Israeli peace activist says Hamas’ Jabari received truce document—and Israel knew


Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin said that hours before Israel assassinated Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military leader received a draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel.

The draft also included mechanisms for maintaining a cease-fire during upticks in rocket fire between Gaza and Israel, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday, citing Baskin. He reportedly had a relationship with Hamas leaders after he helped negotiate a deal to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held by Hamas in Gaza for more than five years.

Israeli officials ordered the hit on Jabari despite knowing about the truce draft, Baskin told Haaretz.

Baskin met Jabari when he was mediating between the Hamas leader and the Israeli representative to the Shalit negotiations.

Baskin told Haaretz that he showed Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak a draft of the permanent truce agreement, and said that an interministry committee on the issue was established on the basis of the document.

Mimicking Al-Qaida, militant threat grows in Sinai


They came in Toyota pick-up trucks, dozens of heavily armed masked men, firing machineguns and waving the black flag of Al-Qaida as terrified residents and police huddled indoors, and then disappeared again, melting away into the mountains and remote villages of Egypt’s Sinai desert.

The raid on the town of al-Arish in July 2011 was the first warning Egypt had of the strength of the jihadis in North Sinai. It was a warning largely unheeded until suspected Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards this month and drove a stolen armored car across the Israeli border before it was destroyed by Israeli forces.

Egypt is now pouring in troops to try to restore stability, and the sophistication of the border attack has finally set alarm bells ringing about the militant threat in the Sinai.

“Sinai is ideal and fertile ground for Al-Qaida,” said Khalil al-Anani, a Middle East specialist at Durham University in England. “It could become a new front for Al-Qaida in the Arab world.”

Diplomats and analysts say there is no evidence as yet of formal links between Al-Qaida and the Sinai militants – made up of Bedouin aggrieved at their treatment by Cairo, Egyptians who escaped prisons during last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinians from neighboring Gaza.

They blend a toxic mix of smuggling, gun-running and human trafficking with the “takfiri” ideology of Al-Qaida – which declares all Muslims who do not follow their purist, Salafist interpretation of Islam as “kafirs” – infidels. Crime and religion are soldered by ferocious opposition to Israel.

“The Sinai has become a base for all kinds of extremist groups,” Yitzhak Levanon, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, told Reuters. “Their overarching objective is to hurt us, to expel us, to set up a caliphate and shock the Middle East.”

And they pose a serious threat not just to Israel, but, perhaps more importantly, to Egypt.

Any attack on Israel that provoked Israeli retaliation could upset a peace treaty signed with Egypt in 1979 and put huge pressure on new Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. Or militants could turn west to attack the Suez Canal.

“It is much easier for these fundamentalist Bedouin groups inspired by extreme Salafi/Qaeda-like doctrine to attack ships in the Suez Canal than to mount an operation on the Israeli border,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Sinai region, handed over to Egypt by Israel under the terms of their U.S.-brokered peace accord, has long been neglected by Cairo, leaving room for crime to flourish.

But residents in al-Arish, the administrative centre of North Sinai on the Mediterranean coast, said they realized the threat had become much more serious when their town was raided on July 29 last year.

‪‪“They looked like trained groups, not the normal thugs we see,” said one shopkeeper, who like other residents was afraid to be named for fear of retribution.

Waving copies of the Koran and the flag of Al-Qaida – recognizable by the white Arabic lettering declaring faith in Islam superimposed on black to signify jihad – they spread out across the town and took up positions on rooftops.

At the police station nearby, terrified security forces barricaded themselves inside, while the gunmen shot at anyone who ventured outside. “They had all kinds of weapons, including rocket-propelled-grenades,” said another resident.

One had a Palestinian accent, said the shopkeeper, saying he heard him speaking over the phone saying that, “Our ammo is over and we don’t know where we are.”

Six died, including one of the gunmen, before Egyptian reinforcements arrived. “They ran away in all directions and nobody knows where they went,” said the shopkeeper.

PINNING HOPES ON MURSI

‪‪The newly launched army operation – billed as the biggest offensive in the region since the 1973 war with Israel – has yet to make much of an impact, and may make things worse if heavy-handed tactics drive more youth into the arms of the militants.

“Sinai needs a comprehensive strategy: social, economic and political,” said Durham University’s Anani.

Some residents even expressed cautious optimism that Mursi – who sacked army chief Hussein Tantawi on Sunday [ID:nL6E8JD1UW] – might improve the situation by reining in the military, whose past crackdowns have helped militants attract fresh recruits.

It was unclear whether Tantawi’s sidelining was linked to the attack on the border, although the deaths of the 16 Egyptian guards caused widespread public anger.

“There are some extremist ideas in Sinai but in my view, they don’t require all this military mobilization; there should have been a round of dialogue and tribal work,” said Abdel Rahman al-Shorbagy, a member of parliament for North Sinai representing the Freedom and Justice Party of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies. He estimated the numbers of militants in the sparsely populated desert region at between 1,000 and 1,500.

Mubarak built up tourist resorts in South Sinai that locals say mostly benefited Egyptians from the Nile Valley, and tried to impose an Egyptian administrative structure on North Sinai which undermined the authority of local Bedouin tribal elders.

Economic neglect forced people to seek work in the Gulf, and after Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007, many made money smuggling arms and other supplies through tunnels into the enclave ruled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

The situation worsened during the uprising when security forces often abandoned their posts; the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi later that year brought an influx of weapons.

For Sinai youth, struggling to make a living, it was easy to be drawn into the simple message of Al-Qaida – that only if Muslims return to the purist lifestyle of the Prophet Mohammed can they challenge the economic and political clout of the West.

