Saul Halpert, 93, longtime TV journalist


Back in the day, broadcast journalists came in three varieties. Walter Cronkite embodied the “voice of God” approach to delivering the news. George Putnam was more of a “personality” than a journalist, and his booming voice and blow-dried coiffure was caricatured in the character of Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” And the younger generation of up-and-coming TV correspondents included razor-cut and matinee-handsome young men like Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather.

And then there was Saul Halpert.

Halpert died last week at the age of 93. Southern California television viewers of a certain age will remember him as a hard-edged and hard-driving news hawk, sharp-eyed if also short in stature, a man who disdained the happy talk that prevailed in broadcast journalism and preferred to go after the story. Yet he was also kind and tolerant, approachable and forthcoming, a real mensch, which explains the outpouring of grief that attended his Aug. 16 passing.

Halpert was a journeyman reporter without pride or pretension, and he went where the assignment desk sent him. “Back on Dec. 14, 1963, at KNXT, I assigned Saul to cover the arrest of the [Frank] Sinatra Jr. kidnappers at an FBI news conference,” recalled his boss at the time, Pete Noyes. “Right in the middle of the news conference, I paged Saul and told him to take his crew and head to the Baldwin Hills Dam, which might burst at any minute. Saul cursed me out but followed orders. He, cameraman Doug Dare and soundman Pierre Adidge were standing on the dam when it broke and barely escaped death. Eventually, they were rescued by a sheriff’s helicopter. You’ve probably seen their film of the dam collapse at one time or another. It’s an L.A. classic — and so was Halpert.”

Halpert was born in Albany, N.Y., in 1922. The family moved to Southern California when he was 16, and he attended Belmont High School in Los Angeles. He served as a second lieutenant in the Army during World War II, and he returned to L.A. after the war to earn a B.A. at USC and a master’s degree at UCLA. Later in life, he taught journalism at both schools.

“Hard-boiled” is an adjective that is stereotypically used to describe private eyes, but it also applies to Halpert’s style of journalism. “Just the facts, ma’am,” is what radio and TV detective Joe Friday used to say, and that’s how I remember Halpert’s delivery of the news. His reporting was always rooted not in talking points but in hard facts, whether he was covering the mind-boggling outbreak of Beatlemania or the breaking news of a dam collapse.

As it happens, I knew Saul Halpert when I was a young magazine and newspaper journalist in the 1970s, and he invited me now and then to join the guest panels on “Channel 4 News Conference,” the long-running show that he hosted on Sundays on the local NBC affiliate. Halpert worked at all three network affiliates over his long career, and everyone who was privileged to know him will agree that he embodied the qualities that his fellow broadcast journalists always praised, even when they did not actually practice them. 

My most precious memory of Saul Halpert, however — and one that I have reflected upon many times over the years — is a long, chatty lunch at which Saul and his wife, Ruth, began to reminisce about the death of their adult son, Robert. “He had such beautiful legs,” Ruth recalled, and they both fell silent for a moment. And it was at that moment that I glimpsed the depth of emotion that was the wellspring of the compassion that he brought to his 40-year career in journalism. That unguarded and heartfelt disclosure brought tears to my eyes then, and so does Saul’s passing so many years later.

The family of Saul Halpert has announced that memorial contributions can be made to the Ruth L. Halpert Memorial Scholarship Endowment in the name of Saul E. Halpert, CSUN Foundation, 1811 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, 91330-8321. Inquiries should be directed to (818) 677-6057 or development@csun.edu.

JONATHAN KIRSCH is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Clinton camp disavows writer who accused Elie Wiesel of ‘inciting hatred’


The Clinton campaign rejected comments by a journalist who accused Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died July 2, of “inciting hatred” and “defending apartheid.”

“Secretary Clinton emphatically rejects these offensive, hateful, and patently absurd statements about Elie Wiesel,” Jake Sullivan, a policy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said in a statement shared with JTA on Wednesday. “She believes they are wrong in all senses of the term.”

The statement was in response to a series of tweets over the weekend by Max Blumenthal, a journalist who often writes critically about Israel. Although Blumenthal has no connection to the Clinton campaign, he is the son of Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime confidante and adviser to the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate. The connection is mentioned frequently by other journalists when writing about Max Blumenthal.

Just hours after Wiesel’s death on Saturday, Max Blumenthal wrote a flurry of tweets insisting Wiesel should not be be honored because of his unwavering support for Israel.

“Elie Wiesel is dead. He spent his last years inciting hatred, defending apartheid & palling around with fascists,” Blumenthal wrote.

“Elie Wiesel went from a victim of war crimes to a supporter of those who commit them. He did more harm than good and should not be honored.”

In his response, Sullivan said Blumenthal and others “should cease and desist” from criticizing the Auschwitz survivor and author.

“Elie Wiesel was a hero to her as he was to so many, and she will keep doing everything she can to honor his memory and to carry his message forward,” Sullivan wrote of Clinton.

Responding to the campaign’s statement, Max Blumenthal accused Clinton of remaining silent when Wiesel accused Palestinians of “ritual child sacrifice.” He was referring to an advertisement in 2014 by The Jewish Values Network in which Wiesel spoke out against Hamas and allegations that it had intentionally placed munitions and fighters in areas near children.

Blumenthal’s tweets were echoed by other critics of Israel, including Dorothy Reik, president of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains and a member of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee. In an email posted on social media, Reik wrote that she agreed with Blumenthal’s tweets about Wiesel, adding, “I had met people who made their livings from the holocaust [sic] but never to the extent that Wiesel did.”

In a letter to the chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest regional director, Amanda Susskind, wrote that the the ADL was “deeply disturbed” by Reik’s email and urged the party to “denounce these repugnant sentiments.”

 

Morley Safer, ’60 Minutes’ newsman, dies at 84


Morley Safer, a “60 Minutes” correspondent for 46 years who as a reporter helped turn American public opinion against the Vietnam War with his coverage showing U.S. atrocities, died Thursday.

Safer, who died a week after his retirement from the CBS newsmagazine was announced, filed his last report, his 919th, in March and reportedly had been ill. He died at his Manhattan home; the CBS announcement announcing his death gave no cause.

On Sunday, the network screened an hourlong retrospective about his career. Among the highlights noted by Safer, the winner of numerous journalism awards and 12 Emmys, was his 1965 dispatch that showed Marines torching the homes of villagers in a Vietnamese hamlet.

“Morley was one of the most important journalists in any medium, ever,” CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves said in the announcement of Safer’s death. “He broke ground in war reporting and made a name that will forever be synonymous with “60 Minutes.”

Safer, a Toronto native born to an Austrian-Jewish family, wrote a book, “Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam,” in 1990.

In a statement last week he said: “It’s been a wonderful run, but the time has come to say goodbye to all of my friends at CBS and the dozens of people who kept me on the air.”

Safer reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. before joining CBS News in 1964. He first worked as a correspondent in London, and in 1965 opened a Saigon Bureau for CBS News.

He became London bureau chief in 1967, and reported from Europe, Africa and the Middle East before returning to Vietnam to cover the war.

Safer won top journalism honors, including three Overseas Press Club Awards, three Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, two George Polk Memorial Awards and the Paul White Award from the Radio/Television News Directors Association. He also received the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award from Quinnipiac College, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards First Prize for Domestic Television, according to CBS.

Amid the violence in Israel, Arab-Israeli newscaster Lucy Aharish keeps on smiling


Lucy Aharish never wanted to be a political symbol. The 34-year-old Arab-Israeli news presenter and television host didn’t even want to be a journalist. When she graduated from high school in the hard-knock southern Israeli town of Dimona, her plan was to be an actress.

But her father insisted she earn a degree in something practical, she told The Times of Israel in April. So she paired theater studies with a political science degree at Hebrew University, and then put in an additional two years studying journalism at the Koteret school in Tel Aviv.

She has now been on the Israeli news for eight years, and her face and accent-free Hebrew are familiar to Israelis. But what exactly she symbolizes is hotly contested – as became clear last week when she went on a tirade against Arab-Israeli leadership and culture on air amid a surge in Palestinian violence and an Israeli crackdown.“Arab leaders … are adding fire to the environment and instead of understanding that once it will calm down, we will be the ones to pay the price,” she said on Channel 2. “The second intifada took such a heavy price from Israeli-Arabs and the Palestinians. We are not learning from the mistakes.”

Aharish got her start in 2007 on Israel’s Channel 10, making history as the nation’s first Arab news presenter before putting in serious time in the West Bank as the channel’s Palestinian affairs reporter. Today she hosts the daily English edition of i24news and a Hebrew-language morning show on Channel 2. She remains one of the few Arab-Israelis on the news.

Known among Jewish-Israelis as a rare moderate Arab voice, Aharish takes pride in the Jewish state and has been willing to openly criticize her fellow Arab-Israelis.

“The problem with the Arab minority is that it sees itself as a victim,” she told the Washington Post in April, shortly before she made history by joining 13 other Israelis to light a torch at the nation’s pomp-and-circumstance-heavy Independence Day ceremony. “Yes, there is racism against Arabs in Israel; yes, the Arabs do not get their entire rights. But I am not a victim of Israel; I am a human being and a citizen.”

Last week, as Israel was just starting to reel from the still-cresting wave of stabbings that has pushed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a gruesomely intimate new level, Aharish went on her now-famous tirade. Defenders of Israel quickly shared the video all over social media; it was viewed more than a million times.

“Even if the status quo on the Temple Mount has been broken, does that allow someone to go and murder someone else because of a sacred place?” she said. “What God are they speaking of? That allows for children to go out and murder innocent people? What woman puts on a hijab and prays to God, takes a knife out and tries to stab innocent people? I don’t understand it and I don’t justify it in any way.”

Huge numbers of Jewish-Israelis hailed Aharish as a clear voice of reason amid a din of blindness and bigotry. But others, on the Jewish and Arab left, called her a traitor to her people, accused her of a Stockholm syndrome-like relationship with her oppressors and mocked the mainstream Israeli response.

Haaretz’s Jack Khoury called hers “the smiling face of the Israeli mainstream’s pet broadcaster.”

The story leaped beyond Israel, too: Dozens of news outlets reported on Aharish’s remarks, and within hours she had been booked for a one-on-one interview on air with CNN about her views.

Aharish, who speaks fluent English, has since stopped doing interviews. She originally agreed to speak to JTA for this story, and then changed her mind. But she has explained where she’s coming from in the past.

“Today, when people ask me ‘What are you?,’ I say that I am Israeli,” she told The Times of Israel in the April interview. “I’m not ashamed of my Israeliness. Then I’m a woman, and then I’m an Arab Muslim. That’s the order: Israeli, woman, Arab Muslim.”

