Obama, Kerry will not meet Netanyahu on U.S. visit

President Barack Obama will not meet Israel's prime minister when he visits Washington in March, the White House said on Thursday, after being blindsided by the Republicans' invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress on Iran.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said Obama was withholding an invitation for Oval Office talks with Netanyahu because of Israel's March 17 elections.

“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” Meehan said in statement.

“Accordingly, the president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”

Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu announced that he would address Congress in March.

The decision by Obama, whose relationship with Netanyahu has often been tense, might be interpreted as a snub because leaders from Israel, a staunch U.S. ally, are almost always afforded talks with the American president on trips to Washington.

Netanyahu has accused Obama of making too many concessions to Iran for too little in return in nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers, and his visit could set up a diplomatic showdown on an issue has that has divided Obama and congressional Republicans.

The White House declined to say if Netanyahu had sought a meeting with Obama, but an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the Israeli prime minister was looking into the possibility of talks with the president during the visit.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also would not be meeting with Netanyahu during the visit, citing the upcoming Israeli elections.

The White House said on Wednesday the invitation to Netanyahu, issued by Obama's Republican congressional opponents without consulting him, was a breach of diplomatic protocol.

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said on Thursday that Republican congressional leaders had not consulted him on inviting Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, but he said he would welcome the speech.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner announced the invitation to Netanyahu on Wednesday, a day after Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to veto new Iran sanctions legislation being developed in Congress.

“The president has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community,” Meehan said on Thursday. She said Obama and Netanyahu had spoken frequently on Iran and would remain in contact on the issue.

Shortly before Netanyahu's formal acceptance of the invitation, Israel's Mossad intelligence chief publicly closed ranks with the right-wing prime minister, denying in a rare press statement reports that he opposed further sanctions on Iran while world powers negotiate with the Islamic Republic on limits to its disputed nuclear program.

In his statement, Netanyahu said he was “honored to accept the invitation” and that he would use the speech “to thank President Barack Obama, Congress and the American people for their support of Israel”.

On his Twitter page, Boehner said the Congressional address was scheduled for March 3, two weeks before Israel's general election in which Netanyahu is vying for a fourth term.

Netanyahu's office said the Israeli leader would also attend the March 1 to 3 annual policy conference in Washington of the prominent pro-Israel AIPAC lobby.

Israeli political commentators portrayed Boehner's invitation as either a Republican attempt to give Netanyahu a boost in the election campaign or an Israeli bid to meddle in U.S. politics, or both.

Some analysts said, however, that a third Netanyahu address to Congress would have little impact on Israelis long accustomed to his oratory skills in English on the international stage.

His main challenger in what polls show is a neck-and-neck race, Labour Party chief Isaac Herzog, cautioned against further straining Netanyahu's relations with Obama.

“We need the president on our side, day and night, on so many sensitive and important issues,” Herzog said.

Ulpana activists begin march to Jerusalem

Hundreds of settlement activists began marching Monday from the Ulpana neighborhood on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement in the West Bank toward Jerusalem.

The protest march is against plans to raze five apartment buildings in Ulpana, which are on land claimed by Palestinian families.

Some 300 supporters of Ulpana waving flags and carrying signs set out from the neighborhood to march to a protest tent in Jerusalem located outside of the Supreme Court, where hunger strikers have been sitting. They plan to reach Jerusalem on Tuesday.

The marchers are supporting a bill to be voted on in Knesset on Wednesday that would that would override a Supreme Court decision to remove the Ulpana buildings. The legislation would retroactively legalize buildings built on contested land if the owner does not challenge the construction within four years.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in September that the neighborhood should be razed, siding with a lawsuit filed by Palestinians who said they owned the land.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a three-point plan to physically move the buildings to land that is not claimed by Palestinians, build new housing and vigorously defend the neighborhoods in future litigation.

The plan requires the approval of Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who spent Sunday in consultations about the possible move.

Global March to Jerusalem could bring thousands of Arabs to Israel’s borders

If pro-Palestinian calls for a so-called Global March to Jerusalem are heeded, thousands of Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria could converge on Israel’s borders.

The day, March 30, marks Land Day, which commemorates the deaths of six Arab Israelis killed in 1976 during protests against Israeli government land policies that confiscated privately owned Arab land.