“What brought this ideology is the marginalization,” says one resident. “If someone can’t earn a living, he thinks the alternative is to be strict in worship.”

In every village, three or four youths have disappeared to join the militants, sometimes inspired by Al-Qaida propaganda over the Internet, and sometimes by preachers in local mosques.

They often sever contact with their relatives, not even returning during the month of Ramadan when families gather together for the “iftar” meal which ends the day-long fast.

“We always have iftar together but they never come,” said one villager who had two cousins who had joined the militants.

“TORA BORA OF SINAI”

With a lack of roads, development and state control, the mountains and villages of North Sinai’s vast desert hinterland are nearly impenetrable, making it easy for militants to hide.

In the Jabal al-Halah mountain in central Sinai, they are believed to be so well dug in that nobody can touch them.

“The Bedouins call this place the Tora Bora of Sinai. The Egyptian authorities are extremely reluctant to go there,” said Yaari, in a reference to the Afghan mountain hideout used by Al-Qaida after the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

He said, without explaining how he knew, that the men behind the attack on the border had spent some time encamped there.

North Sinai is in some ways similar to the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al-Qaida has dug deep roots. Both have been neglected by central government; both lie in the middle of wider political conflicts.

And the authority of tribal leaders in both has been diminished as money – from crime, Gulf remittances and state patronage – filtered into other hands – making it easier for militants to promote unity in Islam over tribal loyalty.

“We are witnessing today the rise of these new Bedouin fundamentalists,” said Yaari. “They are destroying the old tribal structures. They allow marriages between rival tribes and force women to wear the veil. This never happened before.”

A particular fear is that militant Salafists in Gaza and Sinai are joining forces, creating an environment ripe for Al-Qaida were it to seek a base for use against Israel or the more moderate political Islam of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Already, according to one Arab diplomat in Islamabad, Egyptian members of Al-Qaida have begun to move back from Pakistan to take advantage of political changes at home.

As yet, however, the Sinai militants appear to be mimicking Al-Qaida rather than trying to establish formal links with the group whose leader Ayman al-Zawahri – who took over after Osama bin Laden was killed last year – is himself Egyptian.

Diplomats and experts in Gaza say Salafist leaders there speak of admiration for Al-Qaida but deny factional ties.

“Al-Qaida is more interested in using Palestine as a tag for its global fight rather than have an actual base in Gaza or the West Bank,” said one diplomat. “They believe a Palestinian group would have a more nationalist outlook.”

Yaari said he believed the Bedouin jihadis were communicating with Al-Qaida in Yemen, and maybe also in north Africa. “But so far, although they are seeking recognition from Al-Qaida, they have not obtained it.”

He also dismissed suggestions that foreign fighters might have played a big role in the border attack. “There are some foreigners in the Sinai, but they are more like hitchhikers,” he said. “If it weren’t for the fact that so many are heading to Syria, we would see more in the Sinai.”

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Myra MacDonald in London and Michael Georgy in Islamabad; Writing by Myra MacDonald; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Egyptian troops move into Israeli border zone


Gunmen fired shots towards a police station in the main administrative center of Egypt’s North Sinai on Thursday, underscoring lawlessness in the desert region bordering Israel as a Egyptian military offensive there entered its second day.

Hundreds of troops in armored cars drove out of the town to hunt Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday, the biggest spike in violence which has been growing steadily since last year’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

The gunfire in Arish, the nerve center of the government’s otherwise shaky control of the North Sinai region, showed how difficult it will be for Egypt to impose order. It followed attacks on checkpoints in the town on Wednesday.

Israel has welcomed Egypt’s offensive while continuing to express worries about the deteriorating situation in Sinai, home to anti-Israel militants, Bedouin tribes angered by neglect by Cairo, gun-runners, drug smugglers and al Qaeda sympathizers.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Egypt was acting “to an extent and with a determination that I cannot previously recall”.

“Whether this ends with (their) regained control of Sinai and allows us not to worry as much as we have in the past few months, this I do not know,” he told Israel Radio.

The unidentified gunmen in Arish fled before police could respond, a security source said, denying a report by state television that police had fought back.

Hundreds of troops and dozens of military vehicles had reached the town, security sources said, part of an offensive not seen since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel.

Dozens of armored vehicles, some equipped with machine-guns, could then be seen driving out of al-Arish towards the settlement of Sheikh Zuwaid which military aircraft attacked on Wednesday. The troops saluted passers-by and flashed victory signs, or filmed their departure with video cameras.

PUBLIC ANGER

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi – whose Islamist background in the Muslim Brotherhood has been eyed with suspicion by Israel since he was elected in June – on Wednesday fired the region’s governor and country’s intelligence chief in response to public anger over Sunday’s attack.

No one has claimed responsibility for the assault, in which the assailants seized two armored vehicles to storm an Israeli border crossing. One made it through before the attackers were killed by Israeli fire.

Israel says militants based in Sinai and Palestinian hardliners in neighboring Gaza pose a growing threat to its border. It says Palestinians use illegal tunnels to smuggle in guns and travel across to join those on the Egyptian side.

Israel has also been wary of Morsi’s ideological affinity with Hamas, the Islamist group ruling Gaza, fearing he would take a softer position on Palestinian militancy than Mubarak.

Morsi has brushed aside accusations that his politics would make it difficult for him to take a strong stance against violent groups sworn to Israel’s destruction.

His response to Sunday’s attack, which happened during the evening “iftar” meal which breaks the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, may also be underpinned by public anger over the deaths of the border guards.

