Turkey summons Israeli diplomat after journalists, NGO workers refused entry

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said on Friday it summoned the highest-ranking Israeli diplomat in Ankara to explain why a group of Turkish journalists and civil society workers were refused entry at Ben Gurion Airport.

The incident occurred three days after diplomats from Israel and Turkey, both U.S. allies, held talks to explore prospects of repairing their relationship after a Turkish election earlier this month.

Ties between the erstwhile allies were wrecked after Israeli commandoes killed 10 Turkish activists trying to break the blockade on Gaza in 2010. Turkey soon after recalled its ambassador and ejected Israel's.

A group of nine Turks had traveled to Israel on Thursday to attend an event marking the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

They were questioned for nine hours and, despite having the required visas, seven of them were sent back. Two journalists with the state TRT broadcaster were allowed in, it said, condemning the decision to eject the group.

“To show our reaction to the treatment of our citizens and to receive an explanation, the Israeli charge d'affaires has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry,” it said. The charge d'affaires is Israel's most senior official at the embassy.

Israel's Foreign Ministry confirmed that the Israeli charge d'affaires was summoned in Ankara over the incident and said seven Turkish citizens were denied entry for security reasons.

An official from Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, said those denied entry were suspected of having links to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip.

“In light of a connection found between them and activists from the Hamas terrorist organization and the risk created by their entrance to Israel, it was decided not to let them in,” the official said.

President Tayyip Erdogan is one of Israel's most vocal critics. The June 7 election deprived his Islamist-rooted AK Party of its majority in parliament for the first time since 2002, which may pave the way for reconciliation with Israel.

News photographers hit by Israeli rubber bullets during Palestinian riot

Two news photographers were hit by rubber-coated bullets fired by an Israeli border policeman during Palestinian rioting,

Majdi Mohammed was working for The Associated Press when he was struck Sunday at close range during riots following the funeral for a Palestinian-American teenager killed by Israeli soldiers, AP reported. The Israeli military said the teen was preparing to throw a firebomb at traffic.

Neither Mohammed nor Lazar Simeonov, a Swiss freelance photographer, were seriously injured in the incident, which was captured on video.

The shooting showed “reckless disregard for the safety of journalists who were doing their job in a lawful way,” said John Daniszewski, AP’s senior managing editor for international news, said.

AP said it would protest the incident to the Israeli military, police and government.

According to the photographers, they were not ordered away from the scene, nor was the area declared closed by security forces.

Mohammed told AP that an armored jeep pulled up behind him and a border policeman fired directly at him from a distance of 10 to 20 yards.

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the AP that police “dispersed hundreds of rioters” in the area who were throwing rocks and firebombs at security forces. Rosenfeld said he did not know why the police fired on the photographers.


The martyrdom of Steven Sotloff

“It is OK to be angry,” a reader scolded in an email I received over the weekend. 

“When I saw you waxing nostalgic for your friend who was murdered (not killed) by Islamic trash, I wish that you (and others) would show some anger and look into the camera, point a finger, and rage at those evil Bastards.” 

In contrast to my measured tone, he said: “A merchant showed anger at me once a long time ago for stealing a 59-cent pen.”

[Related: Murdered journalist Steven Sotloff was a hero]

Anger does have its uses. It is certainly an appropriate response to the death-by-beheading of my childhood friend, journalist Steven Sotloff, who is now one of three innocent captives gruesomely executed by the Islamic State (ISIS). There is something comforting in the tenor of anger; it caps the bottomlessness of grief by bringing direction and focus. When there is no consolation, anger supplies a reasoned response to pain. 

But in the aftermath of my friend’s death, I worry about the direction the anger is taking. Who is it serving to turn this man into a martyr?

At a memorial for Sotloff at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills last week, even the date of the gathering — Sept. 11 — was party to a larger strategy. “This is a teaching moment for the future of humankind,” Daryl Temkin, founder of the Israel Institute for Alternative Energy Advancement, declared at the beginning of the service, drawing unambiguous parallels between the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the terror ISIS is currently wreaking across Iraq and Syria.

It didn’t stop there. In between classical arrangements performed by Cantor Nati Baram and his all-male choir, speaker after speaker turned remembrance into something like a referendum.

Young Israel’s Rabbi Pini Dunner wove a modern-day fable of good versus evil through the Hebraic concepts of Kiddush HaShem — sanctifying God — and chillul HaShem – desecrating God. 

“Steven Sotloff was a glorifier of God,” Dunner said. “His evil murderers were desecrators of God.” 

Dunner compared Sotloff to the 10 rabbi-martyrs of Jewish history who also met gruesome ends when they were flayed, burned or beheaded by the Romans. “If you are killed because you are someone who is a glorifier of God,” Dunner said, “you have achieved the ultimate status of Kiddush HaShem” — the status of a martyr. 

Referring to the Yom Kippur liturgy that commemorates the 10 martyrs, Dunner made a special dispensation: “This year on Yom Kippur, we will add an 11th name to that list. We will add the name of Steven Sotloff.”  

Next, Rabbi Marvin Hier compared Sotloff to the “ordinary tour guide” of the Bible, who appears nameless in the Joseph story, but whose arrival at a moment of great consequence helps Joseph find his way into Egypt. This small act, Hier said, altered Jewish destiny. 

“When Steven’s murderers posted their beheading, they did not know this would become another 9/11 moment,” the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center declared. “Sometimes ordinary people become transmitters of great messages that affect the entire world.”  

Hier then leapt from the personal to the political, ending his remonstration with a call to arms. “You need a military leader to put down ISIS,” Hier said. “People who commit massacres and destroy religious shrines … you can’t talk to people like that.”

As the memorial took on a more militant tone,  my eyes wandered up to the projected photo of Sotloff, pensively and peacefully looking out over a balcony in some metropolitan city (was it Tel Aviv?). I wondered what he’d make of the fact that his death was coalescing a cause; even a war-weary President Obama was moved to reassure a horrified public that he will “degrade and destroy” ISIS.  

I have no doubt Sotloff would be glad that his death is spilling attention on a region he loved, but combat was never his cause.

Some are so eager to slap their own meaning onto his death, they have forgotten to first mourn. It was bad enough to have to watch as his father, Arthur Sotloff, struggled through grief and pain to communicate even one coherent sentence to the crowd of 80 — at one point stepping away from the Skype session to fix himself a drink — but we also had to witness The Media Line founder Felice Friedson grill him on whether or not his son had converted to Islam. By that point, I, too, needed a drink.

It was nice that Friedson and her husband, Michael, announced the establishment of the Steven Sotloff Journalism Fund to help support the work of the many courageous journalists they employ, of which Sotloff had been one, who risk their safety daily to cover the cauldron-boil of the Middle East. It wasn’t as nice to also hear at the memorial about their organization’s record of accuracy on the casualty count from the recent Israel-Gaza war. 

Rather than stew in anger, many are seeking their own ways to make meaning out of this loss. Creating a legacy for a life cut short is one way to make loss matter. It is what Ruth and Judea Pearl, parents of slain Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, have so elegantly done with the creation of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which promotes their son’s values through journalism fellowships, youth education, public lectures and international concerts. 

It is unfair — and far too soon — for the Jewish community to decide the direction of Sotloff’s legacy. He wasn’t a martyr for the Jewish cause, although he may well have been a Jewish martyr for the cause of the world. 

Still, his family should not be robbed of their right to remember him as he was, absent the interference of who we want him to be.

Israeli-Arab journalist arrested for visiting Lebanon

Israel arrested an Israeli-Arab journalist and political activist on suspicion that he met foreign agents after entering Lebanon illegally.

Majed Kial, 23, was arrested this week by the Shin Bet security service after returning Saturday from a visit to Lebanon, which Israel considers an enemy country, Army Radio reported Thursday.

Kial admitted to leaving Israel for Lebanon last month to attend a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of Al Sapir, a Lebanese paper for which Kial writes on social and economic issues.

Kial, who lives in northern Israel, also is the editor of the website for Adallah, an Israeli not-for-profit organization that deals with issues connected to Israeli Arabs.

Israelis are required to seek special permission to visit enemy countries, but Kial entered Lebanon without permission through contacts at the Palestinian Authority, Army Radio reported. Aram Mahmid, Kial’s lawyer, said he viewed the law requiring Israelis to seek permission before visiting enemy territories as “arbitrary.”

Kial said he would not have been allowed into Lebanon if he had first received permission from an Israeli court, Army Radio reported. He added that he did not meet any Hezbollah officials in Lebanon and that his visit was for his journalistic work.

An unnamed Shin Bet source was quoted as telling Army Radio that Kial “contacted Palestinian officials to arrange for his entrance into Lebanon despite being an Israeli citizen. The journalist entered Lebanon with Palestinian documents. In the following days, a decision will be made about the investigation into his actions and his indictment for visiting an enemy country.”

Israel threatens journalists who participate in Gaza flotilla

Journalists who participate in the flotilla to Gaza could face sanctions, including a ban from Israel for 10 years.

The head of Israel’s Government Press Office threatened the ban in a letter sent Sunday to Israel-based foreign journalists.

“As the Director of the Government Press Office, I would like to make it clear to you and to the media that you represent that participation in the flotilla is an intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for ten years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions,” Oren Helman wrote. “I implore you to avoid taking part in this provocative and dangerous event, the purpose of which is to undermine Israel’s right to defend itself and to knowingly violate Israeli law.”

Helman urged the reporters to “Please pass along the contents of this letter to your editorial boards around the world.” He also said the Israeli government has instructed the Israel Defense Forces not to allow the flotilla to reach its goal.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel criticized the letter, saying that “It sends a chilling message to the international press and raises serious questions regarding Israel’s commitment to the freedom of the press.”

Several dozen journalists are registered to take part in the flotilla, which is expected to approach Gaza later this week after the ships meet up in the Mediterranean. One of the journalists is Haaretz columnist and reporter Amira Haas, who wrote a column published Sunday about her preparations to participate on board a ship filled with Canadian activists.

American participants in the flotilla have been warned that participation could be a violation of the law in the United States.

