Path to Israeli-Palestinian peace starts with meeting the neighbors


Palestinian peace activist Ali Abu Awwad shared the stage with an Israeli settler on May 28 as part of his ongoing attempt to accomplish what some might consider the unbelievable. 

“I couldn’t imagine that one day, I would be standing next to a settler, talking about any hope,” he said, “but sometimes we don’t reach solutions in life because we believe that we can’t do them.”

Listen to their stories – story continues after the video.

Awwad, who teaches nonviolent resistance as a means for pursuing peace, was joined by Zionist settler and Orthodox Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. Together, they headlined the Painful Hope Tour, which took place at the Pico Union Project near downtown Los Angeles.

Schlesinger, who divides his time between Texas and the West Bank settlement Alon Shvut, serves as the founder and executive director and community rabbinic scholar for the Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas. He is active in promoting peace initiatives in Texas and Israel. 

He and Awwad are part of Friends of Roots (friendsofroots.net), a collaborative effort between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. It brings together local children from both sides of the conflict through after-school programs and summer camps that promote fun and friendship. Friends of Roots also runs a leadership program that unites 65 Israeli leaders who dedicate their lives to tolerance education.

Schlesinger told his story first during the local event: Born and reared in Israel, he found a profound disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians. He talked about the first time he left his settlement and ventured over to see Awwad after previously meeting at an event in the United States. 

“Until a year and a half ago, I’d never met a Palestinian,” he said. “I opened the front door and walked 20 minutes to the Palestinian vineyards, fields and orchards that surround my house to meet the neighbor that, until then, didn’t exist for me.” 

As for Awwad, he told the audience about how, before turning to nonviolence, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for being part of a militant cell as a young man. Three years into his sentence, he held a hunger strike, demanding to see his mother, who was also detained. It was then that he realized nonviolence was far more effective than its alternative. His sentence was reduced, and he was released after the Oslo Accords. 

“It’s OK to be angry and act nonviolently,” he said. “Violence will not erase the anger. The pain will not disappear. But nonviolence is the management of that anger. When we act nonviolently, we celebrate our existence.” 

After the event, Schlesinger commented to the Journal about the cognitive dissonance that affects those who struggle with the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine.

“What I see today is just so different from what I saw a year and a half ago. We ask ourselves, ‘Which reality is true?’ The truth is that they are all true. Each reality comes to us differently depending on what assumptions we come with. Sometimes we don’t even know what those assumptions really are. What you have to do is examine these assumptions. Think of the drawing that, if you look at it one way, you see a woman, but if you look at it another way, you see a vase. You wonder, ‘Which is it really?’ It really is both!” 

Awwad said the evening at the Pico Union Project gave him hope and strength. 

“We are dealing with a very complex subject in a very crazy reality over there,” he said. “This event shows that people want a solution.” 

Friends Noor-Malika Chishti, a Muslim, and Rachel Landsman, an Orthodox Jew, were moved by what they heard. Both women are members of the West Los Angeles Cousins Club, a group of Muslim and Jewish women that meets monthly in the spirit of peaceful sisterhood. 

“We really believe that to know one another is to love one another,” Landsman said. “The path of reconciliation and nonviolence is what I’ve been waiting to hear.” 

Audience member Oren Rehany, an Israeli-born writer, actor and producer who has been living in Los Angeles for 12 years, said the only way peace will happen is through the efforts of everyday people like Schlesinger and Awwad.

“Politicians are probably not the ones who are going to make peace happen. Grass-roots movements like this one will make the change,” Rehany said. “This grass-roots style of education gives me a lot of hope as an Israeli. The only thing Schlesinger and Awwad are attacking is the demonization of either side of the conflict.”

Words matter: How vocabulary defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Settlements or Jewish communities? West Bank or Judea and Samaria? East Jerusalem or eastern Jerusalem? Those are some of the language choices that journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are faced with each day—and those choices should not be taken lightly, experts say.

“It’s the terminology that actually defines the conflict and defines what you think about the conflict,” says Ari Briggs, director of Regavim, an Israeli NGO that works on legal land use issues. “Whereas journalists’ job, I believe, is to present the news, as soon as you use certain terminology, you’re presenting an opinion and not the news anymore.”

“Accuracy requires precision; ideology employs euphemism,” says Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

At the conclusion of his famed essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell argues that writers have the power to “send some worn-out and useless phrase—some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse—into the dustbin, where it belongs.” Many Jewish leaders, organizations, and analysts wish to do just that with the following terms, which are commonly used by the mainstream media in coverage of Israel.

West Bank

Dani Dayan believes the “funniest” term of all that are used in mainstream coverage of Israel is “West Bank.” Dayan is the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing the municipal councils of Jewish communities in an area that the Israeli government calls Judea and Samaria, in line with the region’s biblical roots. Yet media usually use “West Bank” to describe the area, in reference to the bank of the river situated on its eastern border.

“[The Jordan River] is the only river on planet earth that on its good days is a few feet wide, and people claim that it has a bank 40 miles wide [spanning across Judea and Samaria],” Dayan tells JNS.org. “There is no other example of such a thing in the geography of planet earth. That proves that West Bank is the politicized terminology, and not Judea and Samaria, as people claim.”


The Jordan River. Photo by Beivushtang via Wikimedia Commons.

Member of Knesset Danny Danon (Likud) calls it “ridiculous” that West Bank—a geographic term that once described half of the Mandate of Palestine that the British government promised to the Jewish people—has “taken on a political meaning that attempts to supersede thousands of years of Jewish tradition.”

“The correct name of the heartland of the Land of Israel is obviously Judea and Samaria,” he tells JNS.org.

CAMERA’s Rozenman, the former editor of the Washington Jewish Week and B’nai B’rith Magazine, draws a distinction between Palestinian and Jewish communities in the area.

“If I’m referring to Palestinian Arab usage or demands, I use West Bank,” he says. “If I’m referring to Israeli usage or Jewish history and religion, etc., I use Judea and Samaria. Israeli prime ministers from 1967 on, if not before, used and [now] use Yehuda and Shomron, the Hebrew from which the Romans Latinized Judea and Samaria.”

West Bank is fair to use “so long as it’s noted that Jordan adopted that usage in the early 1950s to try to legitimate its illegal occupation, as the result of aggression, of what was commonly known as Judea and Samaria by British Mandatory authorities,” adds Rozenman.

Dayan, meanwhile, prefers to call Palestinian communities in Judea and Samaria exactly that.

“The area is Judea and Samaria, and in Judea and Samaria there are indeed Palestinian population centers, and that’s perfectly okay,” he says. “We cannot neglect that fact, that yes, we [Jews] are living together with Palestinians. And in Judea and Samaria there is ample room for many Jews, for many Palestinians, and for peaceful coexistence between them if the will exists.”

Settlements

Judea and Samaria’s Jewish communities are often called “settlements,” a term that some believe depicts modern-day residents of the area as primitive.

“[‘Settlements’] once referred in a positive manner to all communities in the Land of Israel, but at some point was misappropriated as a negative term specifically against those Jews who settled in Judea and Samaria,” Danon says. “I prefer to use ‘Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria’ when discussing the brave modern-day Zionistic pioneers.”

Dayan believe “settlements” is not pejorative, but still inaccurate. He analogizes the Israeli city of Ariel, home to one of Israel’s eight accredited universities, to the American municipality of Princeton, N.J., home to the Ivy League school of the same name. While Ariel is labeled as a settlement, nobody would give such a label to Princeton, Dayan argues.

“It’s a politically driven labeling in order to target those [Israeli] communities,” he says. “Most communities in Judea and Samaria are not different from any suburban or even urban community in Europe, in the United States, in Israel itself, or elsewhere.”

Green Line/1967 lines

The Israeli government’s decisions to build housing units beyond the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and Jordan are commonly defined as construction projects across the “Green Line.” But that term is a relic of the 1960s, according to Dayan.