In Egypt, there is wide respect for rank-and-file soldiers who are often poorly paid conscripts working in isolated places far from their families.

Comments suggesting outgoing intelligence chief Mourad Mwafi had been aware of a threat but took no action fueled that anger – despite suggestions he had been used as a scapegoat.

“…we never imagined that a Muslim would kill his Muslim brother at iftar,” Egypt’s state news agency MENA quoted Mwafi as telling his Turkish counterpart.

Mursi’s powers, are in any case, hemmed in by the army, which retains a strong role in setting security policy.

Residents in al-Arish, meanwhile, welcomed the security sweep, seeing it as an opportunity to curb criminality among Bedouin tribes, including those in Sheikh Zuwaid, who make their living smuggling goods and people through a network of more than 1,000 tunnels into Gaza.

“We want the army to return to the border,” said 45-year-old shopkeeper Hassan Mohamed. “The tunnels have destroyed the lives of people in Arish. We want them to hit the Bedouin hard.”

Reporting by Tamim Elyan and Yusri Mohamed in Sinai, Yasmine Saleh and Shaimaa Fayed in Cairo and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Myra MacDonald

Egypt fires intelligence chief, militants hit


President Mohamed Morsi fired the intelligence chief on Wednesday and Egyptian aircraft hit targets on the border with Israel in the biggest assault in the area in nearly 40 years after a deadly attack by militants on Egyptian border police.

It was unclear how far Morsi – who must accommodate the powerful army at home and reassure Israel that, as Egypt’s first Islamist president, he will maintain stable relations – had expanded his authority in response to Sunday’s attack.

But in a major shake-up, he sacked intelligence chief Mourad Mwafi and announced other changes in security appointments.

He has also promised to restore calm to the Sinai region after militants killed 16 Egyptian guards on Sunday and then stormed through the border before being killed by Israeli fire. It was the bloodiest attack on security forces in Sinai since Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979.

Israel, which has been urging Egypt to deal with a growing threat on its southern flank, voiced approval of the security sweep.

Islamist militants opposed to the existence of Israel have stepped up attacks on security forces on the border since the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak last year.

Many live among Bedouin tribes angry about being neglected by Cairo; they are often Bedouin themselves but follow a stricter interpretation of Islam, while also eschewing the political Islam espoused by Morsi in favor of militant tactics.

Early on Wednesday, Egyptian aircraft struck at targets near the border with Israel and troops raided villages, army officials and witnesses said, in the biggest military assault in the area since their 1973 war.

Egypt’s military leadership said ground and air forces had begun to restore stability in Sinai.

“The forces were able to execute the plan successfully. The forces will continue the plan and calls on tribes and families of Sinai to cooperate in the restoration of security,” it said.

CRITICAL PHASE

Morsi, who took office in June, appointed Mohamed Shehata as acting head of intelligence and sacked the governor of the north Sinai region, presidency spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters.

Ali said Morsi also asked the head of Egypt’s armed forces, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to appoint a new head of military police, and named a new head of the presidential guard.

The changes were announced after Morsi held a national security meeting that brought together Tantawi as well as the prime minister and interior minister.

Analysts said it was unlikely Morsi would have been able to make the changes without the approval of the army, which has kept a tight grip on security policy since the overthrow of Mubarak.

However, a security source said that Shehata, the new acting intelligence chief, had a reputation under Mubarak for being less of a regime loyalist and had been denied promotion as a result.

Explaining the changes, spokesman Ali said Egypt was going through a critical phase and it was necessary to protect “the Egyptian revolution and the Egyptian will”.

The fallout of Sunday’s attack was the first major test of how Morsi – from the Muslim Brotherhood – would balance the need to maintain stable ties with Israel with his political affinity with the Islamist Hamas movement ruling the Gaza Strip that borders both Israel and Egypt.

Egyptian officials said the gunmen arrived via tunnels used to smuggle goods into Gaza since the territory was cut off by Israel. Egypt began work to seal them off on Tuesday, upsetting Gaza residents who had expected better relations with Cairo after Morsi’s election.

Israel has long accused Palestinian militant groups of crossing from Gaza to Egypt to team up with local militants with the aim of attacking Israel’s long border. Last August armed infiltrators killed eight Israelis on the Egyptian frontier.

Egypt’s military response – which focused on Shaikh Zuwaid, a mud-brick settlement that relies heavily on profits from smuggling goods and people into Gaza – appears to have reassured Israel.

“What we see in Egypt is a strong fury, a determination of the regime and the army to take care of it and impose order in Sinai because that is their responsibility,” a senior Israeli defense official, Amos Gilad, said on Israel Radio on Wednesday.

Troops also entered al-Toumah village, 15 miles to the south, acting on information that militants were staying there, army commanders in Sinai told Reuters. One said 20 militants were killed. A villager said he saw helicopters chasing vehicles out of al-Toumah and heard rocket fire.

Mubarak’s government worked closely with Israel to secure the frontier region until he was toppled 18 months ago.

Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said the situation would now force Morsi’s administration to deepen contacts with Israel over security, a step he had hoped to avoid, and restrict contacts with Hamas.

The Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said there was no evidence Gazans were involved in the latest violence.

Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in al-Arish, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Myra MacDonald and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Philippa Fletcher

Seven killed on Israel’s Egypt and Gaza borders


Militants who crossed into Israel from Egypt’s Sinai Desert fired on Israelis building a barrier on the border on Monday, killing one worker, before soldiers shot dead two of the attackers, Israel’s military said.

