Is it really a shock that 1/3 of Americans wouldn’t hide Jews?


Is the glass one-third empty or two-thirds full?

A poll commissioned by distributors of Holocaust film “Return to the Hiding Place” asked 1,000 Americans a question many Jews have pondered: “If you were living during World War II, would you have risked the imprisonment and death of yourself and your family to hide Jews?”

The results, as reported in The Hollywood Reporter  (and various other publications that cited the Hollywood Reporter), were presented in a remarkably negative way: emphasizing the one-third of respondents who said “no,” rather than the majority — two-thirds — who said “yes.”

This strikes me as odd. In most poll coverage, it’s the majority that leads the news, not the minority. And in this case, what the majority said is noteworthy: They would risk the lives of themselves and their family to save Jews.

To me, this is an impressive answer, even adjusted for the fact that saying you would do something heroic is a lot easier than actually doing something heroic. Had even one-third of Poles or Germans been willing to harbor Jews, Hitler’s Final Solution might have been stopped.

By focusing on the one-third who would not hide Jews, the coverage implies surprise that a significant minority is unwilling to take a serious risk (not to mention assume a huge and potentially costly responsibility) to rescue a stranger.

Given how few countries and their citizens are willing to take in large numbers of Syrian refugees or impoverished immigrants, a relatively low-risk proposition, why is it surprising that many people are reluctant to take a step that could cost them everything?

Maybe I’m too skeptical of human nature, but I’m more impressed that a whopping two-thirds claim they would take that risk.

The slant of the coverage is not the only thing odd about this poll, which the Hollywood Reporter said Barna Research firm conducted for the 2013 film’s distributors as part of a publicity campaign for its digital release.

The poll appears nowhere on the official film website, nor does the film’s Twitter handle mention it. Why launch a publicity campaign you don’t even publicize yourself?

I emailed Spencer Productions, the company distributing the DVD, to confirm that they did in fact commission the poll and to request a copy of it (the poll, not the DVD). They have not yet responded.

In any event, the poll of 1,000 American adults, as described in the Hollywood Reporter, had some intriguing findings beyond the two-thirds-to-one-third headline.

The question read as follows: “Think back to World War II when Jews in Europe were forced into concentration camps and many were killed by the Nazis. If you were living in this time period, would you have risked the possible imprisonment and death of yourself and your family to hide Jews?”

Males were more likely than females to say yes, married people more likely than single people to say yes and homosexuals more likely than heterosexuals to say yes. Also more likely to say yes were religious people compared to irreligious people and Southerners compared to Northeasterners.

The pollsters did not compare Jews to non-Jews because the sample size was too small to be statistically accurate on the matter.

Since my efforts to track down the poll have so far been unsuccessful, it’s not clear to me how significant the differences were between these various demographics.

But it’s fair to say that if you’re seeking a safe haven, the best bet (based on this poll) is to knock on the door of a married Southern homosexual man.

Right Wing Girds to Block Gaza Plan


The earthquake in Israel that measured 5 on the Richter Scale last week is not the only ground shifting these days in the Jewish state.

In the wake of the recent announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel soon could withdraw unilaterally from Jewish settlements from Gaza, the political landscape is shifting as well. Since Sharon made his remarks two weeks ago, right-wing ministers have been busy mobilizing Cabinet colleagues in an effort to stop the prime minister, while the left-leaning Labor Party has been preparing to embrace Sharon.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the hawkish National Union, has written to 10 right-wing ministers, urging them to come up with an alternative plan to Sharon’s. The Likud’s Uzi Landau is openly trying to drum up a majority against the prime minister in the Cabinet. In addition, the National Union and the National Religious Party are threatening to bolt the coalition, if Sharon goes ahead with his plan.

Some politicians are predicting that Sharon’s move will tear apart the government and bring early elections. What’s more, some military officials are saying a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip might encourage more terrorism, as Palestinians interpret the withdrawal as a retreat under fire.

But Sharon is not backing down. To take the wind out of the right wing’s sails, the prime minister said he will take the matter directly to the people by calling a nationwide referendum on the Gaza withdrawal plan. Sharon is hoping that a popular mandate for withdrawal will make it difficult for the right-wingers in his own party to continue opposing him, thereby paving the way for a coalition with Labor.

