U.S. President Donald Trump pauses during a statement on the deadly protests in Charlottesville, at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 14, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS.

Federal judge strikes down Trump’s latest travel ban

A federal judge in Hawaii struck down the Trump administration’s latest travel ban under the grounds that it “plainly discriminates based on nationality.”

The judge, Derrick Watson, argued in his ruling that the travel ban “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States,’ a precondition that the Ninth Circuit determined must be satisfied.”

The latest travel ban would have denied visas to those from Iran, Syria, Libya, Chad, Yemen, Venezuela and North Korea. Under Judge Watson’s ruling, only those traveling from Venezuela and North Korea could be denied entry into U.S.

The ruling comes in response to the state of Hawaii suing the latest travel ban, claiming that the ban undermined America’s “founding values of religious freedom and equality.” The Trump administration argued that the executive branch has the authority to restrict immigration. The Department of Justice is expected to appeal Watson’s ruling.

Here is a roundup of tweets gloating about the travel ban being struck down:

And here are tweets of those lamenting the ruling:

The travel ban would have gone into effect on Wednesday had it not been for Watson’s ruling.


L.A. Police Chief Visits

Los Angeles Chief of Police William Bratton (pictured with Tsion
Ben David of the Israel Ministry of Tourism) placed a prayer in the Western
Wall of the Old City during a recent visit to Israel. It was his first visit
since 1986.

“It’s so moving to return here once again,” Bratton said.
“This is a place that everyone should come to see. It’s a shame that not more
people are here. I feel very comfortable, very safe and very welcome.” – Staff


JDL’s Krugel Pleads Guilty on Two

Earl Krugel, a leader of the Jewish Defense League (JDL),
pleaded guilty Tuesday, Feb. 4, to two federal charges stemming from a plot to
bomb a mosque and the office of a congressman of Lebanese descent.

Specifically, Krugel entered guilty pleas to one count of
conspiring with late JDL National Chairman Irv Rubin to bomb the King Fahd
Mosque in Culver City, for the purpose of preventing congregants from using
their house of worship; and to a second count of carrying an explosive for
bombing the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).

The second count carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years in
prison, and the first count could add another 10 years. Krugel’s attorney, Mark
Werksman, believes his client will receive a total of 12 years when sentence is
pronounced by U.S. District Judge S.W. Lew on May 19.

If the 60-year-old Krugel had faced a trial and been
convicted, he would have been subject to a mandatory 40-year sentence.

“Earl is relieved that the matter is behind him,” Werksman
said. “He didn’t want to plead guilty, but the political climate today is not
hospitable for defending a domestic terrorist case.”

Rubin, Krugel’s alleged co-conspirator, died last November
at a federal detention center, according to prison authorities. Rubin’s family
has filed a $5 million wrongful-death claim against the U.S. government.

Both men were arrested in December 2001, after a third
participant reported the plot to the FBI. Werksman said that Rubin’s death had
“knocked the wind out of Krugel.”

However, outside the downtown courthouse, Rubin’s wife and
son, joined by other supporters, held up signs denouncing Krugel as a “rat” for
implicating Rubin in the plot. The JDL Web site charged that Krugel had
“falsely accused Rubin of directing the conspiracy.”

Krugel, though standing in the shadow of the high-profile
and articulate Rubin, was a familiar figure at street demonstrations, served in
the Navy and worked as a dental assistant. U.S. Attorney General  John Ashcroft
said in a statement, “As this successful prosecution makes clear, acts of
terror targeted at individuals because of their race, religion or national
origin will not be tolerated in the United States.”

 – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


Last of ‘Shiraz 13’ on

The last five Iranian Jews still held in an Iranian prison
have been released on “vacation,” although it remains uncertain whether they
will be permanently freed.

The five were among 13 Jews arrested in early 1999 for
allegedly spying for Israel and the United States and later tried in the
southern city of Shiraz.

In a case that drew worldwide attention and condemnation, 10
of the 13 received prison sentences, but five of the imprisoned 10 were
released after serving some of their time.

The “vacation” for the last five was granted in honor of the
“Ten Days of Fajr,” celebrating the overthrow by the Islamic revolution of the
Shah of Iran, according to two government-controlled Iranian newspapers cited
by Pooya Dayanim, president of the newly formed Iranian Jewish Public Affairs
Committee in Los Angeles.