“The Green Line ceased to exist in 1967 [during the Six-Day War],” he says. “The moment the Jordanian army, with the Palestinians, joined Egypt and Syria in attacking Israel, they shattered the Green Line and that very moment the Green Line ceased to exist.”

“1967 lines” are another popular term to describe the same entity, yet those lines “do not signify a political border between two political entities, and they never did,” says Dayan.

“I am always puzzled by the sudden sanctity that [the ‘1967 lines’] gained,” he says. “In the [1949] cease-fire agreement between Israel and Jordan that was signed in the Greek island of Rhodes, it was stated very clearly by an Arab demand that those lines are devoid of any political significance. They’re only a reflection of the military outcome of the [1967] war. Suddenly today we see that people say that east of the ‘Green Line’ is not part of Israel, it’s ‘Palestine,’ etc. That’s nonsense.”

East Jerusalem


The eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. Photo by Faigl.ladislav via Wikimedia Commons.

Though Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, some refer to the city’s Arab-heavy portion as “East Jerusalem”—with the uppercase “E” implying that the area is its own municipality.

“There is a typo here,” says Danon. “There is the western part of Jerusalem and the eastern part of Jerusalem, but there is only one capital city of the State of Israel. … We should treat and invest in all parts of the city equally and make sure the world understands that Jerusalem will forever remain united.”

Even if spelled with a lowercase “e,” Dayan notes that the area media call “east Jerusalem” actually comprises the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the city. “Take for instance the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in Jerusalem, it’s not in east Jerusalem, it’s in south Jerusalem. Or take for instance Pisgat Ze’ev—it is in north Jerusalem and not in east Jerusalem,” he says.

Rozenman says, “One day an Israeli-Palestinian agreement might establish a new ‘East’ and ‘West’ Jerusalem… but until then, journalistic usages of ‘East Jerusalem,’ let alone ‘Palestine,’ are prejudgements.”

Militants

By describing Palestinian terrorists as “militants,” newswire services such as the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters set the de facto industry standard, as their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reprinted by their numerous client newspapers.

After the Nov. 18 attack by two Palestinian terrorists on a Jerusalem synagogue, numerous headlines in major newspaper who ran the AP story read something along the lines of, “Palestinian militants kill 5 in Jerusalem synagogue attack.” The impact of not describing terrorists as “terrorists” is destructive, Danon says.

“Any news outlet that uses ‘militants’ to describe the savages who brutally murder Jews at prayer is dishonest and possible even anti-Semitic,” he says. “This attempt at moral equivalency does no one justice and only serves to encourage violent terrorism.”

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) issued an Aug. 20 press release on media usage of “militants” to characterize members of Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and Hezbollah.

“These groups intentionally murder innocent Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others across the globe. … To call them ‘militants’ greatly understates and minimizes the horror of their vile actions and may even camouflage the appropriateness and the imperative of those who fight them,” ZOA said.

Palestinian Bedouin

Bedouin, in its simplest form the Arabic word for “nomad,” can turn into a charged term depending on what comes after it, according to Regavim’s Briggs, whose NGO’s stated mission is “ensuring the responsible, legal and environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands.”

In United Nations documents’ description of land disputes related to Bedouins living in Israel, Briggs sees a trend of “trying to connect what is a local problem to a larger national problem.”

“Ten years ago they spoke about Israeli Bedouins, five years ago they spoke about Israeli Arab Bedouins, three years ago they spoke about Bedouins living in Israel, and now they talk about Palestinian Bedouins,” he tells JNS.org. “And they’re talking about the same Bedouins. What you find is that to try to politically charge an issue, or to try and connect what is a social, local, limited geographic issue to a larger national conflict, you need to change the terminology used, and that’s why we’ve see this shift.”

Haram al-Sharif

Briggs also notes the Arab push to have the United Kingdom-based BBC stop using “Temple Mount” to describe the Jerusalem compound on which the first and second Jewish Temples were built. Instead, “Temple Mount” opponents promote the usage of the Arabic term “Haram al-Sharif,” which translates to “noble sanctuary.”

But if media abandon “Temple Mount,” not just Jewish history is re-written, Briggs explains.

“What’s most interesting there is that a lot of Christianity is based on these stories of Jesus clearing out the money-changers standing at the entrance to the Temple, and if the Temple never existed as [media are] now being told, then what does that do to Christianity?” he says.

“The journalist has to understand that when they use certain terminology, when they remove certain terminology from the lexicon, then they’re impacting things a lot bigger than just a news story,” adds Briggs. “They’re impacting a religion.”

Plans advance for building in eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood


A Jerusalem planning committee has given preliminary approval for the construction of at least 200 housing units in an eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood.

The approval Wednesday is for the Ramot neighborhood on the northern edge of Jerusalem.

The project is several stages and several years away from the start of actual construction.

The housing is slated to be built on private land owned by a haredi Orthodox group, according to The Associated Press.

The announcement comes as Palestinian rioting continues in eastern Jerusalem and following the announcement earlier this month of plans for at least 1,000 apartments in two other eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Jordan to talk about the tensions in Jerusalem with King Abdullah II.

U.S. DEEPLY CONCERNED

The United States said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about an Israeli decision to approve construction of 200 new homes in East Jerusalem.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the decision impeded attempts to reach a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“We are deeply concerned by this decision particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem,” she told a regular media briefing.

“Most importantly they are contrary to Israel's own stated goal of achieving a two-state solution because they make it more difficult to do that,” Psaki said.

More on the U.S. reaction.

Israel approves 184 new settlement homes


Israel's Jerusalem municipality approved building plans on Wednesday for 184 new homes in two Jewish settlements in the West Bank, drawing anger from Palestinians engaged in faltering statehood talks.

A municipality spokeswoman said the local planning committee had approved requests by private contractors who purchased the land years ago for the construction of 144 homes in Har Homa and 40 dwellings in Pisgat Zeev.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), accused Israel of trying to derail U.S.-sponsored peace talks in which the future of settlements on land that Palestinians want for a state is a major issue.

“It is has become evident that Israel has done everything possible to destroy the ongoing negotiations and to provoke violence and extremism throughout the region,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

Israel says Palestinian refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state – a step Palestinian leaders say was already taken in interim peace deals – is the main stumbling block.

Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev settlements are in a part of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. The annexation was not recognized internationally.

Palestinians are seeking a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They say Israeli settlements, regarded as illegal by most countries, could deny them a viable, contiguous country.

Israel regards Pisgat Zeev and Har Homa as neighborhoods of Jerusalem that it would keep under any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

The two sides resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks in July, but the negotiations appear to be going nowhere. Washington is struggling to formulate agreed principles that would extend the talks beyond an original April target date for a final deal.

More than 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are home to about 2.8 million Palestinians.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy

Eden Memorial Park settles lawsuit in $80.5 million deal


A massive four-year, 25,000-person class action lawsuit against Eden Memorial Park came to an end on Feb. 27, when the Jewish cemetery in Mission Hills agreed to a settlement worth an estimated $80.5 million, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The legal battle, which began in September 2009, centered around allegations that Eden’s management ordered its workers to disturb existing graves in order to fit new coffins in tight spaces. That disturbance allegedly included breaking concrete coffins and then dumping some of the human remains when bones fell out.

The tentative settlement, which won’t be finalized until mid-May, calls for Eden’s parent company, Service Corp. International (SCI), to distribute $35.25 million into a global settlement fund to pay plaintiffs and their attorneys, $250,000 for administrative costs, and fully refund class action members who wish to disinter family members buried at the cemetery. Court documents filed Feb. 27 indicate that the value of the non-cash services Eden will be ordered to provide is $45 million.

Located at Sepulveda Boulevard and Rinaldi Street in Mission Hills, Eden Memorial Park is owned and operated by SCI California, a subsidiary of Texas-based SCI, one of the country’s largest operators of cemeteries and funeral services. About 40,000 people are buried at Eden, which spans 72 acres.