While last year’s Land Day commemorations were held without incident, rallies two months later to mark the anniversary of what the Palestinians call the Nakba—the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding in 1948—brought thousands of Arabs from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza to march on Israel’s borders, and 13 marchers were killed.

A month later, on June 5, hundreds of Syrian protesters stormed the border with Israel on Naksa Day, the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, and there were more casualties.

“The IDF is prepared for any eventuality and will do whatever is necessary to protect Israeli borders and residents,” the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesman told JTA this week when asked how the IDF is preparing for Land Day.

Citing senior defense officials, Haaretz reported that the IDF is prepared for “relatively serious events.” The Israeli daily added that the most current intelligence assessments believe that the demonstrations Friday will be “limited.”

Preparations for Land Day security have used last year’s Nakba and Naksa day rallies as models, according to reports. Security forces have updated their knowledge of non-lethal crowd dispersal methods, while border troops have gone on higher alert and additional IDF troops have been moved to the borders.

Israeli officials reportedly were most concerned about the Lebanese border and asked the Lebanese government to rein in protesters. The main Lebanese demonstration is planned for the Beaufort Castle, which is several miles north of the Israeli city of Metullah, rather than the border with Israel, the Lebanese branch of the Global March to Jerusalem announced last week. The number of demonstrators at Beaufort will be limited to 5,000, according to the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper, citing organizers of the march.

March general coordinator Ribhi Halloum told reporters earlier in the week that the march would be peaceful.

“The aim of the Al Quds march is to express a message of protest and condemnation against the policy of Israeli occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories,” he said, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem. “We will under no circumstances agree to violence or a violation of the borders. We will maintain the policy of nonviolent protest we have agreed to uphold.”

Land Day events also will be held inside Israel’s borders under the auspices of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee with the banner “Save the lands and prevent the Judaization of Jerusalem.”

Israeli police have been cautioned to keep out of Arab villages in Israel in order to maintain calm.

Meanwhile, jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in five murders during the second intifada, called on Palestinians to launch a popular resistance campaign against Israel. His statement, issued in advance of Land Day, called on the Palestinian Authority to stop all coordination with Israel in the economic and security realms and to stop peace negotiations.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority currently are not engaged in negotiations.

Occupy Boston-Not Palestine march held

A demonstration and march hosted by Occupy Boston protested U.S. support of Israel’s presence in “Palestine.”

Tuesday’s march, under the moniker Occupy Boston-Not Palestine, was held in conjunction with dozens of members of Jewish Women for Justice in Palestine at Dewey Square, the center of the Occupy Boston movement, according to a report in the The Daily Free Press, a Boston University independent student publication.

The protesters linked arms and marched down the street chanting slogans.

Protesters told the student newspaper that Israel uses U.S. tax dollars to occupy Palestine, and that the new Middle East will marginalize the United States over its relationship with Israel.

“We need to build houses in the U.S. instead of destroying houses in Palestine,” Nancy Murray of Boston told the student newspaper. “The occupation has gone on for so long because the U.S. vetoed 41 valid U.N. Security Council resolutions. They’ve given Israel the green light to abuse human rights.”

3,000 police on patrol for annual Jerusalem Day march

Some 30,000 Israelis gathered for the annual flag march through eastern Jerusalem in honor of Jerusalem Day, as at least 3,000 police took up patrols throughout the city.

The annual march led by the religious Zionist community, in which participants march and dance with flags throughout the city, culminating in dancing at the Western Wall, is set to make its way Wednesday afternoon through the largely Palestinian eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of the city under Israeli control during the Six Day War 44 years ago.

While the parade in previous years took place largely in the western Jerusalem, this year the parade was rerouted through the eastern sector in order to avoid the new light rail tracks.

“Jerusalem will never be divided,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday night during a speech in the Merkaz Harav yeshiva in honor of Jerusalem Day.  “There’s nothing more holy to us than Jerusalem, we’ll protect Jerusalem, its unity, and we’ll build and develop it.”

The yeshiva was the site of a terror attack in 2008 in which a Palestinian gunman killed eight students.