During a previous violent peak 10 months earlier, she was even more eager to shrug off labels and draw a circle around her Israeli identity. It was the height of Israel’s 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army was pummeling Palestinians in Rafah and Gaza City, and Palestinian rocket fire was sending Israelis racing to bomb shelters in Ashdod and Tel Aviv.

Aharish took to Facebook and declared: “I am neither an Arab nor a Jew. I am neither Christian, nor Muslim nor Druze nor Buddhist nor Circassian. I am neither left nor right. I am neither religious nor secular. I don’t want to see children kidnapped and murdered; I don’t want to see children burnt to death. I don’t want to hear sirens or see missiles launched … I do want us to open our eyes to the rage and hatred that are eating us alive.”

As the current violence starkly shows, Aharish’s vision of an inclusive Israeliness is not winning out. She acknowledged as much in her interview last week with CNN.

“This time it’s different,” she said. “People are afraid in the streets of Israel … we are killing one another. We are killing ourselves. When you have a vacuum you have terror, and you are giving the stage to extremists from both sides.”

Aharish has signaled that she may not remain the face of Israeli coexistence forever. Despite her earlier dreams of an acting career and her current success at the TV desk, Aharish told The Times of Israel that she imagines her future abroad.

“I see myself managing a small cafe in Tuscany, which I will live next door to,” she said. “The camera never interested me as my life’s mission. Giving lectures, consulting, sure. But I’m more interested in what goes on behind the scenes. The camera is just a bonus.”

‘The Ben Hecht Show’ highlights spiritual side of the Oscar-winning screenwriter


His star has largely faded with the years, but in his day — the 1920s through the mid-’60s — writer Ben Hecht was an icon. James Sherman, who created and performs a one-man play about Hecht called “The Ben Hecht Show,” currently at the Zephyr Theatre in West Hollywood, said he particularly admires Hecht’s versatility as a journalist, playwright, novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter.

He also pointed out that though Hecht was adept at screwball comedies such as the films “Monkey Business” and “Twentieth Century” and the play “The Front Page,” which drew on Hecht’s experiences as a newspaper reporter and was adapted for the screen several times, he was equally skilled at crime vehicles, such as the movies “Scarface,” “Notorious” and “Underworld,” which earned him the first Academy Award for best story in 1927 (the category later became best original screenplay). 

But “The Ben Hecht Show,” set in 1943, is concerned with other aspects of Hecht’s life.

“What excited me about doing this show was Hecht writing about his own experience as an American Jew, dealing with his upbringing and with his growing consciousness about his connection to Judaism, and I think it’s a great story,” Sherman said. 

He added that Hecht’s growing awareness of anti-Semitism is personally meaningful to him. Sherman’s own consciousness as a Jew was raised in the late 1970s, when a neo-Nazi group wanted to march in Skokie, a Jewish neighborhood in Illinois.

The Skokie controversy prompted Sherman to ask some of the same questions Hecht had asked in response to the Nazi threat of the late 1930s and ’40s: “ ‘What is my response to this? What is my connection to Judaism and to American Judaism?’ When one decides to confront these questions, one can’t help but go on a journey — for answers,” Sherman observed.

He stressed that all the dialogue in his play comes from two of Hecht’s books: the autobiographical “A Child of the Century” and “A Guide for the Bedevilled,” in which Hecht deals specifically with his Judaism.

Sherman explained that the narrative begins as Hecht recounts a lunch he had with a Hollywood starlet, described as more famous than intelligent. “She asks him if he wants to talk about what’s wrong with the Jews. And he says, ‘This is the first time in my life that anybody ever addressed me as a Jew, and so I had to be one.’ ”

As the show indicates, Hecht learned about what was happening to the Jews in Europe during World War II from Hayim Greenberg, editor of the New York weekly The Jewish Frontier, who showed the writer eyewitness documents that came to him through Switzerland.

According to Sherman, those revelations prompted Hecht’s activism, beginning with his article “Remember Us,” which was published in the February 1943 issue of Reader’s Digest and helped bring the fate of European Jews to the attention of the widespread American public.

But Hecht’s attempts to enlist prominent Jews in helping publicize and address Nazi atrocities were met with unexpected and startling resistance. In the play, when he gathers 30 Jewish writers at the home of George S. Kaufman, his request for help elicits silence, even hostility.  

“When Hecht gathers these 30 literary celebrities together that all happen to be Jewish,” Sherman said, “Beatrice Kaufman says to him, ‘By asking them to portray themselves in public as Jews, you’re asking them to give up the fact that they’re Americans, which is what’s so important,’ as if those are mutually exclusive things. That’s what drives Ben Hecht crazy.”

Subsequently, in a particularly humorous section, Hecht, Moss Hart, Kurt Weill and Billy Rose convene 32 leaders of Jewish organizations to help plan a pageant titled “We Will Never Die,” as a memorial to the 2 million Jewish dead of Europe. What ensues is heated infighting, in Yiddish and English, with the leaders denouncing each other as socialists, fascists, Christians and other “villains.”

Sherman said he surmised that this explosion erupts because the pageant is viewed as “a shanda for the goyim.”

“The idea of it being ‘a shanda for the goyim’ is [that] we don’t want to portray ourselves, because then it’s like we’re giving them more reason to dislike us. I think in the play Hecht’s examination of Hollywood is fascinating, because of this industry that was invented by Jews, but there are no Jews in the movies, you know? And I think that’s part of the same thinking.

“The product that they put out to the world, they were very determined for it to remain as un-Jewish as possible. … Because of that, because the Jew vanishes from popular media, that actually serves to activate the rise of American anti-Semitism, because then the only people who are talking or writing about Jews are the anti-Semites.”

Sherman also said that, beyond its discussion of Judaism, his show is about whether people choose to remain complacent or to speak up when the times demand it. 

“The choice to speak is a very powerful choice that Ben Hecht makes, so I’m trying to set an example for that. I also think this play is important because people don’t know who Ben Hecht was, and I think he was really important.”

Sherman concluded, “There’s a lot of food for thought, and I’m excited to be able to lay out that buffet.”

The Ben Hecht Show” runs through Aug. 16 at the Zephyr Theatre. 

Award-winning journalist thrashes U.S. mideast policy


Whether it’s President Barack Obama’s take on nuclear negotiations with Iran or his stance on Israel’s relationship with Palestine, the commander-in-chief’s foreign policy errors will have lasting repercussions with American allies, according to Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who visited Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills on June 7.

“One of the interesting things when you go around and talk to the rest of the Arab world, they are looking at the administration’s behavior toward Israel. And they are saying, ‘If this is how the Americans behave toward their good friend Israel, how are they going to behave toward us?’ ” Stephens said during the event called “Has Washington Given Up on the Middle East?” 

“This is deeply damaging to the United States. Whether it’s Hillary [Clinton] or whoever else becomes the next president, they are going to have to somehow persuade these allies or former allies that we are a dependable superpower. The president is on a personal, almost nihilistic mission to demonstrate that he does not care what the reputation of the United States should be on Jan. 22, 2017.”

Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist, focused on the president’s remarks made last month at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C. He said Obama’s speech revealed what he sees as various double standards the administration utilizes in its public commentary of Israel’s actions. 

“The president has enunciated the position that he expects everything of Israel, and so should they fall short even by an inch or a foot, he will forgive them nothing,” Stephens said. “Whereas the view of the Palestinians is that they can transgress again and again and again and yet somehow be treated as entitled to international respectability, receptions at the White House and statehood.”

At Adas Israel, Obama admitted he holds Israel to an exalted sense of duty and feels compelled to call the Jewish state out when it does not measure up. 

“And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland. And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.”

The president also recalled images of Israel in its infancy: “I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim and Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war.”

Stephens asked what would happen if a previous president had spoken about the African-American community the same way Obama speaks about the Jewish-Israeli community. 

“Imagine if George Bush had said, ‘When I think of the African-American community, I think of people like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Martin Luther King Jr., and when the Black community doesn’t live up to those standards, then I’m going to have to speak out,’ ” Stephens said. “He would have been howled out of polite society.”

Stephens also chastised the Obama administration for its role in the international negotiations of Iran’s nuclear program, which he said is “increasingly divorced from reality.” 

Stephens, in response to a question from moderator Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project (which sponsored the event with the Journal and Beth Jacob), spent several minutes playing devil’s advocate to those opposed to an Iranian nuclear deal — before tearing down such arguments. At first, Stephens mentioned the parallels between the United States’ current negotiations with Iran and its successful negotiations with China during the Nixon administration, but then he did an about face, saying there are important differences between the wounded Maoist China of the 1970s and Iran’s current economy. 

“Mao had no option but to reach a strategic accommodation with the United States,” Stephens said. “But Iran is winning on every front and is already a highly successful regional power. They are already getting sanctions relief. So why on Earth would they curb their ambitions?”

Stephens finished his conversation by offering a warning to American and Israeli Jews. In drawing upon accounts of Jews in Germany before the Holocaust, he asks Jews around the world to be prepared.  

“One of the things that I worry about most of all is that the Jewish people here or in Israel should never lose the instinct for danger,” Stephens said. “Israel has survived because it is a country founded on the instinct for danger, from Theodor Herzl to David Ben-Gurion to Ari Sharon, and I think that’s the essential point.”

Obama meets with family of slain journalist Steven Sotloff


President Obama met with the parents of slain journalist Steven Sotloff several months after they criticized the White House for its handling of their son’s death.

The White House announced that Obama met with Art and Shirley Sotloff on Thursday during a trip to Miami.

“The President expressed his and the First Lady’s condolences for Steven’s death,” Bernadette Meehan, National Security spokesperson, wrote in a statement. “He appreciated the chance to hear from the Sotloffs more about Steven’s work as a journalist, including his passion for bringing the stories of people who are suffering to the rest of the world in the hope of making a positive difference, including in Syria.”

After Sotloff’s death, his family criticized the White House for leaking questionable reports that Sotloff and James Foley, the first American journalist to be beheaded by ISIS, were killed on the same day. On CNN, a spokesman for the family criticized the U.S. government’s inability to put aside political “bureaucratic infighting” and rescue Sotloff.

Steven Sotloff, who was Jewish and grew up in Miami, published articles from Syria, Egypt and Libya in various publications, including Time, the World Affairs Journal and Foreign Policy. He also freelanced for The Jerusalem Post.

David Landau, Haaretz editor and JTA’s longtime Israel bureau chief, dies at 67


David Landau, a British-born Israeli journalist who held top positions at several English-language publications, including JTA, has died.

Landau died of brain cancer in Jerusalem on Tuesday. He was 67.