The alleged incidents date back to 1985, when SCI acquired the cemetery. The plaintiffs contend that Eden knowingly broke as many as 1,500 buried concrete vaults between February 1985 and September 2009.

On Feb. 11, the case went to trial at the downtown Los Angeles Superior Courthouse, but not after years of court sanctions, state investigations, evidence tampering and a dispute over whether Jewish jurors would compromise the neutrality of the jury.

In November 2009, state investigators reported that they found no evidence that Eden mishandled graves. But one year later, in November 2010, Judge Anthony J. Mohr of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the cemetery intentionally cleaned out the cemetery’s dump, where workers allegedly disposed of loose bones and broken concrete sections. In September 2009, the court ordered that all such evidence must be preserved.

For the last several years, both sides have collected extensive evidence, with the legal teams interviewing 110 people during deposition. But only three witnesses had been brought to the stand in the past two weeks, according to defense attorney Steve Gurnee, of Gurnee Mason & Forestiere.

“This trial could have lasted until September,” he said.

He added that of the $35.25 million in cash that SCI will owe if the agreement is finalized, all but $10 million will be covered by insurance.

And while Gurnee said that he is confident his team would have won the case had the trial continued, he said Eden decided to settle for economic reasons.

“The plaintiffs have been making demands in this case for ages that have been stratospheric,” he said. “The company wants to move on.”

Although the amount that each family will receive won’t be known until this summer — the claim deadline is June 5 — plaintiff’s attorney Michael Avenatti of the Newport Beach law firm Eagan Avenatti, characterized the agreement as “no coupon settlement.”

“Families are going to receive significant [money] in this case,” he said.

Israel frees Palestinian prisoners, pushes settlement plan


Israel set free 26 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday as part of U.S.-brokered peace efforts, after pledging to press ahead with plans to build more homes in Jewish settlements.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose shuttle diplomacy led to a resumption of the negotiations in July after a three-year break, was due to return on Thursday to seek a framework agreement in talks that have shown few signs of progress.

Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners – the latest group is the third of four to go free – as part of the U.S.-led efforts that coaxed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiations after a three-year break.

In tandem with the prisoner releases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has announced new construction in settlements in the West Bank.

Most of the 26 inmates going free were convicted of killing Israelis and almost all were jailed before the first Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals were signed 20 years ago.

Palestinians have jubilantly welcomed the return home of brethren they regard as national heroes. The families of Israelis they killed or injured have voiced anger and mounted unsuccessful court challenges against their release.

Last week, an Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government – which includes pro-settlement parties – would announce plans after the latest release to build 1,400 more homes for settlers in the West Bank.

Palestinians see the settlements, which most countries regard as illegal, as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Middle East war and pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now ruled by Hamas Islamists opposed to the U.S. peace efforts, in 2005.

Palestinian officials have cautioned the settlement push could kill chances for a peace deal. Israel says the housing projects are in areas it intends to keep in any future agreement.

In another move that drew Palestinian anger, an Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday endorsed proposed legislation to annex an area of the West Bank likely to be the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.

The step, promoted by far-right members of Netanyahu's Likud party, could weigh on the peace negotiations. But centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator, said she would use her powers to block the legislation from being voted on in Parliament.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer

German trade union leader opposes West Bank boycott


German trade union leader Michael Sommer vowed to stand up to unionists who want to boycott goods made in West Bank Jewish settlements.

“As long as I am head of this organization, there will never be a resolution that says ‘Don’t buy from Jews,’ ” said Sommer, 61, chair of the Federation of German Trade Unions, accepting the Arno Lustiger Award at the third annual German-Israel Congress on Sunday.

The federation, which was founded in Munich in 1949, is an umbrella organization for eight German trade unions, in total representing more than 6 million people.

The pro-Israel event, which drew more a crowd of more than 1,500 to a congress center in the former East Berlin, took place on the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, when synagogues and Jewish businesses were destroyed and looted across Germany, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia.

Co-organized by German Jewish activists Sacha Stawski and Melody Sucharewicz, the event, which in previous years was held in Frankfurt, featured a market of pro-Israel organizations and businesses, guest speakers and “labs” on Israeli culture and business, Judaism and politics.

It concluded with a concert featuring German soul singer Mic Donet and Kathleen Reiter, a Canadian-Israeli singer and the winner of the Israeli version of “The Voice.”

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he wished there was no need for such a major pro-Israel event in Germany. But with “Israeli bashing in fashion” these days, he said the congress convinced him that “we friends of Israel are not so alone as we sometimes feel.”

“Today we are strong as an ox,” he said.

A small pro-Palestinian demonstration was held across the street from the venue.

In his remarks, Sommer said some unions are especially critical of Israel’s settlement policy, which is the target of the boycott movement. He tells them “that an honest peace means that no one should be threatened. And as long as Israeli is threatened, I stay on the side of Israel.”

Israel says it will announce more settlement building


Israel said on Thursday it would press ahead with plans to build in existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in an apparent bid to appease hardliners opposed to peace talks with the Palestinians.

Local media said new building tenders could be announced next week, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular seeks to douse opposition from right-wingers in his government to a planned release of Palestinian prisoners.

“In accordance with understandings reached on the eve of the restart of peace talks with the Palestinians, in the coming months Israel will continue to announce it will build in settlement blocs and in Jerusalem,” part of the statement by the unnamed official said.

“Both the Americans and the Palestinians have been aware of these understandings,” the statement added.

There was no immediate comment from either of those parties.

The announcement came a day after Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Rome where the Israeli-Palestinian talks were on the agenda.

The pro-settler Jewish Home party, one of Netanyahu's main coalition partners, said on Thursday it would propose a bill to bar the release of Palestinian prisoners, which has been linked to the talks.

The U.S.-brokered discussions were revived in July after a three-year hiatus but have shown few signs of progress.

Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said in Tel Aviv on Thursday she could not divulge any details but a senior Palestinian official in the West Bank town of Ramallah described the talks as very difficult.

Jerusalem is one of the most divisive issues in the talks on creating a Palestinian state in territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.

The sides are also divided over the future of Israeli settlements, where borders should run and Palestinian demands for a “right of return” for refugees and their descendants.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its “eternal” capital. In a move never recognized internationally, it has annexed the city's eastern sector.

The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal by most countries. Israel cites historical and biblical links to the areas, where about 500,000 Israelis now live alongside 2.5 million Palestinians.

They want those two territories and the Gaza Strip for a future country but fear that more settlement building will deny them a viable state.

Israel withdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas Islamists who are bitter rivals of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said last week that housing starts in West Bank settlement are up by 70 percent this year. It said there were 1,708 housing starts in January-June this year, compared with 995 during the same period in 2012.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens

As Kerry meets with Abbas, new West Bank housing advances


An Israeli committee approved the construction of West Bank housing on the same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Jordan with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The settlement subcommittee of the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration, the body that oversees governance of the West Bank, on Wednesday approved the building of 732 apartments in Modi’in Ilit, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and 19 in Kfar Adumim.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon must approve the construction.

Deliberations on more than 300 housing units for several isolated West Bank settlements was postponed at the request of Yaalon, Haaretz reported.

Kerry was in the region in his continuing bid to jump-start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He met in Amman with Abbas, who was to brief the Palestine Liberation Organization on the talks the following day, according to Reuters.

“It has become a trend to see such Israeli behavior each time an American or an international official visits the region to push forward the negotiation track,” Mohammed Ishtayeh, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, told Reuters.

Also Wednesday, Kerry met with officials from several Arab countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to Reuters, trying to ensure that the Arab League would back a resumption of the peace process.

“The Arab delegates believe Kerry’s ideas proposed to the committee today constitute a good ground and suitable environment for restarting the negotiations, especially the new and important political, economic and security elements,” the Arab League said in a statement following the meeting.