“Next year in a more built up Jerusalem,” Netanyahu added, a play on the Jewish prayer of ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’

Obituaries: March 4-March 10, 2011

Herman Alevy Jan. 17 at 89. Survived by daughter Gail (Martin) Grossman; son Scott (Joanne); 3 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren; sister Estelle Alpern. Malinow and Silverman

Abraham Algazi Nov. 8 at 62. Survived by daughter Erika; sons Cesar, Daniel, Israel, Isaac; mother Mercedes; sister Jeannie Wheeler; brother Joseph. Malinow and Silverman

Florence Belson Jan. 21 at 98. Survived by sons David (Roberta), James (Judy); 3 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Samuel Boise Jan. 13 at 83. Survived by sister Shirley Sands. Chevra Kadisha

Norma Bori Jan. 18 at 89. Survived by daughter Francesca; sons Brian Jeffreys, Daniel Levine; 4 grandchildren. Hillside

Blanche Davis Nov. 24 at 86. Survived by sister Gloria Shapiro. Malinow and Silverman

Oscar Deitch Jan. 18 at 96. Survived by wife Laura, daughter Anita Levitin, sons Jeffrey, Leon; 8 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren. Hillside

William Egar Jan. 23 at 86. Survived by wife Evelyn; son Steven. Malinow and Silverman

Kevin Epstein Jan. 1 at 41. Survived by mother Lynna Silverstein. Malinow and Silverman 

Paul Erman Jan. 24 at 83. Survived by wife Rachell; daughter Simone (Andrew) Crum; son Andrew (Jeanette); 5 grandchildren; brothers Ralph (Hanne), Herbert (Gerta). Mount Sinai

Irving Stanley Finkelstein Jan. 20 at 81. Survived by partner/friend Nancy Lewis; 3 children; 2 grandchildren.

Jerry Fogel Jan. 21 at 88. Survived by Barbara (John Curtis Gervais­). Hillside

Claire Frym Nov. 27 at 85. Survived by daughter Gloria. Malinow and Silverman

Stephen Golding Nov. 9 at 75. Survived by wife Merca; daughter Jaime (Omar) Aguilar; 2 grandchildren; sister Eleanor Korn. Malinow and Silverman

Alan Grahm Nov. 9 at 88. Survived by wife Ruth; daughter Isabel; sons Bobby, Randall (Chinshu); 5 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Max Greenland Jan. 17 at 87. Survived by son Gary (Gloria); 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

William Haber Nov. 25 at 72. Survived by wife Paula; daughters Alison, Jennifer (Adam) Haber-Lasser; son Stephan (Susan); 3 grandchildren; sisters Irene Boscoe, Ruth Epstein. Malinow and Silverman

Blanche Harman Nov. 10 at 82. Survived by husband Don; sons Steven, Scott (Catherine), Larry (Cindy); 3 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Bette Henning Jan. 25 at 86. Survived by daughter Evelyn Grey; son Michael (Elyse) Grey; 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Doris “Bookie” Kassap Jan. 25 at 76. Survived by husband Irwin; daughters Sheri (Pat) Shelton, Kimberly; son Jeffrey; 5 grandchildren; brother, Morrie (Reine) Waters. Mount Sinai

Sheila Kassorla Jan. 26 at 70. Survived by daughters Alyson, Renee Polhamus; son Howard; 5 grandchildren; brother Joseph Bogorad. Malinow and Silverman

Rabbi Bernard King Nov. 29 at 72. Survived by wife Barbara; daughter Adeena (Haddy) Homampour; sons David, Neil, Stephen (Mary); 2 grandchildren; sisters Jeanne (Dan) Friedman, June (Lou)  Grushen. Malinow and Silverman

Jean Kirchick Jan. 24 at 91. Survived by daughter Wendy; sons Howard, William. Malinow and Silverman

Yetta Kolitch Nov. 22 at 70. Survived by sister Miriam Mendlinger; 2 nieces; 3 grandnieces; 2 grandnephews. Chevra Kadisha 

Roslyn Lasnick Nov. 5 at 82. Survived by daughter Janis Zaiken. Malinow and Silverman

Milton Levine Jan. 15 at 97. Survived by wife Mauricette; daughters Ellen, Harriet Levine-Bhar; son Steve; 3 grandchildren; sisters Pearl Crossman, Ruth Shrieber. Hillside

Regina Levy Nov. 19 at 73. Survived by son Marc (Leah); sister Donna (Isaac) Benveniste; 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

David Malk Nov. 6 at 84. Survived by wife Anita; daughters Kimberly (Jonathan) Cherney, Dana (Ron) Simons; son Steven Mark; 7 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild; sister Effie Sokol. Malinow and Silverman

Daphne P. Maxwell Jan. 22 at 85. Survived by daughter Joanna; sons Stephen, John; 1 grandchild.