Landau, who made aliyah in 1970, served part time as JTA’s Israel bureau chief for many years while also working as a diplomatic correspondent at The Jerusalem Post. He later was promoted to managing editor of the Post. In 1997 he founded Haaretz’s English-language edition and served as the newspaper’s editor in chief from 2004 to 2008. He wrote columns for Haaretz until last year.

In choosing to work for JTA, Landau “demonstrated his strong commitment to educating Diaspora Jewry about the intricacies of Israeli politics and Israeli life,” said Lisa Hostein, JTA’s editor from 1994 to 2008.

“Top Israeli journalists in Israel would respond with disbelief when they discovered I had the audacity to edit and even challenge David, who was known as a tough journalist and editor in his own right,” said Hostein, who now serves as executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.

“He was an Orthodox Jew whose commitment to an open and moral democracy in Israel drove his work as a journalist,” she said. “May his memory be a blessing.”

Landau wrote and ghost-wrote several books, including “Piety and Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism” (1992), about Israel’s haredi Orthodox community, and a biography of Ariel Sharon published last year.

“David Landau’s untimely death is a very great loss, not just for his family and his many friends, but also for Haaretz and for journalism in general,” said Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken in an obituary  published in that newspaper. “As a Haaretz staffer for many years, and especially during his tenure as editor-in-chief, David made an enormous contribution to the paper as an enlightened Zionist intellectual, a liberal in the full sense of the word and a believing Jew, and he demonstrated that there is no inherent contradiction in these things.”

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who collaborated with Landau on two memoirs, told Haaretz that Landau was “a rare combination of an individual – religious in depth and liberal in breadth.”

Landau will be buried at Har Hamenuhot Cemetery in Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon.

He is survived by his wife, Jackie, their three children and eight grandchildren.

Islamic State says another U.S. journalist’s fate depends on Obama


Islamic State militants claimed in a video on Tuesday to be holding U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff and said his life depended on U.S. President Barack Obama's next move.

“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” said a masked man in the video posted on social media sites, speaking English with a British accent as he held a prisoner the video named as Steven Sotloff.

The video could not immediately be verified.

Rockets Launched Behind Journalist During Gaza Coverage


While reporting live from Gaza, Hamas recklessly fires a rocket behind a France 24 journalist.

Journalist Torgny Segerstedt speaks truth to Nazi power in Swedish film, ‘The Last Sentence’


The Swedish film “The Last Sentence” opens with a 1933 newsreel of Adolf Hitler strutting as Germany’s new chancellor and ends with 1945 footage of Russian troops closing in on the Führer’s bunker.

During those 12 years, as Hitler first threatened and then swallowed one European country after another, one Swedish journalist defied his government by relentlessly attacking the Nazi leadership from the moment it assumed power.

His name was Torgny Segerstedt, a theology student turned journalist and, ultimately, editor of a leading liberal newspaper in Gothenburg. On the day of Hitler’s ascension to power, Segerstedt wrote that the new German leader was “an insult” to his country and Europe.

Segerstedt kept up his barrage week after week, predicted that Hitler would plunge Europe into war and named his pet bulldog “Winston” in honor of Churchill, another early Nazi foe.

After a few more choice observations by Segerstedt, such as “the devil is synonymous with Hitler,” an enraged Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering sent a telegram to the Swedish prime minister declaring that any more such editorials would upend Germany’s “good will” toward Sweden.

The Swedish government was worried, but Segerstedt was not cowed. In one editorial, he denounced his country’s silence on the passage of the Nazi anti-Semitic laws, writing, “We are responsible for what we say and for what we do not say.”

Following the outbreak of World War II, German armies easily overran Denmark and Norway, while a third Swedish neighbor, Finland, battled Soviet invaders.

Seeing threats on all sides, the Swedish government enforced a policy of strict neutrality and introduced press censorship. Initially, the censors excised some editorials, to which Segerstedt responded by leaving the space blank; later the authorities would seize the entire run of an offending paper.

At the same time, the highest Swedish officials ratcheted up the pressure on Segerstedt. “Don’t drag Sweden into war,” pleaded the prime minister, noting that he was receiving reams of hate mail about the “Jew lackey.”

Finally, the journalist was bidden to an audience with King Gustaf V at the royal palace in Stockholm. “If Sweden gets into the war, it will be your fault,” the monarch warned Segerstedt, and when the latter tried to raise moral arguments, King Gustaf noted snidely, “We know why you are defending the Jews.”

Ah, the Jews again — how did they get into the picture?

The answer lies in the film’s alternative plot, which dilutes the straightforward story of one man’s moral courage in speaking truth to power into a rather soggier plotline of love and infidelity among middle-aged couples.

Segerstedt had married a worldlier Norwegian girl when he was a young theological student, but, in his late 50s, he became involved in an affair with Maja Forssman, the wife of his publisher and best friend.

A wealthy woman, Maja was also rather imperious (“I take what I want”) — and Jewish.

In the film, shot in black-and-white, Segerstedt is portrayed by Danish actor Jesper Christensen (“Melancholia,” “Nymphomaniac”), who bears a startling resemblance to the real-life character he portrays.

Segerstedt’s handsome, patrician face and bearing, on top of his intellectual gifts, made it quite understandable that, even in his mid-60s, he attracted women and reciprocated their affections.

The film notes that Segerstedt wrote 10,000 articles in his life and made as many enemies. His liaison with Maja (Pernilla August) handed his foes a handy anti-Semitic cudgel.

In a Skype interview, the film’s director, Jan Troell (“Everlasting Moments,” “The New Land” and “Emigrants”), turned back a suggestion that he had dragged in his protagonist’s love life to add some pizazz to the sober story of a journalist’s struggle against authority.

“I followed the biography and available material on Segerstedt closely,” Troell said. “We know that a man can be a hero in one aspect of his life but less admirable in another.”

“What is interesting is the contrast between the official persona and the full human being,” added Troell’s daughter, Johanna, who served as her father’s “adviser [and]go-fer” and plays a small role in the film.

In the film, as Segerstedt nears the end of his life, his one wish is to outlive his nemesis, Hitler. In the final days of World War II, it’s a close call, but, at least on the screen, Segerstedt gets his wish.

 

“The Last Sentence” opens June 20 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, and on June 27 at the Town Center in Encino and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena

Two journalists killed in Cairo violence


Two journalists were killed in Cairo on Wednesday as Egyptian forces crushed protests by thousands of supporters of the deposed president, shooting scores of people dead.

Television cameraman Mick Deane, 61, worked for Britain's Sky News. Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, reported for the Dubai-based news weekly Xpress.

Troops opened fire on demonstrators who had staged a sit-in for the past six weeks to demand the reinstatement of the Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi.

Deane was shot as he covered the operation. He had worked for the BSkyB-owned Sky News for 15 years, based in Washington and then Jerusalem. He was married with two sons.

“The loss of a much-loved colleague will be deeply felt across Sky News. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family,” John Ryley, head of Sky News, said in a statement.

Abd Elaziz, an Egyptian, had been on leave when she was shot dead, according to Xpress's sister publication Gulf News.

“It's hard to believe she's gone. She was passionate about her work and had a promising career ahead,” Xpress deputy editor Mazhar Farooqui was quoted as saying.

A Reuters photographer was shot in the foot while covering the violence. Asmaa Waguih was receiving treatment for the bullet wound.

“We have the utmost respect for all the journalists who put themselves in harm's way to bring us the news, video and pictures we see every day. At Reuters, safety is our highest priority and we take every precaution we can to ensure it,” said Stephen Adler, Reuters Editor in Chief.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Yoram Kaniuk, Israeli author and journalist, dies at 83


Yoram Kaniuk, an acclaimed author and journalist who had the designation Jewish removed from his Israeli identification card, has died.

Kaniuk died Saturday night after fighting cancer for many years. He was 83.

Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Kaniuk wrote 17 novels, including “Himmo, King of Jerusalem” (1965); “Adam Resurrected” (1968); “Rockinghorse” (1974); “The Last Jew” (1982); and his most recent, “1948,” for which he was awarded the Sapir Prize for Literature in 2011.

He also won the Brenner Prize for literature, the Bialik Prize and the President’s Prize, as well as being named an officer in France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

Kaniuk was wounded while fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.

[Related: Kaniuk’s writerly riffs probe Israeli psyche]

In 2011, Kaniuk successfully fought to have the designation Jewish removed from his Israeli identification card. He was permitted to identify himself as “without religion,” the same as his Christian-American wife and son.

Palestinian journalist gets jail term for Abbas insult


A Palestinian Authority court sentenced a local journalist to a year in jail on Thursday over a picture posted on Facebook that was deemed insulting to Mahmoud Abbas.

The ruling against Mamdouh Hamamreh, who works for the al-Quds TV channel in Bethlehem, is the second this year in which Palestinians have been given jail terms over caricatures of the president.

Journalists and media watchdogs, saying Hamamreh was only “tagged” in the photo and did not create it, criticized the ruling and curbs on media freedom by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The offending image juxtaposed Abbas beside a similar-looking man who plays the part of a collaborator with French colonial forces in an old Syrian television drama.

“They resemble each other in everything,” a caption read.

Many Palestinians perceive Abbas as too conciliatory to Israel and resent coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces overseen by Abbas.

Palestinian rights groups were critical of the ruling.

“(Hamamreh) didn't even publish the picture. When images online are criminalised, it's a very serious violation of basic rights of expression,” criminalizedaid Riham Abu Aita of the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms.

“We don't have a king, we have a president,” she said.

“This issue is between the prosecutor and the court, and the president has nothing to do with its proceedings,” Hassan al-Ouri, legal adviser to Abbas, told Reuters of the Hamamreh case.

A court in the northern West Bank city of Nablus in February sentenced a local man to a year in prison for creating a picture of Abbas to make him look like a football player, and entitled it “the new striker for Real Madrid”.

Anas Awad, 26, denied he had intended any offence and the president promptly pardoned him.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Michael Roddy

Hamas forbids local journalists from working with Israeli media


The Hamas government in Gaza has forbidden local journalists from working with Israeli media outlets.

The weekly Cabinet meeting in Gaza decided to ban Palestinian journalists from working “with all Zionist media and journalists,” which it declared “hostile,” it announced in a statement, the French news agency AFP reported.

The Cabinet has forbidden the local journalists from working for Israeli media and television stations.

It is the first time the Hamas government has required such action, according to AFP.

There is no similar requirement in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2006.

In a Facebook post, The New York Times' Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, reported that Gaza journalist Abeer Ayyoub confirmed the ban and said that Hamas also announced that permits for foreign journalists would now go through the internal security office.

Rudoren wrote that Israeli media outlets rely on local Palestinians for news from the coastal strip, since Israelis are forbidden from entering Gaza.