Kerry has welcomed the Arab League’s revival of its 2002 peace initiative, which posited comprehensive peace in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders as the basis for restarting peace talks.

Settler leader’s son sentenced to prison for kidnapping Palestinian teen


The son of a leader of a West Bank Jewish human rights group was sentenced to prison for the kidnapping and assaulting of a Palestinian teen.

Zvi Struk, 28, of the Esh Kodesh outpost near Shiloh, was sentenced Sunday in Jerusalem District Court to 18 months in prison. He also was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay the victim more than $14,000.

Struk, whose mother, Orit, heads the Yesha Human Rights Organization, was convicted in November of three counts of assault, battery under aggravated circumstances and kidnapping for the purpose of causing grave bodily injury, as well as one count of animal abuse for killing a lamb.

In July 2007, Struck and an accomplice kidnapped a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, beat him and left him naked and tied up in an open field, according to the indictment. The youth managed to untie himself several hours later and return home. Struk also killed a lamb that the teen, a sheep herder, was watching.

“I reviewed the medical records and the difficult photographs that were taken of the complainant immediately after the event, and I cannot avoid expressing disgust and deep shock over the signs of terrible trauma that the minor suffered,” Judge Amnon Cohen said in the courtroom.

Implementation of the sentence will be delayed while an appeal is filed, according to reports.

The teen was represented by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group that says that about 90 percent of complaints filed by Palestinians against Israeli citizens accusing them of harming Palestinians and their property end without an indictment.

Evicted, Angry and Worried


There is no place like home, and no one knows it better than the former Jewish settlers of the Gaza Strip. Evicted from their beachside villages on the shores of the lapping Mediterranean Sea, they are living this week out of hotel rooms, high school dormitories or in refugee-like tent camps.

Late last week, post-eviction, Ruth Etzion found herself wandering the streets of the Samaria settlement of Ofra, the home of her in-laws. Walking under tall pine trees in an almost trance-like state, Etzion, her husband Yaacov, and their three children reside in a two-room dormitory “suite” in the local religious girls school. It’s a step down from their two-story home on the sandy streets of the isolated Gush Katif settlement of Morag.

But Etzion was content in some ways. For her, moving into the girls’ school in August brought closure. Exactly four years ago that is where she and Yaacov got married.

“We are trying to recover from our expulsion,” Etzion said, as her blonde haired, blue-eyed toddler Shira wailed in the background. “What they did to us was horrible and brutal.”

By “brutal” she meant mostly the insult of the eviction itself, with its psychological and economic toll. She did not say that any soldiers or police physically or verbally abused family members.

For now Etzion is trying to regroup and keep her family united. The Ofra high school is the perfect place to do just that, with local residents arranging free Shabbat meals, afternoon children activities and a free babysitting service for the 20 displaced Morag families.

The scars of the evacuation are far from disappearing, she said. On Monday, Etzion told her 3-year-old son Yoav to finish eating dinner, because she needed to clear the table.

“Ima,” Yoav asked. “Are they now coming to evacuate the table?”

But stories like Etzion’s are already a blur of the recent past for most Israelis. The army completed the disengagement on Tuesday with the evacuation of two settlements in northern Samaria: Homesh and Sa-Nur.

Attention has now returned to the question of whether Sharon’s disengagement plan will, in the end, benefit the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, veteran settler leader Benny Katzover milled around the burning streets of Homesh watching the destruction of a dream. A pioneer in the Gush Emunim settlement movement, Katzover was one of the first to establish a modern Jewish outpost in Hebron. He later became head of the Samaria Regional Council, where he literally helped to build settlements with his bare hands.

A short, bearded religious man, Katzover sucked hard on a cigarette as he watched security forces break through a home surrounded by barbed wire. The soldiers were being pounded with eggs, paint and pickles by the entrenched anti-disengagement activists. Homesh looked like a war zone on Tuesday with close to 1,000 anti-disengagement activists barricading themselves inside abandoned settler homes to put up a last fight against their planned expulsion.

But although passions ran high, pickles can only make so much headway against military gear and professionally trained officers, especially ones who would, under other circumstances, rather be sharing the pickles with their adversaries over dinner — or using the paint to help spruce up settlers’ homes.

And, indeed, when settlers are lobbing pickles instead of grenades, it’s a sign that there are limits to this last stand against disengagement. That doesn’t make the settlers any less angry.

“Sharon has established an expulsion machine,” Katzover said under the scorching August sun. “By surrendering to the Palestinian terror he has placed the entire Jewish settlement enterprise in danger.”

Katzover’s views resonate with a vast majority of the Israeli rightwing, which openly worries that Disengagement 2006 is just around the corner. With defense officials predicting that Palestinians will renew terror attacks against Israel, Katzover and thousands of others are wondering what Israel really got out of disengagement.

“Every settlement that is not behind the West Bank security fence is in danger of destruction,” said Yossi Zilber, a settler from the tranquil community of Peduel, in Samaria. Pointing to the nearby Palestinian cities of Nablus and Jenin, Zilber shrugs his shoulders, wondering aloud what Sharon was thinking.

“Instead of protecting us, he is expelling us,” the 31-year-old father of four said. “After we leave northern Samaria it is only a matter of time before rockets begin falling in Kfar Saba. And then what will we do? Leave Tel Aviv?”

But the settlers also will be part of another looming challenge — reunifying the Israeli people. If disengagement did one thing, Etzion said, from her dormitory suite in Ofra, it alienated settlers and their supporters from many other Israelis.

Knesset Member Uri Ariel faced off last week with Maj. Gen. Yisrael Ziv, head of the military’s operations division, in one of the Gaza Strip settlements. It was a sign of the growing rift between the right-wing religious Zionist movement, the Israel Defense Forces and those who back each, inside and outside of government.

“How many Jews have you expelled today,” Ariel shouted at Ziv as security forces got to work pulling people out of houses. “You should be embarrassed.”

In a manner that seemed out of character for a senior military officers, Ziv yelled back: “On the contrary, it is you who should be embarrassed.”

Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev, who was in charge of the evacuation, talked this week of curing the division in the nation.

“For now the rift is out there,” he said, as security forces wrapped up the peaceful evacuation of the Gaza settlement of Katif on Sunday. “But it is only temporary and we will reunite together again, like most things in life do, similar to the birth of a child after which everything eventually comes together.”

 

Gaza Plan Foes Face Evangelical Aid Loss


With the Gaza disengagement plan picking up momentum and
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon getting set to pitch the proposal to the Bush
administration at Camp David next week, right-wing Jewish groups are
counterattacking, hoping to forestall U.S. support for the plan. Their partners
in this fight: Christian Zionists.

It’s easy to see why the Jewish hawks have turned to the
evangelicals, but in the end, they’re almost certain to be disappointed. While
major figures in the evangelical movement do, indeed, share the anger Israel’s
settlers feel at this “betrayal” of their cause, they are unlikely to come
through in the clinch.

And the reasons offer a cautionary tale about the depth of a
new alliance that may be more talk than action.

The Bush administration is moving cautiously toward
conditional support of the Gaza plan, which officials here hope will reduce
tensions in the region and ultimately lead to a resumption of some kind of
peace process, and it’s unlikely the Christian Zionists can stop them or even
that they will expend much energy trying.

True, many of these groups seem to be in lockstep with
right-wing members of Sharon’s Cabinet who are already waging open warfare
against his dramatic plan and threatening to bring down his government.

To many of the evangelicals, Gaza and the West Bank are part
of the biblical bequest to Israel, although their views of scriptural promises
have some big differences from the Jewish view — starting with the whole Second
Coming thing.

Some evangelicals have already been on Capitol Hill, working
with House conservatives to generate pressure against any White House
endorsement of the plan. But opponents will be making a big mistake if they
expect more than a few gestures.