The news was confirmed by Maurice Motamed, the sole Jewish
representative in the Iranian parliament, who is in Los Angeles on an extended
family visit.

Motamed said that the five Jews were furloughed about 10
days ago and that he hoped that the release would be a permanent one.

Other sources urged caution in commenting on the new

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who has been involved
with the “Shiraz 13” case from the beginning, warned that public comment might
endanger the future of the five Jews.

“I hope and pray that their release will be permanent, but
as of now I think the ‘vacation’ is a kind of test [by the Iranian
government],” Hoenlein said.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American
Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, said, “At this point, we do not wish to make
any comment.”

Beyond the confirmed news of the “vacation,” an
interpretation of this development is complicated by apparent personal and
ideological animosities among the principal Iranian Jewish spokesmen.

Motamed said that the “vacation” was achieved due to his
personal intervention with the Iranian judiciary. Dayanim stated that the
government in Tehran made the move to bolster its human rights record before
upcoming meetings with the British government and the European Union.

On a more personal level, Motamed claimed that the five Jews
would have been released months ago, if Dayanim had not criticized the Iranian
judiciary in a Voice of America broadcast.

“I hope the ‘vacation’ will become permanent, unless there
are further attacks on the judiciary,” Motamed said.

Dayanim responded that following the release of three others
of the imprisoned Jews a few months ago, he had commented that the move was due
to international pressure on Tehran.

In a sharper tone, Dayanim described Motamed as a
“propaganda tool” of the Iranian Islamic government, adding that it was a
mistake to allow him to enter the United States. – TT

Not Good Enough

Iran appears to have made a concession by reducing jail time for the “Iran 10,” but American Jewish advocates insist it’s not nearly enough.

Decrying the “justice denied” in the appeals verdict announced in Iran Thursday, activists vowed that the fate of the prisoners will not be swept aside in favor of ongoing rapprochement between Iran and America.In a mostly symbolic gesture in March, Washington had lifted the embargo on Iranian caviar, pistachios and Persian carpets.

Most recently, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was granted a visa to visit the United States. He spoke Sept. 21 at UCLA, while protesters voiced their outrage outside.

“I think what the Iranian judiciary is trying to do by first not sentencing the Jews to death, then by commuting the sentences, is to slowly move this case from the international community’s radar screen. They won’t succeed,” said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Los Angeles-based Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations.

“In our private conversations with the State Department and other representatives, despite all the gestures being made to Iran, this issue will be brought up time and time again in constructive dialogue with the Iranians until this case is resolved.”

For its part, the United States said it was “disappointed” that Iran did not “overturn all of the convictions that were imposed on the 10.”

Last Thursday, Iran’s appeals court did not actually reduce the sentences, but merely changed the way they were meted out, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

This was precisely what American Jewish advocates had predicted beforehand, based on their sources within Iran. Rumors of a possible retrial, however, never materialized.

The 10 Iranian Jews were convicted July 1 on various charges, including spying for Israel, and sentenced to terms ranging from four to 13 years. By comparison, Iran convicted 10 Iraqis earlier this month for allegedly spying for Baghdad. They were sentenced to three to 30 months behind bars.

This appeals decision reduces the jail time of the most severely punished, Hamid Tefileen, from 13 to nine years, and the shortest sentence, for Ramin Nemati Zadeh, from four years to two years.

An Iranian judiciary official said time served would be included in the sentences.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Hoenlein, “but not a concession. We will continue to press for their release.”

“I’ve already spoken with high-ranking officials” in Washington, Hoenlein said, “who feel this is absolutely unacceptable. They feel very strongly about it, that any measures” toward détente “will have to be reconsidered.”

The next step, he said, is to appeal to either the Iranian Supreme Court or to Iran’s chief spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or to President Mohammad Khatami to intervene directly and pardon the prisoners.

There is also hope the hard-line judiciary will abide by Iranian law, which, Hoenlein said, states that prisoners may be released after serving 30 percent of their terms. The Jews have already served 19 months. That would mean Zadeh could soon be released, and Tefileen possibly within two years.

Whether they will bend any further seems doubtful. According to numerous sources, scores of world leaders who gathered at the U.N. Millennium Summit earlier this month gave the Iranian delegation an earful about their treatment of the Jews.