Hundreds of journalists arrive in Israel


Hundreds of journalists and television crews have arrived in Israel to cover the conflict with Gaza.

Since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense, some 500 foreign journalists have requested press credentials from the Government Press Office, according to the GPO. The credentials allow them free access to conflict zones

The newly arrived journalists join the some 1,400 journalists and television crew members who cover Israel on a regular basis, according to the GPO.

Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein has directed GPO Director Nitzan Chen to receive the journalists quickly and efficiently, to bring them to communities in the south that are under missile threat, and to provide them with information and data.

One-third of the newly arrived journalists have come to reinforce crews that previously were, one-third represent North American media outlets and one-third are from Europe, according to Chen.

“We are working so that alongside the photos of planes and tanks, there are the voices of the people who have been enduring a daily reality over the years that no other country would be prepared to accept,” Edelstein said in a statement.

A journalist’s perspective


Why are you asking so many questions and wanting to write about our community in the newspaper? Why do people care about Iranian Jews in Los Angeles? Do you really think you’re accomplishing anything by writing about our triumphs and failures in the newspaper?

These and other intense questions were often fired at me by local Iranian Jews, starting about 12 years ago, when I first set out to report on this very special community. It is my community, and traditionally it has been very tight-knit and intentionally private, closed off to outsiders. But it includes an array of individuals with many stories and a very rich background. As a son of this community whose parents fled Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime more than three decades ago, I nevertheless felt called to share the beauty of Southern California’s Iranian-Jewish heritage.

In my opinion, the Iranian-Jewish immigration to the United States represents, perhaps, one of the greatest sociological experiments of the 20th century. It is the story of what happens when you uproot one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, a group that was deeply rooted in Iran for centuries, and then transplant it into the United States — one of the most advanced and dynamic modern societies in the world. Who would have thought that this immigrant community could, in such a short time span, blossom and successfully acculturate as it has in the United States in slightly more than three decades?

I feel tremendously blessed to have had the unique opportunity of sharing some of the local Iranian Jewish community’s incredible accomplishments in business, the arts, philanthropy, literature, politics, education, medicine, real estate and contributions to the betterment of Southern California. For example, if you just venture into downtown Los Angeles’ garment or jewelry districts, you will find that a vast majority of businesses are owned by Iranian Jews. Local elected officials often point to the fact that downtown Los Angeles has gone through a tremendous transformation during the last three decades, with billion-dollar industries thriving in neighborhoods that once were blighted.

This is largely the result of Iranian-American Jewish entrepreneurship. Iranian-Jewish families, such as the Delijanis and others, have invested heavily in downtown’s real estate and the revitalization of the area’s historic Broadway district. And, at the same time, some members of the Nazarian family have shown extraordinary entrepreneurship in the community. The Nazarians are among the major shareholders in the telecommunications giant Qualcomm, and they own major hotels and nightclubs throughout Los Angeles. There’s also the Orange County-based Merage family, which in 2002 sold its privately held corporation, Chef America (maker of the popular Hot Pockets frozen foods), to Nestle for $2.6 billion. These and countless other Iranian-Jewish entrepreneurs have, without doubt, contributed significantly to the economic vitality of Southern California.

Iranian Jews have not been successful only in business; many from the community have also pursued higher education in medicine, architecture, the law, engineering and various sectors of academia. You need only to walk into any of a handful of Los Angeles-area hospitals, including Cedars-Sinai, UCLA, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center or St. John’s Health Center to encounter Iranian-Jewish physicians in almost any specialty you can imagine. It is no secret that Southern California’s Iranian Jews are perhaps one of the most highly educated immigrant communities because of their families’ strong emphasis on the importance of education.

Area universities also have countless Iranian-Jewish scientists and researchers, among them the prestigious City of Hope medical facility in Duarte, which regularly boasts of having in its ranks Dr. Samuel Rahbar, a leading endocrinologist who is on the brink of finding a cure for some types of diabetes.

In recent years, Iranian-Jewish writers Gina Nahai, Angella M. Nazarian and  Roya Hakakian have received international acclaim for their books in English, which often reveal aspects of the community’s personal struggles in moving from the traditions of Iran into the United States. And, yes, even celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is currently a candidate for U.S. Congress in New Jersey, has written countless best-selling books and appeared on television programs, is half Iranian-Jewish.

With Hollywood close by, the community also has entered the entertainment industry, and Iranian-Jewish film producer Bob Yari is one of the success stories. In 2006, Yari’s film “Crash” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. More than a dozen local Iranian-Jewish actors in recent years also have appeared in countless major films and television programs, including the popular suspense drama “24.” 

Local Iranian Jews also have ventured into politics and fully embraced American democracy since their exile. Most notable was Jimmy Delshad, a businessman who became the first Iranian Jew elected to public office in the United States when, in 2003, he became a Beverly Hills city councilman. Then, in 2007, he made national news when he became that city’s mayor. Delshad left public office last year,  but now Beverly Hills has two Iranian-Jewish city commissioners. Likewise, in 2008, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Iranian-Jewish attorney H. David Nahai to be the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. For a time, Nahai oversaw one of the largest public utilities in the country.

A new, younger generation of Iranian-American Jews — many of them born in the United States — formed the organization 30 Years After (30YA) nearly five years ago, and it quickly became one of the community’s most successful civic and political nonprofit groups, mobilizing Iranian Jews in Los Angeles and New York to become more engaged in the U.S. political process.

Interestingly enough, the younger generation of Iranian-Jewish professionals in recent years has been at the forefront of sharing their parents’ and grandparents’ countless stories of escape from the persecution of Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime. That narrative has been critical in helping other Americans to better understand the threat that the current Iranian regime poses to the rest of the free world.

In 2009, I remember being given the opportunity to interview family members and close friends of Habib Elghanian, the late leader of the Jewish community in Iran, who was executed by Iran’s Islamic regime in 1979 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Hearing their bone-chilling stories of the circumstances surrounding Elghanian’s execution made me realize how his murder became a primary catalyst for thousands of Jews to flee Iran after the revolution.  

For all of the Iranian-Jewish community’s financial and academic success, local Iranian Jews have, over the last three decades, not forgotten their strong Jewish roots. You cannot walk into any of the major Los Angeles-area synagogues, among them Stephen S. Wise Temple, Sinai Temple, Tifereth Israel Sephardic Temple and Valley Beth Shalom, without encountering local Iranian Jews who make up a substantial portion of these congregations.

I often ask myself what would have happened to many of these local synagogues today if the Iranian Jews had never immigrated to this city? Perhaps Los Angeles’ robust Jewish community would not have been as strong as it is today. For instance, Pico-Robertson and Encino are now among the most vibrant Jewish areas in Los Angeles as a result of a large segment of Iranian Jews living and working there.

And this also has led Iranian Jews living in both West Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley to establish more than two dozen synagogues of their own. Both big and small, many of these Iranian synagogues operate from store-front properties all along Ventura Boulevard, while, at the same time, many in the community are still drawn to lavish synagogues, including the Nessah Synagogue in the heart of Beverly Hills. 

Over the last 30 years, Southern California’s Iranian Jews also have set up and funded many of their own nonprofit groups, including the Hope Foundation, the Jewish Unity Network (JUN), the SIAMAK organization, and others, to support Iranian-Jewish families struggling financially. In recent years, younger Iranian Jews have been giving back to the larger community in Los Angeles by donating money, time and energy to nonprofits dealing with the homeless and to local law enforcement, such as a the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

In 2005, Iranian-Jewish businessman Paul Merage gifted the University of California, Irvine, business school with a $30 million endowment, the largest in university history. The Merage family also donated $3 million to the Jewish Community Center of Orange County, which bears the family’s name, and supported the Orange County Performing Arts Center as well as the Second Harvest Food Bank in Orange County. 

After encountering firsthand the horrors of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Southern California’s Iranian Jewry has made support for Israel a paramount concern over the decades. A large segment of local Iranian Jews has been involved with a host of philanthropic causes related to Israel, through Hadassah, the Jewish National Fund, Israel Bonds, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and the many universities based in Israel.

In the late 1980s, it was a group of Southern California’s Iranian Jews that established the widely successful Magbit Foundation, which has since provided millions of dollars in interest-free loans to cash-strapped college students in Israel. The Iranian-Jewish Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation also has donated extensively to an array of higher-education institutes in Israel, and in the last few years, also funded the establishment of an Israel Policy Center at UCLA. The Iranian-Jewish Merage Foundation over the years has provided endowments to universities in Israel, and, since 2004, has helped fund the Ayalim Association’s program in Israel that is slowly establishing various new settlement blocs in the Negev and Galilee regions of the country. In 2010 the SIAMAK organization launched and funded Project Jacob, a revolutionary new program to nurture and develop innovative medical, high-tech and alternative energy research at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University.

Despite Southern California’s Iranian-Jewish community’s success and generous philanthropy, the community has not been immune to an array of problems. Community activists such as JUN’s Dara Abaei will attest to the difficulties some local young Iranian Jews today face with the sale and use of illegal drugs. I remember reporting on the tragic story of three young Iranian-Jewish men who were killed in a West Hollywood apartment during a drug deal that went bad in August 2010.

There are also families struggling with issues of spousal abuse and alcoholism. There are a number of poverty-stricken Iranian-Jewish families, who, over the last four years, were hit hard by the bad economy. Some are on the verge of homelessness. No doubt the few Ponzi schemes allegedly carried out by Iranian-Jewish businessmen in recent years — against their own community members here in Los Angeles — have wiped out the finances of hundreds of families and destroyed the long-standing trust that many Iranian Jews once had in one another. 

Covering these stories of difficulties faced by local Iranian Jews has been personally heart-wrenching for me, and not easy to write about, because the community has a long-standing, albeit unspoken, taboo of not airing its dirty laundry in public. Many feel their reputations in the community will be destroyed, or the “authorities” will come after them for speaking out, as had been the case for them in Iran. 

I will never forget two years ago, when I first reported on the community’s businessmen involved in the alleged Ponzi schemes, and I was approached by a 79-year-old Iranian-Jewish grandmother who overheard me interviewing one of the victims. With tears in her eyes, she grabbed my arm and said to me,  “They’ve stolen $100,000 of my entire life savings, which I brought out of Iran with great difficulty — I am so ashamed because I have nothing and have to live with my children. Why won’t any of the local rabbis or leaders tell them to at least pay back the money they took from us old people?” 

I had no answer for this poor, old woman but I believed it was important to cover this story in order to shed light on the suffering of the victims instead of trying to sweep the issue under the rug, because this community needs to face its demons and find real solutions to help people. The local community also has  struggled in recent years with not having a base of strong leaders and serious activists to properly address the continually evolving issues of Jewish immigration from Iran, social problems within families and creating a closer overall cooperation with the larger Jewish community through the Los Angeles Jewish Federation.