The 2004 presidential election is turning into a watershed
for the religious right, and it has almost nothing to do with Israel. Despite
periodic complaints from that sector, President Bush has done more to advance
the conservative Christian agenda than any of his predecessors.

He has made sweeping changes in federal rules limiting
government grants to overtly religious groups, and born-again Christian social
service providers have been by far the biggest beneficiaries. He has presided
over passage of the first federal school vouchers program; he has appointed
dozens of strongly anti-abortion judges to the federal bench and signed
critical anti-abortion legislation.

And he has brought a faith-based style to politics that has
warmed the hearts of evangelicals.

Domestically, these groups have made unprecedented gains
since 2001, and they are poised to make even greater ones if Bush is reelected
and Congress turns even more Republican. That scenario, which liberals regard
as their own personal version of the apocalypse, could include a radical
transformation of the Supreme Court, an overturning of Roe vs. Wade and support
for the anti-gay rights agenda.

The Christians may be upset about the Gaza plan, but they
are unlikely to jeopardize any of their recent domestic gains and the ones to
come by taking on an administration that is sympathetic to most of their
priorities. And despite threats to the contrary, few evangelical voters are
likely to sit out the 2004 election if Bush endorses the Gaza plan and helps
Sharon implement it.

Some of Israel’s top nationalists, including Tourism
Minister Benny Elon, have developed strong working relations with many
evangelical leaders. But that new connection does not outweigh this community’s
core political issues.

That explains why some key evangelical leaders, while
expressing concern about the Gaza plan, have refrained from directly fighting
it.

The same dynamic holds with the congressional conservatives
who have aligned themselves with the Israeli far right. Leaders like Rep. Tom
DeLay (R-Texas), the House majority leader and the top religious right
supporter on Capitol Hill, have been quick to express solidarity with Israeli
hardliners and their friends here, but they have been loathe to take on the
administration.

These lawmakers breathe fire when they appear before hawkish
Jewish groups, but they haven’t shown the slightest inclination to aggressively
challenge their friend in the White House — their partner in forging a domestic
political revolution.

For both conservative lawmakers and the Christian Zionists,
growing support for Israel may be a blend of political opportunism, genuine
support for Israel and maybe a touch of biblical prophecy. But it won’t trump
their domestic concerns, and the administration knows it, which is why, for all
their complaints, the Christian Zionists haven’t really affected the
administration’s Mideast policy.

Two years ago, Bush became the first president to openly
support Palestinian statehood, despite objections from this quarter; he
continued to promote his Mideast “road map” to peace, even though they hated
it. The Christian Zionists have become the biggest U.S. cheerleaders for the
Israeli settlers movement, but that hasn’t stopped the Bush administration from
terming settlements “unhelpful” or demanding their removal.

And if Sharon can convince Bush that his Gaza disengagement
plan won’t forestall further movement toward a Palestinian state and a
negotiated settlement, the U.S. administration is likely to sign on the dotted
line — despite protests from the Christian right, which are likely to be more
rhetorical than real.  

Settlers Struggle to Hold Biblical Israel


A battered shipping container was Itai Harel’s first home on this steep, windswept hilltop.

Now he lives in a trailer with running water and electricity, and land has been leveled for more permanent housing in this illegal settlement outpost. He and his fellow young settlers are gearing up to fight for their new hilltop home.

Migron, the largest and most established of the 100 or so illegal Jewish outposts set up across the West Bank, is on the front lines of a looming showdown between the settler movement and the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently pledged to dismantle such settlements in accordance with the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan.

On Dec. 28, Israel ordered the removal of four of the outposts. The settlers can now petition against the action through the courts.

But settler rabbis called upon supporters to physically prevent the settlements’ dismantlement, and called upon army officers not to order their soldiers to dismantle the settlements.

Harel expressed similar sentiments.

“We are staying here. It’s our home,” said Harel, 29, vowing to return if the government somehow manages to remove them.

“It is our right to be here; this is our national home,” he said, sweeping his hand toward the view of Arab villages and Jewish settlements on nearby hillsides.

However, the settlers’ position may have been undercut by the National Religious Party (NRP), the main settler political body.

The NRP’s chairman, Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam, said Dec. 29 that the NRP would support the removal of four unauthorized outposts if no way could be found to authorize them.

The NRP “is part of the government, part of the rule of law in the State of Israel. If, in the end, after every avenue has been pursued, these outposts cannot be authorized, then we will not be able to support anything that is not legal,” Eitam told Israel’s Army Radio.

Over the past two years, 42 families have moved to Migron. They are young, defiant and fiercely ideological. Casting themselves as part of a continuum of ancient and modern Jewish history, they view their unauthorized building of an outpost about 20 minutes drive north of Jerusalem as key to strengthening the Jewish claim to biblical Israel. They also see it as similar to efforts by early Zionists to create “facts on the ground” in what became Israel proper.

Critics and the U.S. government see the outposts, built hastily and without government approval, as yet another obstacle to peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Harel and his friends at Migron, which is named after a biblical-era settlement in the region, are hesitant to say exactly how they would resist soldiers should they attempt an evacuation.

Pinchas Wallerstein, who heads the local settlement region of the West Bank, called Binyamin, said he hopes the Israeli courts will help prevent an evacuation order.

If that fails, he said he foresees thousands of supporters coming to Migron to help thwart police and army forces.

“If we have 7,000 to 10,000 people here it will not be possible to evacuate us,” Wallerstein said, addressing a wedding party from Houston that had come to see Migron as part of a tour of West Bank Jewish settlements. “Why is it legitimate to evacuate Jewish settlements but we cannot withdraw [Arab villages?]” he asked, calling any evacuation a reward for terrorism.

Before climbing back on their bus, the visiting Americans posed for pictures with Wallerstein, who has temporarily moved the Binyamina headquarters to Migron to head the campaign against its possible removal.

In a show of solidarity, Israel’s well-organized settler movement has helped facilitate visits by thousands of people to Migron in recent weeks.

Jerry Silverman, one of the wedding party members, said he hoped the issue would be resolved through negotiations.

“The American government is not in charge of Israel,” he said.

Sharon, long a patron of the settler movement, is under intense pressure from the U.S. administration to fulfill Israel’s obligations under the road map, beginning with the dismantling of illegal outposts that have cropped up over the last several years. Many were established in the immediate aftermath of Arab terrorist attacks on local settlers.

In a speech earlier this month, Sharon said some settlements would have to be evacuated if Israel disengages physically from the Palestinians.

The first Israeli presence on the hill where Migron stands today were cell phone towers built by local phone companies four years ago. Young settlers followed about two years later.

The Israeli government said it expects to begin evacuating settlement outposts in the next few weeks. Officials hope settlers will leave without a fight.

“If the outposts are illegal, then they will be dealt with — hopefully with persuasion, but otherwise with force,” said Zalman Shoval, a foreign policy adviser to Sharon.

“Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” he added quickly.

The four outposts slated for quick removal reportedly are Ginot Aryeh, near Ofra; Hazon David, near Kiryat Arba; Bat Ayin Ma’arav, in Gush Etzion; and Havat Shaked, near Yitzhar.

Only one of the outposts — Ginot Aryeh — is inhabited, with about 10 families living there as well as a few single people.

Unlike most other outposts, Migron is more than a small collection of tents and trailers. There is a paved circular road and two buildings with stone facades, one that serves as a synagogue, the other a nursery school.

Still, amenities are basic.

Next to the community’s row of portable toilets is a large white plastic tent for meetings and celebrations. Trailers are clustered in muddy patches of land. A private security guard in a fleece jacket and armed with an Uzi machine gun mans the entrance. A fence topped with rings of barbed wire surrounds the outpost.

“It’s clear it is worth the price. We are here to live a quality life, to live an ideal,” Harel said.

Peace activists say that ideal is misguided and dangerous. It also does not represent the views of most Israelis, who according to polls, are willing to withdraw from most West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements in the event of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.

