a police officer engages us, death, injury, maiming is possible.  It is not enough to say that this is true of anyone or more true of criminals.[10]


In reading Coates’ letter to his son, so full of a father’s raw feelings of fear and love and loss and anger, I couldn’t help but think of my own ten-month-old daughter.

Dear Sela,

You were born eight days before Tamir Rice was shot dead.  You came into this world filled with promise and future.  In your first seconds of life, I held you to my chest and you looked into my eyes, and I thought, “I know you.”  And know you, I did.  My heart burst with a love I could not have imagined possible and such feelings of hope.

In the weeks after you were born, a family friend, who is African American, told the following story to your mom:  Her 10 year-old son was playing in the backyard and he jumped the fence to get his ball back when it flew over into the neighbor’s yard.  When she saw her son, walking along the back of the house, head framed by his hoodie, she went ice cold with fear.  She sat him down.  “You cannot jump fences,” she said.  You never know who could see you and what they could think.  Maybe your white friends can jump a fence to get a ball.  But you cannot.  Ever.  He looked at her.  Afraid, confused, amused.  What could possibly happen to him for jumping a fence?

My dear sweet, little girl this is what I want for you:  To grow up in a country where every child is allowed to be a child.  To make foolish mistakes and live to learn from them.  To play with a toy.  To jump a neighbor’s fence.  To fetch a lost ball.  To walk down the street holding candy and soda.  To wear a sweatshirt.  To feel safe.


What Coates is trying to get through to his son is that the shooting of Michael Brown was not an isolated event.  Nor was Sandra Bland being pulled over, nor her arrest.  Tamir Rice’s murder was not a fluke of the system.[11]

TIOH’s Social Action Vice President, Heidi Segal, who has had an extensive law career working within the criminal justice system, worked hard to impress Coates’ point upon me. She explained:

Discretion is a necessary feature of our criminal justice system, and when exercised properly it can even promote a fairer and more just result, as opposed to a system that has mandatory sentencing.  I think that the problem with our system is that there are so many points where discretion is exercised, and it generally goes unchecked and with no transparency. This is where racial and other biases come into play.  “And that is where the impact can be both immediate and tragic – like Michael Brown and Sandra Bland, and also more subtle, long-ranging. 

What Heidi is describing is systemic and institutionalized racism. 


One month ago, on August 19, I arrived at Ebenezer Baptist West Church in Athens, Georgia, along with 25 others marchers.  That day, I took 32,000 steps for justice, walking 15 of the 860 miles that separate Selma, Alabama, from Washington, D.C.  I joined a contingency of almost 200 Reform Rabbis who helped make the journey, carrying a sefer torah, a Torah scroll the entire length of the march.  The Journey for Justice was focused on issues of education, economic inequality, youth, voting rights, and criminal justice reform.[12]

Throughout the day, I marched with the President and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.  After the walk, I had the chance to share dinner with Mr. Brooks, and he shared the following story with our table:  One night, I was driving home from work and a police car pulled me over.  I stopped and immediately rolled down my windows, turned on the light in my car, put my wallet – driver’s license and insurance card up – on the dashboard, and put my hands on the wheel, as I always do when I am pulled over.  The officer came up to my window and asked, “Why did you pull over?”  I answered him:  “I pulled over because you pulled me over.”  Then he asked me, “What are you doing out here?”  I answered:  “I’m driving home.  I’ve worked a long day and I’m exhausted.  I’m just trying to drive home.”  The officer looked back at me, “I’ve worked a long day too.  And, I’m just trying to drive home too.” 

And that is when Mr. Brooks realized:  The officer had not pulled him over.  He was so conditioned to a police car following him to detain him, that he had pulled himself over.


There is a problem with racial profiling in this country.  In this state.  And, what I have learned is that people of color have millions and millions of stories that sound a lot like Mr. Brooks’.  Heidi Segal continued her explanation:

It all starts with an officer’s discretion in pulling over or stopping an individual, the decision whether to search that person, the decision whether or not to arrest them, the decision to charge, the decision of what the charges should be – infraction, misdemeanor, felony, the decision to ask for bail, the decision to set bail, the decision to take the case to trial or offer a plea bargain, and what the sentence should be. And even later, what happens to them when they get incarcerated, when they will be released, and the conditions set on them.  It goes on and on. The point is that once you are in that system, you are at the mercy of these unchecked discretionary decisions.

It all starts with an officer’s discretion.  Listen to that statistic that I shared with you a few minutes ago, once again:  A 2015 report by a police department in California found that blacks were stopped twice as often as their driving age demographic representation, and that blacks and Latinos were searched at three and two times the rate of whites, respectively.[13]

And so, even if we, as individuals, hold firmly to a belief that we, individually, have transcended racism as we understand it, we are still responsible.  We have to make real and deep changes to transcend the privilege that is automatically extended to many of us, and join together in dismantling the systemic and institutionalized racism that permeates too many areas of the social and legal fibers of our country.

How do we begin to change a shockingly broken criminal justice system?  We stop the encounter before it starts. 

In the state of California, Reform Jews from over a hundred congregations, in connection with Reform CA, are working to pass AB 953, a piece of legislation that will respond to the problem of racial and identity profiling, as well as call on law enforcement to have more transparency. 

This legislation will make it illegal for law enforcement officers to profile someone not only based on race, but also based on gender identity, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation. 

This legislation will require peace officers to be transparent about the date, time, and location of a stop.  The reason for the stop.  The result of the stop (even if it resulted in no action).  Finally, officers will be asked to report what they perceived the race or ethnicity, gender, and approximate age of the person to be.

I discussed this notion of transparency with a sheriff’s deputy.  He explained to me that public perception of law enforcement in our state is skewed.  He explained that this sort of profiling is not occurring.  AB 953 will build trust between the community and law enforcement.  We will be able to see real data regarding those points of discretion Heidi taught us about.  From the very first moment.  And, if there is a problem of profiling, this bill gives our state the ability to respond to it.  It calls for the formation of a non-partisan Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board, which will review and respond to these issues.

This bill has already passed the Senate and is heading back to the State Assembly.  Now all we need is for Governor Brown to sign it into law.  But, our governor is wavering.  He needs to know that this law matters to us.  One of the action steps I want to invite you to take today is to fill out a pledge card, pledging your support to learn more about this bill, and, hopefully, to take the concrete action of making a phone call or sending an email to our Governor, asking him to sign this bill into law. 

The other invitation I have for you is to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book and join me and an activist I met on the Journey for Justice, Keshia Thomas, in a conversation about Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, criminal justice, and the goals for the Journey for Justice in October.  Keshia and I are still settling on the exact date because, after 45 days and 860 miles of marching, Keisha Thomas is taking her last steps into Washington DC as we speak.  And so, even though we began planning as she marched down rural roads of Virginia, we still are working on setting an exact date.  If you don’t know Keshia Thomas’ story, remember her name and google her later or ask me about her during the luncheon.  She is not a speaker you will want to miss.


Here is what I have left to say, a message I have, in fact, been delivering all along:

In his sermon on Rosh HaShanah, the thirteenth century rabbi Ramban questions why Torah calls Nissan (the Hebrew month in the spring during which we celebrate Passover) the first month and it calls Tishrei (the month we began yesterday) the seventh month.  Ramban explains that Nissan is indeed, the first month of the year, when you look at the world through the prism of the Jews.  The exodus from Egypt, which happened in Nissan, marks our people’s real beginning.  It is the beginning of our story. 

Rosh HaShanah, on the other hand, is the beginning of the world’s story.  It celebrates the birth of humanity, the totality of existence, the world.  Throughout time, Jews have marked this new year, the universal day one, as the first day of our New Year.  Our own story of redemption has a part in the mix, but it is not at the forefront.

Our tradition has always been clear:  On Rosh HaShanah, our responsibility is to see our own existence in a global context.  This is the time we are meant to look outward in order to look inward.  This is the time to see:  The world’s story is our story.  Our neighbor’s narrative is our narrative.  Our brother’s plight is our plight.  Our sister’s struggle is our struggle.

And so, today I mourn the loss of twenty-eight-year-old Sandra Brown, who was excited to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, and Tamir Rice, a sixth grader at Marion-Seltzer Elementary School.  I highlight the story of Ta-Nehisi Coates and the tears of his son Samori.  I tell my own story and I hope, make space for you to imagine yours.

On this, the day in which Jewish tradition invites us to look at ourselves and the world around us and recommit ourselves to the tikkun, the repair, of them both 

On this, the day on which we celebrate another 364 opportunities to wake committed to healing…

On this day, I declare:  Let 5776 be a year of tzedek, a year of justice.  Let 5776 be the year we take collective action.  Let 5776 be the year that everything begins to change.

Shanah Tovah, may this be a good year for all of us.


[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/07/22/what-cops-are-saying-about-the-sandra-bland-video/

[3] http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-tamir-rice-investigation-documents-20150613-story.html

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/us/in-tamir-rice-shooting-in-cleveland-many-errors-by-police-then-a-fatal-one.html

[5] http://leginfo.ca.gov/pub/15-16/bill/asm/ab_0951-1000/ab_953_cfa_20150511_173248_asm_comm.html

[6] http://dignityandpowernow.org/ab-953-imagining-an-existence-without-racial-profiling/

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/us/michael-brown-a-bodys-timeline-4-hours-on-a-ferguson-street.html?_r=0

[8] Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, 11.

[9] Coates 21.

[10] Coates, 131.

[11] http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/officer-who-killed-tamir-rice-found-unfit-previous-police-job

[12] http://www.naacp.org/ajfj

[13] http://dignityandpowernow.org/ab-953-imagining-an-existence-without-racial-profiling/

Editorial Cartoon: That could have been us

The fall of Donald Tokowitz

[UPDATE, May 2] My conversation with Donald Sterling

My head is spinning from watching the horror show of Donald Sterling’s racist rants and his subsequent lifetime banishment from basketball. In case you’ve been on Mars the past week, Sterling is the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was recorded spewing racist bile to his mistress, telling her, among other things, not to bring “black people” to his games.

The sin of cheating on a spouse is bad enough, but in today’s world, the sin of racism looks even worse. It’s not simply that bigotry of any kind has become so frowned upon. It’s also the new media environment we live in.

Put it this way: If you want to be a racist today, you’d better keep it to yourself. We can’t legislate decency, but we can shame bigotry like never before. In a digital world, where millions of sound bites can spread in seconds and never go away, unleash your bigoted impulses and watch your legacy go down in shame.

When Donald Sterling’s great-great-grandchildren Google his name a hundred years from now, the first thing they’ll see is that their famous ancestor was famous for being a racist. They’ll learn that he was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent to minority tenants, and that the bigoted rants revealed in April 2014 were only the latest in a long pattern of racist behavior.

They may also learn that he grew up in Boyle Heights and saw his father wake up every morning at 2 a.m. to buy produce and resell it to local restaurants. And that he picked up his father’s strong work ethic to work his way through law school, and when the big firms did not hire Jews at the time, started a thriving practice to help everyday people get legal assistance.

They may learn all that, but in the end, it is the bigotry and racism that will stick. 

His descendants may also learn that Donald changed his last name from Tokowitz to Sterling to give himself an aura of success. The name Tokowitz, apparently, sounded too Jewish.

I guess you can say that his name change was good for the Jews. 

Can you imagine the anti-Semitism that would have been rekindled today had it been billionaire Donald Tokowitz spewing these racist rants? Not that people can’t do quick research and figure out that Sterling is Jewish, but in our Twitter-dominated world, “Tokowitz the racist” is exponentially worse for the Jews than “Sterling the racist.”

How’s that for delicious irony? By selfishly worrying about his own reputation, he ended up protecting — somewhat — his own people’s reputation.

There is something pathetic about a wealthy old man caught in the vise of bigotry. Of all that I’ve read about this saga, maybe the saddest thing is that Sterling doesn’t have any tenants in his Beverly Hills office building. Apparently, that’s so he can ride up in his gold-plated elevator alone. God forbid he should come into contact with ordinary people. 

It makes you wonder: Was there anyone he respected in his inner circle who could confront him? Or did they all laugh at his jokes, funny or not, as cronies are wont to do?

Beyond the issue of Sterling’s personal failings, there is also the hypocrisy of those who have enabled his behavior — groups such as the National Basketball Association, which for 30 years failed repeatedly, until now, to punish his misconduct.

Another group that comes to mind is the NAACP, which gave Sterling a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 — the same year he paid out a record $2.75 million to settle allegations of discrimination against minority tenants — and recently announced that it planned to give him another award at its 100th anniversary gala this month.

 Of course, after this latest eruption of bigotry, complete with smoking gun, the NAACP’s leaders have seen the light and announced they will not honor Sterling this month and are taking steps “to rescind the previous award they bestowed on him.”

Sorry — nice try, but too little, too late.

It’s no secret around town that organizations desperate for funds have been honoring Sterling and his wealthy connections for years while closing their eyes to his racist indiscretions. All these groups were playing with fire, but the NAACP, for obvious reasons, should have been extra careful not to associate with someone with such a shady record in race relations.

If the NAACP is looking for someone to honor at its gala event, I have an idea: Honor the Jews who helped start the NAACP a hundred years ago — names like Julius Rosenthal, Henry Malkewitz, Lillian Wald, and Rabbis Stephen S. Wise and Emil Hirsch.