Last week, Matan Vilnai, a Labor leader, said in Washington that the Labor Party would consider joining Sharon’s government if the prime minister has a plan to return to peace talks. Vilnai said the ruling Likud Party could count on Labor’s support if Sharon goes ahead with his plan to uproot Jewish communities in Gaza.

The most active Likud opponent to Sharon’s plan is Landau, a minister without portfolio, who said he is close to assembling a majority of 12 votes in the 23-member Cabinet against the Gaza withdrawal. So far, Landau counts seven ministers against: Effi Eitam and Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party; Lieberman and Benny Elon, National Union; and Likud’s Yisrael Katz and Natan Sharansky, in addition to Landau.

Landau said four other Likud ministers — Benjamin Netanyahu, Meir Sheetrit, Tzachi Hanegbi and Limor Livnat — are leaning toward vote against Sharon’s plan. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom or Shinui’s Eliezer Zandberg could provide a decisive 12th vote against the prime minister.

In his letter to the 10 hawkish ministers, Lieberman attempted to build on Landau’s work. He urged them to set up a joint forum to draft what he calls a "plan for the national camp."

Lieberman wrote that the "national camp" is divided, merely reacting to left-wing plans, like the unofficial Geneva peace proposal. Instead, Lieberman said, the government should come up with a plan of its own — and quickly. Lieberman proposed "fencing in the Palestinians" in several cantons, with Israel controlling passage between each one.

Clearly, Lieberman’s target is not the Geneva plan but the prime minister’s. Lieberman wants both to block Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan and set a political agenda for a post-Sharon era. Elon, Lieberman’s colleague in the National Union, has been speaking out against the Sharon plan in the United States.

Such actions on the part of ruling coalition members are tantamount to mutiny in Sharon’s government.

The questions are: Will Likud Cabinet ministers agree to join the rebel forum, will Sharon vanquish the rebels or will Sharon dump the rebels for new, left-wing coalition partners?

Netanyahu’s position is the key. Having staked his political future on the success of his stewardship of Israel’s ailing economy, the finance minister and former prime minister is believed by some pundits to favor the plan that would help propel the economy out of its current slump. That would put Netanyahu in Sharon’s camp of withdrawal from Gaza.

However, if Netanyahu believes the timing is right, he could well vote against Sharon’s plan and take the lead of forces in the government opposing Sharon, thereby challenging the prime minister’s leadership. Netanyahu’s decision could decide the fate of Sharon’s government and the unilateral withdrawal plan.

Several Knesset members and expert observers believe the countdown to early elections has already begun. One of them is Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a former Sharon ally who now opposes the prime minister’s disengagement plan.

Rivlin said he does not believe Sharon will be able to keep his present coalition together for long or form a stable government to replace it. He also predicted Netanyahu would not make a leadership bid until new elections are called.

Rivlin’s reasoning is simple: If Sharon gets his plan through the government, the right-wing parties will leave. Then, if Sharon replaces them with Labor, he won’t be able to count on the support of the right-wingers in the Likud or on Labor’s hard left.

That would make Sharon’s government quite vulnerable. Theoretically, Netanyahu then could make his move. By triggering a vote of "constructive no-confidence" in Sharon, Netanyahu could have an opportunity to take over as prime minister.

But it would be tough for Netanyahu to assemble and hold together a ruling coalition, according to Rivlin, because Netanyahu’s coalition partners would have to be constituted exclusively of hawks and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

The hawks would press for special allocations for settlements, and the ultra-Orthodox would press for special funding for yeshivas. These financial demands would torpedo the tight fiscal policy upon which Netanyahu has staked his political reputation.

On the other hand, if Sharon fails to get his disengagement plan through, that in itself could be enough to spark elections.

Therefore, Rivlin believes, there is no escaping early elections, probably in 2005. Then the battle for the Likud leadership will begin in earnest.

Sharon sees things differently. His aides are already making plans for a referendum on the issue of the Gaza settlements, which they are sure he will win. Recent public opinion polls show that an overwhelming 77 percent of Israelis favor withdrawal from Gaza.