Israel later launched air strikes killing four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including two militants from the Islamic Jihad group on a motorcycle. Two other militants were killed while trying to fire a rocket, Israel said.

The Sinai attack, launched soon after the Muslim Brotherhood declared victory in Egypt’s presidential election, raised Israeli concerns about lawlessness in the area since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak last year.

“We can see a disturbing deterioration in Egypt’s control of the Sinai’s security,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, commenting on the attack.

“We are waiting for the election results. Whoever wins, we expect him to take responsibility over all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the (1979) peace treaty with Israel and security arrangements in the Sinai, and to put an end to these attacks swiftly,” he told reporters.

Three gunmen crossed into Israel from the Sinai Desert, the Israeli military said.

“A terrorist squad opened fire and possibly also fired an anti-tank rocket at an area where (Israel) is constructing the border fence,” spokesman Yoav Mordechai said.

Soldiers who rushed to the scene killed two of the militants but could not find the third, who may have returned to Egypt, the military said.

A military source said the dead worker was an Arab citizen of Israel. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place about 30 km (18 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

Israel is building a fence along the frontier to curb an influx of African migrants and boost security, and hopes to complete it by the end of the year. It will run along most of the 266 km (165 miles) from Eilat, on the Red Sea, to the Gaza Strip.

In August last year, militants crossed over the Egyptian border and killed eight Israelis, in the most serious attack in the area since the Egyptian popular uprising.

On Saturday, at least two rockets were fired deep into southern Israel, causing no damage or casualties. It was not clear whether they had been launched from Sinai.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, have launched rockets at Israel from the coastal territory in the past. Israel says Palestinian militants have also crossed into Sinai to launch similar attacks.

Late on Sunday, Israeli aircraft carried out a series of strikes in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the enclave. Medical sources in Gaza said seven people were wounded.

Additional reporting by Saleh Salem in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Senior Hamas leader arrested in West Bank


Israel arrested a senior Hamas leader just two months after releasing him from prison.

Hassan Yousef and his son were arrested Tuesday morning at their home in the West Bank.

Yousef, a Hamas founder, recently completed a six-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges.

He was one of the Palestinian leaders who greeted the Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit as they crossed from Israeli custody into the West Bank.

He is well known as the father of Mosab Hassan Yousef, who became an informant for Israel’s Mossad during the second Intifada and wrote a book about his experiences, called “Son of Hamas.”

Israel police arrest Hamas lawmaker in East Jerusalem


Israeli police arrested a Hamas lawmaker on Monday who had been sheltering for more than a year in the International Red Cross (ICRC) offices in East Jerusalem, a police spokesman said.

Ahmad Attoun had taken shelter in the ICRC building along with another Hamas legislator and a former Hamas government minister after Israeli authorities revoked their Jerusalem residency permits.

Along with the United States and the European Union, it considers the Islamist Hamas movement a terrorist group, and acted to expel the men for being members of it.

The police spokesman and a security guard at the ICRC building said paramilitary police disguised as Palestinians had grabbed Attoun at the entrance to the offices and arrested him.

He was taken into custody a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mentioned the men’s case in a speech on his return to the occupied West Bank from the United Nations, where he applied for recognition of full Palestinian statehood.

The other two Hamas men remained inside the ICRC building.

In the speech, Abbas accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” that included “decisions to expel elected representatives” from Jerusalem.

In a statement issued in June 2010, after Israel ordered them to leave Jerusalem, the three Hamas men wrote: “We as sons of Jerusalem have never left it before … we emphasise that we will remain here and never leave it.”

Hamas, locked in a bitter rivalry with Abbas’s Fatah movement, won a Palestinian legislative election in 2006. Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a unity government with Fatah collapsed into bloodshed.

The ICRC has said it told Israeli authorities that international humanitarian law prohibited the forcible transfer of Palestinian residents from their homes, for whatever reason.

The organisation also said it had informed the three Hamas members that ICRC premises had no special status and the ICRC could not prevent police entering the building to arrest them.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Ex-JDL member urges faith without fanaticism


Brad Hirschfield was a member of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), the militant organization bent on fighting anti-Semitism. He spent time with JDL leader Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Israeli political party was banned for racism and who was assassinated in 1990. By the time Hirschfield was 18 and studying at yeshiva in Israel, he was entrenched with the Gush Emunim in Hebron — Israelis intent on establishing settlements in the midst of the Palestinian population. There, Hirschfield found the passion and Zionist commitment he’d craved during his childhood in Chicago, where he became Orthodox on his own, despite his Conservative Jewish family.

But after a few years, when some settlers killed Palestinian children in retaliation for violence, it all fell apart.

“I was stunned by their deaths,” he wrote more than two decades later in his memoir, “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism” (Harmony Books, Random House, 2007). “When I sought the advice of one of their settlement leaders, he said, ‘Yes, this is a problem, but it is not a fundamental problem.’ That was when I knew something horrible had happened.

Staying in Hebron was destroying the very things that brought us there: the desire to take back power and walk the land our ancestors had. These are good things. But even the best things have limits. A lesson that I learned in Hebron was that the best things can become the most seductive — and deadly.”

The book is not called “Confessions of a Former Fanatic,” although that is what one publisher wanted — a memoir about leaving the extremist life. But that notion did not appeal to Hirschfield, who is now a rabbi and president of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

The book is not a confessional tell-all — his life as an extremist and the fallout from that is discussed in snippets, as asides. In fact, it was a different extreme event that made him decide to write the book: Sept. 11.