Martin Mendel Jan. 22 at 85.  Survived by companion Mario Ventura; cousins Emanuel Rosen, Marion Deshmukh; nephew Michael Green. Hillside

Dora Newman Nov. 7 at 102. Survived by daughter Roz (Barry) Robbins; son Elliot; 1 grandchild; 1 great-grandchild. Malinow and Silverman

Adam Oks Jan. 24 at 96. Survived by sons Eugene, Michael; 1 grandchild. Malinow and Silverman

Mildred Rubin Nov. 18 at 88. Survived by son Jeffrey (Eva); sister Ruth (Milton) Berman; brother Irving Bohm; 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Sarah Selwyn Nov. 12 at 92. Survived by daughter Myrna (Russell Frackman) Morganstern; 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Renee Silver Jan. 21 at 83. Survived by son Rabbi Steven Silver; daughter Andrea (Scott) Van Soye. Malinow and Silverman

Joseph Simon Jan. 21 at 96. Survived by son Melvyn (Janet), Bruce (Carol) Simon; 3 grandchildren.  Hillside

Richard Sobel Jan. 18 at 83. Survived by wife Patricia, daughter Traci Landis; son Bradley Landis; 4 grandchildren. Hillside

Beatrice Solomon Jan. 26 at 90. Survived by husband Morton; daughters Rochelle Kaye, Laurie; 2 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild. Mount Sinai

Kurt Sussman Jan. 19 at 82. Survived by wife Toy; children Ann (David), Jan (Patty); 5 grandchildren. Eternal Hills

Rebecca Szilagyi Jan. 19 at 89. Survived by daughter Michelle Popkin; 3 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; brother Ben (Rose) Matz. Hillside

Brigitte Thaler Jan. 25 at 75. Survived by husband Robert; daughter Lisa (Bill) Mathies; son Jeff (Sheryl); 4 grandchildren; sisters Elke Apprich, Annette Best, Dagmar Moscowicz, Nortrud Roecker. Hillside

Evelyn Wald Nov. 10 at 89. Survived by daughter Ann (Rob) Wald Shipp; son Edward (Melissa); 6 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

George Weidler Nov. 28 at 76. Malinow and Silverman

Carl Wold Jan. 23 at 79. Survived by wife Barbara; daughter Jennifer (Spencer) Wasem; son Michael (Suzanne); 4 grandchildren. Hillside

Gertrude Yaffe Jan. 23 at 89. Survived by son Allan (Sandy); 2 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

At least one million in Egypt take to the streets to call for Mubarak’s ouster [VIDEO]

At least one million people rallied across Egypt on Tuesday clamoring for President Hosni Mubarak to give up power, piling pressure on a leader who has towered over Middle East politics for 30 years to make way for a new era of democracy in the Arab nation.

Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square was jammed with people ranging from lawyers and doctors to students and jobless poor, the crowd spilling into surrounding streets.

Crowds also demonstrated in Alexandria, Suez and in the Nile Delta in the eighth and biggest day of protests against Mubarak by people fed up with years of repression, corruption and economic hardship.

“He goes, we are not going,” chanted a crowd of men, women and children as a military helicopter hovered over the sea of people in the square, many waving Egyptian flags and banners.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Congress passes funding until March

Congress passed a procedural resolution that sustains government funding until March.

The “continuing resolution” passed Tuesday includes the $2.75 billion in annual defense assistance for Israel. It passed 79-16 in the Senate and 193-165 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It maintains government funding at 2010 levels. Failure to pass it would have meant that the government would run out of money by midnight.

The Republican minority in the Senate had used parliamentary procedures to block spending bills, in part because Republicans are set to retake the House in January and the party wants to use its new power to slash spending as soon as possible.

Jewish groups are apprehensive that the new Congress will slash “earmarks” for representatives’ districts, which include funding for programs for the poor and elderly favored by the groups.

Additionally, pro-Israel groups are reaching out to new members to keep foreign aid funding at current levels.