Those Jews never felt a need to make their names sound less Jewish. They didn’t have to — they had nothing to hide.

The memory of these heroes may not raise as much money or sell as many tables as a billionaire slumlord does, but their great-great-grandchildren will have no shame when they Google their names. 

Jewish groups slam racist rant attributed to Donald Sterling

Jewish groups condemned the racist remarks attributed to Donald Sterling, the Jewish owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, called the remarks “reprehensible.”

“If the National Basketball Association’s investigation reveals that Mr. Sterling in fact made these racist and intolerant statements, we expect and anticipate a swift and forceful response,” Foxman said in a statement. “We applaud those within and outside the NBA who have already spoken out on this issue. It is reassuring and affirming to know that such flagrant racism is so widely regarded as out of bounds.”

TMZ published a 10-minute recording of the racist rant on its website late Friday, saying the recording was a conversation between Sterling and his model girlfriend, V. Stiviano.

Sterling, the son of Jewish immigrant parents, allegedly tells his girlfriend, who is black and Mexican, not to be seen in public with black people or to post photographs of herself with black people on Instagram. He also tells her not to bring black people, including Magic Johnson, to his team’s basketball games.

Johnson and others in the NBA community, notably Michael Jordan, the former Chicago Bulls superstar and now an owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, have slammed Sterling’s remarks, as did President Obama in Malaysia over the weekend.

On Sunday, an extended audio from the conversation was released by the website Deadspin in which the man identified as Sterling is heard explaining that his views reflect the way the world works. As evidence, he says that black Jews in Israel “are just treated like dogs.”

His girlfriend is heard countering that as a Jew, Sterling should know better than to advocate discrimination, and she cites the Holocaust as an example of where racism can lead.

Amanda Susskind, ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director, called on Sterling to reject the statements attributed to him.

“In Los Angeles, the most diverse major city in the country, we take as a point of pride that our leaders — in business, in government and in the community — embrace and accept this diversity without bias or bigotry,” Susskind said in a statement. “Both are suggested in the shocking language attributed to Mr. Sterling. We hope he disavows both the language and the sentiment behind it.”

The American Jewish Committee condemned the remarks and called on the NBA to take appropriate action against Sterling.

“Donald Sterling’s callous remarks regarding African Americans are a painful reminder that, 60 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, and 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, there is still work to be done,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “And that someone so deeply involved in the NBA, which exemplifies the racial tapestry of our country, would think this way is all the more striking.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who also is Jewish, called the racist remarks attributed to Sterling “truly offensive and disturbing.” He said in a statement Sunday that the league will move “extraordinarily quickly” in its investigation.

The Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which had been scheduled to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award on Sunday, said via Twitter that it had rescinded the award.

Sterling, a lawyer and real estate owner born Donald Tokowitz, bought the Clippers in 1981. He currently is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA.

Jews in Mandela’s South Africa

The year was 1994; South Africa was hanging on a thread. The first free general election was about to take place on April 27.

The world was waiting with baited breath to see whether civil war would erupt and blood would be shed.

 I had just moved from Cape Town to live in the most dangerous city in the world, Johannesburg. I could not have been more excited about my upcoming wedding four weeks from that date.  

When I was 8 years old, I remember sitting next to my grandfather and asking “Why did you not take the boat from Vilna to America?” “My darling,” he said, “do you think Jews could go anywhere they wanted?”

 There was a small quota in 1927 allowing Jews to emigrate from Lithuania to South Africa. So three generations ago, my grandparents fled oppression and anti-Semitism to go to a country on a different continent where some had rights, but many did not.

In hindsight, when I read about the events leading up to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, including the violence occurring on a daily basis in the townships and the tribal fighting, I am amazed at not only the turmoil and uncertainty in which we lived, but also how we continued with “life as normal”

I lived three minutes away from Alexandria Township, and hearing gunshots and seeing smoke from our balcony was a common occurrence.   However, since media censorship was still in place, we did not hear or see or read about most of the turmoil and violence. It was the outside world that truly had more insight into what was going on in South Africa. I remember some of our relatives and friends fleeing the country before our wedding, being convinced civil war would break out at any minute.

Instead of fearing the new political situation and its possible implications for me and the Jewish community in South Africa, I was filled with a sense of hopeful anticipation and a sense of purpose that all young people and specifically women could play in this new democratic country.

I foresaw the many opportunities in this  “New South Africa” At 25, I had started a market research company and would go into township and tribal areas to conduct in-depth interviews and group discussions with my teams of interviewers. Since no research had previously been conducted in any of these areas, and all groups had been kept separate from each other under the Apartheid system, we had very little understanding of the cultures, attitudes, needs and wants of communities.

I was fascinated by the differences in each tribe’s culture and realized that understanding a person’s culture is the foundation of respect in a new society.  When I lectured to research students on how to go about conducting qualitative and quantitative research it was many times them who taught me the appropriate terms of respect and endearment when addressing people of various ages.

From being a feared and regarded by many white South Africa as “persona non grata” whose name was mentioned in whispers, ” Nelson Mandela became our savior and leader. He assured each and every person that no matter their religious affiliations, tribal roots or the color of their skin, they had a home in the new South Africa — the “rainbow nation”. 

Despite these assurances, the many opportunities that presented themselves in the new South Africa and the adoration and respect for Nelson Mandela, I feared for the future of the Jewish Community in the New South Africa. I read about and witnessed the horrific, escalating daily crimes and the close alliances that the New African National Congress (ANC) government had formed with then Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro and Muammar Gadhafi.

For generations, Jews in South Africa had been asking, “Is there a place for us, do we have a future?”  Before Mandela was elected President, we personally, and as a community, continuously debated this topic.

Now, with Mandela’s passing, we continue to ask the same question. While the world and the political environment have changed over the past 19 years, the debate for Jews in South Africa remains the same.

Mandela was a hero because he understood each group’s and each community’s insecurities and fears.  When one suffers, it is easy to become insulated and myopic. Mandela experienced suffering, dedicated his life to the freedom struggle, having spent 27 years in prison, sacrificing his family life and enduring harsh conditions. Yet somehow, he was able not only to forgive and reach out to those who had tormented him, but also to show empathize with them at the very things they feared.

Each time I heard Mandela speak, dressed in his famous “ African shirts,” I think of a man of immense power, but with amazing humility, modesty and compassion. To South African Jews, and to people throughout the world, he has a value we will never be able to quantify.  He represents the very best of human kindness, one that always tried to build a better South Africa for all South Africans.

Today as a Jew, what concerns me most is that there is no one in the South African Government who can maintain that same level of empathy and closeness for the South African Jewish community or who understands the Jewish community’s affiliations with Israel as Mandela did. He understood that Israel is not just a country, but also a part of each Jewish person.

South Africa’s Jewish community, in particular, will be forever grateful for the influence Mandela had on their lives not just as President, but also for the respect he showed for every religion.

Leora Raikin is a South African fiber artist, author, teacher and speaker on African tribal arts and customs through African Folklore Embroidery as well as The Jews of Southern Africa- From Vilna, to Cape Town to Los Angeles.  www.aflembroidery.com She has lectured at  Skirball Cultural Museum and was guest artist at Camp Ramah. In South Africa she founded Strategic Property Research and was awarded Business Achiever of the year for her work in post-apartheid research. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband Gary and son Joshua.

Is the Civil Rights movement over?

Ask any schoolchild when the civil rights movement took place and she will likely tell you it was in the 1960s. Recent events have made us wonder what we can do to re-create a similar sense of urgency about the civil rights at issue today. Although the challenges we are facing today differ greatly from those of yesteryear, how do we get people to think about civil rights in the 21st century? There are so many areas where we still have work to do — challenges facing the LGBT communities, immigrant rights, human trafficking — not to mention ingrained and ongoing racism and other bigotry. And there are new ways in which we are challenged by new technology — the anonymity of hate on the Internet, how much more ubiquitous (and permanent) cyberbullying is than real-time bullying ever was. 

As we look back, we are struck by the successes of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Certainly we didn’t have better race relations or communications systems in place 50 years ago. Yet enormous strides have been made — the Civil Rights Acts, case law against discrimination and, more recently, hate-crimes legislation — even when public opinion was not there. What were the keys to the success of the movement then, and how can we regain that type of momentum now? One factor was a sense that there was a coalition among diverse groups all working toward the same goal. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” There is no escaping the fact that civil rights groups and community organizations must work together to combat lingering racial and social injustice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles has reopened the civil rights division. The Anti-Defamation League, celebrating its centennial this year, has launched a campaign,o “Imagine a World Without Hate.” The Urban League of Greater Los Angeles works with schools and nonprofit organizations to reduce dropout rates in area schools. While these and more are certainly good examples of this happening, there are too many cases in which polarization — of our communities, our politics and our media — has led us away from rather than toward each other. 

The Zimmerman case gave rise to discussions about racial disparity and stereotyping of African-American males. According to a Pew Research Center poll on the racial divide over the George Zimmerman verdict, 86 percent of African-Americans that were surveyed felt dissatisfied with the verdict of the Zimmerman trial, while only 30 percent of whites reported feeling dissatisfied with the verdict. Many commentators remarked on race relations during and after the Zimmerman case, but sadly some turned inward to fight the battle instead of building bridges.

Some groups and self-appointed leaders organizing in the wake of the tragedy employed rhetoric that demonized and marginalized other communities rather than uniting and mobilizing them. The New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 bounty for the capture of Zimmerman and called for the mobilization of 10,000 black men to capture him. When one of its leaders, Mikhail Muhammad, was asked if he was inciting violence, he simply said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Their Florida representative called Zimmerman “a wicked white beast” and claimed “his father is a Jew; he’s a no-good Jew.”

In Lancaster, there was a community prayer and call to action. One of the speakers, Stan Muhammad, spoke as a community leader and city commissioner in calling for the creation of the Antelope Valley Youth Ambassadors for Peace. In his speech, he made a reference to certain rap artists being “faggots” who “have sold their soul to the devil [and are] being paid by the Synagogue of Satan to keep our people deaf, dumb and blind.” Granted, he apologized when people reacted immediately and with outrage, but only for his use of the term “faggots.” In trying to explain, he clarified that he was referring to rap artists who “have made a deal with the Synagogue of Satan and the deal is this: You put out what I tell you to put out because I do not want your people conscious.” The “Synagogue of Satan” is a reference to a Nation of Islam conspiracy theory that assumes that the world is being manipulated and corrupted by Satanic powers led by Jewish elites.

It is not only members of the African-American community who have jumped to bigoted conclusions in the very context of addressing civil rights and other matters affecting the community. Pamela Geller, co-founder of American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, has utilized Islamophobic vitriol in the name of coming to Israel’s defense. Her 2012 campaign of bus advertisements included one that read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” More recently, Geller’s group promoted an 18-point platform about stopping Muslim immigration into countries that do not have Muslim majorities.

Perhaps our 24-hour news cycle and the multitude of information options have contributed to a system that rewards brevity, not mindfulness. Sound bites prevail over dialogue. In some cases, self-interest trumps altruism.

But if we are successful in couching our 21st century challenges in a comparable framework of the civil rights movement, we must take our time, choose our words, and join forces to foster inclusiveness and mutual respect among communities of all kinds. 

Our communities are facing difficult, tense and painful experiences, and we are not wrong for feeling prey to ongoing racism and bigotry. However, in order to productively and effectively respond to these persistent civil rights issues, as leaders we must denounce radical hate-mongering rhetoric and reach across racial and religious lines to unite in the fight against bigotry. The Urban League must stand up to anti-Semitism in radicalized African-American leaders just as the Anti-Defamation League stands up to Islamophobia in Jewish leaders. We must not forget the lessons learned from the 20th century civil rights movement as we forge our way in these complicated, polarized, high-speed times.

Amanda Susskind is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest Region. Nolan Rollins is the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Los Angeles.

Religious groups urge understanding following Sikh Temple shooting

Religious groups are calling for tolerance after six people were killed in a shooting attack at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism have joined with Shoulder to Shoulder, a national religious, faith-based and interfaith organization, to encourage Americans to join special services with their local Sikh communities in the wake of Sunday’s shooting outside of Milwaukee.

“As we wait for further information regarding the motive of the shooter, we reiterate our deep commitment to a United States that is able to tolerate and respect the many religious traditions that live together in this great country,” Christina Warner, campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder, said in a statement. “The tragedy in Milwaukee shows painfully the need for Americans of all faiths to learn about one another and embrace the diverse religious tapestry of the United States.”

Along with the deaths, at least three people, including a police officer, were injured in the attack.

The Anti-Defamation League condemned the violence and reached out to the Sikh community at a national level to express concern, condolences and solidarity, as well as offer its resources and guidance on institutional security and response in the aftermath of a hate crime.

“Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ADL and law enforcement officials have documented many apparent ‘backlash crimes’ directed at Muslim, Sikh, and Arab Americans,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “We have raised concern about a spike in bigotry against Muslims and others perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin. This attack is another gruesome reminder that bigotry and hate against those whose religion makes them ‘different’ or ‘other’ can have deadly consequences.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 incidents since 9/11 involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Arab Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South-Asian Americans and other individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin.