“After 9/11 I felt that I wanted to explain the religious impulse at its most extreme, to dig into the anatomy of fanaticism, really to probe the destructive tendencies that are part of all religions,” he wrote. “After years of simply avoiding any real examination of that part of my life, it was time to come clean and share my journey into and out of fierce faith precisely because, unlike most people who make that journey, it had left me still in love with what I left behind.”

Which is why Hirschfield’s not looking to fan the flames of extremism, hate and finger-pointing. He’s looking to bring the heat down a notch, with a prescription for how people on all sides of every argument can learn to hear each other out: “That is finally what I want this book to be: a guide to our common humanity and a source of strength and stamina and hope.”

“Look, there is a way to be passionate and proud of who you are and still embrace who others may be, even when it disagrees with who they are: that’s what this is about,” Hirschfield said in an interview from The Jewish Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard, where he was about to give a lecture on the subject to different agency workers.

Federation members are also guilty of the them-and-us syndrome, he said, regarding people as insiders and outsiders.

“We spend money on studying ‘Are they coming in’ and not, ‘What do they need?'” Outsiders, he said, “don’t understand that without the institutions there is no community.”

But his book is not about addressing problems in institutional Jewish life — or Jewish life specifically. Belief.net has listed the book on its Christian site, and Hirschfield gives talks to Christian groups as well. It’s not even just about religion.

“This is about liberals and Conservatives and Republicans and Democrats,” he said, adding that tt’s about relationships of all sorts, from marital relations to global politics.

“The real issue is not to get everyone to agree, but how do you treat people with whom you don’t agree?” he said. “That is the test of a great society. You’re not Jewish because Christians are stupid, you don’t go to your shul because God doesn’t hear everyone else’s prayers. It’s a terrible way to think. That is simply cover for not being happy where you are,” he said. “Whatever person or ideology one really opposes — I understand that they’re not all equal — but even if you give me the worst one, there’s no way to teach someone what you most believe if you don’t learn from what they most believe.”

But aren’t the very people who need to ascribe to this approach the very fanatics who are probably not going to?

No such thing, Hirschfield says; everyone can learn tolerance and respect. “People pick their lines,” he said. “Traditionalists wrap it up in God’s will but liberals wrap it up in decency.”

For example, while Reform and Conservative Jews accept gay marriage, “Try and be a person who is opposed to gay ordination — that’s not so easy,” he said. Or on the subject of God, “the assertion that God is nonexistent is about as absurd as someone who says, ‘Of course God exists, and I can say what he wants.'”

Hirschfield is trying to do for religion what mediation has done for conflict resolution: instead of pitting the sides against each other with lawyers in a court of law, draining the resources of both sides until someone “wins” (where both parties really may lose), mediators find common ground between two sides and get them to come to agreement.

Easier said than done. How would one go about doing this?

Letters to the Editor


Bill Boyarsky

Bill Boyarsky’s article (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18) was inaccurate and mean-spirited. He had the opportunity to dissent and speak up at the meeting of more than 400 attendees, but instead chose to vent to Journal readers who were not there and who could not fairly assess his charges.

The moderator asked if the audience thought the Los Angeles Times portrayal of Israel was biased against Israel, and the verbal and show of hands response was overwhelming. The audience was not angry with Boyarsky or David Lauter personally, but rather with their collusion with this bias.

I believe that both are out of touch with the opinion of the Los Angeles Jewish community and why so many have cancelled their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times. If this forum shed any light on the issue, it was a very important evening.

Rita Sinder
Encino

Bill Boyarsky’s column was misleading. The audience of 400 at the Women’s Alliance for Israel event responded sharply to the L.A. Times deputy foreign editor’s defense of his newspaper labeling the Hezbollah as guerillas and not terrorists. They were not “out for his scalp” but didn’t like his answers and his newspaper’s fairness to Israel. I strongly suspect that any cross-section of Jews in our town would have reacted the same way. Most Jews in Los Angeles believe the L.A. Times is unfair in its treatment of Israel.

Boyarsky is right we do need “rational discussion.” How about starting with his column? He is obviously too biased to defend his former employer.

Howard Welinsky
via e-mail

David Lauter’s brilliance and soft-spoken nature has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that many people are obviously concerned about the Los Angeles Times. I know David and have always liked him. That doesn’t make the L.A. Times a reasonable publication. The day before I left for Israel on the StandWithUs solidarity mission, the L.A. Times headline read: “Israel Rejects Peace.” If I were to encapsulate the problem, there it is. Who in their right mind, right or left, could have ever approved a headline like that? Unless it was meant as a provocation to both liberals and conservatives who care about Israel?

This is what the crowd of 400 people was upset about. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican who loves Israel and craves long-term peace. What matters is that staff at the L.A. Times would have approved such a headline, minimizing the distaste this would cause to the L.A. pro-Israel community. I’m sorry if the crowd was impatient and “unreasonable.”

But the L.A. Times staff needs to be realistic. If they continue to frequently depict Israel as the side provoking war and not interested in peace, Israel as the strong side that pits war machines against children and women, they should likely expect unreasonable audiences who are hurt and fed up with one-sided reporting. In that case, if I were David Lauter, sitting on a panel defending or explaining the L.A. Times, I would “know my audience” and not be surprised at their predictably pent up concern.

Roz Rothstein
National Director
StandWithUs

Who cares if Lauter wore a yarmulke? Indeed all the more reason to wonder why he has no historical perspective, no understanding that Israel faces an existential crisis today and that “if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it.”

Although the Los Angeles Times has been accused repeatedly of anti-Israel bias and irresponsible reporting, there was no debate or disagreement from Boyarsky as a panelist — of the kind he expected from the audience.