Winning a referendum with such an overwhelming majority would give Sharon the moral and political authority to proceed with his plan, perhaps enabling him to set up a stable government with Labor. But any referendum on the fledgling plan still is a long way off.

In the meantime, Lieberman and the other right-wing members of Sharon’s coalition are looking to the future — working, watching and waiting.

Valley Jew/City Jew


Why is it that the majority of Jews in Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley oppose secession?

The most recent poll that counted Jewish voters, conducted last July by the Los Angeles Times, found that 57 percent of Jewish voters opposed secession and 34 percent said they were for it, with only 9 percent saying they were undecided.

Although the number of Jewish voters was too low to allow for a breakdown of Valley Jews versus city Jews, Susan Pinkus, director of the Times Poll, said that even in the Valley, Jewish voters were strongly against the breakup.

It is too easy to dismiss these numbers as yet another example of knee-jerk Jewish liberalism. In fact, secession is one of those issues that has defied the old left/right labels. At a secession debate I moderated, former 5th District Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Feuer went toe-to-toe with former Assemblyman Richard Katz, and both agreed it was perhaps the first time in their political careers that the two Democrats disagreed.

If anything, the Jewish tilt against secession is the mark of determined conservatism. Jews on both sides of the Santa Monica Mountains are among the region’s most prosperous, most settled groups. We all want the city to work better for everyone. But trying to cure it in one fell swoop strikes us as radically risky, when we, of all groups, have so much at stake in the status quo. This is true whether you’re a real estate developer in West Hills or a downtown power broker.

Most Jews I know laughed off Mayor James Hahn’s pronouncement that secession would prove to be "a disaster of biblical proportions." But neither do they buy the secession boosters’ arguments that splitting up is just the tonic for what ails us. The wisest words I’ve come across on the entire debate were spoken by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in an interview with our reporter Wendy J. Madnick this past May. "The pro-secessionists who say this is the panacea to end all of the ills of living here are, to say the least, overstating their case," Yaroslavsky said, "and the people who are against secession and are running around saying this will be Armageddon are also overstating. We’ve had reorganizations of cities before. I don’t think people should be fearful the world is going to end."

Secession proponents, to their credit, have a vision and a plan. What they lack is proof. I asked Katz at that debate what precedents there are for the kind of urban breakup the secession measure called for on the Nov. 5 ballot. The answer is none.

Many of secession’s most ardent promoters are Jewish, such as Katz, Assemblyman Keith Richman, Valley VOTE leader Richard Close and Daily News Managing Editor Ron Kaye. But they have failed to convince others in the Jewish community that an independent Valley city would be a net plus for either the Valley or the city.

If you want to convince Jewish voters, you need to talk about crime, education and economic growth. But secession’s impact on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) would be, in the short-run, nil. Forming new municipalities is no guarantee that the state would approve breaking up LAUSD. Harvey Englander, who ran Richman’s assembly campaign, has said that secession advocates made a critical mistake by focusing on city breakup before taking on LAUSD.

As for crime, Hahn’s recent appointment of William Bratton as chief of police was perhaps his greatest single blow to the secession movement. It signaled his willingness to take a huge political risk — replacing Bernard Parks — to address issues Valley residents have rightly complained about for years.

Beyond the issues of crime and education, the burden of proof for Jewish voters in this contest is so great because of the value Jews place on the very idea of unity. It is an ideal we strive for, even if — as the breakdown in Israel’s ruling government this week demonstrated — it so often proves elusive. At least half the Jewish population of Los Angeles County lives in the San Fernando Valley. For Jews in Los Angeles, there’s hardly an Iron Curtain across the 405, not even so much as a Linen Drape. I, for one, was born and raised in the Valley. I live in Venice and my work takes me to North Hills, Van Nuys, downtown and Brentwood. Most of the Jewish Angelenos I meet in those parts of Los Angeles all want a smarter, better-run city. They also want to feel like they are a part of a larger, cohesive community. In times like these, there seems to be great comfort in the idea of togetherness — a sense of strength in numbers.

Secession as a movement may not have caught fire with Jewish voters, but the issues that lay behind it will still smolder after this election. In that sense, secession proponents deserve great credit for forcing elected officials and the rest of us to confront the bigger issues of governance, fairness and resource allocation, to stop doing business as usual, to listen.