On Sept. 19 came a bombshell from the lead attorney for the “Iran 10,” Ismail Nasseri, who is himself a former judge of the hard-line Revolutionary Court and was appointed by the state to handle the case of the Jews.

Nasseri told French media that Iranian officials had told him in the past month that unless he worked against the Jews, the state would revoke his license to practice, accuse him of espionage – or even have him killed.

After the appeals verdict was announced, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, Hossein Ali Amiri, was quoted as saying, “These sentences are the least possible sentences, and we have used the ultimate of Islamic kindness and generosity. According to the law, these charges could have brought execution.”

Serving as backdrop to all this is the ongoing power struggle between the Iranian fundamentalists and reformists, led by Khatami.

Khatami was elected in 1997, promising some liberalization and warming relations with the United States.But the fundamentalist clerics in charge may have seized on a shrewd idea, said Iran-watchers.

After cracking down on a dispute between rival Jewish factions in early 1999 and arresting the 13 religious Jews, the hard-liners perhaps calculated that an open threat to Iran’s 27,000 Jews would set off a chain reaction: Irate American Jews would demand action in Washington, which would sabotage the fledgling rapprochement with Tehran and undermine Khatami.

Isolation, analysts note, benefits the Islamic regime: Hard-liners rail against a Western world conspiring against Iran in hopes of distracting Iran’s increasingly impoverished masses.

So in the spring of 1999, the judiciary accused the 13 Jews of spying for arch-foe Israel – an alarming situation considering Iran had already executed 17 Jews on similar charges since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

If there indeed was some sort of script, it may be working more or less according to plan.

As the neo-Stalinist show trial unfolded this spring – complete with “confessions” by some of the Jews broadcast on state television – American Jewish politicians and activists negotiated behind the scenes and occasionally took to the streets. On July 1, the 10 Jews were convicted and three acquitted.

The modest reduction announced Thursday is still not good enough, said Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns – AMCHA.

“If it’s nine years, it’s nine years too much; if it’s two years, it’s two years too much,” said Weiss, who in recent months has led the more boisterous of street demonstrations on behalf of the 10.

“It’s a farce. A classic move of those who use suppression is you do something outrageous, you back off ever so slightly, and everyone applauds you, then forgets the outrage is still in place.”

Weiss says he will not only organize another demonstration for Sunday in front of the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York, but is also considering protests in front of the U.S. mission.

In criticizing other American Jewish leaders, Weiss said, “We’ve made a great mistake by not pressuring our government enough, by not galvanizing the community and demanding that there be a linkage between human rights and Iran’s relations with the West.”

“There’s great concern that with this reduction, Washington will see this as a green light for business as usual.”

Demonstrating Support

After an appeal by Iran’s chief rabbi, the Iranian judiciary has announced it will allow 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel and America to hire their own lawyers, said an American Jewish leader.

The 13 will also get a few extra days to prepare their case, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Previously, the “Iran 13” — who could be sentenced to death — had been represented by lawyers appointed by the Islamic fundamentalist-controlled judiciary. The trial had been scheduled for April 13, but now will likely be held April 18, Hoenlein said Wednesday.

Yet despite the Iranian concessions, Hoenlein said, American Jewish organizations will go ahead with a flurry of high-profile activities aimed at both highlighting the plight of the prisoners and pressuring Tehran to end the entire yearlong ordeal.

“Our goal is their freedom, not just a solution to the lawyer question,” Hoenlein said.

Iranian officials have indicated that the trial will be a one-day affair. If that’s the case, the Jewish advocates will press Iran to release the prisoners on bail, regardless of the verdict, so they can return to their homes for Passover, which begins the evening of April 19.

It’s unclear what prompted Tehran’s change of mind.

Aside from the international outcry the arrests have provoked, some in the United States suspect that Iran did not want the trial to coincide with the beginning of the Islamic month of Moharram. The month commemorates the martyrdom of the prophets Hossein and Hassan.

Some Shi’ites, to express their grief, take to the streets with chains, knives and machetes, publicly inflicting harm on themselves. Out of respect, Iranian Jews and Christians generally stay indoors. Observers suggest the government may have found it in its best interests not to inflame passions on the streets with the trial of alleged “Zionist spies.”

Both Israel and the United States vehemently deny the charges against the Iranian Jews, most of them communal or religious leaders from the southern cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.