Democrats have made it clear they will make funding for Israel a key issue in pusshing back against overall GOP attempts to slash spending in the new Congress.

“The incoming Republican leadership has sent disturbing signals about the future of aid to Israel with its calls for across the board budget cuts without regard to the impact on U.S. allies and interests around the world,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

Easy to forget, Sharansky tells March

Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who now heads the Jewish Agency for Israel, led more than 10,000 people in the March of the Living in Poland on Yom Hashoah.

“We have come here today to remember. But it is easy to forget,” Sharansky said at the beginning of the march at the Auschwitz concentration camp on Monday, Holocaust Remembrance Day. “It is easy to say that the lessons of Auschwitz have been learned. It is easy to say those two magic words: Never again. The hard part is giving those words meaning. That is our challenge. That is your challenge.”

Participants from 45 countries, not all Jewish, took part in the march. Black ribbons were attached to Israeli flags carried during the march as a demonstration of sympathy to the Polish people on the loss of their president and many of the country’s leaders in a plane crash on Saturday.

Israel’s top-ranked tennis star, Shahar Pe’er, was scheduled to join the march accompanied by her grandmother, who is a survivor of Auschwitz.

A siren sounded throughout Israel for two minutes on Monday morning in honor of the victims of the Holocaust. Following the siren, memorial ceremonies began at Yad Vashem, where wreaths were laid, and at the Knesset, which held a ceremony during which the names of Holocaust survivors were read.

Groups to White House: What about Palestinian incitement?

In response to the Obama administration’s stepped-up criticism of Israeli building plans in Jerusalem, Jewish groups are slamming the White House for failing to speak out more against Palestinian incitement.

Particularly galling, several Jewish organizational leaders said, is that the administration has ratcheted up its criticism of Israel while failing to utter a word about the decision of the Palestinian Authority to go through with plans to name a public square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who led a 1978 bus hijacking in which 37 Israelis, including 12 children, were killed.

In the middle of last week, pro-Israel organizations, including the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch, pointed out that the official naming ceremony—timed to coincide with the anniversary of the terrorist attack—was set to take place March 11, during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It was quickly announced that the ceremony would be canceled, but a scaled-down version of the event did end up taking place that day, with the youth division of Fatah, the faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, playing a lead role.

The White House and left-wing Jewish groups say they are as concerned with Palestinian actions that undermine the peace process, especially the issue of anti-Israel incitement, as they are with Israeli settlement policies. But several centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups have pointed out that U.S. criticism in recent days has been focused exclusively on Israel.

“This monstrous spectacle”—the ceremony for Mughrabi—“took place while Vice President Biden was visiting the region,” said the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, in a statement echoing the sentiments of several Jewish organizations, including the Zionist Organization of America and the Orthodox Union. “Unfortunately, we have not heard a single word of condemnation from the U.S. administration.

“While the administration has focused its ire on Israel for clearly misguided steps taken by the Ministry of the Interior, and later apologized for by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the glorification of this terrorist sends a clear signal that Fatah, conventionally regarded as a moderate party, has no serious commitment to securing a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

J Street, which supports the Obama administration’s recent criticisms of Israel, also issued a statement condemning the decision to memorialize Mughrabi.

In addition to the flurry of statements from Jewish groups, the Israeli government also is promising to launch an official effort to monitor Palestinian incitement. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about his plans, promising regular reports on the issue.

“We will set parameters by which to measure the level of incitement,” Netanyahu told the committee, according to Haaretz. “People must know exactly what is happening on this issue because for a peace agreement, education toward peace and acceptance of Israel are needed.”

The issue has taken on added urgency in recent days, and not just because of the unrelenting U.S. criticism of Israeli building plans in Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, Palestinians rioted in Jerusalem as part of a “day of rage” declared by Hamas, in part to protest the rededication Monday night of the ancient Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. But the Israeli decision to rededicate the synagogue also was seized on by PA officials with ties to Fatah, who attempted to portray it as part of a plot against Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.

Khatem Abd el-Kader, the Fatah official responsible for Jerusalem, encouraged Palestinians to “converge on al Aksa to save it” from “Israeli attempts to destroy the mosque and replace it with the [Jewish] temple.” He called the synagogue rededication a “provocation,” cautioning that Israel is “playing with fire.”