Racism scandal dogs Australia’s only Jewish Olympic athlete

The only Jewish athlete on Australia’s Olympic team unwittingly has been drawn into a racism scandal on the eve of the London Games.

Steven Solomon, 19, of Sydney, was selected to represent Australia in the 400-meter race ahead of John Steffensen, a 29-year-old Australian of South African descent, who defeated Solomon at the Olympic trials earlier this year, though neither had the needed qualifying time.

But Solomon won the bronze medal at the World Junior Athletics Championships in Barcelona last weekend with a personal best time and anchored the 4×400-meter relay team to fourth place, prompting Athletics Australia officials to call him their “rising star.”

Steffensen, who won a silver medal in the relays at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and two Commonwealth gold medals, threatened to boycott the London Games after he heard the decision.

“I’ve put up with being racially vilified by this federation, being discriminated against on many teams,” Steffensen, who has aboriginal ancestry, said of Athletics Australia. “You know it would help if I was a different color.”

Steffensen on Monday said he was given a provisional entry for the 400 meters by Athletics Australia, Reuters reported. But the news service reported that AA chief executive Dallas O’Brien told Fox Sports TV that “it is very clear at the moment that Steve is the first and only choice from Athletics Australia selectors.”

Solomon, who was captain of the Australian junior football team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games, has not been drawn into the scandal. Both runners have been selected for the 4×400 relay.

Remarkably, Solomon did not have any formal athletics training before 2009. After the Games, he will accept a scholarship to study medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Ethiopian-Israeli Jews, mistaken for African migrant workers, feel racism’s pain

When violent riots against African migrant workers erupted in south Tel Aviv recently, a mob attacked Hanania Wanda, a Jew of Ethiopian origin, mistaking him for a Sudanese migrant worker.

“Wanda is my friend,” says Elias Inbram, a social activist in the Ethiopian community and a former member of the Israeli diplomatic corps who served as spokesman for the embassy in South Africa. “I knew I had to react somehow.”

He suddenly realized, says Inbram, 38, “that since to white people, all blacks look the same—I, an Israeli Jew who is black, or anyone in my family, or anyone in my community, could be attacked, too.”

That moved him to stencil “CAUTION: I am not an infiltrator from Africa” onto a bright yellow T-shirt. He then drew in by hand, in the upper left corner, the unmistakable yellow “Jude” patch from the Nazi era.

Last week, he posted a picture of himself wearing the shirt—the only one he has printed—on Facebook. It already has gained thousands of “likes.”

“I want to force people here to think of the racism and hatred in Israeli society,” Inbram, who holds a master’s degree in law and is interning before applying for the bar, told JTA.

The wave of violence in Israel against African migrant workers and asylum seekers, in which nearly a dozen Jews of Ethiopian origin also have been attacked in the past few weeks, has forced many Ethiopian Jews to deal with race in a way they have until now mostly avoided. Some said it has forced upon them a new consciousness and political awareness.

“I have a law degree and a master’s degree. I served in the army,” Inbram said. “Another friend of mine who was beaten up is a Ph.D. candidate. We’re Israeli citizens. But none of that matters. Ever since we came, the state has treated us as if we should say thank you for anything we receive, as if we have no rights as Jews and Israelis. But now we are afraid because in the eyes of whites, we are first of all blacks.”

Aliza, 23, a sociology student at Hebrew University who would give only her first name, told JTA, “At the beginning, when white friends would ask me how I feel about the migrants from Africa, I would get pretty angry. Why should I feel anything special? Just because we’re both black? I thought it was racist and patronizing. I’m Jewish and Israeli. Jewish history is much more relevant to me than African history. I relate more to Jews from Eastern Europe than to African Muslims or Christians. I was a baby when I came here.”

But the violence—and in particular, she said, the torching of an apartment where Eritrean migrants were living in Jerusalem early this week—have changed her mind.

“Now I’m scared to live in my own country—because I’m black,” she said.

Shula Molla, 40, a Jerusalem educator who chairs the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jewry, a leading advocacy group, said Aliza’s feelings were common.

“The violence has forced the Ethiopian community to come to some difficult, but mature, realizations,” she said. “Until now, some community leaders have tried to avoid talking about systemic racism. They tried to explain away racist incidents; some even blamed the community—that we’re not progressive enough, that we haven’t adapted quickly enough.

“But now we all must deal with racism,” she added. “Of course I don’t feel particularly connected to Africans, but society is forcing us into a common fate. How I define myself doesn’t matter. Only my skin color is visible.”

Inbram was a member of the Foreign Ministry’s committee that deals with asylum seekers and said he feels no particular affinity or commonality with the migrant workers. He said he hesitated before adding Nazi badge to his shirt. But then he thought: “We Jews and Israelis are very quick to condemn anti-Semitic attacks – like the ones near Lyon in France just this week. But same thing is happening in our own country. Instead of being a ‘light unto the nations,’ we behave worse than many of the countries we criticize. Germany has much more humane policies toward migrants and asylum seekers than Israel has. We should be doing some serious soul-searching.”

He added, “At first, Hitler only called for the expulsion of the Jews.

“I don’t think of myself as African; I think of myself as Jewish and Israeli,” he said. “And the majority of these people are not asylum seekers. They are migrant workers who should be deported. But while they are here, they should be treated with kindness and compassion and provided with vocational training. I say that because I’m human, not because I’m black or African.”

Molla is particularly critical of Israeli leaders.

“I’m certainly not justifying the racism against migrant workers, but I believe that each of us has a kernel of racism in him or her,” she said. “In South Tel Aviv, society has pitted a poor, neglected community of veteran Israelis against the even weaker, more vulnerable community of migrants.

“So I don’t expect the residents of Tel Aviv to rise above themselves, but I do expect our leaders to rise above their own racism, and to lead,” she continued. “Instead, they are fanning the worst form of racism.”

She noted that Miri Regev, a Kadima member of Knesset, compared the Africans to “cancer” while Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas “accused them of spreading disease and raping women.”

Meanwhile, Knesset member Aryeh Eldad of the National Union said that “anyone who touches Israel’s border should be shot, and even the prime minister says that the infiltrators threaten the character of our state,” Molla said.

With political leaders granting legitimacy to the violence, she says she has felt a change in how some strangers treat her.

“On the bus, people turn to me and speak in English, because they assume that I am a migrant. The security checks at malls and movie theaters aren’t the same as they are for white Jews, because I’m considered suspicious. It’s getting harder to stop a cab,” Molla said.

Pointing to recent events in Israel, she said that the situation is likely to get worse.

“Last year, in Safed, the rabbis called on residents not to rent to Arabs,” she said. “Our political leaders were quiet—and soon after, in Kiryat Malachi, apartment owners signed an agreement not to rent or sell to Jews from Ethiopia.

“It’s bad enough that an uneducated, deprived mob has taken to racial violence, but what is really terrible is that political leaders have legitimized it,” she said. “And now that it’s been legitimized, the racial violence will spread against all blacks—and that includes me, my children—all Jews from the Ethiopian community.”

Sarkozy: Gunman in French shootings driven by racism [VIDEO]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the same gunman who shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday was also responsible for the killing of three soldiers last week, apparently motivated by racism.

“We know that it is the same person and the same weapon that killed the soldiers, the children and the teacher,” Sarkozy said in a televised address, saying the terrorism alert level in France had been raised.

“This act is odious and cannot remain unpunished.”

Sarkozy also said he would suspend his campaign for France’s April-May presidential election until Wednesday.

Reporting By Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas; editing by Nicolas Vinocur


Probe launched into Safed rabbi’s anti-Arab comments

Israel’s attorney general has opened a criminal investigation on suspicion of incitement to racism against the chief rabbi of Safed.

The probe of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who signed a religious ruling against renting apartments to non-Jews, stems from anti-Arab comments he made several months ago during media interviews, according to reports. Numerous complaints have been lodged with the attorney general’s office over the comments.

Eliyahu reportedly said that “Arab culture is very cruel” and “Arabs have a different codes and norms that have become ideology. Such as the agricultural thefts, which have become part of Arab ideology.” Also, “A Jew should not run away from an Arab. A Jew should chase away Arabs,” and “Expelling Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the strategy.”

Eliyahu signed a rabbinic letter in October 2010 calling on Jews not to rent or sell apartments to non-Jews. It is believed that the letter, which was signed by 50 rabbis, was directed against Arab college students in Safed.

Rev. Wright’s outreach to Jews still unsettling for many

In a series of speeches otherwise notable for their defiant tone against his real and perceived enemies, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. sounded some conciliatory notes toward Jews, casting them as fellow strugglers against inequity and for peace.

But an outburst in a Q-and-A session and an analysis of what lies behind his remarks reveals that the Jewish community may still have reason to be less than comfortable with the former pastor to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Wright launched a media blitz this week just as Obama entered the final stretch of his bid to become the Democratic nominee for president. On Tuesday, Obama expressed outrage over Wright’s latest comments.

The media has highlighted inflammatory passages from Wright’s past sermons in which he suggests that white racism remains pervasive and U.S. foreign policy helped bring about terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. These remarks have dogged Obama’s campaign.

The Wright factor may have contributed to his defeat in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, where he lost to U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), 55 percent to 45 percent. In the Jewish community, where the pastor issue has come up repeatedly, Clinton beat Obama 62 percent to 38 percent, according to exit polls.

The candidate has sought to distance himself from his former pastor, calling Wright’s rhetoric “offensive.” Campaigning Monday ahead of next week’s primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, Obama again repudiated the preacher he once said nurtured his Christian identity.

“He does not speak for me, he does not speak for the campaign,” Obama said.

In three major appearances over the last few days, Wright confronted what he said were the distortions in a campaign against him created primarily by Republicans but taken up also by Clinton advocates.

The appearances included a PBS interview last weekend with Bill Moyers; a dinner Sunday of the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and a speech Monday at the National Press Club in Washington.

The most strident of his speeches came at the press club, where Wright said the “corporate media” had ripped his statements from their context. That context, he said, was the African American church that has remained invisible for too long.

“Maybe now we can begin to take steps to move the black religious tradition from the status of invisible to the status of invaluable, not just for some black people in this country, but for all the people in this country,” he said there.

“This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” he said later during a Q-and-A session. “It has nothing to do with Sen. Obama. This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African American religious tradition.”

Also in the session, Wright addressed his association with Louis Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam leader in lectures in 1984 said Israel represents a “gutter religion” and that Jews in general had corrupted the word of God through “false religions.”

Wright said he disagrees with Farrakhan on some issues but also admires him.

“Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion,” he said. “And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for.”

The distinction between Zionism and Judaism will not placate many Jews. Nor will suggestions that to criticize comparisons between Israeli policies and apartheid is somehow “vilification.”

“How many other African Americans or European Americans do you know that can get 1 million people together on the mall?” Wright said, referring to the 1995 Million Man March that Farrakhan organized. “He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That’s what I think about him.”

Wright’s overall emphasis was on the liberation theology that emerged from the 1960s and 1970s. He often grounded that theology in the Torah texts Christians share with Jews.

“The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive,” he said. “Liberating the captives also liberates those who are holding them captive.”

Outlining such captor-captive dichotomies the evening before in Detroit, Wright placed both Jews and blacks in the “captive” category, criticizing groups who saw the “different” as “deficient”:

“In the past we were taught to see others who are different as somehow being deficient,” he said. “Christians saw Jews as being deficient. Catholics saw Protestants as being deficient. Presbyterians saw Pentecostals as being deficient. Folks who like to holler in worship saw folk who like to be quiet as deficient, and vice versa. Whites saw black as being deficient.”

As if to underscore such solidarity, he started the NAACP speech with a nod to what he said were his Jewish and Muslim supporters.

“I would also like to thank sister Melanie Maron, the former executive director of the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the current executive director of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Jewish Committee,” he said. “I would like to thank my good friend and Jewish author, Tim Wise, for his support.”

Yet such thank-yous could undermine Wright’s efforts at conciliation. Wise is a Louisiana writer who has written extensively about white racism and tackled expressions of anti-Semitism on the left. But he also has repudiated Zionism as nationalist chauvinism while failing to address the chauvinism inherent in the Arab and Islamic movements that deny Israel’s existence.

In 2000, decrying Jewish pride in the selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Wise in Z Magazine described Judaism in the United States “as typified by an ‘objects culture’ of mezuzahs, dreidls and stars of David on the one hand; a popular culture of food, Jewish comedy and entertainment on the other; and all of it topped off by a ‘problems culture’ preoccupied with Israel and anti-Semitism: a negative identity based on real and potential victimhood.”

Wise’s claim that national chauvinism is intrinsic to Zionism jibes with Wright’s earlier reported views that equate the Palestinian experience with the experience of others who have been colonized.

MOCA’s latest exhibition reveals the early years of the ‘Feminist Revolution’

That women corporate executives are now indicted for malfeasance reminds me of the old Zionist litany that: “We won’t have a normal Jewish state until it includes gangsters and whores.”

If the glass ceiling hasn’t exactly been shattered, it does show a bit of leakage, although it’s still difficult to determine comfort levels about a woman being third in line for the presidency — or even a viable candidate.

Does this move toward egalitarianism now constitute a state of normalcy?