Now, even with their own lawyers, the prospects for a fair trial seem more remote than ever. The hard-line clerics who control Iran’s courts appear likely to renege on earlier promises to permit media and foreign observers to monitor the court proceedings.

Until now, U.S. advocates have pursued quiet diplomacy, marshaling support from many governments and human rights groups to release the detainees — or at least to ensure a fair trial.

But having seen little progress, the advocates are now taking a more high-profile approach.

On the diplomatic front, Hoenlein said he expects the U.S. Congress to pass a bipartisan resolution that will denounce Iran for its detention of the Jews.

Governments around the world are being asked to pass similar resolutions, he added, while various leaders — including some from Arab and Muslim countries — have indicated they will step up efforts to pressure Tehran.

At the grass-roots level, vigils, but not street demonstrations, are being planned at various locations in the United States, said Hoenlein,.

Nationwide, rabbis across the religious spectrum have agreed to recite special prayers this weekend. In Los Angeles, the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations will hold a special commemoration on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrests of 10 of the Iran 13.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, chastised the Iranian government. “None of the aspects of this case are being handled in accordance with Iranian law, let alone international standards,” he said. “This is not an issue we can compromise on.” On Wednesday, Kermanian joined officials at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in urging Jews around the world to offer a misheberakh, or blessing of healing, for the imprisoned Jews as they go to trial.

The Jews were reportedly arrested along with eight Muslim men. But none of the 21 has been formally charged, which also violates Iranian law, says Pooya Dayanim, the council’s spokesman and himself a lawyer.

“Basically, these Jews are hostages,” said Dayanim. “Iran may feel the longer it delays the trial, the less it will be internationalized and hurt them. Our job is to remind them that the world community still cares about these people.”

The Jews are all community or religious leaders — except for a 16-year- old boy who is one of three now out on bail.

Their arrest was believed to be part of a political battle between Iran’s hard-line revolutionaries and reformists behind Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

American observers had hoped that the resounding victory of Iran’s reformists in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections would bode well for the Jewish prisoners.

If anything, however, their situation has worsened, said Hoenlein.

“All the things we’d been promised and thought would come true, just the opposite has happened,” he said.

“The mythology of Khatami being a reformer is just that — mythology. So far, he has not shown himself to be any different from the others. If he’s in control, the buck stops with him and he’s responsible for this situation. If he’s not in control, why are we dealing with him and making concessions?”

Power to the People

During the early years of the 20th century, a jour-nalist, Lincoln Steffens, published a series of exposés that were eventually turned into the book “The Shame of the Cities.” It was a sensational work of non-fiction, but it was also quite depressing. Steffens uncovered corruption from the top on down in one city after another across America. It was a portrait of how American democracy was not working, and it did not inspire much confidence in our urban future.

The mayor, the judges, the police, the city’s new business leaders, and the ward bosses who controlled a city’s political machine at the turn of the century all formed something akin to an interlocking directorate. Their purpose: To ensure that the city government ran smoothly, that those in power retained power, and that enough money was distributed to keep everyone happy — and more than a few people quite wealthy.

When reformers asserted themselves and were able to sweep the city clean of the party bosses and the ruling elite, the story rarely had a happy ending. Within four or eight years, the corruption had taken hold once again. A new system, sometimes with the same faces, sometimes with new ones, was back in charge running the city in the old way, but with some new refinements. Business as usual, only with a modern, updated twist. Who said there was no progress? The question arose: Were human beings — at least those who were wealthy and successful — just plain rotten, or was the system itself so open to manipulation and rule by a clever, protected group of men that it was all but impregnable?

This is no history lesson, though it should be added that 100 years ago Jews in those “shameful” cities could be numbered among the have-nots. Today in Los Angeles (and elsewhere), we are counted as part of the ruling elite. We are a dominant minority on the City Council, in the legal profession and within the judiciary. We are also well represented in financial and corporate L.A.

The mayor himself is not Jewish, but he owes his election in some measure to financial and electoral support from our community. It is only within the police force itself that we might be seen as underrepresented. Perhaps that accounts for the relative silence within the Jewish community over the Rampart Division police scandal. It is not that Jews themselves are especially involved, so much as that we identify with the “haves” who helped lay out the goals nine years ago for the present system, which apparently has gone so far awry. Now the challenge for us is to reform our city, albeit in ways that sidestep the dangers that took hold during Steffens’ day. And, yes, there are actions we can take that should produce change.