The unfinished Hurva Synagogue, whose name means ruins, was destroyed in an Arab riot in 1721. It was rebuilt in the 1860s, but destroyed again after Jordan took control of the area in the 1948 war.

“At this very moment, 3,000 Israeli security officials are protecting Jerusalem because extremist Arabs are using the re-dedication of the Hurva Synagogue as an excuse to incite violence,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of The Israel Project, said in a statement. “Not once did we hear Biden ‘condemn’ the fact that Palestinians were planning—during his trip there—to honor a terrorist by dedicating a town square in her name.”

On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley did use part of his daily media briefing to criticize Palestinian leaders over their comments regarding the Hurva Synagogue.

“We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement,” Crowley said, without prompting.

In answer to a subsequent question, he said the concerns had been conveyed to Palestinian officials but declined to offer more details.

The briefing appeared to validate at least one administration lament—that its efforts to focus attention on perceived Palestinian misdeeds are often ignored by the media. Reporters appeared to have trouble comprehending that the State Department’s concerns related to the Palestinian reactions, not the Israeli decision to rededicate the synagogue.

When it finally became clear that this is what Crowley was saying, reporters went back to asking about U.S. upset with Israel, but only after one accused Crowley of trying to head off criticism of the Obama administration by balancing out things with a complaint about the Palestinians.

Crowley brushed off questions about whether Israeli or Palestinian actions were most problematic.

“We’re not trying to achieve any kind of comparability here,” he said. “Anytime we have concerns about actions being taken on either side, we will not hesitate to say so.”

Forget School — Let’s Go March

OK, I’ll admit it: I was one of the half-million congesting downtown Los Angeles the weekend of the massive pro-immigrant rally. My mother, who also went along, did so because many of her friends were marching, and it was a great social occasion.

For me, it was an opportunity to interface with about four dozen other students and confirm my suspicion that few participants knew much about U.S. history and culture or, for that matter, even our nation’s immigrant history and culture.

The organizers of the march were the usual collection of “reconquistas” and multiculturalists who networked very effectively for weeks to get this turnout. I must have received at least a dozen e-mails every day from different friends and groups reminding me to put the event on my calendar. Others were barraged with telephone calls stating that it was an “obligation” to show up and be counted.

Part of me wishes the students who cut class on Monday of that week could be out in the streets every day — after school perhaps — to draw attention to this problem of immigration. It seems that the only time the issue invades the public consciousness is when it makes the evening news on television.

There are some serious issues to consider beyond the photo ops of students carrying Mexican flags. The immigration bill that passed the House has two obvious flaws: It makes felons out of people who have been living and working here for years, and it classifies as criminals members of churches, their clergy leaders and any other group or citizens who help immigrants.

I suspect that Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who sponsored the bill, deliberately placed those clauses into his legislation so that he would have something to “give away” when the House and Senate versions arrive for compromise in a few weeks. Critics of the early Senate version claimed it is nothing but an amnesty procedure. Our president, Jorge Bush, is caught in the middle between the agribusiness interests that helped him finance his political career and the conservative wing of his Republican Party, which considers immigration to be a “lightening rod” issue (in the positive sense, for them) of the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Like most Americans, the immigrant story is my family’s story. My mother took the “coyote express” to Los Angeles two decades ago, because her family in Honduras had been swindled out of the family farm, and mom had to help support her parents and four siblings. Upon arrival, she immediately learned English and became a U.S. citizen at the first opportunity. Before long, she was assistant manager of a chain variety store.

Her story is a representative tale of striving and success in a city that was built by immigrants — including waves of Jewish immigrants.

When I entered Union Avenue Elementary, mom went over and insisted that I not be placed in any bilingual class but in English immersion instead. Before that, she had obtained for me a public library card and made certain that I used it constantly. We spoke nothing but English at home until I was 12, and I was not allowed to watch Spanish television, even though mom was addicted to the nightly novellas. She still is.

The point is this: The difference between the more than 60 percent of Hispanics who drop out of high school and the 5 percent who graduate from college has nothing to do with the schools, the teachers and especially the thousands of dollars per pupil poured into the educational black hole we call the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The almost universal ignorance of the students who were chanting “Si, se puede” as they marched up Broadway, in regards to the language, culture and political realities of their adopted nation, speaks volumes about the failure of most of their families to assimilate and therefore succeed in these difficult times of globalization and economic uncertainty.