As long as settlement building continues, “we will be doomed to more and more international condemnation, economic recession and violence,” said Dror Etkes, who coordinates Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project. “Another settlement is another rock in the occupation and oppression [of the Palestinians].”

Etkes said he saw Sharon’s recent policy speech as a potential turning point since the Israeli government has yet to dismantle any settlements of significant size.

“If the settlements are uprooted then the first inroads will be made,” he said. “Migron could be the first uprooted and this will be a historic event.”

Shlomo and Hagit Ha’Cohen, both 25, see Migron’s place in history differently.

They say they are living Jewish history in their decision to live and establish a family in Migron. Hagit, who teaches history and civics at a Jerusalem high school, is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

“We see this as our home forever, even if there are problems along the way,” said her husband, a yeshiva student who plans to study civil engineering. “With all due respect to the Americans, at the end of the day we are the ones who decide.”

Sitting in their bookshelf-lined three-room trailer, for which they pay $70 a month rent, Shlomo cites the story of Chanukah and the conflict between the ancient Greeks and the Israelites.

“Many imperial powers have told us what to do throughout history. They no longer exist. Israel is still here,” he said. “Our path is clear, we know where we want to go.”

Haven of Refuge


For centuries, most people have viewed Siberia as a dreaded prison of frozen tundra, the closest cold spot on earth to the gloom of purgatory.

But for the Jews of Asia and Europe, Siberia has represented something far more attractive: a great escape. The targets of deadly anti-Semitism and mass expulsions elsewhere on the continent, Jews historically have looked to Siberia as something of a refuge from hostile local governments that killed, exploited or expelled their Jews.

“The good thing about Siberia is that once you were exiled here, there was nowhere else to go,” an elderly Siberian Jew said.

Jews have been migrating to Siberia from all over the continent for several centuries, lured by Siberia’s relative isolation and, sometimes, the promise of wealth. Today, that same isolation is a hindrance to a revival of Jewish life in Siberia, where it has been slower to arrive than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

During the Soviet era, not everything was slow to arrive in Siberia. On the night of June 14, 1941, Moishe Kiselevskiy was sound asleep in his Baltic home when Soviet troops barged into his living room and gave him 20 minutes to get up and cram into a railroad freight car bound for Siberia.

His family was one of several Jewish families with successful private businesses that the Soviet state had deemed “dangerous social elements.” Fortuitously, the terrifying evacuation saved Kiselevskiy and his family from the Nazis: Hitler’s forces arrived two weeks later and, with the help of local collaborators, slaughtered more than 90 percent of the Jews of Latvia and Lithuania.

Jews first arrived in Siberia in the late 17th century, seeking gold and fur. In the 19th century, the Russian government offered free land plots and relocation allowances to pioneers willing to move to the untouched region. A small portion of those who went to Siberia were Jews looking to escape anti-Semitism in the Pale of Settlement, the swath of land in western Russia, where Jews generally were forced to live after 1835.

Early in the 20th century, when tens of thousands of Jews were fleeing to the United States to escape the hunger, university quotas and anti-Semitism in the Pale, Jacob Schniderman, 72, was among the few who opted for Siberia. Today he owns a bakery in Birobidzhan.

Schniderman is atypical; most Jews did not really choose to go to Siberia. In the 18th and 19th centuries, czarist exiles, including many political prisoners and criminals, were sent there. Among them were Jews, whose descendants managed to thrive as merchants. In 1898, there were 44,000 registered Jews in 26 Siberian communities.

Others Jews went to Siberia because there was no other place they could go to escape anti-Semitism at home. The family of Elena Uvarovskaya, head of the Jewish community center in the Siberian city of Ulan Ude, fled there to escape the 1915 pogroms in Lithuania.

The Jewish population of Siberia swelled during World War I, when Czar Nicholas II sent to the region Jewish soldiers, whom he feared were German spies.

Synagogues and Jewish schools began to be built in Siberia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Local officials were split between implementing czarist anti-Semitic policies and creating a comfortable environment for an ethnic group that was helping fuel the local economy.

As Jews got comfortable in their adopted home, religious observances fell by the wayside. Many worked on the Sabbath and attended synagogue only on the High Holidays. During the Soviet era, intermarriage was the norm, largely because relatively few Jewish women could be found in Russia’s Far East.

The Soviet state culled highly educated and skilled workers from western Russia to fill posts in military-related and scientific fields. Consequently, most of the Jewish workers who headed east were male — as many as 90 percent, according to some.

“There were no Jewish girls over here,” said Zelick Shniederman, a Jew from Krasnoyarsk, explaining the region’s high intermarriage rate.

“Siberia was the worst place to be Jewish during Soviet times,” said Zev Vagner, a Moscow-based rabbi and author of the Russian Jewish Encyclopedia. “The KGB was much more strict than in Moscow, which made a show for tourists and visitors. In Siberia, you couldn’t make a move.”

Others disagreed, arguing that Siberia’s distance from Moscow allowed for limited religious freedoms in Russia’s Far East.

Today, Siberia’s Jews are free to practice their religion as they see fit, but few are interested in the Jewish tradition, local Jewish officials said.

Crisis Manager


On March 11, Paul S. Nussbaum trudged down the driveway in
his bathrobe, picked up the Los Angeles Times and headed back into his house —
part of his early morning routine. Moments later his wife handed him a fruit
protein shake, he cracked open the paper and pulled out the business section.

Nussbaum was “astounded and dumbfounded” by what he saw.
Under a headline that read, “Wells Refuses Belgium Claim,” Nussbaum learned
that Wells Fargo & Co. said it would not contribute $267,000 to a war
reparations fund for Belgian Jews, making it the only financial institution of
22 banks named in the $59 million settlement to balk at paying. Wells Fargo
argued that it had no legal obligation, because it had inherited the liability
through its acquisition of a small Belgium bank.

For Nussbaum, the son of two Holocaust survivors, the bank’s
actions came as a double shock. For one thing, Wells Fargo had cultivated a
great deal of good will in the Jewish community by contributing hundreds of
thousands of dollars to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Family Service
(JFS) and other Jewish organizations. For another, Nussbaum, 46, is senior vice
president for Wells Fargo in Beverly Hills.

Turning to his wife, Nussbaum said: “The bank has done
something incredibly stupid that I have to deal with.”

And he did.

A day later, after a barrage of calls by Nussbaum to senior
executives at Wells Fargo and Jewish leaders, the bank said it would pay the
reparations. In a statement, Wells Fargo Chief Executive Dick Kovacevich
apologized to the Jewish community and called the Holocaust “the worst form of
discrimination and violation of human rights.”

The bank’s quick reversal probably minimized long-term
damage to its business interests and reputation. It also reflected the
crisis-management skills of Nussbaum, a Jewish philanthropist who has spent
much of his corporate career guiding organizations through roiled waters.

Although they sometimes cause him sleepless nights and an
upset stomach, difficult times bring out Nussbaum’s most analytical and
creative side, he said. Like a general calmly barking orders as bullets whiz
by, Nussbaum said he becomes ever more focused in a crisis, when his
“just-fix-it” personality kicks in.

During his career, he has helped clean up the portfolio of a
faltering savings in loan, put in 80-hour weeks to help Orange County tame its
budget to emerge from bankruptcy and single-handedly revived Wells Fargo’s
regional commercial banking office on the Westside.

In 1984, Nussbaum joined American Savings & Loan, just
as panicky investors had withdrawn $6.8 billion in one of the biggest bank runs
in history. Over the next five years, Nussbaum, working in conjunction with
then-American Savings CEO William J. Popejoy, helped the institution collect as
much as possible on its bad loans and remove them from the company’s books.
Nussbaum said his efforts saved taxpayers billions.

Later, he joined Wells Fargo. In 1995, the bank gave him a
paid leave so that he could serve as an adviser to his mentor Popejoy, then-CEO
of bankrupt Orange County. At first viewed suspiciously as a Popejoy lackey,
Nussbaum won over a lot of skeptics with his long hours and dedication toward
making the county solvent, experts said.