Meanwhile, port officials in Athens reportedly have said that they will not allow the U.S. ship The Audacity of Hope, which is scheduled to participate in the flotilla with 36 U.S. citizens aboard, to leave the port without an inspection due to complaints that the ship is not seaworthy.

WikiLeaks’ Assange accuses journalists of Jewish conspiracy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused British journalists of a “Jewish conspiracy” against him.

The accusation came in remarks published in the British magazine Private Eye, which was reporting on a phone call Assange made on Feb. 16 to the magazine’s editor complaining about British coverage of WikiLeaks, The New York Times reported.

Private Eye had published an article on Assange associate in Russia, Israel Shamir, saying that he had denied the Holocaust. Assange called the article “an obvious attempt to deprive him and his organization of Jewish support and donations,” according to the Jewish Chronicle.

He also said the magazine was “part of a conspiracy” led by “Jewish” writers and specifically cited The Guardian newspaper, naming Editor Alan Rusbridger, a non-Jew, and investigations editor David Leigh.

Assange responded to the Private Eye article on Twitter, saying that editor Ian Hislop, who wrote the article, “distorted, invented or misremembered” what he said, calling his use of the term Jewish conspiracy “false in spirit and in word.”

“We treasure our strong Jewish support and staff, just as we treasure the support from pan-Arab democracy activists and others who share our hope for a just world,” Assange tweeted.

British boycott moves reveal anti-Israel bias

The utter hypocrisy of the British National Union of Journalists, which recently voted to boycott only Israel, has now become evident in the face of the silence over the recent move by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to suppress dissent by the media in his leftist regime.

General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, too, has now imposed massive press censorship. In many of the other hard-left favored countries – Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe – suppression of the press is routine, and imprisonment of journalists is common.

But there is not a peep about these countries from the British National Union of Journalists, who seem to admire tyranny and condemn democracy and openness.

Only Israel, which has among the freest presses of the world, is being targeted for sanctions. Even Arab and Muslim journalists have more freedom of the press in Israel than in any Arab or Muslim nation. While Palestinian terrorist groups murder, kidnap and threaten journalists, the British Union exempts the Palestinian authority, run by the censorious Hamas, from its journalistic sanctions.

The reason is obvious. The British Union cares less about journalists or freedom of the press than it does about blindly condemning the Jewish state.

The same can be said about the British University and College Union, which has voted to move forward with the boycott against only Israeli academics. Israel has more academic freedom – for Jews and Muslims alike – than any Arab or Muslim nation and than the vast majority of countries in the world.

Israeli scientists have developed, on a per capita basis, more lifesaving medical technologies than any nation in the world. Yet the British Union has singled out Israel alone for boycott.

Again, this has nothing to do with protecting academic freedom or scientific inquiry. It has everything to do with anti-Israel bigotry.

Now academics around the world are fighting back against this British bigotry. Led by more than a dozen Nobel Prize winners, thousands of American academics have signed a petition declaring themselves to be honorary Israelis for purposes of any academic boycott. They have pledged to refuse to participate in any events from which Israeli academics are boycotted.

Any academic who wishes to join this moral response to an immoral boycott can e-mail ScholarsforPeace@aol.com.

Collegians ‘Do the Write Thing’

College students are not only attending the General Assembly, they are covering it as well.

This will be the 17th year that a select group of Jewish collegians, as members of the Do the Write Thing team, will have its own prestigious place in the General Assembly.

For this 40-member cadre, most of whom staff their campus Jewish and/or secular newspapers, the GA will be more than a place to learn about and participate in organized Jewish life. They will also have the opportunity to sharpen their journalistic skills while deepening their understanding of what the community does — and how it does it.

Do the Write Thing is sponsored by The Jewish Agency and the Hagshama department of the World Zionist Organization, with some sessions coordinated by the American Jewish Press Association.

Hagshama translates to ‘fulfillment,’ explains New York-based Hagshama emissary Ofer Gutman. “We believe that one way to achieve ‘fulfillment’ and find a personal connection and engagement with the Jewish state is through programs such as this,” he says. “It also helps these students to be better equipped to make Israel’s case on campuses.”

The GA, he adds, “is a great place for these students to meet Jewish leaders, and to establish friendships with each other.”

In addition to being at major GA plenaries and sessions, DTWT participants will attend press conferences with visiting dignitaries and hear, in sessions exclusively for them, from such eminent people as Gary Rosenblatt, publisher and editor of The Jewish Week (New York), and Rob Eshman, editor of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, about “Covering Israel in the American Jewish Press.”

Meetings with Israeli journalists and workshops with members of the American Jewish Press Association also are on the agenda.
For many DTWT alumni, participation proved to be a step toward a professional career. Gil Hoffman and Miriam Saviv are on the staff of the Jerusalem Post. Dan Schifrin is director of literacy programs at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Marita Gringaus was press officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Rustin Silverstein, who served as press secretary for Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, was also a producer at “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”

“Do the Write Thing,” Silverstein says, “helped me understand the craft of writing from a Jewish perspective.”

As a result of a visit during last year’s DTWT program at the Toronto GA by Laura Kam, director of the Washington-based Media Fellows Program of The Israel Project, participants learned about the project’s fellowship program.

“Several students applied, and two were chosen, ” Kam reports. “They proved to be excellent media fellows,” she says. “They were sincere students who were intent upon pursuing Israel advocacy.”

“I hope to make more connections this year through Do the Write Thing,” Kam says.

Keren Douek, assistant editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, says DTWT confirmed for her that writing for and about the smaller, more specific and personally relevant Jewish world, was an intriguing concept. “There is nothing like it,” she says.

Honest Reporting

“When you look at us, all you see is Osama bin Laden.”

I had to admit, Walid al-Saqaf had a point.

Al-Saqaf sat on a small stage at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood with me and journalist Ammara Durani. For the past four months, both had been Alfred Friendly Press Fellows — al-Saqaf at the Wall Street Journal; Durani at the Los Angeles Times.

Both were also Daniel Pearl Fellows, chosen by the Los Angeles-based Daniel Pearl Foundation from among 99 Muslim journalists around the world to work and study in the United States.

Al-Saqaf, 31, has served as editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times, the country’s largest and most influential English-language newspaper. A computer scientist by training, he took over the paper when its previous editor and publisher died in a mysterious traffic accident after editorializing for more open government. That editor was al-Saqaf’s father.

Durani, 28, is assistant editor of The News, Pakistan’s most important English-language paper. She has received awards and fellowships for reporting on Pakistan’s water crisis and the role of women in society, and she holds a master’s in philosophy from Cambridge University.

I sat with Durani and al-Saqaf to moderate a discussion titled, “Muslim Journalists Look at America” for the Los Angeles Press Club on Aug. 17.

“What information about your country,” I asked them both, “isn’t getting out through the American media?”

That’s when al-Saqaf answered with characteristic bluntness and clarity.

“I’m from the country where Osama bin Laden originated,” he said, “and she is from the country where he may be hiding, and that’s all most Americans really care about.”

As I said, he had a point.

As the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches, America and the Muslim world are still circling each other like cage fighters on Spike TV. This week, former Bush administration communications director Karen Hughes announced she is just putting the finishing touches on a strategic plan to reach out to the Muslim world and explain U.S. policy, but judging by the comments of the visiting journalists, she is the last ambulance on the scene.

To hear the two journalists explain it, the Americans can’t see beyond Osama and Saddam, and the Muslim world can’t see beyond Palestine and Iraq — and both sides see red.

“Is any aspect of American foreign policy popular in your country?” I asked them.

“To tell you the truth,” Durani said, “no.”

Al-Saqaf said that in Yemen there had been a surge of sympathy for America following Sept. 11, and a wave of support for President George W. Bush’s calls for reform and democracy in the Arab world. But the Iraq War, coupled with heavily anti-Israel news on Arab radio and TV, turned public opinion against America.

Changing the anti-American sentiment that results will be difficult — even if the goal is simply to achieve perceptions that, if not pro-American, are at least fair and balanced. With all due respect to Hughes, the best approach may have more to do with supporting indigenous journalists than providing slicker response teams.

After Daniel Pearl’s brutal murder at the hands of Islamic terrorists, Judea and Ruth Pearl vowed to further their son’s commitment to journalism as a means for cultural understanding. They decided to bring Muslim journalists to America for professional training and experience. As part of the fellowship, the journalists spend some time at an Anglo-Jewish paper. Durani spent two weeks at The Jewish Journal. She visited a synagogue for the first time, and discovered a broad range of opinion in what many of her countrymen view as a rather monolithic community. And, as part of her reporting, she also explored the nuances of Muslim life in Los Angeles.

That said, it’s safe to say we learned as much or more from her as she learned from being with us. My suggestion to Hughes: emulate the Pearl Fellows program, many times over.

At the panel discussion, Judea Pearl stood and asked the most challenging question, cutting to the heart of one problematic issue in the Muslim’s worldview.

“Pick 12 of your closest friends,” he said, “How many of them wish Israel would go away?”

“Twelve of them,” al-Saqaf answered.

And these were the educated, Westernized, modern Yemenis.

Durani nodded, but each journalist saw signs of hope.

“They hope, they wish, they dream for Israel to go away,” al-Saqaf said. “But they have come to accept they can’t change history.”

He said journalists can pressure Arab and Muslim rulers to “level with their people” and confront the region’s real problems: the lack of development and the dearth of democracy and accountability.

Durani said that Pakistan’s experience suggests reason for optimism.

“We have spent our lives thinking that the enemy was Hindu India,” she said, referring to the anti-India message once taught in schools and embedded in Pakistani culture. “Then, suddenly, we are cooperating, and we find what we have in common.”

The perception of a mortal enemy changed suddenly, once the leaders made the decision to change. The drama, importance and potential of that sudden shift in Muslim perceptions is a lesson for us all — provided the story gets told.

For more information on the Daniel Pearl Journalism Fellows, visit www.danielpearlfoundation.org.

Heeb Crosses the Pond

Does edgy Jewish humor translate? The New York-based magazine Heeb is coming to England — but whether the United Kingdom’s rather reserved Jewish population will appreciate the magazine’s offbeat urban style remains to be seen.