Perhaps the audience might have sat politely — lending a false impression of agreement rather than exercising the same right of free speech and dissent that Boyarsky claims for the Times. If we do not forcefully confront the prejudices and distortions that underlie the anti-Israel bias in today’s media, our very values of compassion, tolerance and even- handedness could be our undoing.

Sadly, the Los Angeles Times and its representatives to not seem to understand this.

Rosalie Zalis
via e-mail

I was at the event that Bill Boyarsky and David Lauter spoke for the Woman’s Alliance for Israel Program (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18). However, Boyarsky is incorrect in his assumptions about us going after Lauter’s scalp.

We wanted much more from Lauter. We wanted an explanation on why the Los Angeles Times has difficulty in using the word terrorist, instead of “militant.” Instead of giving us a logical answer, he bored us with his explanation of the “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” jive, and that the L.A. Times assumes that its readers can discern the difference.

We booed because we are not the radical “right-wing” DEBKA readers, as Boyarsky implied. This was a slap in the face to any Republicans that were in the audience. We booed because we are not stupid. We expected an intellectual dialogue, but we were hit with criticisms of the Bush regime, a “not my president” attitude, and the moral explanation that because reporters put themselves in the line of fire they do a good job.

Well, my son is in the army in Israel; he puts himself in the line of fire, and he has no problems distinguishing between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. And to top it off, to make comments about FOX — the one channel that does not make excuses for suicide bombers — and assume this as our only source of information was a slap in the face to the many activists who work hard daily, educating, discussing, working and fighting for Israel. I am one of those people who was insulted by the attacks on the right, the convoluted answers and the lack of respect that Boyarsky gave us that night and in his column.

This is the reason why I find the L.A. Times irrelevant in their reporting. They refuse to listen to more than 400 subscribers and former subscribers, and the stats on their readership should be a wake-up call, not an excuse to use their political bias to win arguments.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director, American Jewish Congress
Western RegionSanta Monica

Bill Boyarsky exposes why the Israel Women’s Alliance audience was so disturbed by LA Times deputy foreign affairs editor David Lauter. We wanted substantive discussion about bias and questionable sources and editorial choices at the Times. But Boyarsky asserts that the Times is so balanced, this question isn’t even debatable. He attacks the audience for daring to raise the issue and for being dismayed by Lauter. who avoided it by prattling on about the logistics of getting reporters to Lebanon and by giving such convoluted, unconvincing answers to informed questions that the audience audibly sighed. Boyarsky and Lauter exhibited “boorishness” and “narrow-mindedness” and cut off rational discussion, not the audience. Boyarsky’s response can only heighten concerns about journalistic standards.

These are grave times. Israel and Jews face a dangerous media propaganda war fed by Arab media, sources and photojournalists. This is not the time for the journalistic establishment to circle the wagons and defend their own and their egos.

They should be engaged in serious self-examination to see if they meet their own standards or are part of the problem. Judging from Boyarsky’s response, they would rather demean and silence the messenger than rationally and openly consider the validity of the message. Unfortunately, that means they are part of the problem.

Roberta P. Seid
Santa Monica

Dems and Don’ts

Why is Rob Eshman surprised at poll findings that find Republicans more consistently pro-Israel than Democrats by 20 points (“Dems and Don’ts,” Aug. 18)? Where have you been, Rob?

Eshman’s solution to the current schism is to disengage support of Israel from support of the [Bush] administration, so as to rise above “politics.” In other words, show appreciation for the policies of the administration by withholding our support, while maintaining our support for those who increasingly oppose our interests. Oh, that makes sense.

I have a better idea: realign with political parties who support Israel.

Sam Shmikler
Santa Clarita

Rob Eshman is correct that we must make arguments that appeal to decent liberals; to do this we must revamp the case we make for Israel.

Our first priority should be making it clear that Zionism is justifiable (establish why analogies between Palestinians and Native Americans are obscene). This would certainly entail going after textbooks.

Secondly, we need to follow Joe Hicks (Chipping Away at Israel Support Endangers U.S.,” Aug. 18) and make it known to everyone that Israel is the victim of absurdly disproportional criticism; disproportionate criticism is hate, should become Israel’s slogan.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

I respect Rob Eshman a great deal, and his column demonstrates that the pro-Israel community has done a poor job of reaching out to progressive-leaning groups, which should be naturally allied with our goals. However, many of the assumptions made in the articles were wrong.

Despite some wonderful lip service by Republicans, the GOP has shown a lack of spine in putting their money where their mouth is on Israel.

It was Republican congressional leaders who pushed Israel to accept the phased-out elimination of all economic aid to Israel, and attempted to cut military aid to Israel in 2004 before being beaten back by Democratic votes.

Further, in 2006 it was Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) who held up the Senate Resolution condemning Hezbollah and Iran because he was more concerned about Iraqi opinion than our friendship with Israel. 44 of 45 Senate Democrats sponsored that resolution, but only 19 Senate Republicans dared to put their names on the line for Israel. Anti-Israel Republicans like Sen. Sununu (R-N.H.), Sen. Enzi (R-Wyo.), U.S. Rep. Issa (R-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Paul (R-Texas) are conveniently overlooked in the Republican argument.

Even in the Connecticut Senate race, the truth is that the Lieberman/Lamont race actually shows that the Democratic Party’s support for Israel is both wide and deep and provides a “win-win” for Pro-Israel activists.

Lieberman, the sole Orthodox Jew in the United States Senate, is a tireless supporter of Israel. Some believe that Jews such as Lieberman, because of their Jewish heritage, have a special connection to Israel and the issues facing our community.