My reporting has focused on many of these significant accomplishments and changing elements within the local Iranian-Jewish community, and as a journalist I don’t mean to boast about them. Yet I cannot help but feel a tremendous amount of pride for how this 2,700-year-old community has remained vibrant in this new world, yet held steadfast to its Jewish identity and continued to grow and thrive. Who would have thought that a Jewish community that once lived for centuries as second-class citizens in Iran, and that faced unimaginable persecution, would one day be thriving in a country that represents the greatest democracy on Earth? The story of the Iranian-American Jews continues to amaze me. With its mix of ancient history and rich traditions, and its embrace of a whole new, modern world, it is a community that I truly love and respect. 

My only hope is to continue to have the opportunity to share Iranian Jewry’s remarkable story in the coming years.


Learn more about L.A.’s Iranian-Jewish community by visiting Karmel Melamed’s blog at jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.


Iranian Jews: The art, culture and history

Journalist Gal Beckerman wins Rohr Prize


Journalist Gal Beckerman has been awarded the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for his first book.

Beckerman will receive the Jewish Book Council’s first prize award of $100,000 for “When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry.” The non-fiction book is a comprehensive chronicle of the history of the Soviet Jewry movement.

The judges said that Beckerman’s work shows “his clear commitment to becoming a storyteller for the Jewish people.”

The Rohr prize has been given annually since 2007 and considers works of fiction and non-fiction in alternating years.

The runner-up is Oxford lecturer Abigail Green, for her biography, “Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero.” She will receive a $25,000 prize.

Other finalists were Jonathan B. Krasner for “The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education”; James Loeffler for “The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire”; and Ruth Franklin for “A Thousand Darknesses:  Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.”

The Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature honors the contribution of contemporary writers in exploring and transmitting Jewish values. The prize is intended to encourage and promote the writing of Jewish interest. Fiction and nonfiction books are considered in alternate years.

The award ceremony will be held in Jerusalem on April 11.

Journalist: Netanyahu told me Israel’s biggest enemies are N.Y. Times, Haaretz


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s two greatest enemies are The New York Times and Haaretz, the editor of The Jerusalem Post said in a speech.

Steve Linde, addressing a conference in Tel Aviv of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, said Wednesday that Netanyahu made the remark to him about the newspapers at a private meeting “a couple of weeks ago” at the prime minister’s office in Tel Aviv.

“He said, ‘You know, Steve, we have two main enemies,’ ” Linde said, according to a recording of the WIZO speech provided to JTA. “And I thought he was going to talk about, you know, Iran, maybe Hamas. He said, ‘It’s The New York Times and Haaretz.’ He said, ‘They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read in The New York Times and Haaretz.’ ”

Linde said he and other participants at the meeting asked Netanyahu whether he really thought that the media had that strong a role in shaping world opinion on Israel, and the prime minister replied, “Absolutely.”

The Prime Minister’s Office could not be reached immediately for comment.

Veteran Israeli journalist Yair Lapid enters politics


Veteran Israeli journalist Yair Lapid has left his job as a television news anchor to enter politics.

It is expected that Lapid, who made the announcement Sunday, will form his own independent party with a liberal bent.

Lapid left his job at Israel’s Channel 2, with no election on the horizon, just days before the Knesset Law Committee is scheduled to vote on a bill that would institute a six-month to one-year cooling-off period for journalists before they can get elected. It has been nicknamed the Yair Lapid Bill.

Lapid also has a weekly column in the Yediot Acharonot daily newspaper.

Lapid’s late father, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid left journalism to head the liberal-secular Shinui Party. His mother is author Shulamit Lapid.

Polls have shown that a Lapid-led party could garner the second most votes in a Knesset election, behind Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, and that it would likely take the most votes away from the Kadima Party.

Several current members of Israel’s Knesset are former journalists, including the current chairman of the Labor Party, Shelly Yachimovich.

Meanwhile, Noam Shalit, father of Gilad Shalit, who was released from captivity in Gaza in October, announced Monday that he would run for a place on the Labor Party list for the next Knesset elections.

“Following years of a public battle, during which I got to know Israel society deeply, both its beautiful and ethical sides, I have decided to join public life,” he told reporters.

Polish journalist Leopold Unger dies


The Polish journalist and commentator Leopold Unger has died at the age of 89.

Polish media said Unger, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Lvov in 1922, died Tuesday in Brussels, where he had lived for many years.

Unger was forced to leave Poland along with thousands of other Jews following the Communist regime’s anti-Semitic campaign in 1968.

An authority on Soviet and eastern European affairs, he wrote for publications including the International Herald Tribune, Radio Free Europe, the BBC and Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, and also wrote books. He received the Polish PEN Club’s award in 2009.

Detained in Cairo


I had been abused and beaten and had my camera confiscated all in the confines of the cabinet building, the headquarters of Egypt’s nascent democracy. Now, for the better part of an hour, I was languishing in a makeshift holding pen somewhere at the entrance of the building.

A group of plainclothes men entered. One handed another a heavy metal rod and they began talking about where they might shove it into me and how they wanted to destroy my face.  I retrospect, I suspect the whole thing was an act, but being a neophyte prisoner, suddenly cut off from the world and having no sense of when or how I would be released, it worked well enough. The men discussed my fate, one holding the rod firmly in his hand and occasionally turning in my direction.

They left without acting, but by now the last remnant of any hope that my being a journalist or an American citizen, much less someone who was not guilty of new crime, might somehow be released with no more than a few welts and some abuse.

Over the previous several hours on Saturday morning I had seen children as young as 13 shoved to the ground, beaten by soldiers, kicked and punched in the face over and over. I had a first-hand view of every detainee brought in to what began to look more and more like the military’s torture chamber.

One young man had been thrown against a stone pillar. Soldiers kicked him repeatedly, despite his pleading. A man brought a small palm tree trunk out – from where I don’t know – and began beating him with it. The blood that came forth was shocking. He was then dragged to the back grass area, where earlier in the morning, regular beatings were taking place.

Ten months after Husni Mubarak was ousted from office, I got to see firsthand over 13 hours in detention the new Egypt, a country where the military rules, the police and the torturers act as enforcers and the civilian prime minister comes on television to deny that the army is using live fire against protestors and to call on civilians to civilians “to protect Egypt” from the very people who are trying to save it.

The violence against protestors began in the early morning hours of Friday, with a barrage of rocks hurled from the roof of the cabinet building and smashing onto the sidewalk were demonstrators were gathered. The calls of haassib (stone throwing) echoed throughout the air, as the stones tumbled through the sky.

The protesters who had defied the troops stationed along Qasr el-Aini and Magles el-Shaab Streets could not avoid being hit, toppling to the ground. Fellow demonstrators carried the injured; their heads covered in blood, down a side street to makeshift hospital close to the U.S. and British embassies.

Cairo had once again turned into a war-zone, pitting the military against protesters who had been carrying out a non-violent sit-in. Throughout Friday, the barrage of rocks continued, soldiers and protesters alike hurling stones at each other. By Sunday morning, activists and medics estimated that 10 people had been killed. 

On Saturday morning, calm seemed to return to Egypt’s capital. Heading down to the street, I wanted to see the barbed wire that had been erected on the street parallel to where I lived. I took out my camera and snapped an image. Nothing looked threatening. Groups of men had gathered and the security personnel on the other side of the barbed wire were idly manning their positions.

An elderly woman approached me. She told me how the soldiers had removed the memory card from her camera and deleted almost all of her pictures. “I wanted to document the violence against the military,” she told me on the corner of Hussein Hegazy Street. With no apparent sense of irony she went on to insist that the protesters were the ones “committing suicide” and that “the military and police had never killed any Egyptian citizen.”

Naively, I decided to refute her claim, telling her of my own first-hand experience on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in late November, where scores of Egyptians were killed by live fire from the security forces and the military. She would have none of it, calling me a liar.

By now, we were joined by a group of men from the ligaan shaabiya, or people’s committee, that guarded the entrance to nearby streets, including my own. They demanded to see my passport and know why I was here. As I started to leave, they grabbed my arms and neck.

A uniformed military officer was quick to the scene. He pulled me from what I thought was harm’s way and handed me over to another soldier, who led me inside the cabinet building, where I assumed that I would be released.

That was not to happen. Instead, he put me in a headlock, lifted me off my feet and dragged me into the building’s courtyard. Once there, he tightened the grip on my neck and slapped me in the face repeatedly. Others who I never had a chance to see struck me on the back.

The pummeling over, but not my detention, I was taken to an open grass area where dozens of bandaged detainees were languishing on the ground. I realized that the beating I had received until now might just be the beginning.

But I was lucky: They sat me down away from the others and took my camera and computer, going through each and every file on the computer to delete they said were “not appropriate to tell of Egypt.” I got back my computer, now reconfigured to confirm with the New Egypt and was led to the makeshift holding pen to meet the men with the metal rod.

They departed with their threat, but not long afterwards, the officer who had taken me from the street – a major, I learned later – entered the room.  “If I see you again near the street, I will slit your throat,” he announced and instructed me to walk down the street until the end and go home. I got up, exited the building and began my trek over the rock debris that covered the street from the battles of the previous day.

I got no more than halfway down the street before a soldier caught up with me and ordered me to return. I had to see a colonel of the secret police colonel before I could leave. With two soldiers flanking me, I was marched to the other side of the street, just past the parliament building, where we were met by a group of baton-wielding plainclothes officers. They began to speak in rapid Arabic, accusing me of trying to reignite the protests that had died down.

One of the men barked at me a question. When I told him I didn’t understand a word he used, he replied calmly, “I will make you understand inside.” But at that moment something bigger was happening. All around me the soldiers who had been standing idly by a fleet of armored vehicles began putting on riot gear and moving out. In the distance, black smoke rose above the buildings from what I learned later was Tahrir Square. The military had already attacked.

Taken back to the holding cell, I spent the next 10 hours waiting for my release. I was told that someone from my embassy, the American Embassy in Cairo, could come and take me away and I would be free.

Surprisingly my jailers allowed me to keep my phone, so I called the embassy myself ––to have someone come and arrange my released. They refused, citing diplomatic issues between Washington and the Egyptian security forces as well as the precarious security situation on the street outside. The embassy is building is on the opposite side of the street no more than 100 meters (300 feet) from where I was being held, but officials insisted that the security officer at has banned all personnel from being near the scene.

I had been abused, threatened and beaten, but for the first time, I was angry.