The magazine’s British launch was held recently at a plush theater in north London during a Jewish film festival, organized in association with the Jewish Community Centre for London.

The four-day festival saw a succession of innovative Jewish films that, according to publicity materials, trod “the line between the holy and profane, the particular and the universal, the earnest and the irreverent” — sentiments that equally could describe Heeb.

The magazine’s cheeky title alone — a self-conscious attempt to reclaim an ethnic slur — guaranteed it mounds of publicity before its February 2002 debut in New York. Its iconoclastic style soon brought it into conflict with mainstream Judaism, most notably when the Anti-Defamation League reacted with outrage to Heeb’s parody of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which depicted Jesus wearing a tallit as a loincloth and a bare-breasted Virgin Mary with body piercings.

Nevertheless, by melding popular culture with controversy and kitsch — covers have included a disc jockey spinning a record-shaped matzah and an ultra-Orthodox Jew in a Superman costume — the publication had a distribution of around 35,000, with an estimated readership of 150,000, according to Joshua Neuman, Heeb’s editor in chief and publisher. Most readers are in the United States, though the magazine also has subscribers in Canada, Australia and the Caribbean.

Bringing the magazine to England seemed to be the next logical step.

Given the size of the U.K. Jewish community — less than 300,000 — Heeb is aiming for a small niche.

Lawyer Darren Braham, 27, likes Heeb’s “out-there topics,” but believes most U.K. Jews won’t see it the same way.

“The north London Jewish attitude is different than the New York attitude,” he said. “We’re a lot more muted over here.”

His journalist friend Alex Sholem, 26, agreed. A few months ago, Sholem ordered a T-shirt from Heeb’s Jewcy clothing line. He liked the shirt — emblazoned with a picture of a bearded figure holding the Ten Commandments and the logo “Moses is my homeboy” — but he’s unsure about the magazine itself.

“By its nature, it uses a lot of pop-culture references that will go over the heads of a lot of London Jews,” Sholem said.

While it’s refreshing to read a Jewish publication that isn’t obsessed with communal wrangling, anti-Semitism or Israel, he said, “I’d be surprised if it took off or had more than a very small cult following. There isn’t the audience for it. The majority of Jewish youth here is just so homogenous and mainstream in their taste.”

Grass-Roots Level Campaign Coverage

When I was covering big shot political campaigns for the Los Angeles Times, I was treated like a big shot.

I sampled barrages of press releases, announcements of events, hot gossip, position papers, parties and invitations. I had many opportunities to interview candidates. The fact that I worked for the Times made me especially popular. Life was sweet on the campaign plane and in the restaurants and bars where the exclusive club of political reporters and campaign aides hung out.

That is not what happens since I have become a part-time political columnist for The Jewish Journal. Now, nobody writes, nobody calls.

I’m not going to reminisce about great days gone by. Rather, I’d thought I’d write about life as a community journalist and how it gives me a much better idea of voter sentiment than the drearily conventional, corporately cautious political reporting and analysis on television and in the newspapers.

I read or skim four newspapers a day. Working at home, I often flip on my desk-side television set to check on the news. In other words, I’m a news junkie.

The election analysis is all the same. For days, the political press was almost totally occupied with Sen. John Kerry’s choice for the vice presidential candidate. When Sen. John Edwards was selected, everyone I saw or read had the same take: Terrific speaker; inexperienced; shady trial lawyer; fighter for the forgotten.

It was as if the journalists were afraid to stray off the beaten track or leave the reporting pack to have an original thought. Today’s political reporting is a compendium of conventional wisdom. The motto of the press corps is: “On one hand…. And on the other….”

And the conventional wisdom is often wrong. President Ford was not clumsy. Al Gore was not a compulsive truth stretcher. Nor is President Bush the fun-loving wisecracker we read about in reports flowing from his 2000 campaign press plane.

Yet that’s how they were portrayed, and pretty soon erroneous conventional wisdom was accepted as if it were true, doing irreparable damage to Ford and Gore.

Since insiders no longer bother to spin me, I’m a free man.

The other day, for example, I wanted to do a story about Kerry’s presidential campaign. Lacking the usual sources, I checked out the California For Kerry Web site.

I saw that volunteers would be manning tables for Kerry in the San Fernando Valley in the next few days, distributing campaign literature and registering voters in a practice called “tabling.”

That sounded promising. The San Fernando Valley is prime country for a Jewish community journalist. Parts of the Valley have substantial Jewish populations. And there’s a feel of the grassroots about politics in the Valley. It’s not like the Westside, where Democratic politics are now limited to celebrities and other rich people throwing and attending high priced fundraisers.

I e-mailed Beverlee Stone-Goodman, who was to run a table at a Target in Sherman Oaks. She replied that Target had “received word from the corporate office that they will no longer be allowed to have any kind of solicitation on their premises, including the Salvation Army bell ringer at Christmas.” She suggested I contact Agi Kessler, house-party coordinator for Valley for Kerry. Kessler steered me to a table operating at the Promenade in Woodland Hills, adjacent to the AMC theaters: “This is a particularly good location because they are showing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.'”

It was a great idea. The volunteers at the table gave me a nugget of news. Theatergoers were heading directly from “Fahrenheit” to the table to register and pick up pamphlets. The Saturday before the movie opened, the volunteers registered six. On the Saturday after the opening, they signed up 35. “One man changed his registration from Republican to Democratic after seeing the movie,” said Corinne Schnur of Topanga, who, along with Joan Campbell of Woodland Hills, took time out for an interview.

I also got a sense of Kerry’s great problem: Too many Democrats dislike Bush more than they like Kerry. As one volunteer at the Promenade told me, “I’d vote for Peter Rabbit before Bush.”

At the Kerry booth at the Studio City farmers market a day later, Chris Long, a special-ed teacher at North Hollywood High School, said “the number of people stopping by has increased every Sunday since October.” Like the Promenade volunteers, he said, “we get a lot stopping by who say ‘anybody but Bush.'” I wondered if Michael Moore would energize more hard-core liberal Democrats than Kerry. I also doubt that dislike of Bush is enough to win Kerry the presidency.

Granted, visits to a mall and a farmers market are not a scientific way to gauge how the election is going. But I drove home from the farmers market on the Fourth of July with the feeling that I had gotten at least a hint of how real people, including those from my community, felt about the Kerry campaign.

I think I’ll cover the presidential campaign from the San Fernando Valley.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of
each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a
political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for
three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

7 Days In Arts


The city moves indoors for Milla Angelina Gallery’s “The L.A. Show.” Depictions of homelessness, nightlife, religious and cultural diversity and economic and class structures of Los Angeles adorn the walls of the new Melrose gallery dedicated to the expression of social commentary through art. The show runs through July 21.Noon-6 p.m. (daily). 73201¼2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 930-0391.


Today, kids get out the red, white and blue streamersand deck out their bicycles for Community Action Team’s “Great American Fourthof July Bike Parade and Contest.” Bikes are to be outfitted in patriotic style,and those voted the top 10 decorators will receive cash prizes of $10 each. Thetwo-mile parade route travels east along the Belmont Shore bike path from OceanBoulevard at Granada Avenue. Certificates of participation will be given toanyone registering via e-mail at least 24 hours in advance. 10 a.m. Helmetsrequired, and children must be escorted by a parent or guardian. 1 South GranadaAve., Long Beach. www.bikeparade.com



Fine artist Tobi Kahn is also acclaimed for his designsof Jewish ritual objects. In a new book, “Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and theArt of Tobi Kahn,” edited by Emily Bilski, photographs of Kahn’s work aredisplayed alongside commentary by Bilski, Leora Auslander, Tom Freudenhaim,Terrence E. Dempsey, Jonathan Rosen and Ruth Weisberg. A series of meditationsby Nessa Rapoport concludes the book. Hudson Hills Press, $34. www.amazon.com



Tonight, you might actually want to sit in on a little domestic conflict. Zócalo public forum welcomes Nick Goldberg and Amy Wilentz, who, in addition to being husband and wife, are also Los Angeles Times op-ed editor and former Middle Eastern Bureau chief for New York Newsday, and author and former New Yorker correspondent in Jerusalem, respectively. Hear them discuss and disagree on Iraq, Israel, Sept. 11 and peace in the Middle East.7 p.m. Free. Central Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. (213) 228-7025.


Today we’re inspired to recommend some summer romance, care of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Get gussied and take in the fountain, some wine … and “A Little Night Music.” The new production of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical features a distinguished cast including Victor Garber (“Alias”), Judith Ivey (“Designing Women”) and Zoe Caldwell (“Master Class”). Whether you splurge on Patina is up to you.Through July 31. $20-$90. 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500


The gay and lesbian community keeps fighting the goodfight. But this week it calls for celebration, as well. Tonight marks theopening of Outfest 2004, the 22nd annual Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian FilmFestival. The opening night t begins by giving writer/director Tod Haynes (“FarFrom Heaven”) the Outfest Achievement Award, follows with the film, “D.E.B.S.,”and closes out with a party with food from 30 Los Angeles restaurants. www.outfest.org. (213) 480-7065.


Nick Starr’s new play, “Slow Boat,” covers topics from metaphysics and body-switching (as in, “I don’t like my body. I think I’ll inhabit my dead grandpa’s for a while”) to Jewish identity and Eastern philosophy. The story’s hero is Nathan Beagle, a guy who’s recently been inducted into a Chinese body-switching cult and decides to seek answers in China.Through Aug. 14. 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.). $15. Los Angeles Repertory Theatre, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 470-9899.

3 Minutes With Brad

Brad Pitt may have sustained an injury during the filming of his new movie, "Troy," but I sustained an injury during the viewing of the film.

With 15 minutes left of the special preview screening, I had to go to the bathroom. I had been able to hold on through at least three battles for the kingdom of Troy, but finally my bladder surrendered to an army of Diet Cokes.

Desperate not to miss the end of the film, I ran to the restroom, which was mobbed. I needed a new battle plan, so I flew up the jumbo escalator to the floor above me, ran to the empty bathroom and sprinted back down the escalator, victorious. Too bad my pant leg got caught on the heel of my boot.