However, reviewing Ned Lamont’s Web site, Lamont demonstrates a similar strong support for Israel and the right of Israel to defend itself, stating.

Andrew Lachman
President
Democrats for Israel Los Angeles

In his column, it appears that Rob Eshman sees the problem, notes the dissonance, wishes it were different, but offers no deeper analysis of the problem. I urge him to think about this freshly and more deeply, not just urge liberal Dems in Hollywood to speak up. It’s their worldview that is holding them back. Eshman needs to understand and impact that to have any effect.

David Schechter
via e-mail

Miles on Israel

The cover story from Aug. 4 (“Is Lebanon Israel’s Iraq?”) was far too negative, especially since it was not even logical or accurate. The mordantly leftward slant of The Journal has made it insufferably unpleasant to read. There is something even treacherous in the miserable, compulsive pessimism of the “analysis” of Jack Miles’ opinion piece (masquerading as definitive analysis) and of The Jewish Journal’s view of the war in general. Frankly, I think The Journal needs a new editor if this self-pitying can’t be brought under control.

Jarrow L. Rogovin
via e-mail

Republican Jewish Coalition Ad

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) stoops to a new low by implying that members of the Democratic Party are anti-Israel because Joe Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic Primary in Connecticut (Aug. 18).First, Joe Lieberman was not silenced he can still speak out for Israel, as I am sure he will. Second, the man who defeated him, Ned Lamont, is a strong supporter of Israel.

I recommend the RJC convince their representatives in the Congress to support pro Israel programs not just mouth support. For example improving automobile gas mileage would significantly reduce the dollars that Iran and other Israel foes get and use to fund the terrorists including Hezbollah.

The RJC should support programs that help Israel, and eliminate programs and actions that have resulted and continue to result in recruitment of terrorists.

Henry J. Pinczower
Los Angeles

The ad on your inside cover from The Republican Jewish Coalition disgusts me (Aug. 18). Joe Lieberman was not defeated because of his support for Israel, but because of his continuing support of the most incompetent and corrupt president in the history of the United States.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party supported Lieberman. It was the voting public, fed up with the disastrous war in Iraq and Lieberman’s blind support for it, that led to his defeat.

The “radical left” has hardly taken over the Democratic Party, and Cindy Sheehan is not a spokesperson for party policy.

No Democratic president would stand by and allow Hezbollah rockets to rain down on Haifa. Nor would they have started a war with Iraq that has ended up strengthening Iran and weakening both the United States and Israel.

Finally, it is the Republican Party that envisions the United States as a Christian theocracy. I cannot understand how any Jew could proudly align themselves with these people.

Barry Wendell
North Hollywood

Israel

I read Michael Aronoff’s letter and assumed he was referring to me, among others, as one who engaged in “fury against an apostate.. [and who]…lives in a fantasy world” regarding Israel’s enemies.

I have been to Israel nearly 50 times, have spent time teaching and consulting there, serving on Jewish Agency committees, heading the North American committee on aliyah, etc. I also met with Palestinian leaders over the years, including Arafat three times. I was and continue to be a life-long Zionist. I have absolutely no delusions that enemies such as Hamas and Hezbollah and their backers are serious about wanting to destroy the state of Israel.

Bill Boyarsky pointed out sadly in his column about the behavior of those attending the Women’s Alliance for Israel meeting in last week’s issue. The two matters are conjoined. Rational discussion and open-ness to information explaining the complexities related to Middle East matters should be on everyone’s agenda here.

Israel must be kept strong under all circumstances. I have confidence in its ability to defend itself and believe whatever the rhetoric of Israel’s enemies, Israel’s continuity depends on its strength and not the wishes and intentions of its enemies.

Peace Now in Israel has been in the forefront in supporting the state of Israel, serving and fighting in its army ,while continuing to criticize, where appropriate, the behavior and policies of its governments, regardless of the party in power. Most of today’s conventional positions, including discussion and acceptance of a two state solution, began with Peace Now.

The fighting in Israel has ceased for now. What all sides need are opportunities to find moderates and rational thinkers who will continue to concentrate on the long-time festering issues which ca n never be solved on the battlefield. Open discussions, explorations of options, confronting Israel’s mistakes in dealing with its own Israel Arab citizens, cooperation with friendly Arab countries, affecting world public opinion are but some of the issues facing Jews world-wide and the State itself. Yes, Israel lives in a bad neighborhood. But it is also true that the radicals remain a small, if powerful voice and influence in the Middle East. Eventually political discussions with the enemy remains the only path for insuring peace. Easy? NO. Necessary? Absolutely.

If this is a fantasy world, then God help us all, for Israel with its ^ million Jews in a sea of a billion or more Muslims, is doomed to eternal wars.

Citizens of Israel are more realistic about these matters than many of us seem to be. I. These discussions are an imperative here and in Israel, now more than ever. I remain firm in my support of our beloved Israel but even more committed to help in some small way to finding those paths which will better serve Israel’s future than another century of warfare.

Gerald Bubis
Los Angeles

Corrections

An article on Carvel ice cream shops in the Aug. 11 issue misspelled the name of the owner of the Carvel outlet at 11037 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles, near the San Diego Freeway. The owner is Stephen Winick. The article also misidentified the opening date of the store, it was September 2005, not December.

Connections

If you have any information about Ferramonti, the concentration camp in Southern Italy, please call (888) 388-0444 or e-mail ferramonti@sbcglobal.net.