The marches have created short-term sympathy for the illegal (excuse me — I mean undocumented) immigrants. But the net result will be to reinforce the perception of a vast majority of Americans that something needs to be done about out-of-control borders and the issue of sovereignty.

Jennifer Solis was student body president of Belmont High School in 2003-04; she’s now a pre-med student at Pasadena City College.


Teens Take a March to Remember


David Grossman, 18, wanted to make the Holocaust more personal. Eliya Shachar, 18, wished to understand her grandmother’s pain. And Max Kappel, 17, wanted to find a tangible place to comprehend the Shoah.

They were among 51 teenagers from Los Angeles who took part in last week’s March of the Living 2005 in Poland, which retraces the nearly two miles from Auschwitz to Birkenau, following the path of concentration camp inmates forced to walk to the gas chambers. They were accompanied by survivors for whom that trail once meant death, including Nandor “Marko” Markovic, 82, a Holocaust survivor, and his wife, Frances, who squeezed into the slow-moving and untidy line of about 20,000 people from almost 50 countries.

The annual march began in 1988, bringing together teens and seniors, Jews and non-Jews and an ever-decreasing number of survivors. Their walk commemorates Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, which took place this year on Friday, May 6, an appropriately chilly, gray day with intermittent heavy rain.

Before the day was over, the teenagers would encounter both the expected and the unexpected and find hope amid the recounting of the horrible.

A shofar sounded to begin the march.

“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen — all these people headed to the same place for the same reason,” said Dganit Abramoff, 16, one of 32 students from Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. Fifteen others were from Milken Community High School and four from other high schools.

Their small clusters interspersed with participants from South Africa and Siberia, France and Canada, as the students struggled to follow the “L.A. Youth USA” placard held high by 6-foot-4 Yoni Bain, 18.

Some teens found themselves walking alongside 37 boy scouts, ages 13 to 20, dressed in tan military-style uniforms, from Opola in southern Poland.

“We came here because we know there’s pain here,” said scout Michael Hoffman, 16.

Sara Warren, 17, marched with her mother, Jackie Heller, one of 25 adults in the Los Angeles contingent. They talked about Heller’s grandmother, who hid in eastern Poland during the Holocaust and who lost her entire family.

“I never thought so many people cared,” Warren said.

The sea of matching navy blue Jewish star-studded jackets was partially hidden beneath brightly colored rain ponchos and opened umbrellas. Many marchers chatted loudly; some occasionally sang.

Sometimes, the march more closely resembled a disorderly walk-a-thon than a commemoration of victims and survivors coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Some students did not consider the march sufficiently somber, but “the very normalcy of the march is its miracle,” said Phil Liff-Grieff, associate director of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Jewish Education, leader of the L.A. adult group.

The atmosphere turned more solemn when the road curved up toward and then over railroad tracks that brought more than 1.3 million people to this notorious death-camp complex. Marches became more sober still as they approached Birkenau’s front gate, where they listened to a reading over loudspeakers of the names and hometowns of those murdered.

Survivor Markovic, who lives in Los Angeles, was participating in his second March of the Living. He suffered from an inflamed ankle and was usually flanked by students eager to help. But he and his wife concentrated on assisting a teenager near them who was feeling sick but was determined to participate.

Markovic spoke frequently to the students about his life, about how the Nazis invaded his shtetl in former Czechoslovakia in 1941 and took his father. A year later, when he was 16, they came for him, along with his mother, brother, two sisters and other family members, shipping them by cattle car to Birkenau.

After a couple weeks, he and his brother were transferred to a series of work camps and then, as the war was ending, sent on a forced death march. After many weeks, Markovic collapsed, desiring death. He felt his brother kiss him goodbye. Sometime later, he felt an SS soldier put a gun to his head. But the soldier relented, saying: “For you I won’t waste a bullet. You are dead already.”

When Markovic next opened his eyes, Lt. Hirsh, an American soldier, was looking at him. Hirsh gave him pancakes and took him to a hospital. Afterward, Markovic reunited with his brother and one sister, eventually settling in Los Angeles.

“You give me hope,” Markovic confessed to the students. “I know you are inspired because you see a broken heart standing before you telling you to not forget.”