The downward momentum of the steps combined with my lost footing had me toppling forward, clutching the railing. My shin slammed into the moving metal steps below me, which made for a very stylish striped bruise. I can only piece together from a forensic reading of my wounds what happened next; there’s a black and blue on my right shoulder, a few nicks on my left hip and one pant cuff that will never be the same.

Somehow, fueled by the need to catch the end of the movie so that Brad Pitt wouldn’t hate me, I righted myself before somersaulting to certain destruction below.

As I was falling, so was Troy. I got back just in time to see the city burning and feel the shin bruising, but I got the idea.

Why the hurry? Why the intense, irrational fear that if I missed a moment of the film I would be removed from the television industry and perhaps the planet? It has to do with three minutes: the three I was scheduled to spend with Brad Pitt the following day.

As part of a "Troy" press junket at a New York City hotel, I was to interview the "Sexiest Man Alive" for exactly three minutes.

The day after the screening, journalists were lined up in the hotel hallway, perusing their notes, schlepping their purses and notebooks and waiting for an audience with Brad.

When it was my turn, I tried to act normal. This is just a guy, I told myself, reaching out my hand.

"I’m Teresa with ‘Good Day Live,’" I said, as a sound guy clipped a microphone to my lapel.

"I’m Brad," he replied quietly.

Well, duh! I wanted to shout.

I talk to people for a living. And before I went pro, I had many conversations on the amateur level. It’s not that difficult.

Still, the pressure of not saying anything stupid to offend his Royal Pittness, of leaving that three minutes without a decent interview, of letting down my employer, it all got to me. In the film, Pitt plays Achilles, and my weakness was never more apparent than strolling into that well-lit room. For me, it wasn’t the deification of a celebrity that brought me down; it was the worshipping of that golden calf named perfection. Fear of failing had me blade to neck without a shield. My vision went blurry. A muscle in my neck stiffened.

I’m not sure how it went. I remember "Brad" laughing. I sensed some understandable boredom. I recall making the game-time decision to scrap my "Did you ever suffer from helmet head?" question.

By the time you read this, my interview will have aired, just another three minutes in the barrage of publicity about "Troy."

When I left Brad, competing thoughts speared my brain like angry Spartans: Brad hated me, Brad was amused by me. I couldn’t process the experience. And that’s where alcohol can be very useful.

Safely at the hotel bar with a scotch in my hand — just one, because as mediocre as I am at chatting up celebrities, I’m just as half-baked at self-destruction — I noticed another reporter swigging down her per diem. A former reality TV star, she seemed as confused and out of place as I did, but with better skin.

I wanted to corral her and start a post-junket support group.

"My name is Teresa and I doubt and dissect everything I do. The thought of turning in a sub-par performance makes me feel like there are bugs crawling all over my lungs. Is this seat taken?"

My interview, even if it had been the best celebrity suck-up in modern history, would not have healed the sick or raised the dead. I know I won’t get thrown off the planet for being bland. I know that most of us mortals spend our lives in the middle ground, doing our best, neither shattering land speed records nor standing stock-still. That’s life. It’s that muscle in the back of my neck that knows nothing.

Luckily, if I forget I’m only human, I have those bruises on my Achilles shins to remind me.

Teresa Strasser writes from Manhattan where she is a feature reporter for
Fox’s “Good Day Live.” She’s on the Web at teresastrasser.com.

The Circuit

Who Wrote the bible?

At a luncheon recently sponsored by the Foundation for Jewish Education, Inc., which provides scholarships for unaffiliated needy children ages 5-13 to attend a Jewish day school, Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei from Sinai Temple spoke on the topic “Who Wrote the Bible?” (From left) Myrtle G. Sitowitz, Rena Brooks, Schuldenfrei, Marlene Kreitenberg (founder) and Ester Spektor.


Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) drew more than 300 dignitaries, contributors, board members and staff to a Feb. 8 groundbreaking ceremony in Reseda to launch the largest facility expansion in its 100-year history.

The Residential Medical Center, which will serve 249 frail elderly when completed, is part of a $72 million project to address the growing needs of the city’s graying Jewish population.

Designed by Perkins & Will, the medical center will anchor JHA’s Grancell Village campus with three interconnected buildings — the Brandman Research Institute, the Hazan Pavillion and the LaKretz-Black Tower. The center’s design will offer specialized medical and psychiatric care within a residential setting, which will include indoor and outdoor recreation areas, kosher kitchen and dining room facilities, as well as a computer center, library, deli, salon and spa.

“Our mothers and fathers will have a new place to call home,” said Earl Greinetz, JHA board chairman. “It is now our turn to provide for them.”

The Keeping the Promise capital campaign, chaired by Richard Ziman, has raised $51 million since 1999 to build new facilities, upgrade and replace existing buildings and expand JHA’s ability to serve the elderly.

Dr. Sol Hazan, who was introduced by Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging President Rae Cohen, said that his contribution of the Hazan Pavillion was done in honor of his parents.

“You don’t have to be Sephardic to support the home,” Hazan said. “This is a community effort to raise the level of care for your family.”

Molly Forrest, the home’s CEO, introduced Brandman Research Institute sponsors Joyce and Saul Brandman; she alluded to the day’s Tu B’Shevat holiday in her remarks, saying, “Today, with your gifts and support, you have planted a tree of life.”

Saul Brandman, who named the institute in honor of his parents, recounted memories of the original Jewish Home, which he said he could see from his childhood home in Boyle Heights.

“Our association with the home is old and long,” Brandman said, “and I hope it goes on for a very long time.”

Just prior to the groundbreaking, Mort LaKretz, who co-sponsored the LaKretz-Black Tower with Stanley and Joyce Black, said, “I hope it makes a difference in the lives of your loved ones.”

Other participants included Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Councilman Dennis Zine, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Marilyn and Monty Hall and Janis Black Goldman. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor


On Feb. 11, the 25th anniversary of the 1979 revolution in Iran, 700 Iranian Jews filled the ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel for Together Forever, an event that focused on the situation in Iran.

The event started with a film that traced the history of Iran from ancient times to the present. It was followed by a number of speeches by such personalities as author Kenneth Timmerman, talk show host Larry Elder and Shaul Bakhash, a visiting fellow from the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.

Timmerman, a conservative reporter turned best-selling author, was part of a 1995 commission to assess the ballistic missile threat to the United States. The commission subsequently alerted the United States that Iran and Iraq were capable of producing weapons of mass destruction.

“In 1995, I set up a foundation for democracy in Iran, with half Iranians, half Americans on board, with the goal of bringing Congress more information about human rights abuses inside Iran,” Timmerman said.

“During the student uprising in 1999, within minutes we had the first photos out on the Internet of kids being thrown out from balconies and murdered,” he told The Journal. “That changed the way people reported on unrest inside Iran.”

In his speech, Timmerman said that Iranian Americans can play a role in bringing freedom to Iran, and that doing so will also bring an end to war and terror.

While Timmerman rejected any ideas of negotiation with Iran, Bakhash rejected the idea of military intervention in Iran.

“I think even Iranians who are not happy with their government will not welcome American military intervention in Iran,” he said.

Timmerman, whose approach was more hard line, said, “There is only one solution for terrorists, and that is to kill them. We can not allow terrorists to think that we are weak and we will not retaliate.” — Mojdeh Sionit, Contributing Writer


Harrison Ford received B’nai B’rith International’s Distinguished Humanitarian Award Feb. 4 at a Beverly Hills Hotel dinner.

Ford was honored for his lifelong activism to educate the world about environmental conservation and his ongoing support of organizations that work to protect the environment and conserve resources around the globe.

“I am very proud to be a part of the efforts of B’nai B’rith, and am very grateful for this honor,” Ford said. “I am motivated to add my resources and capabilities to an aid organization that is strategically addressing the issues at hand.”

B’nai B’rith International President Joel S. Kaplan presented the award to Ford after a concert by Grammy-winning entertainer Judy Collins.

Funds from the event went to support B’nai B’rith International programs in California and around the world, including the Disaster Relief program, a global initiative that provides financial assistance to restore areas that have been affected by natural devastation, and the Environmental Awareness Program, which implements educational programs to enlighten communities about environmental protection.


The real hospital, Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, honored a fictional one on Jan. 31 at the Director’s Guild of America.

Shaare Zedek honored the cast and crew of “ER” for raising the awareness of the importance of emergency medicine throughout the world.

The hospital ‘s world-famous dean of emergency medicine, Dr. Peter Rosen, presented the producers and cast with the award.

Waiters at the event wore hospital scrubs, and “ER” cast members Alex Kingston, Mekhi Phifer, Ming-Na and Maura Tierney were in attendance. Also there were Debra Appelbaum, widow of Dr. David Appelbaum, Shaare Zedek’s director of emergency medicine, who was murdered along with his daughter, Naava, in a Jerusalem terrorist attack.

Monica Rosenthal Horan, who plays Amy Barone on “Everybody Loves Raymond” paid tribute to Appelbaum, who had visited her in Los Angeles not long before his death.

“I was initially intimidated to meet this person, who was a famous doctor and a rabbi,” Horan said. “But he immediately put me at ease. He was an uncommon individual with a common touch.”

Honorary chairman of the event was Steven Spielberg, and the emcee was well known Israeli actor Mark Burstyn.

The evening finished with a concert by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. Yarrow had the “ER” cast members on stage to accompany him as he sang “Puff the Magic Dragon,” while the audience sang along.

Proceeds went to benefit the new Weinstock Family Department of Emergency Medicine at Shaare Zede, which is now under construction.

Divide Surfaces on Handling Security

It’s not every day that an Israeli army chief of staff calls in top journalists to express deep misgivings about government policy.

So when Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon initiated a late October briefing to warn that the government’s handling of Palestinian terrorism could provoke more intense Palestinian violence, the country sat up and took notice.

Ya’alon’s critique reflected a deep divide between two schools of thought: the hard-liners, like Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who believe relentless military pressure can force the Palestinians to abandon terrorism for peace negotiations, and relative moderates, like Ya’alon and many of the Israel Defense Force’s top generals, who maintain that Palestinian violence will only abate when serious political incentives are put on the table.