These are just some of the questions that make it worth contemplating the significance of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s bold look back at a pivotal period for women in art in “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” an exhibition that opens March 4 at The Geffen Contemporary and runs through July 16, 2007.

Women now make up about 30 percent of the membership of the Association of Art Museum Directors; that’s a huge difference from the early 1970s, when I first became a member and there were only a few women included.

Revisiting the once hot topic of feminism ought to be more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and the inclusiveness of MOCA’s exhibition — curated by former MOCA curator Connie Butler, currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — suggests a new level of seriousness that ought to be of special interest to Jewish viewers.

We, too, have seen a shift in the way Jews are viewed in the society.

We’re now a long way from the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s, when fears of “special pleading” kept many Jews from boldly protesting events in Europe that we subsequently came to call the Holocaust. But that doesn’t mean we should shun the topic of anti-Semitism, how it shaped the role of Jews in American society, and how it once gave us a special sensitivity to the plight of other groups subject to prejudice and indignity.

The MOCA exhibition “will highlight the crucial 15-year period between 1965 and 1980 during which feminism became a cultural force, and the discourse of feminism intersected with the practices of artists around the world.” This exhibition is not about a particular style, but about attitude and about artists positioning themselves in relation to the art world: As women, as feminists and, foremost, as artists. And that should make for an engaging experience of our perception of this art. And once again, Jewish analogies abound, since there has long been discussion about whether there is any such thing as Jewish art” or whether there are “Jewish artists.”

Regarding either Jewish or feminist art, we may ultimately be stuck with Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” And perhaps that will be the most valuable contribution of this exhibition.

Just as I have known artists who didn’t want to be seen in a Jewish context, fearing it might diminish some larger connotations of their work, I have known women artists who wouldn’t want to be shown in Washington’s Museum for Women in the Arts. Strange, since the artist never knows how she will be absorbed by the viewer.

Do we know what people are thinking when they look at Chagall’s painting of a Jew wearing tefillin at the Art Institute of Chicago?

Do people looking at the abstract color-field paintings of Helen Frankenthaler or the sculptures of Louise Nevelson — two women, artists, and Jews — make associations to specific gender or ethnic issues?

Probably not, since they are among the handful of successful women artists who overcame typecasting to make it to the mainstream prior to the advent of feminism, which may suggest why they are not included in this exhibition.

Using scholar Peggy Phelan’s definition, as stated in the show’s advance materials, that “feminism is the conviction that gender has been, and continues to be, a fundamental category for the organization of culture” and that “the pattern of that organization favors men over women,” the exhibition suggests an enormous diversity both in the range of work and in the range of attitudes about what feminism means to women artists (presumably men aren’t capable of expressing ideas about feminism in their work).

Again, Jewish analogies abound, since there is surely no Jewish style, but various Jews have expressed themselves Jewishly in their art, while others have emphatically eschewed such an approach. And what about artists embracing issues that don’t “belong” to them? For example, artists using the Holocaust or racism as a theme, even if they themselves have no personal relation to either issue.

As with any interesting and provocative exhibition, “WACK” promises to raise more questions than it likely will be able to answer. Which may well be all to the good, since we surely need thoughtful questions more than we need simplistic answers. Jewish viewers might approach this work by considering whether there’s any connection between feminism and Jewishness in the work of the many Jewish women in this exhibition (indeed, so many they can’t all be listed here).

Is it fair to suggest that in the 1970s Jews were still in the forefront of what might be thought liberal politics, and that this explains Jewish women embracing feminism? Or did Jewish women feel a special need for stridency, considering the long tradition of male domination in traditional Jewish religious practice. (Yes, I know, women have “special” obligations, such as lighting Shabbat candles; but let’s admit that the Jewish tradition has relegated women to the back of the bus. Indeed, even today’s gender-sensitive liturgies, citing the four so-called matriarchs, omit the two poor handmaidens who went through the pains of childbirth to help make that full dozen of Jacob’s boys!)

There’s no question that such issues inform the work of Chicago — one of feminist art’s most vocal and visible presences. But Jewish questions also enrich the work of Eleanor Antin, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Hél?ne Aylon (the latter, strangely, missing from this show), and it will be worth pondering, in the presence of the work, in what way they do or don’t feel evident in the work of Eva Hesse, Miriam Schapiro and others.

Michael Richards: Still not a Jew

There’s a civil war brewing in Lebanon, missiles sizzle on their launch pads in Gaza; death and doom stalk Iraq; the earth’s climate speeds toward collapse; andIran is five days closer to going nuclear than it was before my Thanksgiving holiday began.

And when I return to work, what does the whole world seem to be wondering?Hey, is Michael Richards Jewish?

Richards is the former “Seinfeld” star who was videotaped at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood lashing out at hecklers using the N-word.

He’s been making the usual Stations of the Media Cross, apologizing ever since.And from the beginning, somehow Richards’ Jewishness, or lack of it, became an issue.

Comedian Paul Rodriguez held a press conference at the Laugh Factory, saying that Richards should know better, because the Hollywood community defended Jews against actor Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic tirades.

The implication was that Richards, a Jew, should not be launching racist attacks.

Black leaders, self-proclaimed and otherwise, told journalists that they’d be watching to see whether Hollywood reacted as strongly to Richards’ racist outburst as they did to Gibson.

How proud Mel must be that the intensity of Hollywood hate speech is now measured in Gibsons.

But if Gibson himself set the standard at 10 Gibsons, Richards is probably closer to a 5. He never made a full-length feature film shot through with vicious stereotypes. He never stood by a kooky Holocaust denier. And when he vented, he vented onstage in the course of an act.

I happened to catch Richards’ act at the Improv back in September. Richards showed up unbilled and stole the evening. He didn’t have punch lines — he had riffs, rants and characters — and he wasn’t close to offensive. At one point, he channeled the conversation of two dogs barking to each other across a suburban neighborhood. You needed to be there, and maybe you needed a drink in you, but it was hysterical. But channeling a racist without sounding like one is a much taller order, and best left to someone not as untethered as Richards.

That said, there’s also just a touch of hypocrisy in roasting a guy for using a word that a great many black comedians from Chris Rock on down use like … a noun. He may have gone too far, in character or not, but he certainly went where other comedians, not to mention hip hop artists, have gone before. How ethnic groups speak among themselves is one thing. But to maintain that the N-word is okay only when black comedians say it in public is a perverse kind of racism of lower expectations, as if they can’t help it but we should know better.

A lot of people in this affair should know better. How goofy is it that Richards must genuflect in apology to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who, for all his good works, is hardly pure in these matters? Evidently, people who live in glass houses can throw stones, so long as the houses are outside “Hymietown.”

And how obscene that attorney Gloria Allred immediately tried to shake Richards down for money on behalf of her clients, the hecklers. How inspiring to see the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement looting the headlines for ratings and cash.

But what interests me about Richardsgate is not black hypocrisy, but Jewish pathology. What tribal chain of ours is yanked the moment someone of indeterminate ethnicity hits the headlines?

The second the brouhaha erupted, there was an atavistic rush to get to the bottom of Richards’ identity. On Nov. 20, The Journal posted a story at reporting that Richards, contrary to the intimations of Rodriguez and others, is not Jewish.

By Tuesday night we had tens of thousands of hits from around the world.

By the following Monday, after a period of Thanksgiving reflection led people to realize what really matters most in life, our Web site had hundreds of thousands of hits, and the piece had been picked up and echoed and blogged on ad infinitum.

Monday morning I had several phones messages and two dozen e-mails demanding confirmation that Richard is not, in fact, Jewish.

What happened is that over the holiday, two more aggrieved audience members came forward and accused Richards of launching into an anti-Semitic rant on the Laugh Factory stage April 22.

Richards’ New York publicist Howard Rubenstein tried setting the record straight. It was preposterous to accuse Richards of anti-Semitism because, Rubenstein told Yahoo News last week, “He’s Jewish. He’s not anti-Semitic at all. He was role-playing, he was playing a part. He did use inappropriate language, but he doesn’t have any anti-Semitic feelings whatsoever.”

That quote was good for another tens of thousands of Web hits. Thanks to Rubenstein’s one man beit din, our original story was under attack.

But our sources were entertainment industry people who’d known the actor his entire professional life.

“Not a Jew. Never was. Take him off the list for a minyan,” e-mailed one comedy writer by way of reassurance. “Rubenstein should be wasting his time on real Jews, like David Beckham.”

(For many in Hollywood, what matters is that Richards’ outburst doesn’t cripple the “Seinfeld” franchise. There are tens of millions of dollars to be lost if fans can’t separate Michael Richards from Cosmo Kramer.)

Hollywood Jews may not know much Mishna or give to Hadassah, but at the tribal level they are sharper than Abe Foxman at knowing who’s in and who’s out.

Rubenstein knows, too, of course. The man Inc. magazine called “PR’s top dog” started his career servicing the Menorah Home and Hospital for the Aged and Infirm in Brooklyn and got his first Manhattan real estate tycoon publicity by arranging for him to sing to little Jewish orphans on Jewish holidays. So I called him and asked how, suddenly, Michael Richards is a Jew.

“Well, he wasn’t born with Jewish blood,” Rubenstein tells me in a voice that is silky, deep and confidential — with just a shmear of Flatbush. “It wasn’t an inherited religion. But after studying some of the other religions, he believes in Judaism, and that’s what he’s adopted for himself.”

Hush Falls Over Jewish Hollywood Post-‘Mad Mel’

Mel GibsonHollywood’s top guns have been quick to answer a vicious anti-Semitic slur, attributed to actor-director Mel Gibson — by staying mostly mute.

Gibson, the director of the controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” was pulled over in the early hours of July 28 while speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and booked on suspicion of drunk driving.

In the original report filed by the arresting officer, Gibson was described as belligerent and cursing the “F*****g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

He then asked Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Mee, “Are you a Jew?” (According to an Associate Press interview with the deputy, Mee is Jewish.)In a contrite apology Tuesday to “everyone in the Jewish community,” Gibson admitted his anti-Semitic slur and asked to meet with Jewish leaders “with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.”

Gibson added in his statement that “There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”

Prior to this statement, attempts to elicit reactions from some 15 leading Jewish producers, directors, actors and writers proved fruitless. A remarkable number were said to be on vacation or out of the country, others did not return phone requests.

Even Alan Nierob, who is Gibson’s official spokesman and Jewish, was said by his office to be on a two-week vacation, although he did make statements to other news outlets.

Well-connected entertainment industry journalists ran into the same shyness. Michael Speier, managing editor of the trade publication Variety, explained the reluctance to speak out in this way: “In Hollywood, you can never help yourself by saying something critical on the record. You don’t want to piss anyone off because you never know when you might need him later on. Who knows, in a few years Gibson might be a changed man and give $10 million to the Anti-Defamation League.”

Bernie Brillstein, a veteran talent agent, manager and resident iconoclast, said, “Hollywood is a small company town and you figure everyone is entitled to his position. Anyway, everybody takes it for granted that Gibson is an anti-Semite, so people say, ‘Well, he did it again.'”

However, he added, “if Gibson’s statement, if true, had been anti-gay or anti-black, there would be an uprising in Hollywood like you’ve never seen before.”

One widely admired exception to the general public silence was talent agent Ari Emanuel, the model for agent Ari Gold in the HBO series “Entourage” and brother of Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

In a widely circulated statement to The Huffington Post blog, Emanuel said, in part:

“At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements. When ‘The Passion of the Christ’ came out, Gibson was quoted as categorically denying any anti-Semitism attributed to him…”Now we know the truth…. People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.”

Emanuel declined to elaborate on his statement.

While many in Hollywood have privately praised Emanuel’s gutsiness, hardly any are willing to emulate him. It has been left largely to some outspoken bloggers to hold Gibson to account.

After scourging Hollywood executives and talent for lack of moral courage and putting dollars ahead of principle, commentator and author Arianna Huffington, of the eponymous huffingtonpost.com, urged Disney studios to scrap plans to distribute Gibson’s next film “Apocalypto” and to cancel his miniseries on the Holocaust on ABC-TV. (On Tuesday, the Disney-owned ABC network announced that it canceling the Holocaust series, although Disney itself is going ahead with the film.)

In a phone interview, Huffington said, “With rising anti-Semitism and the situation in the Middle East, [the Gibson incident] is not a minor issue, and not a freedom of speech issue.”

“People in this country are becoming so fearful, and Hollywood is the most fearful of all,” she said. “There is a real unwillingness to say in public what they say in private.”

As to Gibson’s future, “it depends on how much pressure Hollywood people will exert in this case,” she said,Such pressure will have to come mainly from the public, said Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“Personally, and as a child survivor of the Holocaust, I find Gibson’s statement despicable and unforgivable. But the public generally forgives a celebrity if he shows contrition and apologizes for his trespasses,” Gottlieb said.The day after his arrest, Gibson issued a written apology, blaming his heavy drinking and history of alcoholism for acting “like a person completely out of control…I said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.”

Huffington expressed skepticism of Gibson’s sincerity and noted that he did not specifically apologize for his anti-Jewish slur.

“What will happen is that he’ll make some even more fulsome apologies and then he’ll write some checks to Jewish charities,” Huffington said.

