In Paris, ‘Tel Aviv on Seine’ goes ahead under heavy security


Hundreds of police deployed in the heart of Paris on Thursday to monitor a celebration of Tel Aviv and a nearby rally against it staged by pro-Gaza demonstrators during a beach festival on the banks of the Seine river.

Paris' decision to fete the Israeli city as “Tel Aviv on Seine” for a day sparked a spat online and among politicians in a country where, with Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities, sensitivities to Middle East conflict run high.

For its supporters, the official event was about dialogue between cultures and celebrating famously freewheeling Tel Aviv.

Critics branded the beach celebration “indecent” after the death of a Palestinian baby in an arson attack in the West Bank at the end of July. A year ago, Israeli forces devastated parts of the Gaza Strip during a two-month war with Palestinian Hamas militants who rule the territory.

But both the Tel Aviv and Gaza events, which were set to run until 10 p.m. (2000 GMT), unfolded largely peacefully to the sound of DJs and beach ping-pong. What was meant to be a festive event, however, was largely about geopolitics, with visitors saying they were there with a message.

“I want to show that I won't be told what to do,” said Odile Gaudin, who came with her daughter. She was referring to calls by some left-wing French politicians for the Tel Aviv event to be cancelled or boycotted.

“I am really sorry that today in Paris we can't do an event that promotes the culture of Tel Aviv without it causing such a harsh and violent controversy,” said Nicolas Woloszko, the treasurer of Jewish students union UEJF.

A few metres (yards) away, on another small sandy stretch of the riverbank, pro-Palestinian activists sporting “Free Palestine” or “Boycott Israel” T-shirts staged a rival “Gaza on Seine” gathering.

“This (Tel Aviv on Seine festival) is part of Israeli propaganda to try and show an Israel that is different from the bombs, soldiers, checkpoints,” said Nicolas Shahshahani, vice-president of the CAPJPO EuroPalestine Association.

About 100 demonstrators later assembled in the street above Paris' urban beach, chanting “Gaza, Gaza, Paris is with you”.

There was a brief scuffle when police pushed aside some demonstrators who sat down on the road to block traffic.

Karnit Flug, first female Bank of Israel chief, eyeing economic inequality


Andromeda Hill is a beachfront complex of luxury apartments connected by tree-lined pathways that features such amenities as a spa and business center. Five minutes down the road is Ajami, a low-income neighborhood profiled in the 2009 film of the same name that remains one of this city’s poorer districts.

Such gaps in income have been of mounting concern to Israelis and are high on the agenda of Karnit Flug, the newly appointed governor of the Bank of Israel and the first woman to hold the post.

In two recent presentations, Flug has drawn attention to income inequality in Israel and its potentially adverse impact on social cohesion.

“Our ability to continue existing as a society that is both multifaceted and socially cohesive depends, among other things, on how employment develops in Arab society in the next few years,” Flug said at a government conference on Israel’s minorities last month. “If we know how to maximize the potential for increased growth and how to reduce the gaps, we will all — Jews and Arabs — be able to enjoy the fruits of this process.”

The Occupy protests that swept the world in 2011, decrying the exploitation of the “99 percent,” demonstrated that Israel is not alone among developed countries in facing large inequities in wealth distribution. But among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Israel ranked 30th in terms of wealth inequality.

A 2011 report from the OECD found that in 2008, Israel’s top 10 percent of earners earned 13 times more than the bottom tenth. The report recommended “creating more and better jobs that offer good career prospects and a real chance for people to escape poverty.”

Flug agrees. Israel’s high income inequality, she says, is a function of low educational attainment and high unemployment among Israel’s poorest communities — Arabs and haredi Orthodox Jews. The explosion of Israel’s high-tech sector in the mid-1980s created many jobs for highly educated employees but left behind the poor and unskilled.

“Inequality in disposable income distribution rose until 2006 before stabilizing at a very high level,” Flug said last week in a presentation at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.

Growing the job market while maintaining a social safety net have been twin goals for Flug, who holds a doctorate in economics from Columbia University. After a four-year stint at the International Monetary Fund, Flug joined the Bank of Israel in 1988 and became its deputy governor in 2011, serving under the well-regarded Stanley Fischer, who departed earlier this year.

After a lengthy selection process in which Flug was passed over multiple times, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed her to the bank’s top post in October.

Flug has served on government committees on the defense budget, market competitiveness and the National Insurance Institute. She also served on the Trajtenberg Committee, which was tasked with formulating a response to widespread protests in 2011 over the rising cost of living.

The protests were partly a reaction to nearly a decade of privatization and cuts in public benefits. Founded on socialist values, Israel in its early years had a strong safety net and lionized the collectivist ideals of the kibbutz movement. But in the mid-1980s, Israel began to embrace free-market policies and privatize key state-owned companies. The outbreak of the second intifada by the Palestinians led to an economic crisis that prompted the government to cut entitlement spending.