Ya’alon’s concern about the lack of a political horizon mirrors growing public criticism of government policy and decreasing confidence in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s capacity to deliver the peace and security he promised when first elected nearly three years ago.

The domestic criticism of Sharon has not gone unnoticed in Washington, where some powerful voices are urging pressure on Israel to move the Palestinian track forward and help deflect Arab anger at the U.S. role in Iraq. By going public, Ya’alon highlighted Israel’s profound security dilemma and deep differences in the security establishment over how to deal with it.

All the top brass agree that tight closures, blockades and roadblocks in and around Palestinian population centers make it harder for suicide bombers and other terrorists to get through. At the same time, though, Ya’alon and others argue that the longer Palestinians are cooped up without minimal public services, the easier it is for terrorist groups to tap into feelings of humiliation and hopelessness to recruit future bombers. In other words, they say, it may make good sense in the short term to clamp down to stop the next bomber, but in the long run, the tight closures could produce dozens more terrorists.

These differences came to a head in late October, when Sharon convened a high-level meeting to discuss the unprecedentedly tight noose Israel had imposed on the Palestinians in the wake of an Oct. 4 suicide bombing that killed 21 people in a Haifa restaurant.

Ya’alon warned of a pressure cooker in the Palestinian territories that was likely to explode and urged that restrictions on the movement of people and goods among West Bank towns and villages be eased.

The director of the Shin Bet security service, Avi Dichter — who sees his organization as primarily responsible for stopping the bombings — objected. Any lifting of closures or roadblocks could enable suicide bombers to get through to their targets, he argued. Mofaz backed Dichter, but agreed to some minor easing of restrictions.

Convinced that the government was about to make a major blunder with potentially far-reaching military ramifications, Ya’alon decided to go public. He incurred sharp criticism from the government, primarily for making political comments while still in uniform.

Ya’alon’s supporters said distinctions between the military and political domains are not so clear-cut, and that as Israel’s No. 1 soldier, Ya’alon was duty-bound to warn the public about what he sees as a potential deterioration in the military situation.

Ya’alon did not leave it there, however. He implied that because of its hard line, the government had missed a great opportunity to take the peace process forward during Mahmoud Abbas’ brief tenure as Palestinian Authority prime minister and was likely to do so again with Abbas’ successor, Ahmed Qurei. Moreover, Ya’alon complained, every time there might be a chance to move forward, the government seemed to order another targeted assassination of a terrorist kingpin.

Government spokesmen vehemently denied the charges. Mofaz claimed he is doing all he can to ease conditions for Palestinian civilians but said ongoing terrorism makes it impossible for him to go as far as he would like. Moreover, he said, he did all he could to help Abbas — including an agreement to transfer four more cities to Palestinian control — a plan that was torpedoed by an eruption of Palestinian terrorism.

As for Qurei, Mofaz said he is willing to work with him, but progress will depend on just how far Qurei is prepared to go in cracking down on terrorism, as the Palestinians agreed to do under the “road map.”

For his part, Sharon expects to hold a key working session with Qurei soon. But his own political position is not as strong as it was when Abbas was prime minister.

Sharon’s position has not been helped by the police investigation into corruption allegations concerning him and his two sons. On Oct. 30, Sharon was interrogated for six hours on the so-called “Greek Island Affair,” in which he is suspected of taking bribes to help Likud activist and millionaire contractor David Appel secure a Greek island for tourist development. Police afterward were divided on whether they had enough evidence to press charges. But even if Sharon is not indicted, his political star seems to be in decline.

Sharon’s weakness may be one reason for emerging signs of a U.S. rethinking of the Israeli-Palestinian equation.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research is recommending that the Bush administration apply pressure on Israel to stop construction in settlements in order to make headway with the Palestinians — and, the thinking goes, thereby help calm the situation in Iraq.

The recommendation is in a paper written by Carl Ford, assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, which was submitted last week to the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. Ford’s position is said to reflect that of CIA Director George Tenet.

Coupled with the changes of nuance in Washington, Ya’alon’s critique could herald the beginnings of new domestic and international pressure on Sharon to move on the Palestinian track.

As usual, though, the key lies with Washington — and it’s hard to say what the president might do in an election year.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Do the Jews Need Geraldo

Geraldo Rivera has rediscovered his Jewish roots, and he declares the Jews "need" him back.

Rivera, 59, the flamboyant TV reporter, recently announced to the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post that he is planning to marry TV producer Erica Levy, 29, in a Reform ceremony in New York this summer.

Rivera, whose mother is Jewish and father is Puerto Rican, told The Washington Post that "the Jews need me right now," apparently, according to the Inquirer, to help sort out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rivera could not be reached for comment, but he told The Washington Post that he is going to "take this whole Judaism thing seriously" from now on.

While this is his fifth wedding, Rivera said it’s his first in a synagogue or church. He celebrated a dual bar mitzvah in Israel with his oldest child, Gabriel, now 23.

Rivera has come under fire for some of his TV work in Israel and the Palestinian territories for Fox News. The media watchdog groups StandWithUs.com and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), blasted Rivera in 2002 for his reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Although uninformed coverage of the Israel-Palestinian crisis is common, Rivera’s combination of inanity and incessant self-reference to his own feelings, reactions and experiences has prompted particular audience disgust and derisive criticism from other journalists," CAMERA said.

That April 2002 criticism came after Rivera said that although he had been a lifelong Zionist and "would die for Israel," Palestinian suffering was turning him also into a "Palestinian-ist."

Rivera and Levy are due to wed this August at the 128-year-old Central Synagogue in Manhattan. The guest list at the ceremony and reception, to be held at the tony Four Seasons, is said to include the likes of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Upon learning of Rivera’s Jewish wedding, Andrea Levin, executive director of CAMERA, said, "He’s not going to be a Palestinian-ist anymore?"

While a Jewish marriage "doesn’t always necessarily guarantee level-headed reporting," she added, "I certainly hope he has a long and happy marriage and that it helps inform his reporting."

Ha’Am Makes Its Mark at UCLA

hen the editors of Ha’Am, UCLA’s Jewish student newsmagazine, scrawled the words, “Ha’Am Is Back,” across the back of Kerchoff Hall, they didn’t realize the staying power of the statement that they were about to make. What the editors thought was sidewalk chalk, commonly used by students at UCLA as a means of political expression, turned out to be permanent.

“We’re still waiting for it to come off,” said Miriam Segura, Ha’Am’s editor-in-chief.

Ha’Am’s editors and staff hope that their quarterly newsmagazine, which has returned to print after four years of being only online, will have the same staying power.

“Now I feel that we’re really established,” Debra Greene, incoming editor-in-chief for Ha’Am, told the Daily Bruin, the university’s student newspaper. “Online, the readership was a lot smaller. Now people are picking them [copies of Ha’Am] up everywhere.”

Born in the 1970s by Jewish student activists who wanted to make their voices heard on the UCLA campus, Ha’Am has served the Jewish campus community for more than 30 years. Due to an editorial decision four years ago to focus on Web publishing, the publication went out of print. This year’s editorial staff, however, felt that the presence of a published Jewish student voice was essential — particularly now.

“There’s a lot of anti-Israel activism,” Segura said. “We are able to combat that, or at least provide a forum where students can express their frustration, as far as being marginalized as a group. At the very least, it should be a place for Jewish students to express anger and frustration at being marginalized, and at the the very most, it should be a place to respond to that kind of thing.”

Published by the UCLA Communications Board, Ha’Am receives 60 percent of its funding from profits generated principally by the Daily Bruin, according to Avril Ward, student media director. The remaining 40 percent is paid for by advertising generated by the publication.

“They’ve got to build an advertising base,” Ward said.

In order to get the newsmagazine off its feet, Ha’Am recently accepted an anonymous donation in the amount of $3,018. According to Ward, the editors of the magazine say that it was isolated and that they do not plan to rely on such donations for sustenance. Additionally, for reasons of neutrality, Ha’Am’s editors decided not to find out the donor’s identity.

“Ha’Am thought it was critical to their editorial integrity,” Ward said. “They agreed that having a person pay for the magazine might call into question how independent the magazine was. These are young journalists, they’re very idealistic, and I applaud them for that.”

For more information on Ha’Am, visit haam@media.ucla.edu .

Who Are the Journalists?

We love to hate them, those journalists who wield so much power and never quite get the facts right.

For two years now, we have opened up our morning papers, our Web sites and our hourly news broadcasts with a pit in our collective stomachs. It isn’t bad enough that the news from Israel is so frightening, terrifying and brutal, but the events are served up to us by journalists who can’t seem to distinguish between the ruthless murder of innocent babies at a pizza shop and the deliberate and cautious method in which our brave soldiers execute these murderers.

We are repelled by the moral blindness that screams from every page. Was there something we were missing?

Both of us had developed a much more positive view of journalists here in Los Angeles as we got to know them as human beings and friends. We went to Israel with a unique mission: not to confront but to engage, not to challenge but to question. Through the good offices of friends in Israel, we were able to meet with nearly a dozen journalists in a dizzying half-week; we got to know them and they us.

We spoke with the bureau chiefs of almost all the key American dailies, and then some. We learned much. We enjoyed the company of some very likable people, for the most part, struggling to do a good job on the toughest beat in the world. We detected no animus oward Israel, Israelis or Jews.

No two were the same in temperament or in previous experience. Some had covered wars elsewhere; others had last covered PTA meetings.

Some arrived in Jerusalem with very little knowledge of the historical background to the conflict (what was needed, they said, was accurate reportage of the events of the day). One was a Fullbright lecturer with shelves of background material neatly separated according to topic.

They also had quite a bit in common. They all took considerable risks to cover hot spots. Everyone had a flak jacket; everyone had thrust himself or herself in the midst of combat.

Despite each having important stories to tell and personal insights to relate, they exhibited far less ego then we anticipated. None of them had plans to write a book; they were almost uniformly sheepish about the suggestion. They saw themselves as specialists in their single interest of daily reportage, and that suited them just fine.

They had all been to Jenin, and each one insisted that he/she quickly knew there was no massacre and had gotten the word out quickly. Each one also insisted that it was shortsighted of Israel to change the press accommodations without warning, leaving them stranded outside the arena of action.