Some observers have also questioned whether Gibson was so drunk when he was pulled over that he had no idea what he was saying. A field test at the time of his arrest showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, while the legal limit for driving in California is 0.08 percent,Dr. Joel Geiderman, co-chairman of the UCLA Department of Emergency Medicine, said that a 0.12 percent level is not particularly high, especially for chronic alcoholics, and was equivalent to consuming three drinks in an hour.

Cultural critic and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler, in an analysis on www.salon.com, saw the Gibson incident as a symptom of the “radicalization of America” under the Bush administration, which has “given license to hatemongers… hate does not carry the stigma it once did.”

However, were Disney to back out of distributing Gibson’s next film, or not air his Holocaust miniseries, “Gibson could be screaming that he is once again suffering for his faith and at hands of the infidels,” Gabler said.

Jewish defense organizations, usually quick to respond to anti-Semitic slurs, have also been largely inactive, perhaps preoccupied with the shooting at the Seattle Jewish federation and the Israel-Hezbollah fighting.

But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a fierce critic of Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” said, “We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite.”

On Tuesday, after Gibson’s specific apology to the Jewish community, Foxman said that apology “sounds sincere” and that “after [Gibson’s] rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, we will be ready and willing to help him with his second rehabilitation to combat this disease of prejudice.”

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, also welcomed the apology and said “We look forward … to Gibson matching his contrition with his own deeds.”

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who were in Israel, urged Gibson “to drop any plans to produce a miniseries on the Nazi Holocaust — [you] do not have the legitimacy to make a film about Jewish martyrdom and suffering during the Nazi era.”

Gibson entered an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend and was not available for comment. He is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 28 on the drunk driving charges.

Defender of France

Jean David Levitte, France’s ambassador to the United States, is arguably its most effective defender against charges of anti-Semitism, in no small part because he himself is Jewish.

I met Levitte at the Beverly Hills residence of the French consul general, Phillipe Larrieu. It’s a sprawling, modernist home near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the walls lined with contemporary art, the small streetside drawing room furnished in … French Regency. Silver coffee service and a plate of petits fours appear.

Levitte, 60, is youthful, patient and polished. He is used to contradicting accusations that France is anti-Semitic, in no small part because of all the anti-Semitism French Jews have suffered over the past few years.

The worst incident occurred just last February, when kidnappers tortured and killed 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, taunting his parents with anti-Semitic slurs during phone calls. The heinous crime led to an uptick in French Jewish immigration to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, and renewed concern that French Jewry’s days were numbered.

I began my interview by mentioning that exactly a year ago, I traveled to Paris to interview French officials and Jewish leaders, all of whom agreed the government had been taking anti-Semitic attacks seriously and that the frequency and severity were in decline. This is what I reported, so my first question to the ambassador was, in so many words: Am I a chump?

Levitte said no. French anti-Semitism continues to be a problem among a disaffected Muslim population egged on by extremist imans, exposed to anti-Israel Arab media and frustrated by its status at the fringes of French society. “If we have a problem with racism,” he said, “it is not anti-Semitism, it is anti-Arab.”

Anti-Semitic attacks, he said — reinforcing what the philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Lévy told our reporter Marc Ballon (see Page 16) — are the smoke from the Israeli-Palestinian fire. “The problem is the connection to the Middle East,” Levitte told me.

Levitte reiterated what I learned last year. The French government has responded to anti-Semitic acts with forthrightness: harsher penalties, better coordination with prosecutors, widespread educational reforms, a crackdown on hate-spewing Iranian and Arab media and ongoing public statements from the president on down.

“When a Jew is attacked in France,” said President Jacques Chirac on Nov. 17, 2003, “it is an attack against the whole of France.”

These steps all contributed to a 48 percent decline in anti-Semitic acts in the first six months of 2005.

Then came the brutal Halimi murder, which obliterated these achievements in the public eye.

Halimi’s parents claimed the French police botched the investigation by, in part, refusing to see it as anti-Semitic in nature. Initial statements by government officials downplayed the role Jew-hatred might have played.

But to Levitte, the official and popular reaction only supports his contention that France is intolerant of intolerance. Tens of thousands of citoyens took to the streets of Paris to express their outrage at the murder. French officials quickly identified 21 suspects. Fourteen are under arrest and 11 are being charged with kidnapping and murder with the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism.

The perpetrators, Levitte pointed out, were not all Muslim. They were inhabitants of the often lawless, neglected neighborhoods surrounding Paris and other large cities. (In the French movie, “La Haine,” (“Hate”), the youthful criminal gang from one Parisian slum includes a Jew. “Hate,” in fact, released in 1995, is a cinematic tarot card of what would be in store for France).

Many of France’s 10 percent Muslim population live in these banlieux. Most are law-abiding and loyal.

“The problem is the 10 percent who are not well-integrated,” Levitte said.

He pointed out that the racial unrest that broke out in Paris this winter (not to be confused with the anti-labor law reform riots of the spring) were not in the “new cities” with large Muslim populations, There were no riots in Marseilles, for example, whose Algerian population is second only to that of Algiers.

The rioters also did not take to the streets waving Algerian flags. What they wanted was not separation but belonging.

“Islam is not the demand of these teenagers,” said the ambassador. “They feel excluded.”

Levitte reiterated his government’s approach to the problem: better schools, stricter law enforcement, more work incentives and the creation of tax exempt zones to spur business investment in the worst areas.

Nevertheless, Levitte acknowledged, isolated attacks against Jews have, “triggered feelings of insecurity” among the country’s 600,000 Jews.

But Levitte said the claims of a French Jewish exodus to Israel are overstated. Many Jews will buy apartments or homes in Israel, but they remain in France. Those who go for good, he said, often come back.

Meanwhile, Israelis themselves seem to harbor less ill will toward the French than American Jews. France is the No. 1 tourist destination among Israelis.

And the feeling appears to be mutual. Levitte quoted (correctly) a 2005 poll by the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, which asked citizens in more than 12 countries their feelings about Jews. The Dutch came in first, at 85 percent, and France placed second, with 82 percent of French citizens checking off “positive feelings” about Jews. (The United States scored fifth at 77 percent, and Jordan and Lebanon tied for last, at 0 percent).

Indeed, for Levitte, the (wine) glass of French Jewry is perennially half full: The Dreyfuss Affair? It showed how the republic stood up to an insidious cabal of anti-Semitic army officers.

“Today it is Dreyfuss who is our hero, not them,” Levitte said.

The Holocaust? Seventy-five percent of the nation’s Jews were saved, and many Frenchmen risked their lives to save them. The government of Israel has recognized 2,500 of them with the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Levitte’s own grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. His father and uncle joined the resistance, and his father later became the leader of the American Jewish Committee in France for 30 years.

“We will not accept anti-Semitism in France,” the ambassador said, with finality. “We will fight this disease.”


French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death

Paris — The brutal murder of a young Jewish man in Paris is roiling the community and reviving questions over whether France is a safe place for Jews.

In an incident that has dominated headlines across the country, Ilan Halimi, 23, was lured away from the store where he sold mobile phones on Jan. 21 by a woman, abducted and then held in a suburban housing project for three weeks by a criminal gang, where he was repeatedly tortured, according to French officials. Halimi’s captors allegedly beat, burned, stabbed and poured toxic fluid on him.

He was then dumped, barely alive and reportedly with burn marks all over his body, at a suburban train station on Monday, Feb. 13. Halimi died while being driven to a hospital.

Until last week, officials and detectives investigating the case said they were not linking it to anti-Semitism. But in a turnaround, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a Jewish communal gathering last week that officials had decided to treat the case as an act of anti-Semitism.

De Villepin said the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s torture and murder be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was among tens of thousands of Parisians, mostly Jews, who rallied last weekend in what was billed as a community march against hate.

“There can be no tolerance of this act of torture and murder and anti-Semitism,” said Sarkozy. “This concerns the Jewish community and all French people.”

Among the marchers was Sandrine Berda, who runs a catering business. “It seems that so much is going on now to try to force us to leave Paris,” Berda said. “I am here to show there are lots of Jews here, and if we leave, Paris will become a pitiful city.”

Police estimated the number of marchers at 33,000, although others put the number much higher.

The question of whether France is still safe for its estimated 600,000 Jews was a major topic of discussion among the demonstrators.

“Many people decide on the safety of Paris by what happens to their children at school,” said Diana Tabbacoff, a psychologist originally from Brazil. “I think everyone believes we must react against ignorance, but personally, my daughter has not suffered for being Jewish. If she did, I would think of returning to Sao Paulo.”

Ironically, officials recently announced that anti-Semitic acts in France dropped by 47 percent in 2005 over the previous year.

The earlier spike of anti-Semitic attacks was largely perpetrated by youths of North African origin, and these incidents had increased in France during the first few years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. This rise had been largely attributed to tensions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The climate for Jews had seemed to improve, however, in recent months, as had France’s relations with Israel. One factor was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Paris last summer and the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

But the recent incident has rocked the Jewish community, with many saying they had felt all along it was a deliberate act against Jews.

“We are here to demonstrate for France, because we live here and we are fed up,” said David Riahi, a student at the HEC business school, marching under the banner of the French Union of Jewish Students. “This is not about calling for people to go live in Israel or the States.”

But one marcher was skeptical that anything could be done to improve the situation.

“Will this really move people to take a look at what is going on or push the government to take more action?” asked Eric Chicheportiche, former head of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “I really don’t know, and I really don’t know what can be done.”

Although most of the marchers were Jewish, there were North African Muslims and blacks in the crowd, and all agreed that this was an anti-Semitic act.

“There are cultured and educated Arabs marching here today who believe we can live and work in peace with Jews [and other French people,]” said Khadidja Cherkaoui, who is finishing a master’s degree in management here. “This was an anti-Semitic act committed by savages.”

Cherkaoui said some typically racist attitudes may come from school.

“I have heard of youngsters being taught by certain teachers that Jews are all rich,” she said. “That is not true and is racist, like saying that all Arabs are terrorists.”

While the statistics show the climate of anti-Semitism has improved in
France during the past few years, Malik Boutih, the former president of the
activist group SOS Racism, who is currently a Socialist Party official, said
the problems of anti-Semitism and racism remain. “We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

“We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

Also noted was the enormous stupidity of the crime.

“These guys are total idiots,” said Audrey Benyoun, marching with friends and her father. “They got absolutely nothing from this except this demonstration. I think a lot of French people are fed up with hearing about such stupid acts.”

While the Jewish community is almost unanimous in its belief that the kidnapping and torture occurred because Halimi was Jewish, many French still want to believe that it was simply a criminal act committed by sick individuals.

Police have made 15 arrests among associates of a gang that apparently called itself the Barbarians. Eleven face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder motivated by anti-Semitism. Those arrested include suspects of North African and black African Muslim origins and of white French background.

French police officials said they originally thought the only motive of the kidnapping was money. After questioning several of the suspects, the police reported that there had been six other kidnapping attempts, four of them against Jews.

Officials said the suspects told police that because Jews were all rich, someone would find the money to ransom them. Only one of those attempts was reported to the police when it took place.

Authorities tracked the accused ringleader, Youssouf Fofana, to the West African country of Ivory Coast, where he was arrested. Extradition proceedings are under way to return Fofana to France.

JTA correspondent Lauren Elkin contributed to this report.

Europe’s Jews Caught in Cartoon Furor

European Jews have expressed a mixture of anger and frustration as the furor over a Muslim cartoon erupted into violence in Europe and the Middle East.

As frequent targets of anti-Semitic cartoons — many of them in the Arab press — Jews on one hand sympathized with the Muslim outrage over depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.

But Jews joined many others in expressing shock at the level of violence the controversy sparked.

“Of course, we condemn all forms of propaganda that carry prejudice toward any faith. But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.

In Denmark, Jews felt solidarity with their country as it came under attack after a Danish newspaper printed the controversial cartoons, including one that depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

“Usually the Jews are always in the center of things, but here we feel we are part of the Danish population,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi.

Other newspapers across the world — in France, in Australia and in the United States — printed one or more of the cartoons. In France, the editorial director of France Soir, was fired after running at least one of the cartoons. At least one Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, also reprinted the cartoons. A German Jewish Web site, haGalil, was hacked after it posted some of the Danish cartoons.

The fallout took on specific Jewish overtones as the Muslim reaction intensified. As Muslims rioted across the Middle East, the Web site of the Arab European League printed anti-Semitic cartoons and Iran’s largest newspaper requested cartoon submissions that question the Holocaust.

“The cartoon was made by a Danish newspaper, not a Jewish one. But once again, someone does something and we as Jews are guilty,” said Petr Kadlcek, the head of Poland’s Union of Religious Jewish Communities.

Most European Jews, led by France’s chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, saw the original cartoons as a needless provocation.

Following a meeting with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sitruk said, “We win nothing by disparaging religions, humiliating them by making caricatures of them.”

Jews are no strangers to racism dressed up as humor, said David Ruzie, a French university professor and international law specialist.

“There is humor, and there is humor,” Ruzie said. “It was through derision that Germany, and in France as well, before World War II, began to attack Jews.”

There was widespread condemnation of the Muslim reaction, which in addition to the anti-Semitic cartoons, included Muslim violence, throwing rocks at Danish and other European institutions abroad and, in some cases, setting buildings ablaze.