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

Why Some Jews Hate the L.A. Times


On April 1, Los Angeles County children’s social worker Jules Weingart sent the Los Angeles Times a letter protesting its predilection for calling Palestinian suicide-bombers "militants." As a courtesy, Weingart attached a list of normative definitions of the terms "militant," "terrorism," "terror" and "extremist."

On April 18, Weingart received a response from Times Readers Representative Jamie Gold. "The word terrorist is not applied to combatants in Israel," Gold informed Weingart on behalf of the newspaper, "because it is considered a politically loaded word."

That this is some perverse form of political correctness, few can doubt. But as Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has asked repeatedly over the last year, "Political correctness for whom — suicide-bombers?"

Foreign Editor Simon Li, meanwhile, sent an automated e-mail message to Weingart, indicating that he was out of the office until April 22. Li, who has long attracted resentment for what many perceive as his imperious stance toward critics of the Times’ coverage of Israel, concluded his e-mail with: "And if it’s a complaint about our alleged anti-Israel bias, thank you, but I’ve received so many, that mere repetition only serves to dilute the impact of your protest."

The Times announced on Tuesday that Li was stepping down as foreign editor to be replaced by former Mideast correspondent Marjorie Miller.

Even so, given such a history of editorial policy, is it any wonder that the local Jewish community sometimes finds itself skating perilously close to hysteria when it comes to the Times?

In recent weeks, the Times has been the target of several distinct readership revolts. In mid-April, the grass-roots group StandWithUs organized a 10-day boycott on home subscriptions. It was an attempt to get the paper’s attention without actually abandoning it, said a founding member, who for fear of retribution asked to be called Ruth.

"We loved the Times," Ruth said, "and we want to love it again. But when the only two reporters in the region charged with covering Israel deliver a pro-Palestinian spin day after day after day — I don’t need the Times. I can get Al Jazeera instead."

Concurrently, several local synagogues, including Beth Jacob, Stephen S. Wise and Valley Beth Shalom, urged a more modest one-day delivery stoppage on Israel’s Independence Day, April 17.

A cursory review of Internet discussion groups reveals a pervasive belief that there is a direct link between this tame and limited expression of disquiet and the Times’ failure to report on the community’s celebration of Israeli Independence Day, one of the largest ethnic gatherings of the year.

The Times’ editorial department told irate members of the community through a reader’s representative that (a) the assignment to cover the festival had gone to the international desk, which decided that since the event was receiving coverage in Israel, there was no reason to do so here; (b) that the one reporter it reserved for such events had attended a memorial for Daniel Pearl (less than a mile away) instead; and (c) the e-mail flagging the Independence Day ceremonies had disappeared.

In a letter to reader Michael Zarrabian, who complained about the dearth of coverage, the Times’ Gold wrote: "In any other year, for almost any other country celebrating its independence here in L.A., I could tell you that the answer would be that the paper cannot possibly cover all of these celebratory events that take place on any given weekend in the five counties that the Los Angeles Times serves. However, given the circumstances in the world today, that editorial decision to not cover this seems questionable."

However, the damage was done. Large numbers of Jewish subscribers from across the domestic and Israeli political spectrum have cancelled their subscriptions. On April 18, two days before the conclusion of the StandWithUs boycott, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel’s "The O’Reilly Factor" announced that 1,000 people had stopped delivery of the paper. According to StandWithUs, however, an internal document recently spirited out of the Times’ headquarters and into the hands of a competing newspaper reported that number of cancellations climbed to more than 6,000 last week alone. The Times would not confirm that number.

Times Senior Editor David Lauter defended his paper’s record April 28 at Temple Beth Am. The event, sponsored by the temple’s Brotherhood, drew a capacity crowd of about 100 . Several audience members waved clippings of offending articles at Lauter, demanding explanations. (For Lauter’s defense, see p. 7. )

Jewish communities in Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston and New York have registered grievances against their papers’ coverage of the Middle East. The protests were notable for the fact that the protesters came from across the political spectrum. In Los Angeles, concern for Israel and dislike of the Times has united Jews over the past months as few issues have.

Mention the Los Angeles Times to attorney Eric Menyuk, 42, of Agoura Hills, for example, and he vents his anger: "Their hypocrisy is almost beyond belief," he said, "and I’m a lawyer. If we are supposed to tolerate the killing of innocents in Kabul because we’re going after the Taliban — if the Times has no trouble calling Al Qaeda terrorists — then why do they make excuses for Palestinians, who dressed as Israeli soldiers go door-to-door shooting 5-year-olds?"

Sandy Beim, a member of Valley Beth Shalom who is active on the Valley congregation’s computer discussion board, said she did not cancel her subscription to the Times. However, she does have some sense that the community’s unhappiness may have registered with the paper.

"The layout of headlines and photos, especially on the front page, seems so much more even-handed then was the situation as recently as one week ago," she said. "If this is the product of boycotts or a general shift in reporting, I do not know. There is the probability that the boycott and threat of further and enlargement of this boycott movement contributed to this ‘new’ L.A. Times editing policy."

Mainstream community leaders said they sympathize with public dissatisfaction with the Times, but said a boycott is only one way of expressing dissatisfaction. "There are other ways," said Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel, noting that people should write letters to the editor about errors or misreporting. Over the years, Fishel said they have met with the editorial board to discuss the community’s concerns, and they are trying to set up another meeting soon.

Other community members suspect the efficacy of boycotts. "About a year ago, there was an attempt to boycott Radio Station KABC in an attempt to get conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder off the air," said boycott sympathizer Barry Lowenkron. "That didn’t work either."