The authorities had never clamped down too hard on them when they exposed themselves to the dangers of bullets whizzing around their heads. Why did they choose Jenin to become solicitous of their safety in the face of hidden bombs, refusing to allow them official entry (some found ways around that) until after women and children had reentered the town? While they personally believed that Israel had nothing to hide, the country had handed the Palestinians significant credibility for their claims.

The veteran writers all appreciated that in other wars they had covered, they were simply kept away from the combat zones — and that was the end of it. No country matched the freedom of access that Israel provided, but that did not lead to enthusiastic embrace of the Israeli position, when in their view political hacks frustrated their getting their work done.

One writer pithily offered this summary: “When most of us get here, we have leanings toward the Israeli side. After we see the plight of the Palestinians, our sympathies tilt in the other direction. When we really get to know the principals, we are equally turned off to both.”

Why do they get in trouble with American Jewish critics? One factor became prominent: the use of Palestinian “facilitators” to gather news and sometimes to do much more.

Everyone has them. Israelis just cannot operate in the territories, while the opposite is not true. The journalists say they take their bias into account, but the process is imperfect. And the Palestinians speak with one voice: they want to put their people in the best light.

While the journalists use Israeli facilitators as well, they do not all hew to the same line. Israel is a democracy, and the Israeli counterparts to the Palestinians (none of the latter, by the way, agreed to meet with us) are not all great boosters of the state.

Here we were able to level the playing field a bit. We came equipped with ideas for stories, and fresh contacts who would give voice to points of view they had not yet heard. Surprisingly, we found out that we were the first who had tried this personal approach to helping them do their job.

We proposed human interest ideas, and every one of our new friends sighed, expressing the wish that the violence would subside long enough to allow them the luxury of pursuing those avenues.

There were some difficult moments. We found it hard to listen to stories of the counterproductive behavior of our own people. We hoped — and continue to hope — that people outside our community should be able to differentiate between a small number of hotheads in one society and an entire culture peddling hatred and suicide bombing in the other.

But what could you really tell two female reporters who, covering a funeral in a settlement, returned to their car late on a Friday afternoon to find all four tires slashed? It was hard to disagree when they said that this was more than harassment; that they felt threatened and endangered.

Most difficult to listen to, however, was their almost uniform reaction to our questions about their pursuit of the human side to terrorism, when it seemed to make unvarnished evil more understandable, and therefore not as evil. They all rejected the notion that they were somehow creating a sense of parity between victim and victimizer.

Suicide bombing is so horrific, they claimed, that telling the story of its perpetrators could not possibly diminish normal people’s revulsion for it. It should, they expected, do just the opposite.

But what if it didn’t really work that way? What if they learned, for example, that a story they wrote about a teenage bomber so fascinated a kid in Des Moines that he blew up himself and a school bus of his peers? Would they have any regrets?

None, they insisted. Their job was to report the news, regardless of how the readership processed it. They could not be responsible for that.

With all the differences in background and personality, they all offered the same reasoning. The response was so uniform that it had to be part of their training. They had arrogated to themselves a privilege few of us have: hermetically sealing themselves off from the consequences of their words.

It is a position that we simply could not accept. As rabbis, as educators — as traditional Jews — our interest is almost exclusively what the listener will do with the material, how he or she will internalize it, use it, expand upon it. The advice of our sages in Avot rang in our ears: “Be careful about your words!”

We had arrived at the crux of the matter and left somewhat relieved, but doubly frustrated. We were thankful that it was good, decent people, and not a pack of rabid anti-Semites invoking this moral insulation. But we left without a solution in sight to correcting the daily moral imbalance that these new friends of ours create in the name of balanced reportage. And it was all the more difficult to hear it defended as a privilege of the fourth estate.

We now understood why we could never become journalists ourselves.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein holds the Sydney M. Irmas Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School. Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom is the chairman of Bible studies at Yeshiva of Los Angeles High School. Together, they run Project Next Step of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and host “Rabbis With Attitude” on KCSN-FM.

A Woman’s Voice

Since 1987, Bill Rosendahl has been airing significant public affairs programs on Adelphia cable.

This week he told me he rarely sends cameras out in the community for tapings. Adelphia is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Rosendahl’s former bosses back East are under indictment for various forms of corporate fraud. The situation has left the broadcaster facing an uncertain future and Rosendahl challenged for cameraman cash.

The issue came up at a media roundtable discussion at the Islamic Center of Southern California in which Rosendahl and I took part Tuesday morning. About two dozen mostly young, articulate local Muslim Americans voiced their frustration with media outlets that they feel refuse to present stories that reflect moderate Islamic voices. As if to help them make their point, a local CBS-TV cameraman did show up, but turned off his equipment halfway through, then left.

Rosendahl said he would have wanted to tape the discussion and air it, but he simply must be frugal with what resources he has. In years past, Rosendahl has tirelessly provided coverage of local news and, through shows like “God Squad,” “Local Talk,” “Beyond the Beltway” and “Orange County Perspective,” a rare broadcasting platform for a wide variety of community voices. These programs reach some 2 million homes.

Now, while teams of local commercial news crews spend hours covering every Winona Ryder court date, Rosendahl is hoping to find a few good Angelenos willing to sponsor programs to help create an informed citizenry.

The problem with Adelphia may only be a few bad apples. But the deeper problem with our broadcast media stems from a combination of the aftereffects of Reagan-era deregulation and the subsequent abandonment of any meaningful public programming requirement. The even deeper problem, of course, may be our own: we demand so little of those who profit from public airwaves, and we get what we ask for.

Thinking about such things takes on deeper poignancy this week with the passing of two people who were committed, absolutely committed, toward serving their community.

One was Ira Yellin, a visionary who sought to revitalize downtown Los Angeles and, through development and philanthropy, more than fulfilled what he he once told me was his sense of “an obligation to give back” (see obituaries page 56).

The other, of course, was Marlene Adler Marks, our senior columnist who passed away on Sept. 5.

In her weekly column for this paper — which she started writing in 1987 — Marlene dissected local politics and local politicians with insight, wit and a sense of high moral purpose. Any line you draw from I.F. Stone and Murray Kempton to national columnists like Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd to local columnists like Patt Morrison and Steve Lopez would have to pass through the collected works of Marlene Adler Marks.

Her column became part of this paper’s identity and its import, though I always thought it was misnamed. “A Woman’s Voice” seemed too limiting for words that often spoke to and for so many of us.

Marlene was not only a superlative writer. She was a loyal, challenging friend, a mentor to many of us here at the paper, a deeply loving mother.

She brought all her many qualities to bear in her fight against cancer, and her columns about that struggle are a legacy in themselves.

Marlene’s funeral reflected her life: hundreds of friends and admirers, important politicians, more than a minyan of rabbis — from a man in a black hat to a woman in Anne Taylor — and plenty of laughter interspersed with the tears. It was a big, fat Jewish funeral and she would have loved it.

Shortly after the funeral, KCRW’s “Which Way L.A.” host Warren Olney asked me how The Journal would find a replacement for Marlene, if such a thing were possible. To replace her as a person is impossible.

But one way to perpetuate her legacy is to ensure thatjournalists like Rosendahl are able to meet the challenges of providing truelocal news coverage. Ask him how you can help at bill.rosendahl@adelphia.com . I’m certain Marlene would want a column dedicated to her to at least score some points for the kind of journalism she so admired.

Another way we can honor her legacy is to nurture the next generation of civic journalists. The Journal will shortly announce plans for an annual award in memory of Marlene Adler Marks. The award will go to a person whose writing presents critical civic issues with an informed and passionate voice. Los Angeles desperately needs such voices, for we have just lost a dear one.

Talk to Me

I owe my life’s work to Ann Landers. And, of course, her sister, Dear Abby. Dr. Rose Franzblau. And Dr. Joyce Brothers.

It happened this way.

In our New York home, my parents subscribed to three daily newspapers. Mom and Dad are enthralled by the tabloids. Even today, they read newspapers in the kitchen or the living room. Each page is like a hit in the ribs. They regale themselves with stories of which politician is on the take, which star is on the make and murders gone unsolved. They got a big kick out of Frank Sinatra and remembered every Jewish charity he supported, and how he cared for his mother.

It’s part of the shtetl mentality that I inherited, that the world is fascinating because people make it so.

I was already following the family tradition of reading and gossiping when I hit what I’m sure my parents still consider "the miserable years." You would think I was the only teen who wanted her own phone or who had a boyfriend taking up her time.

And so the ice age began, when I didn’t talk to them, or they to me. Our dinnertime was frost.

"How was school?" Mom would say. Dad wouldn’t bother asking.

"Why do you need to know?" I would reply. It deteriorated from there, until I’d finished my cherry Jell-O and my brother and I had cleared the table.

An hour later, I’d be in my room studying the American immigrant experience. When I looked up, there on my blue jewelry box was the newspaper clipping of the day, placed there by whichever brave parent had the nerve to come into my sanctum.

Wisdom had arrived. One of the advice columnists had written precisely the words that brought my father and mother comfort, confidence that this phase was not life or death. It would pass.

"Talk to each other," was the gist of it. "Make peace in the home."

Later on, just before the 11 p.m. news, my father would say, "Did you read it?"

And I would grunt, yes. It wasn’t quite a truce, but it was the best we could manage until the next day’s installment.

As the obits this week remind us, Ann Landers, born Esther Pauline Friedman, and her twin sister, Pauline Esther Friedman (Dear Abby) had a running competition in the newspapers my parents read each day. They were Russian Jewish girls from Sioux City, Iowa, where their father sold chickens.

These columnists, in a sense, are the next step after the Bintel brief, a popular feature of the Jewish Daily Forward. The Bintel brief was written (by men) to explain America to a generation of confused immigrants. The advice columnists, writing in English, were naturals in the area that so many children of immigrants shine: common sense. The New York Times said that Ann Landers’ appeal was that she wrote in what has been called a wise-cracking style out of Damon Runyon. These advice columnists took America seriously, but not too seriously. Which is why they appealed across the generations.