When Mayor Riordan swept into office in 1993, he and the City Council and the then police chief identified gang rule as inimical to the welfare of Los Angeles. They made a concerted effort to sweep gangs from our city streets. Who could object to that? Not us, even though most of our neighborhoods were gang-free. Not the Latino community, which found itself forced to choose between gang or police rule.

And so we watched as the system took hold, with some (definitely not all) police, prosecutors and judges enforcing what they saw as a mandate. Get rid of the gangs, through legal or extralegal methods. It was the end that was important, not the means. It was like watching an old Western, with the town hiring a gunslinger to rid it of an oppressive group of outlaws; or vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. We had only to turn to our own history and romantic myths to understand what we were about.

In the process, L.A.’s gang members, their friends and associates all became the enemy; in some cases, for good reason. They were dehumanized, targeted, perceived as an insurgent force that had to be eliminated by whatever tactics were available. And, not surprisingly, some police took on the coloration of a corrupt gang themselves — only they were in control and wearing badges.

Along the way (and also over the years) the police established a culture of silence, protecting one another against an enemy world outside. That world consists not only of gangs, but of bureaucrats, journalists, and us, the citizens they are protecting. What an irony: They are representatives of our government, operate on our behalf and in our name, and we are part of their problem.

Not too many of us know gang members or even have friends who live in those neighborhoods. After all, we no longer identify with the have-nots, and the geography of our city enforces a rigid separation of classes and ethnic groups. When an acquaintance is affected, we often rationalize the experience away as an aberration. I know of a photographer in L.A. who covered the gangs in the city for a number of journals. He did not portray them as villains, nor did he demonize them.

When the police broke into a party where the gang was celebrating, he was present. And recognized. According to his description, the police began to taunt him as they destroyed his equipment and beat him savagely. He has not recovered from the experience. Well, someone I know said, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. True. But of course next time it could be someone else; and the time after that maybe a party that was closer to home. No one is immune to the fist of unchecked power.

Irecite this tale not in the voice of the public interest. There is no such thing as the public interest, only our own special (competing) interests and views. My interest is in seeing that the police, the prosecutor’s office, the judiciary and the mayor are all accountable to us. And that we have authority to replace them with dispatch when they overstep their authority. That’s my (selfish) interest. Maybe some atavistic memory is at work here, and I am simply recalling the Cossacks riding into my great-grandfather’s village outside Kiev.

Does this mean I want the gangs to ride roughshod over Pico-Union and other neighborhoods? Definitely not. Does this mean I believe gang members are the product of poverty, dysfunctional families and poor education? Young men without hope who therefore need to be excused for their criminal excesses? No, again. It seems to me possible to prosecute lawbreakers and to lean on gang members without shooting them, abusing them and faking criminal charges. That road leads to our own corruption, our own criminality, even though we may run this city.

Can we do anything? Most certainly. We need to figure out what we want and use our political smarts (and our power) to achieve our goals. I personally would like to see an independent commission step in and look at the entire criminal justice system; I want a commission beholden to no one, and not linked directly or informally to an old-boy network that runs the city. You may disagree.

I also want to single out all the responsible players and apply pressure. The mayor, not up for re-election, values his good name. We all know people in our community who are friends of Mayor Riordan. We can urge them to impress on him that his reputation is at stake.

Six members of the City Council out of 14 voted for an independent commission to examine the actions of the police and the criminal court system. We need two more votes. Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, recommended to a forum convened by the Progressive Jewish Alliance last week that we apply pressure on Council members Ruth Galanter and Mike Hernandez, neither one of whom voted for an independent commission. I’m for that; and for threatening politely to help turn them out of office if they don’t support my cause.

We — on this newspaper and at the L.A. Times and the L.A. Weekly — have been delinquent as well. We have failed to identify the judges and prosecuting attorneys who have played a leading role in this scandal. We need to “out” them before the next election; failing that, we can at least lay out the facts so that their role is public knowledge; in short, so that their neighbors and associates under-stand who they are and what they have done or failed to do.

I have more suggestions, but no more space. I never was a fan of the Black Panthers, but I loved their slogan: “Power to the people.” Even when the people are part of the establishment, just like us. — Gene Lichtenstein