Nussbaum was part of a group of officials who slashed the
county’s budget 41 percent.  Although Nussbaum left after only five months,
Popejoy said, “I don’t think anyone made a bigger contribution that helped the
county regain its footing. Paul was one of the unsung heroes.”

Four years ago, Wells Fargo asked Nussbaum to reopen a
commercial banking office in Beverly Hills that had been shuttered during an
earlier consolidation. Starting from scratch, he has built a team of 16 people
and increased by fourfold the number of Wells Fargo loans to Westside companies
and individuals.

“I think Paul has done an exemplary job of establishing us
in a market we had tried to break into in the past but had been largely
unsuccessful,” said Paul Watson, Wells Fargo head of commercial and corporate
banking. “He’s a good banker and very involved with the community. When you put
that together, you have a successful formula.”

Nussbaum’s commitment to business is matched only by his
community activism. A board member at JFS, the Wiesenthal Center and Stephen S.
Wise Temple, he has encouraged Wells Fargo to donate hundreds of thousands of
dollars to those and other groups, including $150,000 this year to JFS.

Mark Berns, past president of Stephen S. Wise, said Nussbaum
makes contributions to the temple, both big and small. Recently, Nussbaum volunteered
to cook food all afternoon “over hot flames and in the sun” at a Purim festival
that raised $40,000, Berns said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, has known
Nussbaum for seven years. He said the banker’s efforts to coax Wells Fargo to
pay the reparations reflect Nussbaum’s deep commitment to Jewish values.

“I think he saved the bank a lot of heartache by making such
a big fuss,” Hier said. “He did the right thing.” 

Salvin Group Fights ADL


At least one issue left in the wake of the firing of David Lehrer has been resolved.

On Wednesday, the New York headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced it had reached a settlement with Lehrer, whom ADL National Director Abraham Foxman fired last December in a move that shocked and angered many Angelenos.

Lehrer characterized the settlement as a "mutually satisfactory agreement" whereby the national office acknowledged his many years of service and contributions to the organization as well as to the Los Angeles community. The settlement bars Lehrer from commenting on details of the agreement, but the former regional director said he continues to be grateful for all the support he has received and that he hopes the local organization can now be free to rededicate itself to the important work at hand.

But if that wound has been somewhat healed, the firing left another one still open: the national office’s relationship with its young leadership in Los Angeles. The veteran members of the Los Angeles branch expressed shock and dismay at Lehrer’s firing. But in the weeks after the news broke, it was mainly the young leaders who stood up and roared.

"I am passionate about the ADL because of David’s being passionate," said Alicia Duel, 34, a consultant with the Entertainment Industry Foundation who became involved with the Jewish organization through its Salvin Leadership Development Institute, a program aimed at adults ages 27-45. "The organization had his personality. I don’t know what happened [between him and Foxman] but the way that it was done was wrong.

As Jewish organizations work hard to curry support among the next generation of leaders, the dissent is potentially very harmful to the ADL.

Duel was one of the proponents of an amendment made to a resolution voted on at a Jan. 22 meeting of the ADL’s Southwest Pacific Regional board and executive committee. The resolution, which was defeated, demanded an independent evaluation be performed to determine Foxman’s ability to lead the ADL. But the amendment, which was drafted by members of the Salvin group and calls for the ADL’s national commission to hold outside evaluations of all regional directors and the national director every three years, passed. It is unclear, however, what weight the amendment holds with the national office.

Another Leadership Institute alumni, Alicia Bleier, accomplished what even the press, with all its hounding, has not been able to do: get a response directly from Foxman. Bleier said she gives Foxman credit for agreeing to meet with her.

"It would have been very easy to dismiss my letter. I’m not a huge donor, yet I do think he realizes the necessity of the young leadership to the survival of the ADL," she said, adding that she thought the meeting was productive despite its inconclusive outcome. The national leaders "are beginning to understand the depths of frustration and the depths of the problems."

Bleier, Duel and other Salvin alumni say they believe it is imperative that Foxman, Tobias and other members of the national board come to Los Angeles and speak directly to lay leaders here. According to ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum, a trip scheduled for President’s Day weekend was canceled because of a death in Tobias’ family but will be rescheduled sometime in March.

"I’ve been speaking with a group who want to do something about de-Balkanizing this city in a real way and I’m very excited about it," Lehrer said. "Los Angeles isn’t like New York or Chicago, where everyone has a chance to walk on the street together and meet all kinds of different people. Here we get in our hermetically sealed cars and never get a chance to know each other. I want to do something to change that."

Duel said she hopes the whole incident involving Lehrer will continue to energize the young leaders to stay involved with the ADL. "The ADL does amazing things and we’re not trying to undermine that in any way. Nobody wants to leave, we just want to make the organization better."

Pico Settles Oil Suit


After two years of legal and political wrangling, concerned residents and BreitBurn Energy have entered into a settlement agreement that will allow for expanded oil-extraction operations at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Doheny Drive.

Neighbors for a Safe Environment (NASE), the organization that has waged a political and legal battle against BreitBurn’s proposed around-the-clock operations in the heavily Jewish area, agreed to a settlement stipulating that BreitBurn will pay up to $150,000 for NASE to obtain experts to carry out emissions analysis and risk assessment. BreitBurn will also pay $65,000 for NASE’s legal fees, and $25,000 for NASE’s additional expenses and ongoing activity.

"We’re not happy to have a 24-7 oil drilling operation in the middle of our neighborhood, but given that it is legal, at least we need to make sure that what they are doing is going to be safe and not going to impinge on the health of the people who live here," says Rae Drazin, a leader of NASE.

NASE entered into the settlement after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in May handed NASE a partial victory. NASE had sued BreitBurn and the City of Los Angeles for approving a faulty environmental impact report (EIR), claiming that the EIR never measured the actual emissions currently at the site, and therefore couldn’t accurately predict what the expanded operations would produce.

The Superior Court judge found in NASE’s favor concerning the issue of late-night noise, but did not find in its favor on air pollution, NASE’s main concern.

With the settlement, "we’re going to actually be able to determine once and for all whether there are any health hazards associated with the expanded production," says Drazin. "A true risk assessment will be done, and then, based on that, if everything is fine and totally nonthreatening, as BreitBurn has said, then we will be very assured. If there are going to be problems and things to be concerned about, then we are going to pursue that in every kind of capacity we have."

The settlement provides funds for NASE to hire a consultant to determine what emissions are being produced at the site by the oil extraction, maintenance and cleaning. The consultant’s report will be delivered to a toxicologist, who will determine if the emissions pose a risk to the surrounding population.

There are several schools within blocks of the site, including Canfield Elementary, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Chabad’s preschool and girls’ elementary and high schools.

The settlement also stipulates that managerial-level staff of the Department of Building and Safety will be available 24 hours a day to receive complaints of noise or odors.

Throughout the process, BreitBurn has maintained the $6-million modernization project would reduce emissions by 90 percent.

The project will increase output from 1,200 to 3,000 barrels of oil a day by increasing the workover operations needed for maintenance from 10 days a month at present to 24 hours a day year-round, except on all Jewish and legal holidays. BreitBurn will replace the mobile diesel workover rig now used with a 129-foot, electrically powered derrick to perform regular maintenance on the site’s 69 wells. BreitBurn will also raise the perimeter wall from 12 feet to 25 feet and enclose most of the operations in soundproof structures.

"The proposed modernization is an improvement to the environment and to the air quality, and if the community wants additional assurances as the project proceeds, we are very confident that the EIR is 100 percent accurate," says Howard Sunkin of Cerell Associates, the public relations firm representing BreitBurn.

NASE says it will stay on top of both BreitBurn and the city, since NASE has said it considers the city’s enforcement protocol, spread out among several different agencies, to be ineffective.