“I don’t believe in absolute freedom of expression,” said journalist Jean-Claude Baboulin, writing in Guysen Israel News, a news service, “but I certainly don’t defend the Muslims who believe they have a right to forbid others what their religion forbids them,” he wrote, referring to the Muslim prohibition to depict Mohammed.

This is not the first example of religious slander in the European media, but the reactions are exaggerated, said Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, a Paris official.

“There is something to be angry over, just like when Catholics were furious over caricatures of the Holy Trinity in the French press,” he said, “but the Catholics did not go out and burn buildings.”

Others reacted with more equanimity.

People of all faiths must work to defuse the situation, said Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, complementing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her call “for prudence and de-escalation.”

For some elderly Danish Jews, the violence brought back some historical nightmares, said Lexner, the Danish chief rabbi.

“I think that there are some kinds of fear, especially of those people who have seen this burning of flags and violence in the many countries, and they compare” that to the 1940s, fretting that “things are repeating themselves,” he said.

In England, both lawmakers and Muslim leaders condemned a demonstration last Friday in front of the country’s largest mosque, during which some Muslims threatened terrorism and another “7/7,” referring to the July subway and bus bombings that left 56 dead.

Most Muslim protests in Europe were peaceful, however.

Many European and American Jewish observers noted the irony of Muslims and Arabs objecting to an offensive characterization of Mohammed when anti-Jewish characterizations are rampant in the Arab world.

Some in the secular French Jewish community revealed bitterness at the anger expressed against France, particularly concerning demonstrations that took place in Gaza.

Ruzie wrote on the Web site desinfos.com: “The traditionally welcoming attitude of France toward the Palestinians” has not exactly “paid off.”

Underlying much of the reaction was an anger that efforts at tolerance and dialogue could now be jeopardized.

“Some people have worked for trying to integrate the Muslim community in the Danish society, and I think that, in that way, many years of work were destroyed,” Lexner said.

JTA staff writer Chanan Tigay in New York and correspondents Dinah A. Spritzer in Prague, Lauren Elkin and Brett Kline in Paris and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.


Formula Could Combat Campus Racism

In the past three months, I have visited four “troubled” campuses — Duke, York (Canada), Columbia and UC Irvine — where tensions between Jewish and anti-Zionist students and professors have attracted national attention. In these visits, I have spoken to students, faculty and administrators, and I have obtained a fairly gloomy picture of the situation on those and other campuses.

Jewish students are currently subjected to an unprecedented assault on their identity as Jews. And we, the Jewish faculty on campus, have let those students down. We have failed to equip them with effective tools to fight back this assault.

We can reverse this trend.

Many condemn anti-Zionism for being a flimsy cover for anti-Semitism. I disagree. The order is wrong. I condemn anti-Semitism for being an instrument for a worse form of racism: anti-Zionism.

In other words, I submit that anti-Zionism is a form of racism more dangerous than classical anti-Semitism. Framing anti-Zionism as racism is precisely the weapon that our students need for survival on campus.

Anti-Zionism earns its racist character from denying the Jewish people what it grants to other collectives (e.g. Spanish, Palestinians), namely, the right to nationhood and self-determination.

Are Jews a nation? A collective is entitled to nationhood when its members identify with a common history and wish to share a common destiny. Palestinians have earned nationhood status by virtue of thinking like a nation, not by residing where their ancestors did (many of them are only three or four generations in Palestine). Jews, likewise, are bonded by nationhood (i.e., common history and destiny) more than they are bonded by religion.

The appeal to Jewish nationhood is necessary when we consider Israel’s insistence on remaining a “Jewish state.” By “Jewish state” Israelis mean, of course, “national Jewish state,” not “religious Jewish state” — theocratic states (like Pakistan and Iran) are incompatible with modern standards of democracy and pluralism. Anti-Zionist racists use this anti-theocracy argument repeatedly to delegitimize Israel, and I have found our students unable to defend their position with conventional ideology that views Jewishness as a religion.

Jewishness is more than just a religion. It is an intricate and intertwined mixture of ancestry, religion, history, country, culture, tradition, attitude, nationhood and ethnicity, and we need not apologize for not fitting neatly into the standard molds of textbook taxonomies — we did not choose our turbulent history.

As a form of racism, anti-Zionism is worse than anti-Semitism. It targets the most vulnerable part of the Jewish people, namely, the people of Israel, who rely on the sovereignty of their state for physical safety, national identity and personal dignity. To put it more bluntly, anti-Zionism condemns 5 million human beings, mostly refugees or children of refugees, to eternal statelessness, traumatized by historical images of persecution and genocide.

Anti-Zionism also attacks the pivotal component of our identity, the glue that bonds us together — our nationhood, our history. And while people of conscience reject anti-Semitism, anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a mark of academic sophistication and social acceptance in Europe and in some U.S. campuses.

Moreover, anti-Zionism disguises itself in the cloak of political debate, exempt from sensitivities and rules of civility that govern interreligious discourse. Religion is ferociously protected in our society — political views are not.

Just last month, a student organization on a UC campus hosted a meeting on “A World Without Israel.” Imagine the international furor that a meeting called, “A World Without Mecca,” would provoke.

So, in the name of “open political debate,” administrators would not think twice about inviting MIT linguist Noam Chomsky to speak on campus, though his anti-Zionist utterances offend the fabric of my Jewish identity deeper than any of the ugly religious insults currently shocking the media. He should be labeled for what he is: a racist.

Strategically, while accusations of anti-Semitism are worn out and have lost their punch, charging someone with racism makes people ask why anyone would deny people the right of self-determination in a sliver of land in the birthplace of their history. It shifts the frame of discourse from debating Israel’s policies to the root cause of the conflict — denying Israelis their basic rights as a nation.

Charges of “racism” highlight the inherent asymmetry between the Zionist and anti-Zionist positions. The former grants both Israelis and Palestinians the right for statehood, the latter denies that right to one, and only one side. This asymmetry is the most effective weapon our students should use in campus debates, for it puts them back on the high moral grounds of “fair and balanced” and forces their opponents to defend an ideology of one-sidedness.

For example, I have found it effective, when confronting an anti-Zionist speaker, to ask: “Are you willing to go on record and state that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a conflict between two legitimate national movements?” Western audiences adore even-handedness and abhor bias. The question above forces the racist to unveil and defend his uneven treatment of the two sides.

America prides itself on academic freedom, and academic freedom entails freedom to teach hatred and racism — we graciously accept this fact of life. However, academic freedom also entails the freedom of students to expose racism, be it white-supremacy, women-inferiority, Islamophobia or Zionophobia wherever it is spotted. Not to censor, but to expose — racists stew in their own words.

In summary, I believe the formula “Anti-Zionism = Racism” should give Jewish students the courage to both defend their identity and expose those who abuse it.

This opinion piece appeared in The New York Jewish Week.

Judea Pearl is a professor of computer science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is co-editor of “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.


‘Guess Who’ Can’t Look Jewish?


Apparently, Demi Moore is the only thing people will be seeing on Ashton Kutcher’s arm these days. In the actor’s new film, “Guess Who,” Sony Pictures spent some $100,000 to digitally remove a red string kabbalah bracelet from his wrist, according to a recent article by MSNBC.com’s Jeanette Walls.

While Sony execs declined to comment on the matter, Walls quoted an anonymous source who said that test audiences who watched the film “were really annoyed” by the bracelet.

The movie, which debuted at No. 1 in its opening weekend, is an adaptation of the classic, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” in which a Caucasian girl brings her African American boyfriend home to meet her parents. This time around, they’ve reversed the roles. Kutcher plays the Caucasian boyfriend meeting his African American girlfriend’s parents (played by Bernie Mac and Judith Scott) for the first time.

On a related note, Kutcher also told the Web site Zap2It.com that he originally conceived of his character as being Jewish, too.

“I decided that I wanted to play my character Jewish, to have another difference because Bernie is Christian in the movie and I decided that I wanted to play my character Jewish just to have another difference,” Kutcher told Zap2it.com.

But like the red string, other small references to his Jewishness, like his character saying “Shabbat Shalom,” were cut from the film before its release.

Director Kevin Sullivan told the Web site that the movie’s conflict was supposed to be about racism, not about religion.

“I didn’t want people to think it was about Christianity or Judaism,” Sullivan said.


High Court Hears Prison Religion Case


The U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to side with American Jewish organizations advocating for religious minorities’ rights in prison.

While it’s impossible to determine how the high court justices will rule later this year, Jewish organizational officials who listened to oral arguments Monday were pleased with questioning that suggested the justices support provisions in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, that require prisons to accommodate inmates’ religious requests if possible. Those provisions are being challenged by the state of Ohio.

“The court seemed to have pushed aside their strongest arguments,” Marc Stern, counsel for the American Jewish Congress, said of Ohio’s case.

Stern served as co-counsel for the petitioners, who represented the Bush administration and several prison inmates. Jewish groups generally came down on the side of the petitioners and in favor of religious accommodation in prison.

The petitioners stressed the need for a broad law that would give religious minorities the same rights of religious expression as those enjoyed by Christians in prison. But the justices appeared concerned about laws that would condone overly specific definitions of religious expression, such as dietary or literature requests, fearing they could allow for covert discrimination.

“Is there anything really at stake beyond saying, ‘Treat us the same as you would treat mainstream religions?'” Justice John Paul Stevens asked Douglas Cole, Ohio’s state solicitor.

Several times, justices and attorneys referred to prisoners’ rights to receive kosher meals as an example of religious interests that should be fulfilled.

The case, Cutter vs. Wilkinson, challenges the constitutionality of RLUIPA, which passed Congress with the strong support of Jewish groups in 2000. The law says prisons should not impose substantial burdens on religious expression, unless there is a compelling governmental interest. It also says prisons should use the “least restrictive means” of furthering the government’s interest.

The court’s decision could have implications beyond prisons. The legislation requires the government to have a compelling reason if it denies religious organizations reasonable land use. If the court strikes down the existing law, the land-use provision would be defeated, too.

The case before the court stems from complaints by members of several fringe religions — Wicca, Asatru and the Church of Jesus Christ — who filed lawsuits after being denied the ability to worship and buy religious books and ceremonial items in prison.

Though Jews make up a small proportion of the prison population, they often are discriminated against and denied religious materials, such as kosher meals and tefillin, advocates for Jewish prisoners say.

A U.S. district court in Ohio ruled for the plaintiffs in 2001, saying the act did not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the state from endorsing a particular religion, because government is allowed to alleviate its own interference with religion.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed the decision in 2003, arguing that the legislation unfairly advances religion by “giving greater protection to religious rights than to other constitutionally protected rights.”

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a broader version of the legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, ruling that Congress did not have the authority to enact a law that the court said infringed on states’ rights.

Advocates for RLUIPA believe that the new law has standing based on Congress’ role in regulating how federal dollars are spent.

“If the federal government is going to provide over $1 million for prison meals, then certainly the federal government can ensure that kosher meals are provided,” acting U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement said Monday in court, citing a hypothetical figure.

Ohio’s Cole conceded that some religious accommodation, including kosher meals, could be viewed as legitimate, but expressed concern that RLUIPA gives a higher status to religious requests than to prisoners’ other requests. That amounts to an implicit endorsement of religion, he argued, especially in an environment like a prison, where many liberties are withheld.

“It’s insufficient because it doesn’t change the underlying fact that a request itself is treated differently and better because it is a religious request,” Cole said.

Cole questioned whether the law would lead prisoners to express religious beliefs in order to gain rights and privileges. Cole also said prisons would have to determine what are bona fide religions and would have to find less obstructive alternatives if requests for religious accommodation were denied for security reasons.

But many of the justices did not seem to feel that the act imposed an undue burden on prisons.

“Someone has to say what the lines are,” Justice Antonin Scalia said, asking whether wardens or federal judges should be the ones to decide.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed concern that inmates could request racist literature under the guise of religion, or that prisoners could refuse to be housed with people of other races.

But David Goldberger, the attorney for the inmates who filed the case, said prisons would be covered by the fact that the statute allows prisons to exert a compelling government interest.

“Everybody understands that there are unique dangers involved in religious liberty in prisons,” Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, said after the hearing. “But this statute does not require wardens to permit dangerous activities. It’s a balancing test, and the law affords due deference to those types of interests.”


Letters to the Editor


Jewish-Black Ties

The outrageous assertion that blacks and Jews have “passed through a period of hostility and animosity” and come together for “issues ranging from civil rights legislation to Israel” is absurd (“Jewish-Black Ties Loosen Over Years,” Jan. 14).

If it takes “a common thread to revive the relationship,” such as working to defeat David Duke’s run for political office, why does nothing similar happen against the left? The so-called coalition did not denounce black congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for her anti-Israel, anti-Jewish beliefs. It does not distance itself from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for their questionable attitudes about Jews.

The coalition does not condemn the NAACP for its racially inflammatory statements and divisiveness. When former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis was removed for theft, he blamed the Jews. Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas NAACP, stated his concern with black-Jewish coalitions because of what he called Jews’ preoccupation with money.

The assertion that anti-Semitism is not as strong among blacks as among mutual enemies of blacks and Jews is wrong. A 1996 Gallup survey reported that blacks were more likely than whites to blame liberal Jews for what is wrong with America. The Anti- Defamation League’s own surveys reveal that blacks have higher rates of anti-Semitic beliefs than whites.