By early afternoon, a Hungarian national, Mark Fodor, was also brought in for the offense of taking photos at the same spot I was detained. He immediately contacted his embassy and got the ball rolling. By around 9 p.m., the Hungarian counsel was en route to free him. I was livid. Two Egyptian officers had specifically told embassy officials on the phone that to get me released an embassy employee had to come get me.

But they never came. I would have to stay the night until the morning, they insisted.

It was cold and after Fodor – who I had conversed with throughout the afternoon and early evening – was gone. I was preparing for a lonely night in the small, pitch black room without any confidence about what would happen tomorrow when suddenly two soldiers entered. They asked me if I knew how to get home and took me to a side street outside and let me go.

It was a strange turn of events, but I had been freed.

I still wonder where the U.S. State Department was over the matter. Why had they not issued a statement about an American journalist being held in Cairo for an entire day? Was diplomacy more important than my freedom and ability to conduct my work? It was, and remains, a disheartening reality.

One Embassy official had the audacity to question why I had been at a “dangerous” place in Cairo. The same official told my wife that I “should not have even left my apartment,” citing the security directives issued from the embassy. I am a journalist and it is my job to document. The American Embassy and government should know better than to make such claims.

My neck and back may still be in pain, sore from the early morning beating I received, but as I write, Egyptians continue to brave military attacks down the street. They are fed up with military rule, and it is time the world stands with the Egyptians who want change. They fought the Mubarak government, which was replaced by the military. Now they are continuing the unfinished revolution.

Marilyn Henry, journalist and reparations authority, dies


Journalist Marilyn Henry, an authority on German reparations and the recovery of Jewish properties looted and displaced in Europe during the Nazi and communist eras, has died.

Henry, of Teaneck, N.J., died of cancer on Tuesday, four days before her 58th birthday.

Henry was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, where she had also served as a staff writer reporting from Israel, Europe and the United States. She had been a contributing editor to ARTnews and worked briefly as interim managing editor of JTA. She also worked part time as an archivist for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

She began her journalism career at the Jacksonville (Fla.) Times-Union, and also worked at Newsday. Her articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Forward and Aufbau, and in publications in Germany, Switzerland, Britain and the Netherlands, according to the New Jersey Jewish Standard

Henry was the author of “Confronting the Perpetrators: A History of the Claims Conference” and lectured on the topic of German reparations.

Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, in a message posted on the website of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, called Henry “one of the most extraordinary journalists of the Jewish community who stood for the rights of Holocaust survivors throughout her active and dynamic existence.”

“She will be always remembered for her relentlessness, her tenacity, her love of all things Jewish, and, most importantly, for her sincere attachment to the truth, regardless of where the chips may fall,” Masurovsky said.

Pearl’s passions: magnet honors slain journalist


Ask anyone who knew him: Daniel Pearl loved music. He joined bands in Atlanta, Paris and Mumbai, relishing the way a good melody can draw people together.

So imagine how the slain Wall Street Journal reporter, killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, might have felt watching the second-period choir class at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School as its members stand, roll their shoulders back and belt out a lilting rendition of “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”

“I look around and think, ‘How did we get here in one year?’ ” marveled principal Janet Kiddoo, her eyes welling up as she surveyed the classroom.

Last fall, Daniel Pearl Magnet High School (DPMHS) celebrated its second year as a stand-alone high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) by moving into its own facility in Van Nuys. Formerly a part of Birmingham High School, the magnet and its parent institution parted ways when Birmingham became a charter school last year. With 315 students, the Pearl magnet is now the smallest comprehensive public high school in the district.

That’s not all that makes it special. Taking cues from the other love of the man for whom it’s named, the magnet is the only school in the district that focuses on journalism. That means students learn the craft of writing and reporting news while also taking traditional subjects like algebra, literature and physics.

“Our mission is to send students out as leaders, in any context,” Kiddoo said. “This school is dedicated to the importance of the written word. Our hope is that wherever these kids go, they become great communicators and live by the principles of honesty and integrity.”

Specialized classes include Journalism I and II, and media workshops in which kids use cameras and editing software to produce short broadcast journalism segments. Yearbook is also a full-time class, turning school memories and class photos into substantive lessons in layout and publishing. On top of that, the school has had talks with California State University, Northridge, Pierce College and “NBC Nightly News” about offering internships to students.

All of this lets kids know that “they go to a unique school,” said Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father, a UCLA computer science ­professor and a Jewish Journal columnist.

Speaking recently by phone from their home in Encino, he and Daniel’s mother, Ruth Pearl, said the school’s efforts to pay tribute to their son have created a rich learning environment for students.

“The school has a name that is recognizable the world over,” Judea Pearl said. “That gives students a sense of uniqueness, togetherness and purpose — they can feel like they’re part of a movement. Learning journalism teaches them about serving the community and being citizens of a ‘global village.’ I don’t think many high schools have this window to the world.”

A cursory glance at the pale, squat building, nestled between school district offices on Balboa Boulevard, might not suggest anything extraordinary. But inside is a different story.

Walking through the halls during the students’ morning break, Kiddoo greets by name every student she passes, and most smile widely as they greet her back. Laughter rises from small groups of students gathered around picnic tables in a courtyard.

Whether they plan to pursue journalism as a career or not, kids say they appreciate the school’s emphasis on writing as a means of self-expression.

Stara Jackson, 14, wants to be an obstetrician, but she likes to utilize her writing talent on the school newspaper. She’s written op-eds on immigration and the closure of Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries, subjects that have sometimes landed her in hot water with friends: “I’m very opinionated,” the amiable sophomore admitted.

For Sarkis Ekmekian, 17, journalism classes with teacher Adriana Chavira awakened a love of the craft he didn’t know he had. Now editor in chief of the school newspaper, The Pearl Post (students last year came up with the name themselves), he enjoys covering campus events for an audience of his peers.

“I like the feeling of being in the newsroom — the pace and the excitement,” ­Ekmekian said, waiting in the journalism room with friends for class to start. “You contribute to informing the student body and spreading the word about what’s going on. It’s an important task, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Having someone like Daniel Pearl as a role model is a boon for teens at the school, Kiddoo believes.

“We want kids to be able to relate to him — to see him as a model of a young man who had a sense of humor, loads of integrity, who was a beautiful writer and a down-to-earth person,” she said. “I don’t want his to be just another name on a school. I want students to feel like they can connect with him as a human being.”

Or, as Judea Pearl tells kids whenever he visits a school: “Danny was one of your peers — he carried with him a laptop and a violin, and he went out into the world to learn and to spread friendship. His example says, ‘Look — you can do this, too.’ ”

As the population of the Daniel Pearl magnet grows, media teacher James Morrison wants to have roving teams of students produce a weekly broadcast news show. Kiddoo wants to add an ethics class. And science teacher Stephen Schaffter has proposed a novel idea: To skirt the hassle of lockers and save on the cost of textbooks, why not buy an e-reader for each student?

The Pearls would like to see more Jewish kids in the wildly diverse hallways, where students speak Russian, Armenian, Hebrew, Spanish, Farsi and Korean, to name a few.

Selling points include the school’s first-year Academic Performance Index (API) score of 776, and the fact that 94 percent of its first batch of seniors last spring graduated — compared with LAUSD’s overall graduation rate of 52 percent.

Kiddoo is proud — but not surprised. “Any student can flourish if you teach them well,” she said.

For the Pearls, that’s music to their ears.   

N.Y. Times apologizes for pro-Palestinian writer


The New York Times apologized for allowing a writer who has attended pro-Palestinian rallies to co-author a story claiming that Jewish criticism of Israel has grown in the San Francisco region.

The Feb. 3 article, headlined “A Jewish Group Makes Waves, Locally and Abroad,” covered tensions among Jews in the area. It focused particularly on Jewish Voice for Peace, which is noncommittal on whether Israel should become a binational state.

It quoted Jewish Voice for Peace leaders as saying that its membership has grown “significantly” since the 2009 Gaza War.

“After this article was published, editors learned that one of the two writers, Daniel Ming, had been active in pro-Palestinian rallies,” said an editor’s note that was appended on Feb. 8. “Such involvement in a public cause related to The Times’s news coverage is at odds with the paper’s journalistic standards; if editors had known of Mr. Ming’s activities, he would not have been allowed to write the article.”

It was not clear if Ming is a staffer or a stringer.

Journalists’ group considers dropping Helen Thomas award


Helen Thomas’ decision to take her disparagement of Zionists from off the cuff (last May) to on the record (last month) has led a journalists’ group to consider dropping her name from a lifetime achievement award.

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The decision will be considered Jan. 8 at a meeting of the society’s executive committee. Ahead of the meeting, the society posted on its online magazine Quill what it said were two typical letters—one for renaming the award and one against.

Limor said the society, which advocates for press freedoms and promotes high-quality journalism through scholarships and awards, had been in touch with Thomas.

A message left at Thomas’ home by JTA was not returned.

Her website, helenthomas.org, still leads with her statement of regret, saying her remarks at the time “do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance.”

After her June remarks to blogger Rabbi David Nesenoff, the society considered calls from members and some Jewish groups to rename its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement but decided against it, noting her apology and the off-the-cuff nature of the remarks, an official with the organization told JTA.

That changed a few weeks ago with her speech in Dearborn, where Thomas grew up.

“We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that,” Thomas told the Arab Detroit group. “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is.”

Wayne State University, her alma mater, immediately withdrew its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award. Under deluge again, the Society for Professional Journalists said it would reconsider.

“This episode was a sad final chapter to an otherwise illustrious career as a trailblazer for women and minorities in journalism,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, wrote in the online letter to Quill seeking to rename the award. “Unlike her first off-the-cuff remarks into a camera, Thomas’ comments were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

Thomas, born to Lebanese immigrants, for decades was the White House correspondent for the United Press International wire service. She was among the first female journalists in Washington to break out of the traditional first lady coverage, scoring newsmaking interviews with Presidents Johnson through Clinton. When she left UPI to become a columnist for Hearst, she emerged as one of the first and sharpest critics of the Iraq war.

Wayne State’s decision was the right one, Foxman said in his letter, and “it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name.”

Countering was Lloyd Weston, a retired publisher and editor.

“The same First Amendment that protects my right to be a Jew and a Zionist in America protects Helen Thomas’ right to express her opinion of Jews and Zionists, no matter what that opinion may be,” said Weston, a Wayne State alumni who said his professors were likely “turning in their graves” at the university’s decision to rescind the honor.

The Society for Professional Journalists, established in 1909, granted Thomas its first lifetime achievement honor in 2000, and pledged to name subsequent awards for her. It has been awarded nine times since its debut. The award has no cash value.

On Saturday, the society’s executive committee could decide to rename the lifetime achievement award or not, or it could refer the matter to the full board, an official said.

Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg changing the world one story at a time


“It was Shabbat yesterday,” Jeffrey Goldberg said as explanation for why he had delayed an interview with a Jewish newspaper. But his next line pretty much foiled the excuse: “I had a lot of soccer games to go to.”

Jeffrey Goldberg: jokester.

The truth is that Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, probably spends just as much time thinking, speaking and writing about Judaism as do many rabbis. Among many in the American Jewish community — particularly among its leaders and those who are well-read — Goldberg, who is based in Washington, is considered one of the most influential Jewish journalists working in mainstream media. But though proud to be Jewish and a journalist, Goldberg is none too thrilled to be branded a Jewish journalist.

“It has a kind of ghettoizing implication that I don’t like,” he said. “I write a lot about Jewish subjects — but I don’t consider myself acting on behalf of the Jewish people.”

His readers might disagree. Goldberg’s first book, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” was an autobiographical account of his Zionist self-discovery (at summer camp, of course) and the years he spent living in Israel, where he served as a prison guard in the Israel Defense Forces and befriended Arab prisoners.

He has often written on Jewish topics: He began his career covering the Jewish community for The Jerusalem Post and The Forward before broadening his focus at The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker. His most recent Atlantic cover story, “The Point of No Return,” in the magazine’s September issue, was a nearly 10,000-word report on the prospects of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The story sparked enormous controversy, with scores of journalists, media personalities and political officials weighing in on its claims, debating its veracity and praising its reportage. The piece also caught the attention of former Cuban president Fidel Castro, who subsequently invited Goldberg to Havana, then surprised the writer with empathetic remarks about Jewish suffering and what many interpreted as ideological support for Israel.

When he is not engaged in his “real work” — as Goldberg refers to his job reporting on world affairs and visiting with foreign leaders — he writes a well-humored, current-events blog known as “Goldblog,” which strives to be a voice of reason in the Wild West of Internet journalism. He is also at work on his second book, a biography of Judah Maccabee (yes, the hero of Chanukah) for Nextbook, and contributing political commentary to a new haggadah created by the writer Jonathan Safran Foer. For fun, he shuttles his three children, ages 10, 11 and 13, to and from school and organizes a Torah study class with his close friend David Gregory, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Jewishness, you could say, is an animating force in his life.

“I think you should write about what obsesses you. And I’m obsessed with these questions of Israel and the Arabs and Jewish identity, but I’m also interested in other things,” Goldberg said. “My longest piece this year was an 18,000-word story in The New Yorker about elephant conservationists in Africa.”

Jeffrey Goldberg: animal lover.

Before he became one of the country’s foremost Middle East correspondents, he wrote about politics and organized crime for The New York Times Magazine. Those were the days when journalism was flush, when a writer could earn a six-figure salary for producing four cover stories a year — which is all that was required of him; no blogging, no public speaking, no 24-hour news cycle. In a way, the transformation of the media world has brought Goldberg back to his roots as a niche journalist; when he isn’t writing about the Middle East, Israel and American Jewry, he is likely to be found speaking about related issues to Jewish groups across the country. In the past two weeks, he lectured at the Jewish Federation on Long Island, The Bronfman Foundation in Manhattan and the University of Denver.

“He’s among the most important journalists in America right now,” said Rabbi David Wolpe, who befriended Goldberg after inviting him to speak at Sinai Temple in February 2008 (Goldberg will return to Sinai in January). “You can’t actually understand what’s going on in the Israel-American relationship or the Jewish community without reading him.”

Goldberg was raised in an assimilated middle-class home in a mixed neighborhood on Long Island. Both of his parents were teachers and union loyalists, inculcating their son with left-leaning liberal politics but not much in the way of a religious education. Instead, Goldberg forged his Jewish identity in response to some schoolyard anti-Semitism whose traumas left him longing for the so-called muscle Judaism represented by Zionism. As a teenager, he voraciously consumed Zionist literature by Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau and Vladimir Jabotinsky, and chose to go to a socialist Zionist camp in the Catskills, where summer games like “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” and “Siege of Jerusalem” were imbued with historic seriousness.

Following his parents’ divorce and an aimless year at the University of Pennsylvania, Goldberg moved to Israel, where he remained for the next several years, living on a kibbutz and serving in the army. Guarding Palestinian prisoners — many of whom were terrorists or would-be terrorists — might have bolstered his hawkish side, but Goldberg’s curiosity and need for connection led him to engage his charges, even befriend them. But his ceaseless journalistic quest to ferret out the humanity of the other shouldn’t be confused with naiveté; if anything, Goldberg’s time in Israel softened his idealism.

“I don’t think it’s that controversial to say that much of the world has a pornographic interest in Jewish moral failure,” he said. “The only thing that’s interesting to the world about this conflict is the Jews — let’s face it. I have a lot of Kurdish friends who bemoan the fact that their enemies aren’t Jews. We’re talking about the creation of the 23rd Arab country,” he said, referring to the possibility of a Palestinian state. “No one really cares, but because the enemy, the adversary of this group of people, have fascinated and transfixed and repulsed and spawned the two largest religions in the world by the way, that’s what’s so interesting.

“Look,” he continued, “Every couple of weeks, America mistakenly drops a bomb on some target in Afghanistan and kills 10 or 20 or 30 civilians, and nobody cares about that. China’s been waging cultural genocide against Tibet for God knows how long; nobody cares. In the Congo, 2 million people die in civil war; no one cares. And, by the way, there’s dysfunction and violence across the Arab world, all sorts of terrible things happen, but nobody cares about Muslim civil wars — or they care only to a certain degree. But this — this conflict with the Jews? That’s interesting.”

While Goldberg attributes the world’s preoccupation with the conflict in part to anti-Semitism, he also believes Israel bears some culpability for the perpetual failure of peace talks. He describes the Israeli government as “dysfunctional” and cites the recent passage of the Jewish loyalty oath as emblematic: “Why don’t you just hand the future of Israel over on a platter to its enemies?”

Goldberg is well versed in Israel’s existential threats. He spent five months investigating the likelihood of a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, more or less concluding that a U.S.-sanctioned Israeli strike could occur within the year. He has since revised his timeline, because in the weeks following the publication of his story, Iran’s nuclear facilities were infected with the powerful Stuxnet computer virus, which is believed to have impeded Iran’s progress. 

The story has been both widely praised and reviled. Critics accused Goldberg of warmongering, framing the piece as a question of who would invade Iran — Israel or the U.S.? — rather than challenging the sense of another Middle East incursion. Charges that he was, yet again, prepping America for war stem back to a 2002 piece he wrote for The New Yorker, in which he claimed to have found evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda. The piece was widely interpreted as an endorsement for the Iraq war, which, on some level, Goldberg regrets. He now admits having been wrong about Hussein’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction “like everybody else” but maintains the dignity of the story. “I will never regret taking a stand against a genocidal fascist,” he said. “Do I regret the atrocious manner in which the Bush administration prosecuted the war, and its aftermath? Of course.” Citing a report conducted by the Institute for Defense Analyses, he defends his claim connecting Hussein to al-Qaeda.

But the more insidious critique came when others denounced him for peddling Israeli propaganda, charging him with a deep, subconscious bias. As if somehow his Jewishness makes him unfit to write fairly about Israel.

James Bennet, Goldberg’s editor at The Atlantic, staunchly defends the writer’s objectivity:  “I challenge his critics to find evidence in his writing where his biases overwhelm his reporting or the clarity of his thinking,” Bennet said in a phone interview. “Jeff’s great strength as a journalist is his extraordinary versatility; he is, first and foremost, a great reporter, and on top of that, he’s obviously a great writer — a serious writer, a writer of narrative, a very funny writer — he can do it all.” Bennet noted that Goldberg’s blog has become a draw to the magazine’s Web site and added that Goldberg also writes the magazine’s advice column.

NBC’s Gregory, who befriended Goldberg after reading his book, believes Goldberg’s passion for Jewish subjects does not compromise his coverage of them. “He draws on the experiences of his life that inform certain beliefs or passions that he has, certainly a love of Israel that he has, but none of that is hidden,” Gregory said by phone from Washington.

Goldberg’s core beliefs are laid bare in his writing; anyone who reads “Prisoners” can easily glean his ideological support for the existence of a Jewish state, or his apparent pride at being Jewish.

“These are big things; I get that,” Gregory said. “But he’s honest about them — it’s part of who he is — and it doesn’t get in the way of his ability to look at these things critically. I do believe he is intellectually honest on these matters.”

Goldberg himself admits, “You disrespect the community if you soft-peddle your coverage,” citing the Jewish imperative for critical inquiry.

“The best journalism comes from a strong point of view,” Wolpe agrees. “It’s not as though this is a guy who has just seen Jerusalem; he has contacts all over the Arab world, and the reason is because he takes all the various views seriously, and he doesn’t parrot the government line.”

Goldberg is also, according to Gregory, uncommonly funny. “What I think is underappreciated about him is how incredibly funny he is; to read his humor is to laugh out loud.”

Goldberg’s wry, subversive humor is most evident on his blog, or if, on occasion he chooses to serenade you with a Chabad song. Last week, after NPR fired political analyst Juan Williams for suggesting people on airplanes who dressed in Muslim garb made him “nervous,” one of Goldberg’s readers asked if he, too, feared Muslims on airplanes. Goldberg replied: “I’m pretty sure that if I had been seated next to Muhammad Atta on Sept. 11, 2001, I would have engaged him in conversation … and, if he had responded, I would have spent the time before he cut my throat asking him about various restaurants in Cairo. … I’m actually writing this while waiting for the Delta Shuttle at LaGuardia, and I see a lot of people who look like they have terrorized the American economy, but no one who looks like an al-Qaeda terrorist.”

One of Goldberg’s gifts is that even on serious subjects, he can exhibit a healthy amount of silliness: “If he wasn’t someone who you knew was very well-known, you’d think he was the guy who sat behind you in shul,” Wolpe said. Which is probably also one of the reasons Goldberg doesn’t take it too seriously when, in the span of a single day, his critics call him a “Castro apologist,” “a fawning American intellectual” or “The Atlantic’s resident warmonger.” Goldberg said he knows he’s done a good job if the same story prompts accusations of neocon fascism and self-hating anti-Israel Islamic jihad. In a sea of right- and left-wing ideologues, Goldberg is politically centrist, a nuanced voice whose views are rarely a foregone conclusion. Which is why those who tout party line are fond of denigrating him: The Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick has called him a self-hating Jew, and Fox commentator Pamela Geller, who fanned the flames of the Ground Zero Islamic Center controversy, often refers to him as “Jihadi Jeff.”

“The Web is a remarkable place,” Goldberg joked.