"The settlement was entered into mainly because we ran out of financial resources to pursue anything further in the courts," Drazin says, adding: "My feeling is that when this neighborhood sees that 129-foot tower looming over their houses, they are going to be very upset, and wonder why this happened in the first place."

Breakfast with Mr. Security


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

Photo by Peter Halmagyi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weathering the Crisis


City of Hope is the largest provider of bonemarrow transplantation services in California. Here Dr. Stephen J.Forman attends to a patient.

The City of Hope, the esteemed charity, cancerhospital and research center, is under attack. But supporters of thecharity, whose roots run deep into the Jewish community, are comingto its defense.

Last month, the Los Angeles Times and the PasadenaStar News published reports that revealed a conflict which has beensimmering behind the scenes at City of Hope for three years.

In 1995, the charity paid settlements to threewomen who had accused then-COH president, Dr. Sanford Shapero, ofsexual misconduct, City of Hope general counsel Glenn Krinsky toldThe Jewish Journal. An initial investigation found that Shapero andan associate had demonstrated “poor judgment” but “did not establishthe existence of a sexually hostile work environment,” a City of Hopeleader wrote to Shapero. However, during a second investigation,Shapero and the associate were informed that their jobs could be onthe line, Krinsky said.

Thus began a battle that now involves the FBI andthe state attorney general’s office.

According to an FBI search-warrant affidavit,dated Jan. 29, the bureau is investigating Shapero and two associatesfor engaging “in a conspiracy to extort money from COH” bythreatening to harm its reputation and donor base.

But Shapero, a 68-year-old rabbi who once workedat Temple Emanuel, “unequivocally denies he ever made such threats,”said his attorney, Frank Nemecek. Shapero strongly denies theallegations of sexual misconduct and insists that he never tried toextort money from the City of Hope, Nemecek added.

The rabbi believes that he is the victim of a”vendetta” for his 1995 hiring of an independent company, the FairfaxGroup, to investigate possible financial improprieties at the City ofHope, the attorney said.

The alleged improprieties, in turn, have promptedthe state attorney general’s office to investigate the City of Hope.”If a credible person brings us information about something impropergoing on at a charitable trust, we will look into the matter, thoughthat does not imply any wrongdoing,” said Wayne Smith, chief ofstaff, state attorney general’s office. Smith declined to discussdetails of the case.

Krinsky, however, said that the allegationsagainst City of Hope are false. He pointed out that an arbitrationjudge cited “serious questions about Shapero’s credibility,” in courtdocuments. The judge wrote that “Shapero’s motive in retainingFairfax Group” was to uncover misconduct “that could be used asleverage in his…ongoing war with City of Hope.”

Another arbitration judge ruled that Shaperoviolated the terms of his settlement package upon leaving City ofHope. The rabbi was ordered to pay $1.3 million as “compensatorydamages” for legal and other fees incurred in the charity’s “attemptto respond to the allegations made to national and localmedia.”

For example, City of Hope had to convince “60Minutes” that the allegations against it were untrue, Krinskysaid.

On March 10, a Superior Court judge confirmed thearbitration award against Shapero. Nemecek says Shapero will appealthe Judge’s order with the California Court of Appeals.

Steven Solton, COH’s chief development officer,said that he expected “hundreds” of donors to contact his officeafter the newspaper articles ran last month. Krinsky expected to bedeluged by calls from the press. But only a dozen people telephoned,and all were supportive, the officials said. There also haven’t beenany complaints from the more than 350 auxiliary chapter presidentsthroughout the United States. All of them received a Feb. 18 letterthat stated COH’s point of view.

“Let’s say you have a good friend, someone withintegrity. If someone says something derogatory about them, you’renot going to ingest the negative information,” said Claire L.Rothman, chair of the medical center board.

Dr. Stephen Forman, COH’s physician-in-chief, saidthat he insulated his staff from the legal battles. “No one was everdistracted by this,” he told The Journal.

More than two years after Shapero’s departure,officials insist, COH is stronger than ever. Since 1995, researchgrants have almost doubled, from $13 million to $25 million, Soltonsaid. Fund raising, which covers one-quarter of COH’s annual $250million budget, has increased from $47 million in 1994 to $59 millionlast year. During the past 24 months, 33 new physicians andscientists have joined the staff from illustrious institutions, suchas Harvard Medical School. And, last year, COH opened four newbuildings on the pastoral campus, including an outpatient center thataccommodates 204,000 patient visits per year.

The story of the City of Hope began one day in1912, when a young Jewish tailor fell dead of tuberculosis in frontof his walk-up residence at 12th Street and Central Avenuedowntown.

Thereafter, a dozen people, principally Jewishémigrés and garment workers, traversed theneighborhood, clutching the four corners of an American flag asneighbors pitched in their pennies, nickels and dimes. The changepaid for the young man’s funeral; it was also the birth of amovement. Ailing East Coast sweatshop workers were fleeing toCalifornia, only to find that many TB sanitariums refused to admitJews.

The first City of Hope patients treated fortuberculosis were housed in one tent, with a nurse in the other, on10 acres purchased by volunteers. Below, The Spirit of Life Fountain,representing the hospital’s philosophy.

And, so, the Los Angeles Jews took up the call tofight the “white plague.” By January 1914, their nickels and dimeshad purchased 10 acres of land in Duarte, at the foot of the SanGabriel Mountains. There, the Jewish Consumptive Relief Associationbegan with two tents, two patients and a nurse.

When TB was eradicated with the advent ofantibiotics in the 1940s, the charity began tackling another deadlydisease: cancer. Today, City of Hope, comprising a 110-acre campusthat features a Japanese garden, is one of the most important cancerhospitals and research centers in the world.

Although COH is now nonsectarian, 70 percent ofits donor base remains Jewish. There are some 2,500 employees,including more than 250 physicians and scientists, “a significantpercentage of them Jewish,” Forman said. COH is known formanufacturing the first synthetic insulin, as well as for itsresearch in cancer genetics and cutting-edge treatments for leukemia,breast cancer and other diseases.

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COH is also known as California’s largest privateprovider of free and subsidized medical care, Krinsky said.”Twenty-eight percent of all money spent on medical care helpsindigent patients, which is an integral part of our mission,” saidCharles M. Balch, City of Hope’s president and CEO. But finding waysto pay for the care remains a struggle in this competitive hospitalera, Balch added.

That is why some of COH’s supporters are worryingabout the recent negative publicity. “The possible alienation of anysector of our support is of tremendous concern,” said Ben Horowitz, adefining City of Hope past president and CEO.

In fact, the charity may have lost a $50 millionhospital endowment, in part, because of the allegations, Krinskysaid. And one 35-year board member, Percy Solotoy, resigned over theway, he perceived, COH was mistreating Shapero. “I can’t understandthe viciousness with which [he] is being pursued,” Solotoy told TheJournal. “That runs counter to City of Hope’s philosophy…. Dr.Shapero and I had a very close relationship, and I don’t believe hecould have engaged in criminal acts.”

Three others, including a COH donor, phoned TheJournal to express support for Shapero.

City of Hope supporters say that the charity ismerely defending itself from harmful attacks; Pat Perrott, a majordonor, says what is at stake is the welfare of people such as herson, Matthew Phelan.

Seven years ago, Phelan, then 30, was diagnosedwith an aggressive form of lymphoma. After 14 unsuccessful months ofradiation and chemotherapy, a bone-marrow transplant at the City ofHope was his last hope, Perrott said. When he first entered thehospital, he weighed little more than 100 pounds and shivered underhis heavy coat, despite the August heat, his mother recalled.

But the transplant worked, and, last April, Phelanand six fellow patients were pronounced cured. Perrott threw them ahuge, celebratory bash, inviting all the doctors and nurses who hadtreated them at the hospital.

“I feel angry that anyone would try to denigratethe City of Hope,” Perrott told The Journal. “The work they do is tooimportant. They keep families whole.”