Ari Giller, 18, an Asian adopted into a Jewish family, had always felt disconnected from his Jewish heritage, but he found a link through Markovic.

“It’s pretty intense how he went through this huge ordeal and came out a faithful Jew with a good attitude,” Giller said. “He makes me feel good about humanity.”

To many students, the march highlighted the week in Poland. But it was just one part of a physically and emotionally challenging — and occasionally uplifting — six days filled with horror and history, tears and epiphanies.

Noah Mendelsohn, 17, sobbed suddenly upon first seeing the five brick ovens in the crematorium of Majdanek, the death camp near Lublin that the group visited on the first day.

“I could hear the screams and see the nail marks inside,” he later explained.

The teens were also moved by Irving Silverman, 85, of Tucson who accompanied them to the synagogue in Tykocin, a former shtetl near Bialystok and home to Silverman’s parents before they immigrated to the United States in 1908. This was Silverman’s first trip to Poland.

“I’m not a survivor, but I feel I’m representing all the dead members of my family who could never do this,” he said. “Every Jew has to do this.”

Warren, the student traveling with her mother, visited the grave of her ancestor, Reb Yom Tov Lipman Heller, in the cemetery adjoining the Remu Synagogue in Krakow. There, Rabbi Steve Burg, Los Angeles chaperone and director of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, explained that Reb Heller was a venerated, prominent 17th century rabbi and author of the Tosafot, a commentary on the Mishneh.

“Your heritage always feels like it’s so far away, but today, for the first time, I feel that I can grasp it,” Warren said.

Burg has led four previous March of the Living trips.

“Before you get on that plane to Israel,” he told his students on the last full day in Poland, “decide on one new change for yourself…. I don’t care if you decide to wear a kippah, pray or become a campus activist — that’s between you and God — but you must decide on something.”

A core goal of trip was to turn history into personal memory, said Stacey Barrett, director of youth education services for Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education and leader of the Los Angeles teen group. She told the teens: “You need to take on the task of becoming witnesses to the Shoah for the next generation.”


Delegates at UJC Assembly Show Solidarity

Waving Israeli, American and Canadian flags and hoisting signs naming their hometowns, thousands of delegates at the Jewish federation system’s General Assembly (GA) wound their way through the back alleys, markets and main streets of Jerusalem, vowing to stand by Israel.

A mission of about 20 Angelenos attended the GA under the auspices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The group took part in a massive solidarity march on Monday in which most of the GA’s 4,000 participants walked from convention hall down historic Jaffa Road in a show of support for Israel: Soldiers and delegates linked hands and danced the hora, vendors at the Mahane Yehuda market cheered, Israeli folk music and shofars blared, and blue and white balloons bobbed overhead.

Security was tight. Police and soldiers manned street corners along the march route, which had been blocked to traffic. Pedestrians were searched before being allowed to enter parts of downtown Jerusalem.

Federation President John Fishel moderated a panel "Jewish Identity, Affiliation and the Next Generation." A group of conference participants also toured Tel Aviv schools involved in a twinning relationship through The Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership as part of an excusion examining "Innovative Models of Israel and Diaspora Relations." The day in Tel Aviv also included a demonstration by bomb-sniffing dogs in the Pups for Peace program, founded by Glenn Yago of the Milken Institute, and an evening reception at the Neve Tzedek neighborhood for all assembly participants chaired by Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Chair Herbert Glaser and featuring remarks by Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, and Donald Sinclair, Canada’s ambassador to Israel.

For the Kids

November Madness

In Old English, the month of November was called "blood month." It was a month of animal sacrifices that took place to prepare for the long winter. But what is the etymology of the word "November?"

Here’s a hint: The Roman calendar began in March (similar to the Jewish calendar, which begins in Nissan, around Passover). Send in the answer for a prize.

Autumn Arrives

Joshua Goldberg, 12, wrote this poem for his history class at A.J. Heschel Day School:

I peer out of my window to gaze at the autumn sky.

The wind whispers

through the trees.

A scent of roses fills my nose.

Leaves fall on to my windowsill — how I long to feel their smoothness.

It starts to drizzle and I can taste the little droplets on my tongue.

The feeling of autumn surrounds me, now it’s time to embrace it’s presence…