A United Nations conference on racism held in South Africa had anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American themes. Hundreds of prominent American blacks, including Jackson, attended to show their support.

Superficial public relations events such as speaking at Black-Jewish forums do not indicate anything beyond political calculation. Jews would be far wiser to form coalitions with the political right, not the intolerant political left.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

Shawn Green

When Shawn Green arrives for spring training with his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, he will be leaving a piece of himself behind while at the same time, he will be taking along large portions of our L.A. Jewish pride. Such is the dilemma that Peter Dreier’s (“Goodbye Shawn Green,” Jan. 21) 8-year-old twin daughters are faced with; who are they to root for now?

To date, there have been 161 men of Jewish heritage to have played major league baseball. The White Sox and the Tigers have listed 17 and 16 respectively, while the Dodgers and Giants have fielded 15 each (those damned Yankees have only had six).

So it looks as if we may have to wait for another Jewish Dodger. But we Jews are good at waiting. Green isn’t the Messiah, but it may take almost as long for the likes of another Shawn Green to wear Dodger Blue. In the meantime … go Diamondbacks!

Jonathan Blank
Calabasas Hills

Birthright Exploitation

I am no supporter of the extreme aspects of Israel Solidarity Movement’s (ISM) agenda, but I am appalled by Gaby Wenig’s implicit suggestion that Jewish love for Israel should come with a political litmus test (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21). Perhaps Wenig does not know that there are many Israelis (Jews and non-Jews alike) who have concerns about “the occupation,” that “pro-Palestinian” is not a synonym for “anti-Israel” and that all of us who “love Israel,” as Wenig understands Birthright’s aim, whether we are on the left or the right, have a wide range of views on how Israel can live up to its full potential for social, economic and political justice.

Despite the fact the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) does not appear among the list of Birthright funders on birthrightisrael.com, Western region associate director Allyson Taylor suggests that Birthright alumni who engage in political activism with which she disagrees should have to repay the cost of their trip. Does Taylor also think Aish HaTorah should send a collection agency after every Discovery alumnus who steps foot in a Reform or Conservative synagogue? Should college kids who flirt with Buddhism or Hinduism repay their parents for their bar and bat mitzvah expenses? Perhaps all the ex-AJCongress members in Los Angeles should simply bill the national office for the return of their pre-1999 contributions.

Shawn Landres
Los Angeles

On behalf of 4,000 Birthright Israel alumni from greater Los Angeles, we are responding to the article (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21).

It would be extremely unfortunate if your article left the impression with your readers that ISM activists taking advantage of free Birthright Israel trips is a significant problem. In fact, Birthright Israel staff has only been able to find evidence of six people out of more than 70,000 participants who have done so.

Birthright Israel, which provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is one of the most powerful and successful Jewish continuity programs ever devised. As program alumni ourselves, we can confirm the findings of a recent Brandeis University study, Bbirthright Israel participants have a stronger and more sustained connection to Israel and the Jewish people than do their peers.

Thanks to the foresight and funding of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, our groundbreaking birthright Israel alumni association provides local alumni with opportunities to connect with each other and with the L.A. Jewish community. Information is available at www.socal.birthrightisrael.com.

We know Birthright Israel and its alumni association has been instrumental in our connection to Israel and the Jewish community. We would hate for the success of this important organization to be tarnished by a story that creates a controversy where there really isn’t one.

Kimberly Gordon, Joshua Kessler, Abtin Missaghi, Ben Schwartzman,
Members of the Leadership Board
Birthright Israel Alumni Association



The best line in the 1992 movie, “Unforgiven,” is when Gene Hackman is looking up into Clint Eastwood’s shotgun and moans, “I don’t deserve this … to die like this,” and Eastwood snarls back, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

That exchange is the only way to make sense of what passes for international jurisprudence when it comes to Israel these days.

Last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled against the separation barrier that Israel is building between it and the West Bank. The World Court ruled that the barrier, which is mostly composed of a series of fences and sensors, abrogates the sovereign rights of the Palestinian people. Because the barrier as currently conceived will incorporate, according to United Nations estimates, 14 percent of the disputed West Bank territory, the justices ruled the fence violates the Palestinian right to self-determination and is “tantamount to de facto annexation.”

The court did acknowledge that Israel had a right to defend itself against terror — a few lines in a long, scathing decision — then went on to demand Israel tear down its fence.

Israel said it would ignore that ruling and a subsequent U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on it to carry out the court’s decision.

Other commentators have pointed out the laughable hypocrisy of the World Court itself. There is the Chinese judge, representing a country which, to put it mildly, didn’t bother to erect a fence between itself and Tibet. China just went in and took it over. And there is a Russian judge, who might want to rule next on his own government’s scorched-earth methods of dealing with terror in Chechnya.

But, no. Israel’s response to a campaign of relentless terror has been relentlessly subjected to a kind of snap international legal judgment. And deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

A Georgetown University professor decreed in the Washington Post that Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations against terror leaders was “illegal and extra-judicial.” The American news media quickly echoed his conclusion. One ABC anchor explained to an Israeli leader that killing a Hamas leader was “taking the law into your own hands.”

And it is nearly impossible to find a news report that doesn’t refer to the West Bank and Gaza settlements and the Israeli occupation itself as illegal, though international experts at the very least differ on this fact.

One can argue whether the actions Israel’s government has taken in the face of terror and recalcitrance are moral or effective. One can argue that Israel’s settlement policy — as its architect, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has come around to doing — is deleterious to the nation’s security.

But it eludes me how trying Israel in an international kangaroo court serves either the Palestinian cause or that of justice itself.

What it serves is a politically bankrupt Palestinian leader’s aim of undermining Israel in world opinion.

P.A. Chairman Yasser Arafat has used the strategy in the past to wonderful effect. Having presided over a disastrous second intifada, he has pulled an old tool from his belt — use the international legal process to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Arafat’s two biggest successes in this score were the 1975 U.N. resolution labeling Zionism as racism — overturned in December 1991 — and the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in August-September 2001, at which paragons of human rights like Syria passed a resolution that condemned, “Israel as a racist apartheid state in which Israel’s brand of apartheid is a crime against humanity.”

Also last month, Israel’s own judicial system yet again foiled the nation’s enemies’ best efforts at defaming it. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that in places where the security barrier “injures the local inhabitants in a severe and acute way, while violating their rights under humanitarian international law” the government would have to change its course. Sharon promptly declared that he would abide by the decision of his Supreme Court, which judiciously sought to balance Israel’s security needs with Palestinian rights, and ignore the World Court, whose imbalance was patently clear.

It would be easy to write off the Palestinian strategy to attack Israel on the legal front as mere propaganda. The World Court ruling was, after all, nonbinding, and lately, editorials decrying Arafat’s uselessness have overtaken those denouncing the fence. But the cumulative effect of these efforts is to delegitimize not Israel’s policies, but the very idea of the state itself. After all, an outlaw state has no more right to exist than an outlaw, like the kid says in “Unforgiven”: “I guess they had it comin’.”

Just the Facts

Jews in America are more favorably regarded than Catholics, barely less well liked than Protestants and far more highly viewed than Evangelical Christians. Facts you are not likely to have read in the direct mail you receive from solicitors of contributions.

It’s time for Jews, blacks and other minorities to reassess where we really stand in pluralistic America, not where many of our leaders would like us to think we are.

Last week The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal carried important op-eds by a Jew (J.J. Goldberg, editor of The Forward) and an African American academic (professor John McWhorter of UC Berkeley), which speak to our place in the United States of the 21st century.

McWhorter’s piece, "My Master’s House," criticizes the facile invocation of charges of racism from black leaders that "has drifted into a recreational crutch, assuaging the insecurity at the heart of the human soul … fashioning one’s self as eternally battling a white America mired in racism" is, he asserts, a troubling phenomenon.

McWhorter derides Jayson Blair, of New York Times fame, and his assertion of being the victim of bigotry. He also notes with concern other examples of claiming perpetual victim status, such as the president of the Florida NAACP who recently observed that "racism finds itself no matter where we are in the this country and holds its head high," and the head of the Georgia NAACP who announced that "if it were up to the majority of people in the state of Georgia, slavery would still be the law of the land."

I often speak about these and related topics. Invariably, white faces and Jewish heads will nod and agree that the scene regarding race and ethnicity in America has markedly improved in recent years and that those who see pervasive racism are beating a tired, if not nearly dead, horse. "How could anyone not see how the status of blacks, Latinos and other minorities have changed for the better!" the facial expressions shout.

But try and make the same case to a Jewish audience about Jews. Assert that we live in a better, far more accepting America than existed 25 — or 10 — years ago, and the vast majority of the heads will stop nodding vertically and begin a horizontal sweep of disagreement. Dare to tell that audience that Jews have made enormous progress and that anti-Semitism is not the biggest threat that we face domestically, and the arched eyebrows of skepticism spread like a wave across the audience. "Pollyanna" and "naïve" are the two nicest descriptors that inevitably emerge in the subsequent discussion.

The Goldberg piece in The New York Times gives a clue as to why our fears are so widely embraced despite all the evidence to the contrary — we look for, occasionally manufacture, and seem to welcome bad news, and ignore or dismiss information that contradicts our fears.

The recently released National Jewish Population Survey is a case in point. The survey was widely reported to have found that the U.S. Jewish population declined by 5 percent between 1990 and 2000. At this rate, even the most mathematically challenged can calculate, American Jewry is destined for virtual extinction. Countless sermons, synagogue boards of directors meetings and "strategic planning" studies have already been focused on this threat to Jewish "continuity." But, as Goldberg asserts, United Jewish Communities, the funder of the study, got it all wrong and, in fact, "invented a crisis." He raises genuine questions about the methodology of the study and the presentation of its data.

Goldberg cites the analogous study of a decade ago that proffered incorrect data on Jewish intermarriage rates. Goldberg asserts that the 1990 report was motivated, at least in part, "out of a desire to shock straying Jews into greater observance…. American Jews are not disappearing," Goldberg concludes.

Similarly, our fears of anti-Semitism ought to be tempered by reality. Not only is meaningful anti-Jewish hate not about to emerge in America, it hardly plays a role in our or our children’s lives.

A widely ignored 2002 study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that Jews were viewed favorably by 74 percent of the sample of over 2,000 adults. Our 74 percent is identical with the favorable rating for Protestants and Catholics, as contrasted with 54 percent for Muslim Americans and 55 percent for Evangelical Christians. The unfavorable rating for Jews (9 percent) was less than that for Catholics (13 percent), Evangelicals (18 percent) or Muslim Americans (22 percent) and only 1 percentage point below that for Protestants (8 percent).

We ought to just look around us. The vibrancy and activity levels of countless synagogues and Jewish cultural institutions are manifest (in Los Angeles alone, one could keep perpetually busy going to programs at the Skirball, the University of Judaism or the Museum of Tolerance, to name but a few) and belie any data that suggest our demise or ossification.

The American Jewish community needs to read what a McWhorter and Goldberg have to say. We are blessed to live in the real-world incarnation of the "Goldene Medina" that our forebears dreamed about and crossed oceans for. Residual racism and anti-Semitism exist, but the idea that this impedes our success is a fiction. We can be or achieve virtually whatever we set our sights on.

As we begin the New Year and evaluate ourselves, we should be honest in assessing how far we have come and realize that our future success depends most of all on us and what we create from within.

David A. Lehrer is president of Community Advocates, a year-old human relations organization chaired by former Mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Anti-Semitism Taints Anti-War Movement

As Jews who question our nation’s march to war in Iraq, we
are deeply disturbed by events surrounding last month’s massive protest
demonstration in San Francisco.

Allegations that Rabbi Michael Lerner, a prominent peace
activist and editor of Tikkun magazine, was asked not to speak at the rally
because of his support for the State of Israel highlight the distressing
existence of one-sided Israel-bashing and even out-and-out anti-Semitism in
some quarters of the growing anti-war movement in this country.

Many American Jews who would otherwise join in questioning
or opposing the Bush administration’s war plans are staying away from
demonstrations and other anti-war activities, because of the participation of
some groups that, among other things, question Israel’s right to exist and
equate Zionism with racism. Certain of these groups also support dictators,
such as Slobodan Milosevic and Kim Jung Il, and even oppose the presence of
United Nations weapons inspectors currently at work in Iraq. These groups seem intent
upon using burgeoning anti-war sentiments to promote their peculiar agendas and
to claim that these radical positions have far more support than they actually

This is bad for the American left in general and for the
anti-war movement in particular. Although these groups comprise a small part of
the current anti-war movement, they are prominent in its leadership. Their
involvement weakens the moral stature of all those who question the Bush
administration’s war plans.

This serves not only to make the anti-war movement an
uncomfortable place for many Jews but also for millions of other Americans who
want to support peace, but want no part of the other issues and slogans that
these groups foist upon the anti-war movement. These groups, no matter how
effective they have been in organizing against the war, must be confronted,
condemned and isolated by others in the peace camp.

Certainly, coalition work is always complicated, and it
always involves compromise. And of course, it is essential that the overarching
goal of working for peace and protecting our democracy not be obfuscated by
divisions within the peace camp. But we cannot sacrifice our integrity in the
process of participating in the peace movement.