But it’s also responsible for his recent visit to Cuba, where, over the course of three days, Castro expressed empathy with Jewish suffering (“I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews”), support for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (“Si, sin ninguna duda” — “Yes, without a doubt”) and repudiated — though he later qualified — the Cuban model of socialism (“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore”). A few weeks after Goldberg reported on these issues, the Cuban government announced plans to cut 500,000 state jobs by April 2011.

And yet, Goldberg is the last one to overestimate the power of his profession or his own personal impact.

“Things that I should be writing about come to me in dreams,” he said, in a moment of self-reflection. “I’ve been sucked into the Middle East story, in a way. I mean, it’s an urgent story, it’s a big deal, but there are things that I should do that I’m not doing because of it.”

Judaism, after all, would insist he shine a light in dark places. “I think journalism is a very Jewish job,” he said. “Judaism demands that its followers be dissatisfied with the state of the world as it is and work to make it better. And journalists are always digging up the rocks, and looking underneath, and seeing what’s wrong, and then writing about it with the idealistic hope that you can change something.”

Shin Bet details efforts to bring Blau back to Israel


Israel’s security service wants to question a Ha’aretz journalist about the whereabouts of 2,000 classified documents.

In an extraordinary and detailed statement on the Anat Kamm affair posted April 8 on the Shin Bet Web site, the agency said its efforts to negotiate the return of Uri Blau to Israel had arrived at a “dead end.”

Separately, Kamm’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, told Ha’aretz on Monday that she was releasing Blau from any confidentiality agreement in hopes that this would lure Blau home. Kamm was apparently Blau’s source.

The agency said it arrived at an agreement in September with Blau, an investigative reporter, to destroy 50 classified documents he had obtained.

The agreement included the destruction of Blau’s computer and a pledge by the Shin Bet not to charge him, not to force him to reveal his source, and not to charge his source should he or she be uncovered.

In its own statement, Ha’aretz confirmed the deal, which it said was signed on Sept. 15, adding that Blau handed over “dozens of classified documents in his possession.”

The Shin Bet statement goes on to suggest that its agreement with Blau was nullified when investigators allegedly discovered that Kamm—Blau’s alleged source—had appropriated 2,000 documents, many of them top secret, “including special operations, operational commands, operational and intelligence assessments, command forum summaries, ongoing security activity, documents having to do with means of warfare, deployment of troops. etc.”

Because of the “critical gap” between the 50 documents Blau handed over and the 2,000 allegedly appropriated by Kamm, the state attorney requested an interview with Blau, who has been overseas since December, the statement said. The Tel Aviv district prosecutor has negotiated the terms of his return over the last few weeks with Blau’s representatives, the statement said, but on April 6, the negotiations came to a “dead end.”

Ha’aretz’s statement confirmed the second set of negotiations, but added that, in its view, the Shin Bet had violated the terms of its deal with its continuing efforts to question Blau.

The newspaper’s statement does not specifically address whether Blau holds additional documents; it describes the papers returned by Blau in September as “documents he had used to prepare his articles.” It also said the original deal was aimed at “preserving the newspaper’s sources of information and the freedom of a reporter to act without harming the nation’s security.” The statement also notes that Blau’s reporting passed the censor.

“Ha’aretz regrets the sudden about face in he Shin Bet’s position and its results, the substance of which is the placing heavy pressure and threats on a journalist fulfilling his role,” its statement said.

Blau, who left Israel in December on a honeymoon trip, is now in London.

Kamm had, as part of her military service, worked for Central Command. She subsequently was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that was until recently partly owned by Ha’aretz.

Kamm, who had been placed under house arrest in December, was charged on Jan. 14 with “Grave espionage—relaying classified information with the intention of harming the state’s security, and the gathering and keeping of classified information with the intention of harming the state’s security,” the statement said.

Kamm has denied the charges. Police papers uncovered by Ha’aretz quote her as saying her aim was to expose war crimes.

The Shin Bet investigation was launched after Blau published documents in November 2008 showing that senior army staff approved targeted killings in 2007. Blau quoted legal experts to show that the assassinations violated Israeli Supreme Court rulings.

One memo said Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, then as now the chief of staff, approved assassinations if troops determined that no more than one innocent would be killed; the Supreme Court had ruled that no innocents may be killed in such attacks. After the publication of the documents, the Shin Bet says in its statements, Ashkenazi requested an investigation.

One of Kamm’s lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, says that authorities are making Kamm a “scapegoat.”

“If she had been really interested to undermine state security, there would have been no shortage in hands and ears willing to accept that material and use to hurt the state,” Feldman told Ha’aretz in a story published Ap[ril 8. “Someone just said to himself, ‘Let’s find a scapegoat.’”

The Shin Bet statement alleges that Kamm attempted to interest another journalist in the documents. It said that military intelligence “assesses that exposing the documents to hostile forces could bring about substantial harm, a risk to life, and harm to the state’s security.”

The Shin Bet statement alleges that Kamm attempted to interest another journalist in the documents.

Israeli courts gagged news of the case and of Kamm’s arrest in December. The gag was lifted April 8 after JTA and other news services not subject to the gag order published accounts outside of Israel.

PA subpoena for reporter’s testimony shelved


A federal magistrate ruled that the Palestinian Authority cannot force a reporter from The Atlantic magazine to testify in a terror-related lawsuit, Politico reported.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, was subpoenaed recently by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which demanded that he testify about his relationship with Moshe Saperstein, a Jewish settler suing over a terrorist attack in the West Bank in 2002.

Magistrate Judge John Facciola in Washington granted Goldberg’s motion to quash the subpoena, stating that Goldberg had a qualified reporter’s privilege and, while he could possibly shed light on Saperstein’s credibility, it was not worth the hassle of bringing Goldberg into the case.

Goldberg had interviewed Saperstein for a New Yorker article published in 2004 and had worked with Saperstein at the Jerusalem Post. Goldberg claimed not to have direct knowledge of the shooting attack in 2002, when Saperstein attempted to run over a terrorist who had fired an AK-47 at another vehicle. The encounter cost Saperstein two fingers on his remaining hand; the other was lost in the Yom Kippur War.

Now Anyone Can Have ‘Fifteen Minutes’ of Fame


Among Hollywood’s most sought-after publicists, Howard Bragman, 53, has a celebrity clientele that includes Stevie Wonder, Ricki Lake, Mischa Barton and Ed McMahon. In 1989, he founded Bragman Nyman Cafarelli Public Relations and Marketing (BNC), which became one of the premier PR firms in the country before it was sold in 2001. In 2005, he founded Fifteen Minutes, his own boutique agency, where he specializes in entertainment, crisis management and the gay/lesbian market.

He talks about the Facebook and Twitter craze, how even Mother Teresa could have used a publicist, and what Israel should do to buffer its image.

Jewish Journal: Your new book, ‘Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?’ makes the point that anyone can become famous. Is this a good thing?

Howard Bragman: Well, the reality is that even 10 years ago, public figures were actors, politicians, athletes and other ‘celebrities.’ With Facebook and Google and iPhones and the world we live in today, we all have a public image, and that’s my main premise here.

JJ: You’ve said that if a person doesn’t take the opportunity to define their own image, somebody else will do it for them and they probably won’t like the results. So as a publicist, is it your job to control that process?

HB: A publicist no longer has the luxury of control; what a publicist can do is manage. If you do something stupid in public, somebody’s going to capture it on their phone and it’s going to get out there.

JJ: How do you manage reputations in the viral age of Facebook and Twitter? 

HB: People’s careers can fall apart so quickly now. They can get into trouble in a matter of minutes. Look at Mel Gibson when he had his reported anti-Semitic moment.

JJ: How would you have handled that?

HB: Sometimes somebody has something that’s so bad you can’t fix it. What you can always do is help the client understand what they’re going through, help ease the pain.

JJ: Could a publicist have helped Bernie Madoff?

HB: No, I think he was terminal. I think his shonda was so great that there was no hope for him. I think that’s between him and his lord, and he better pray that wherever we go from here, there’s a place of great forgiveness.

JJ: This month, there’s a story in Vanity Fair about New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. In his case, he refused to speak with the investigating journalist and the story wound up being very unflattering to him. Isn’t it better for image branding to establish camaraderie with a journalist?

HB: What I help celebrities understand is that stories are going to have nuance to them; except for your bar mitzvah and your wedding day, nothing is all roses and chocolate cake. It’s not in any journalist’s best interest to write a totally positive story and present a bouquet of flowers. Nobody’s that wonderful. I’m sure even Mother Teresa had a pimple once.

JJ: She befriended a Haitian dictator. And had questionable donors.

HB: Everybody makes a decision. I don’t think Dick Cheney cares what the press says. He’s transcended it. There are some people who relish the negative, like Ann Coulter. She’s a hater, and she thinks it sells books.

JJ: Your book is all about Hollywood. Does it have any relevance for someone living in an area that’s less metropolitan, like your hometown of Flint, Mich.?

HB: I have lots of examples for people who might be a lawyer, or a community activist, or own a small business. You still need to get your message out. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Flint Journal or you do it on Twitter.

JJ: Aren’t these new technologies just leading to over-saturation?

HB: The biggest audience you can get in this country right now is, say, the Super Bowl. And the Super Bowl had 100 million people. Well, guess what? There are 300 million people in this country, so you’ve only hit a third if you’ve spent the millions of dollars it takes for a Super Bowl ad. So people are very aggressive about using every vehicle they can to get their message out there.

JJ: In such a huge market, how do you stand out?

HB: You have to stand for something. It’s fine if you want to do Facebook and Twitter, but don’t bore me! Say something interesting. Say something provocative. I have a friend — and she’s a lovely lady; she’s a lady-who-lunches: she goes to Pilates, she goes to The Ivy and she gets facials. What in the hell is she Twittering about? What do you have to tell me? You found a good facialist?

JJ: Best new hand lotion at the Four Seasons spa?

HB: Exactly. I think we’re going to get over being enamored with this toy soon. If you like to write and express yourself, go take a writing class. Get a voice before you start shouting.

JJ: Lots of people think Israel needs a PR makeover. As someone deeply involved in Jewish causes, what would you do to establish a more equitable image of Israel?

HB: About 99 percent of all coverage that comes out of Israel is about terrorism and war. What I really think Israel needs to do is hire a number of PR firms in the United States and in other parts of the world — one that would focus only on medicine, one that would focus only on science, another that would focus only on arts — and they would show the best of Israel. Israel has good stories to tell — why aren’t they telling them? Why aren’t they hiring me to help with the arts? Israel, hello?

JJ: How did your background prepare you to do what you’re doing?

HB: As I tell people, I grew up fat, Jewish and gay in Flint, Mich. It made me a very empathetic guy.