Do we still need such bridge-builders? In the Southern California Living section of Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Hax, the Washington Post advice columnist, suggested the answer is "no."

"It’s not that hard for anyone to get expert advice now," she said. "You can get legal advice in a minute on the Internet."

But expertise was never the appeal of these features, though it was nice that Ann Landers buttressed her liberal opinions with religious and legal authorities like Father Theodore Hesburg and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. The appeal to my dad was the voice of comfort, as the human dilemma confounded itself again and again.

It’s no small thing to give an audience comfort. A great columnist puts the world in order, finding wisdom merely by an anecdote and a bit of dialogue. I grew up in an age of great columnists, privileged to read on any weekday in the New York Post: Max Lerner, Murray Kempton, James Wechsler, then Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill and Nora Ephron.

They wrote about which politician is on the take and which star is on the make, and murders gone unsolved. Every now and then they write about their mother’s birthday, a good piece of theater, the death of a friend. It seemed a good way to live.

But it began with the advice columnists. Bless you ladies. Anyone who could get my family to thaw is precious to me.

Caped Crusaders

The $114 million opening weekend for the release of "Spider-Man" on May 3 was not only a box office record breaker but a resounding triumph for two wily Israeli entrepreneurs.

In his new book, "Comic Wars," journalist Dan Raviv details the dramatic battle of Revlon CEO Ronald Perelman, financier Carl Icahn and the two Israelis, Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad, who toppled both Perelman and Icahn from the throne of Marvel — home to such legendary characters as the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Captain America and, of course, Spider-Man — rescued the company and brought it roaring into the 21st century as a major media force.

Perlmutter and Arad had owned a company, Toy Biz, which manufactured memorabilia based on Marvel’s characters. When Perelman bought Marvel comics in 1989, Perlmutter was convinced that Perelman’s business savvy would bring Marvel to new heights. Instead Perelman brought Marvel to its knees with a crushing $600 million of debt, while, according to Raviv, Perelman pocketed nearly $280 million by selling junk bonds off of Marvel’s previously profitable enterprise.

The largest buyer of those junk bonds was Carl Icahn, who was later awarded temporary stewardship of the company by a bankruptcy court. When Icahn’s leadership failed, Perlmutter and Arad kicked into high gear and transformed Marvel Entertainment into Marvel Enterprises — a company that now has four films in production with such stars as Halle Berry, Jennifer Connelly and Ben Affleck.

The son of Israeli immigrants, Raviv has been a reporter with CBS since 1976, stationed in Miami, New York, Tel Aviv and London and is currently posted in Washington, D.C. The author of three previous book on Israeli politics, including "Every Spy a Prince," about the Israeli intelligence community, he sat down with The Jewish Journal to discuss "Comic Wars" and the fall and resurrection of Marvel.

The Jewish Journal: Previously you’ve written about Israeli politics, why did you want to write about comic books?

Dan Raviv: I was resistant at first, because I never thought of myself as a business reporter, but I kept running into people who had worked on the case, and I was just very taken with the story. The decisive factor was when I heard that two Israelis had won the battle [to head Marvel comics]. Because all of my books have involved Israelis, Israelis in America who’ve taken over a comic book company was just too good a story to pass up.

Journal: What was Marvel’s business situation before they were bought by Perelman in 1989?

Raviv: They were getting along as a small company, but it was only a small profit business. It’s unclear, however, if without a big money person behind them, that Marvel would have survived. They might have been too small for our modern media age. The Perelman people have since said it was always a bad business and their mistake was not realizing it sooner. Comic books are very small and are largely dependent on the whims of collectors.

Journal: How did Perelman drive Marvel into the ground? Is it a classic story of noncreative people running a creative enterprise?

Raviv: That and over expansion and too much borrowing. The ways that he chose to expand Marvel weren’t the most sensible. He bought baseball and trading card companies to increase the company’s attractiveness on Wall Street but kept on rejecting movie proposals. For example, Stan Lee [Spider-Man’s creator] brought him a property he wanted to develop for film and was told, "You don’t understand. Perelman doesn’t want to make movies."

With movies you have a long lead time, and the chances of hitting it big are uncertain, but if you care about the characters, it makes sense to develop them in new media formats. Skip ahead a decade, and the idea of putting the characters in the movies seems brilliant.

Journal: How was Marvel rescued?

Raviv: Perelman failed, and Marvel had to file for bankruptcy. Then Icahn — who was the largest buyer of Perelman’s junk bonds — tried to head the company for less than six months. A court-appointed trustee then had to decide around 1997-1998 whether the company should live or die.

That’s when Perlmutter and Arad kicked into high gear. They had tried to work with Perelman and then Icahn, but when it was clear that the trustee’s decision meant life or death for Marvel [and thereby for their own company which was dependent on licensing Marvel’s characters], they wooed the banks to go with them, which is what you have to do in bankruptcy proceedings. When the banks are satisfied, generally the judge will be satisfied.

On erev Rosh Hashana, Ike and Avi spoke to an assembled meeting of the bankers to plead for Marvel’s survival. Avi said, "Don’t sell this company to Icahn on the cheap! Spider-Man is worth a billion dollars." It turned out he was right! The banks came around, and by early 1998, Toy Biz took over Marvel Entertainment and renamed it Marvel Enterprises.

Journal: Why were Arad and Perlmutter able to rescue Marvel?

Raviv: They have that Israeli persistence and stubbornness. Arad wants to protect the characters, and Perlmutter wants to protect the money. Avi loves the Marvel characters and considers them his "children." Ike doesn’t read the comics or go to movies, but has a keen attention to details. Ike Perlmutter pays attention to every business detail, and he totally trusts Arad with the creative details.

Journal: What is the future for Marvel?

Raviv: "Spider-Man" is proof of their victory, but only the beginning of Marvel’s new life in Hollywood. The company was around since 1939 and these two guys took it to a new level. It’s only now graduating into a new level of media exposure. "Spider-Man" is only the beginning.


At my college newspaper, new writers all received the same encouraging spiel. "We want you to start writing for us immediately," the editor would say. "We’re not like the Harvard Crimson, where you have to scrub floors all semester before anyone even talks to you."

I doubt the Crimson really used Ivy League freshmen as tile washers, but the notion has stuck with me as the very image of the entrenched hierarchical East Coast, where a young person with dreams and energy is told to grab a mop and wait his turn.

I thought of this image again last week, as I witnessed three events so common in L.A. Jewish life we hardly stop to realize just how remarkable they are.

Two occurred last Thursday. At noon, at the offices of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), 80 of the Industry’s busiest actors, directors, agents, producers and screenwriters gathered to hear a rabbi speak about rejuvenating Jewish life.

In the history of Hollywood, there has never been an event quite like it: not a self-selected group meeting for lunch-and-learn Torah study, or a charity fundraiser, but a mid-afternoon, turn-off-the-cell phones discussion at the top echelon of the Industry on what it means to be Jewish.

The speaker flown in for the occasion was Rabbi Irwin Kula. Kula could easily go head-to- head with his audience for intensity. He prowled the stage of a corner auditorium, asking these mostly young players to throw out what they think Judaism is — "Why would you even sit through High Holy Day services if you get nothing out of it?" he demanded — and recognize it as a living, changing tool. "The goal of Judaism is to make you better humans," he said, "not to make you better Jews."

For years Jewish groups had sought to reach just this kind of crowd, and most have all but given up. But four graduates of the Wexner Fellows Program, CAA agents Dan Adler and Rick Kurtzman, Endeavor agent David Lonner and activist Donna Bojarsky, decided to take it upon themselves to try. Invitations went out, assistants were pressed into service, and the group waited for what they expected would be 15 or so positive reservations. The turnout was five times that.

"Sept. 11 is really what did it," Adler said.

People came hungry for words that could make sense of the attacks. There was a modicum of schmoozing. Kula spoke for most of the hour, leaving many in tears, and, judging by post-event e-mails, an audience eager for more. "I’d been dreaming of doing something like this for a long time, " Bojarsky said. "It worked."

Then came Thursday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Zimmer Jewish Children’s Museum’s first banquet honored museum president Jean Friedman and Sesame Street president and CEO Gary Knell. The 10,000-square-foot museum on the ground floor of The Jewish Federation building was founded by Esther Netter several years back in a corner of the Westside Jewish Community Center. Since copied by communities from New York to Scotland, it began as a simple idea, a way of giving children a hands-on experience of Jewish tradition and values. Now, thanks to a league of donors, volunteers and staff, thousands of children of all faiths attend the museum year-round.

Finally there’s the story in this issue on the New Community Jewish High School (see page 16). Two years ago, a group of parents in the San Fernando Valley recognized the need for another Jewish high school there. They organized, they worked like dogs, they made it happen.

A few things strike me about these examples of dreams made real. One is that these projects brought together Jews from across the religious and political spectrum. At CAA, Jewish men in kippot learned together with Jewish women in short skirts. We’re no longer so intent on organizing according to old categories, but according to new needs.

Another point is that in the case of the museum and the school, organizers relied on existing institutions like the JCC, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Federation to provide expertise and some funding. The new communal institutions don’t replace the old, but give them new purpose, maybe even new donors.

The proof is all around us: This is a Jewish community where people with good ideas can make them happen — no permission necessary, no standing in line, no scrubbing floors. There is energy, there is money, and, of course, there is much more to be done.

Why Does Israel Get Such Bad Press?

Israel’s public relations problems did not begin with Mohammed al-Dura, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy shot dead on the world’s television screens on the first weekend of the intifada. They go back to the aftermath of the 1967 war, when Labor governments started to consolidate the occupation.

From the day they witnessed Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes in front of the Western Wall in June 1967, the media turned critical, if not downright hostile. The Arabs, as most foreign reporters saw it, were the victims; the Israelis, the victimizers. And it has stayed that way ever since.

It was not always Israel’s fault. As early as August 1967, the Arab kings and presidents pulled the plug with the “three no’s of Khartoum”: no negotiations, no peace, no recognition. The Western media were horrified by the Palestinian bombings, hijackings and murders that followed. Yet their sympathy for the underdog meant that they were ready to explain away these atrocities. At best, they remained uncomfortable, fearing that to side with Israel would look like they endorsed the occupation and the measures necessary to sustain it.