We must speak out against anti-Semitism and other forms of
racism and bigotry anywhere we encounter them, especially in our own peace and
justice community. We cannot accept a peace movement leadership that excludes
outspoken opponents of the war because they are also supporters of Israel. Nor
can we sit back and allow this leadership to silence those who speak out
against intolerance and bigotry in the ranks of the peace camp.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) is committed to its
role as both a progressive voice in the Jewish community and a Jewish voice in
the progressive community. Just as in the Jewish community we work to ensure
that the countries we love — the United States and Israel — live up to the
democratic and prophetic ideals upon which they were founded, so, too, in the
progressive community do we work to ensure that an authentic Jewish voice is
heard. And just as we often defend the right of caring critics of Israel to
voice their opinions free from baseless charges of anti-Semitism, so, too, do
we unhesitatingly confront hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism whenever and
wherever we encounter it.

In Los Angeles, PJA’s active involvement in the peace
movement allows us to help prevent divisiveness and destructiveness from
tainting the peace movement in our community. In particular, we have worked to
ensure that rallies feature prominent Jewish speakers, who demonstrate by their
presence that opposition to the war is in no way inconsistent with support for
the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

This is not an easy time to be a progressive Jew in America.
The peace camp is sometimes an uncomfortable place for many of us to be right
now. Nonetheless, we believe that if we abandon our involvement, we forfeit not
only our ability to effectively protest the policies of the current
administration but also the opportunity to prevent those with their own
particular agendas from hijacking the peace movement.

We will continue to work against the Bush administration’s
march to war, while simultaneously working against the anti-Semitic and
anti-Israel elements within the anti-war movement. We are pro-Israel and
pro-peace. We are progressives and Jews. We cannot and will not walk away.

Daniel Sokatch is executive director and Douglas Mirell is
president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. They can be reached through the
group’s Web site,

The Need for Campus Activism

The level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments on our
campuses has been hotly debated in recent months. Some see an alarming surge of
pro-Palestinian prejudices that drown out and intimidate
supporters of Israel — and too often cross the line into anti-Semitism. Others,
including some Jewish campus leaders, minimize these trends and criticize
organizations that have mobilized to counter them.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA’s Hillel, for example, in
a recent article in this paper, disparaged these organizations and their
materials as “propagandistic,” “polemical,” part of the “anti-anti-Semitism
industry” and of “dubious value.”

Sadly, even though most Americans remain supportive of Israel,
there is abundant evidence that in academia, opposition to Israel’s policies
has mutated into attacks that demonize the Jewish State, undermine its
legitimacy and foment anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports
that “campus anti-Semitic incidents were up dramatically in 2002.” “Too often,”
added a recent ADL newsletter, “anti-Israel activism crosses the line into
anti-Semitism … and the bad news is that there is a silent majority on campus
that is simply not speaking out against anti-Semitism.”

It is not surprising that this majority remains silent.
Left-of-center ideology, with its fashionable post-colonialist critiques of America
and Israel, dominate campus culture. Edward Said’s bitter anti-Israel polemics
hold sway in Middle Eastern Studies departments and pervade other disciplines.
Pro-Palestinian views that distort Israeli-Arab history and spread
disinformation have been accepted as fact in many campus circles. Visiting
Israeli professors called their past year in American academia “a nightmare”
because of their colleagues’ intense and often ill-informed bias, Ha’aretz
reported last August.

“An entire year of attacks, even in corridors, staff
meetings and conferences … there is an unquestioned assumption that Israel
and the Israelis are the bad guys,” said Dr. Liora Brosh who taught comparative
literature at a New York State University.

Joint Palestinian-Israeli discussion panels often exclude
the moderate view, though they masquerade as balanced presentations. Divestment
campaigns that blame Israel alone for the conflict and ugly slogans such as
“Zionism is Racism” abound. Pro-Palestinian rhetoric is couched in a potent
brew of popular campus causes for social justice, human rights,
anti-globalization and indigenous people’s rights; and pro-Israeli students who
share these values have trouble disentangling them from the Palestinian
position. They also face an unfriendly environment. As journalist Daniel Pipes
recently pointed out, when well-known pro-Israel speakers lecture on campuses,
they require security protection. Speakers critical of Israel, however, do not.

It is little wonder that many Jewish students feel
uncomfortable and besieged. The one-sided nature of the campus debate also
leads other students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who otherwise would have no
particular bias, to simply assume that Israel has no case.

Unfortunately, the solutions offered by some campus leaders
do not go far enough to address students’ needs or the larger problem. Their
recommendations — issuing healing messages, encouraging Jewish students to
reach out to Muslims, supporting moderate Arab Muslim students — certainly have
merit, but they do not help students understand Israel’s case and they do not
fill the urgent need to counter the barrage of anti-Israel disinformation.

Israel has compelling ethical and historical justifications
for its existence and its policies. The American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, ADL, National Hillel and grassroots groups such as StandWithUs have
mobilized to make sure this information is part of the campus debate. Their
arguments are mainstream, shared by a majority of the U.S. Congress and the
current Israeli government. All students should be familiar with these
positions even though they may not agree.

Pro-Israel organizations are helping turn the tide on our
campuses, The Forward reported on Dec. 20, 2002. Many campus activists credit
them “for providing increased resources and training to campus activists and
helping them develop more proactive approaches.”

Campus leaders need to be on the front lines encouraging —
not marginalizing — efforts to better inform students and to ensure that all
voices across the political spectrum are heard and respected. Suppressing
conservative pro-Israel views will have the unfortunate effect of keeping the
campus debate one-sided and of inhibiting dialogue. Students of today will be
the leaders of tomorrow. Hopefully, their college years will expose them to the
full range of issues about the beleaguered Middle East so they can make informed
decisions in the future. Â

Roz Rothstein is executive director of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid is director of research and education for StandWithUs.

Anti-Semitism on Upswing in Greece

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Greece, according to a new report. The Greek Helsinki Monitor, a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said in its report that since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more than two years ago, "blatant anti-Semitism" has been expressed in the Greek media "by a spectrum of influential personalities in politics, labor, education and culture."

The Sept. 11 attacks in the United States also contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in Greece, according to the 64-page report that was issued late last month.

The report cited a sharp increase in anti-Semitism in the media after Israel launched a large-scale military operation last spring to uproot the Palestinian terror infrastructure in the West Bank. At that time, according to the report, mainstream Greek newspapers published anti-Semitic editorials and cartoons, drawing parallels between the Israeli military operation and the Holocaust and comparing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Hitler.

Expressions of anti-Semitism through Holocaust imagery were so harsh in the Greek media and political circles at the time that Hronika, the official magazine of the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities, spoke of a climate of "hysteria and anti-Semitism" that was masquerading as mere criticism of the State of Israel.

International Jewish organizations have responded to the developments. In July and September, the Anti-Defamation League sent two letters to Greek Prime Minister Konstantine Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou protesting the use of Holocaust imagery in the Greek media.

During a July meeting at which European security representatives discussed anti-Semitism, Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Paris office, urged Simitis and other Greek leaders to publicly condemn the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes and Nazi imagery when criticizing Israel.

"Anti-Israel fanaticism has degenerated into anti-Jewish hatemongering by leading intellectuals and politicians," Samuels said at the time.

In a more recent development, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to the Greek government calling on it to close down the TV station of Yorgos Karatzaferis, the leader of the far-right Popular Rally Party. The party recently garnered nearly 14 percent of the vote in local elections for a district that includes the city of Athens.

Karatzaferis, who regularly hurls epithets against Jews and the Israeli ambassador to Greece on his TV station, has propagated the libel, circulating widely in the Arab world, that Israel was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In September, Karatzaferis submitted a question in the Greek Parliament asking the foreign minister if he was aware that the Israeli press had published articles claiming that Jews had not gone to work on Sept. 11 after they were forewarned about the attacks on the Twin Towers.

The question was subsequently published in several right-wing papers in Greece with no comment, while articles embracing the rumors were found in editorials of the official magazine of the Technical Chamber of Greece, the government body that oversees the work of Greek industrialists. The magazine is distributed to thousands of Greek businessmen.

While the Greek Helsinki Monitor reported anti-Semitism in the Greek media and on the part of some politicians, observers pointed out that there is no state-sponsored anti-Semitism in Greece. However, the report said, "A fundamental obstacle to counteracting anti-Semitism in Greece" is the fact that "the Greek government has yet to take a strong and consistent stand against anti-Semitism."

The government defended itself against the charges by saying it will not try to censor the media.

Greek Jews cited two occurrences to point out what they believe are examples of media bias. They noted that there was barely any media mention of the recent desecration of the Holocaust memorial in Salonika and of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of the northern city of Ioannina. In the latter case, local police officers appeared to have been involved.

Greek government spokesman Christos Protopapas condemned the two incidents. However, there was no official condemnation when the newly unveiled Holocaust memorial on the island of Rhodes was defaced in July.

Your Letters

Don’t Circle the Wagons

In his attempt to critique the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) survey on anti-Semitism in America, our friend and former colleague David Lehrer has misinterpreted ADL’s findings in three key ways (“Don’t Circle the Wagons,” July 5).

First, there is nothing in this latest poll on anti-Semitic beliefs to suggest that ADL believes American Jews are under siege. Yes, there was an increase overall to 17 percent in anti-Semitic beliefs, which we found disappointing. However, that was an increase of 5 percent over the findings in 1998, in which time ADL reported that anti-Semitic beliefs had reached an all-time low at 12 percent. Moreover, other findings in the 2002 poll found, through the same methodology, that there were almost no anti-Semitic beliefs among students and faculty on campus.

Second, Lehrer misreads a statement in which ADL expressed concern that this was the most dangerous period since the 1930s. He suggests that this was a reference to Jewish life in America; in fact, it was a reference to the situation in Europe and the Middle East which, in all its complexities, can legitimately be characterized as the greatest threat to Jews in 60 years.

Third, Lehrer misreads the meaning behind ADL’s statistics regarding foreign-born Latino attitudes towards Jews. He suggests that ADL was looking for a target as reflected by our not looking at other recent immigrant attitudes. In fact, we were perplexed by the high degree of anti-Semitic beliefs among Latinos generally, but found hope in the fact that Latinos born in the United States were far less likely to have anti-Semitic beliefs than foreign-born Latinos. This pointed to education and acculturation as a way to improve attitudes. In other words, the interest in focusing on this distinction was to provide hope rather than hype.

The ADL’s role is to tell it like it is. The recent surveys live up to that role.

Judge Bruce J. Einhorn, President ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Board

The Reason Why

I read Vic Cohen’s “The Reason Why” (July 19) with sadness but also, with some disgust. Cohen writes: “The reasons marriages end are as private, personal and often as baffling as the reasons they begin.” Marriages end because spouses either stop loving each other or because they are no longer willing to compromise. There is nothing baffling about that. If either one of these factors still exists, there is no reason a marriage should end.

R. Sharell , Los Angeles

Terrorism Won’t Stop HUC-JIR

I was very pleased to read the article on Mark Miller, the rabbinical student, and his friends from the Hebrew Union College who decided to study their first year in Israel in spite of the security issues (“Terrorism Won’t Stop HUC-JIR,” July 19). Indeed before leaving for Israel about a month ago, we, too, were very concerned about security. But once we got there we found life there quite enjoyable, and felt secure enough to eat in outdoor restaurants of Tel Aviv, which often were quite full, and walked in crowded places like the Tayelet (promenade) of Tel Aviv on Saturday night like many other Israelis. In short, life in Israel is as normal as possible under the circumstances, and our visit in Israel was just great. We are already planning another trip next year, inshallah!

Yona Sabar, UCLA professor of Hebrew and Aramaic Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

‘Blanche and Dorothy’

It was with much disgust that I read the latest issue of The Journal. Your article about the two 60-year-old women who left their husbands to become gay lovers (“Not Exactly Blanche and Dorothy,” July 12), should not be in what I thought was a Jewish family paper. If someone left their family to become a born-again Christian, I would assume you would not find this praiseworthy. If a person destroys a traditional Jewish family structure, it shows a lack of commitment to family and Jewish values. A shonda like this should either be condemned or omitted from your paper.

J. Solomon Moore, Valley Village

Bill Would Segregate Israelis

In Eric Silver’s July 12 article (“Bill Would Segregate Israelis”), he and MKs Sarid and Bishara all dangerously and incorrectly label MK Druckman’s bill “racist.” Jews are a people and not a race. Anyone can become a Jew by being born to a Jewish mother or by conversion.

Discrimination based on true “racism” is always evil. One can argue that Israel may be unwise in some of its policies that discriminate against a minority population, but this is not “racist.” Since so many Jews in Israel are mixtures of Sephardim and Ashkenazim, the “discrimination” that is being alleged is among people of the same race.

With the United Nation’s Zionism-equals-racism resolution still fresh in our memories, this is no time for us to be casual about accusing Israeli policies of being racist.

Dr. Robert J. Meth, Marina del Rey


The correct address for Chabad of Greater Los Feliz is 1727 N. Vermont Ave., No. 107 (“Where Religion Meets Bohemia,” July 19).

The caption for “A Unique Sound,” (July 19) should have listed Howard Parmet as Magen David Adom West’s executive director.

The author’s name of “Missing in Action” (Letters, July 19) should have read Dr. James Honigman.