Journalists are by nature skeptical and opinionated. If they don’t come to the Middle East with an attitude, most foreign correspondents soon acquire it. Whatever the subtle rights or wrongs, they see Israel giving the Palestinians a hard time. This left them open to Palestinian claims that the intifada was a spontaneous grassroots revolt. They found it hard to swallow Israel’s contention that Yasser Arafat simply rejected a generous offer from Ehud Barak and reverted to armed struggle.

With few notable exceptions, the media chill is pragmatic rather than ideological. News agencies don’t challenge Israel’s right to exist within the old Green Line border. However, they don’t buy the settlers’ contention that if Jews have no right to live in Elon Moreh, they have no right to live in Tel Aviv. They are alienated by the messianic mission to “redeem” the biblical homeland. It sounds like mumbo-jumbo, if not hypocrisy. Correspondents are conscious of the 2 million Arabs already living there.

The Six-Day War spawned an Arab/Palestinian lobby to compete with the long-entrenched Jewish/Zionist lobby. For 34 years now, editors and correspondents have been cajoled and bombarded from both sides: invitations, briefings, calls, letters, faxes and e-mails.

The best and bravest of journalists say their job is to dig out the truth, to guide their audiences between fact and fantasy, reality and propaganda. Since the intifada erupted last September, they have indeed put their lives on the line to gather words and pictures firsthand. Yet there is a temptation to seek shelter in balance — “on the one hand, on the other” — whether or not the situation justifies it.

On satellite TV, there is little time or appetite for context. And since there are more Arabs than Jews being shot, more Arab homes being wrecked, Israel comes out as more culpable. Print journalists have greater space, but what their news editors see on CNN often sets the agenda. They want the same.

This enhances the lure of a media consensus. Foreign correspondents, posted to the Middle East for three or four years, seldom learn Hebrew or Arabic. They buy translations, hire interpreters and fixers. But this limits their access to what Israelis and Palestinians are thinking and feeling.

In sum, like it or not, the public relations cards are stacked against Israel. Policy is more important than propaganda. It was no coincidence that the tally of states maintaining full diplomatic relations with Israel multiplied after the 1993 Oslo accords.

The trouble is that policy is not always Israel’s to control. Barak offered huge concessions, but Arafat had his own constraints and opted for a war of attrition rather than a compromise peace. Israel had to ensure that the Palestinians didn’t win by force more than they had spurned at Camp David. Israel was wary of setting precedents or appearing vulnerable. But that doesn’t play well on camera.

Moreover, Israel’s PR campaign since September has been flawed. Because Barak’s spin team couldn’t accept that the diplomatic game was over, it was slow to spell out exactly what Barak had offered. He was weakened by the disintegration of his coalition and the recognition that he would have to fight an early election.

The picture has improved under Ariel Sharon. Likud officials, perhaps because they are more aware of the need to explain their hawkish policies, have been more adept handling foreign media. The question remains, however, whether the media will buy Sharon’s message. They are, as I said, a skeptical bunch, and they’re no friends of Greater Israel.

From Kataif to Kasha

“The Foods of Israel Today”by Joan Nathan(Knopf, $40)

Joan Nathan is one of America’s premier food journalists, which is what makes “The Foods of Israel Today” so important a book. It has recipes, 300-plus, and pretty pictures of food, but it is no plain cookbook. What it abounds in are insightful stories about the way food and culture are interwoven in the land of Israel.

Nathan lived in Israel during the 1970s, serving as an aide to then-Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. She has visited countless times since and has discovered dishes and cooks, from Michelin-rated chefs to Palestinian bakers to the Mizrahim grilling scraps of organ meats in open-air markets, who are emblematic of Israel’s promise, its progress and its problems.

The recipes reveal an Israel far more complex and varied than even regular visitors there realize. Nathan travels from a Druze wedding feast of kibbeh to an East Jerusalem Arab hummus specialist to a kibbutz that excels in organic fruits and vegetables to a Tel Aviv street stall that turns out grilled foie gras, describing each in clear, detailed vignettes.

Here Nathan the cook shines. Unlike most books on Israeli food, indeed most Middle Eastern cookbooks, this one features not just perfected recipes for more standard dishes like falafel and cholent, but hard-to-find recipes for delicacies: Palestinian chicken baked with sumac and pine nuts (mousakhan), figs stuffed with chicken in tamarind sauce and the airy Arabic break-fast pancakes kataif.

Her recipes are carefully edited and tested, but it is in her narrative vignettes, illustrated with nothing but first-rate prose, where the book shines.

What becomes apparent from her journeys is that Israel offers sensational food. Boutique producers are creating world-class cheeses and fine olive oils, and venerable family establishments still offer the kind of slow-cooked, traditional foods that are disappearing elsewhere. And in the many homes that Nathan visits, she finds recipes that echo the far-flung traditions of many of Israel’s Jews, from Hungary to Ethiopia, while speaking of the land’s ancient bounty.

What also becomes clear is that the inhabitants of Israel are, in terms of the food they eat, more alike than different. Israeli Jews have adopted a more-or-less Middle Eastern diet, even as Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have, as their incomes have grown, taken to more Western foods. This is small consolation for the fact that, given the current crisis in Israel, Nathan is fortunate to have finished researching her book several years ago. The security situation has made many of the homes and restaurants she explored in East Jerusalem and the West Bank too dangerous to visit.

Hopefully, the situation will improve. As Kollek taught Nathan, breaking bread with people is a great way of breaking barriers. Nathan’s book is a good first step. It is a serious but delicious work, a testament to a remarkable country and the great cultures that inhabit it. One day soon, perhaps they will again break bread together.

Joan Nathan will be speaking about her new book, “The Foods of Israel Today,” and signing copies at the Skirball Cultural Center on Tues.,March 27, at 2 p.m., (310) 440-4500; and at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles on March 27 at 7 p.m., (323) 761-8648.

Jewish Croatia: Through the Looking Glass

This past October I found myself, along with four other North American Jewish journalists, flying business class — a wonderful way to fly — to Croatia on Lufthansa Airlines. The Croatian Tourist Office in conjunction with Lufthansa had generously put together a 12 day guest package, hoping we would like what we saw (after all, parts of Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic Sea, are quite beautiful). The thought was we would combine descriptions of the famous tourist sights with a report to our readers on the life and times of Jewish Croatia.

There was a certain disarming lunacy about the whole enterprise. Certainly a journalist can discover interesting and important stories to recount about Croatia — its politics, its recent history, and its estrangement from the West; reportage about Croatia’s dying, autocratic President Franja Tudjman and the likelihood of his party’s (the HDZ or Croatian Democratic Union) success in the elections scheduled for Jan. 3; accounts of the high levels of unemployment (nearly 20 percent) along with the moribund tourist trade; or the way in which modern life continues to persist (with energy) in this strange isolated land: from urban Central European Zagreb, the capitol city, all the way to the Dalmatian Coast on the beautiful Adriatic, with its Italian and Mediterranean ambiance looming out of the sea in such lovely port cities as Split and Dubrovnik.

Despite the generosity of the Croatian Tourist Bureau towards me and the other journalists, these are not Jewish stories and have little to do with what might be called Jewish Croatia. Ironically, the outcome in all these political matters — Tudjman’s successor, unemployment, tourism, relations with the U.S. and Western Europe — will determine the fate of Croatia’s 2,500 Jews just as it will the rest of the nation’s near 5 million population.

Jewish Croatia to all intents and purposes is a statistical blip. More than half the Jews, 1,500, live in Zagreb which has a population of about one million. Split, a jewel of a city (population about 200,000) on the Dalmatian Coast, contains about 150 Jews, but not all are participants in the community. In Dubrovnik, with its marvelous old walled city, there are 44 Jews. Bruno Horowitz the leader of the community, explains that services are held infrequently; only “when there are enough tourists to have a minyan.” Carefully he traces through the list of each Jewish family in Dubrovnik: he’s a dentist; she’s a teacher; he’s a photographer; and on through all 44.

Crypto – Jews Unmasked

This past October I found myself, along with four other North American Jewish journalists, flying business class — a wonderful way to fly — to Croatia on Lufthansa Airlines. The Croatian Tourist Office in conjunction with Lufthansa had generously put together a 12 day guest package, hoping we would like what we saw (after all, parts of Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic Sea, are quite beautiful). The thought was we would combine descriptions of the famous tourist sights with a report to our readers on the life and times of Jewish Croatia.

There was a certain disarming lunacy about the whole enterprise. Certainly a journalist can discover interesting and important stories to recount about Croatia — its politics, its recent history, and its estrangement from the West; reportage about Croatia’s dying, autocratic President Franja Tudjman and the likelihood of his party’s (the HDZ or Croatian Democratic Union) success in the elections scheduled for Jan. 3; accounts of the high levels of unemployment (nearly 20 percent) along with the moribund tourist trade; or the way in which modern life continues to persist (with energy) in this strange isolated land: from urban Central European Zagreb, the capitol city, all the way to the Dalmatian Coast on the beautiful Adriatic, with its Italian and Mediterranean ambiance looming out of the sea in such lovely port cities as Split and Dubrovnik.

Despite the generosity of the Croatian Tourist Bureau towards me and the other journalists, these are not Jewish stories and have little to do with what might be called Jewish Croatia. Ironically, the outcome in all these political matters — Tudjman’s successor, unemployment, tourism, relations with the U.S. and Western Europe — will determine the fate of Croatia’s 2,500 Jews just as it will the rest of the nation’s near 5 million population.

Jewish Croatia to all intents and purposes is a statistical blip. More than half the Jews, 1,500, live in Zagreb which has a population of about one million. Split, a jewel of a city (population about 200,000) on the Dalmatian Coast, contains about 150 Jews, but not all are participants in the community. In Dubrovnik, with its marvelous old walled city, there are 44 Jews. Bruno Horowitz the leader of the community, explains that services are held infrequently; only “when there are enough tourists to have a minyan.” Carefully he traces through the list of each Jewish family in Dubrovnik: he’s a dentist; she’s a teacher; he’s a photographer; and on through all 44.