The 2011 demonstrations called on the government to restore the safety net. In its report, the Trajtenberg Committee recommended various measures, including raising the capital gains tax, increasing government aid for housing and free early childhood education.

In her presentation at the Taub Center, Flug recommended against direct government transfer payments to poor citizens, but she is in favor of Israel’s negative income tax, which provides a tax credit to low wage earners. Flug believes the measure incentivizes work.

As governor, Flug’s ability to implement such policies is limited. Like the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, the Bank of Israel’s function is to set the country’s monetary policy. Taxes, subsidies and incentives for job creation are determined by the Israeli government.

But Flug could still have an impact. Jack Habib, director of the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, a think tank that researches poverty in Israel, said Flug could advocate for reforms that bolster Israel’s minorities.

“There’s a lot more attention paid to social issues, social inequality, poverty and disadvantaged groups,” Habib said. The Bank of Israel plays “an important role in putting these issues on the agenda of the government.”

Let’s be Brazil


I have outrage envy.

For nearly two weeks, more than a million citizens across Brazil have taken to the streets to protest political corruption, economic injustice, poor health care, inadequate schools, lousy mass transit, a crumbling infrastructure and — yes, “>massive demonstrations have “>income inequality, ranking 121st out of 133 countries.  But the U.S. ranks 80th, just below Sri Lanka, Mauritania and Nicaragua.

Wealth distribution.  There are only six countries in the world whose “>growth in student achievement in math, reading and science in Brazil is 4 percent of a standard deviation.  But U.S. educational achievement is growing at less than half that rate: 1.6 percent, just below Iran.

Corruption.  Brazil ranks 121 in “>U.S. ranks 25th – below most other advanced industrial countries and even behind some developing nations, like Oman and Barbados.

Health care.  Brazil’s health care system ranks 125th out of 190 countries.  But the U.S., jingoistic rhetoric notwithstanding, is only 38th.  Among our peer nations – wealthy democracies – “>least progressive in the industrial world.  The most massive transfer of wealth in history, plus a cult of fiscal austerity, is destroying our middle class.  Tuition is increasingly unaffordable, and retirement is increasingly unavailable. The banks that stole trillions of dollars of Americans’ worth have not only gone unpunished; they’re still at it.

For a moment, it looked like the Occupy movement might change some of that.  It’s striking how closely the complaints within Brazil about their protesters are already tracking the criticism of Occupy made in the U.S.:  The only thing keeping them going is the police’s overreaction.  They have too many demands.  Their demands are “>They’re violent. They’re vandals, delinquents, drunks, druggies, terrorists. 

Here at home, those charges, and the advent of cold weather, proved fatal.  So oligarchs rock, plutocrats roll and Occupy rolled over.  Today, with both political parties hooked on special interest money, with demagogues given veto power and media power, hope feels naïve.  You’d have to have just fallen off the turnip truck to look at our corrupt and dysfunctional government and believe that we are the change we’ve been waiting for.

That learned helplessness is what democracy’s vampires drink.  Wouldn’t it be sweet if Brazil’s protest movement turned out to be the garlic we’ve been waiting for?


Marty Kaplan is the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com

Opinion: The end is nigh. Seriously.


In countless cartoons, there’s a guy in a robe and long beard who’s walking around carrying a sign saying The End Is Nigh. The joke is that he’s ridiculous – some loony who takes the Book of Revelation literally.  But what if the joke’s on us?

The June 6 issue of the leading scientific journal Nature contains a ” target=”_hplink”>already happened.  It will be irreversible, “a planetary-scale critical transition” whose consequences may include mass extinctions and “drastic changes in species distributions, abundances and diversity.” 

Its consequences could be as catastrophic as an asteroid hitting the Earth.  But unlike asteroids, volcanoes, plate tectonics and other suspected culprits in the prior Great Extinctions, the cause of this tipping point is people.

There are 7 billion of us now; there will be over 9 billion when today’s toddlers start having kids.  To support that population, we’ve cleared more than 40 percent of the planet’s surface for agriculture and urban development, and that will hit 50 percent by 2050.  Add to that the fossil fuels we’re burning, and the resulting carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into the atmosphere is acidifying the oceans, melting the ice caps, messing with the climate and heading us toward “widespread social unrest, economic instability and the loss of human life.”

So what do we do with news that bad?

The right’s response has been denial – a ” target=”_hplink”>bad news head on.  What if the specter of a global tipping point, an irreversible environmental catastrophe, grabbed our attention as powerfully as the prospect of extinction grips the people of Earth in space invasion movies?  We’d do everything we could to stop it, right?

In the U.S., the scale of action required to prevent such a state shift in our planet’s biosphere can only be attempted by our political system. 

Uh-oh.

Special interests own Congress.  The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision holding corporations to be people, together with the demise of campaign finance laws, puts plutocrats first.  Big media, while raking in billions from political ads, is holding audiences riveted to spectacles instead of holding candidates accountable for lying.  If you think a re-elected Barack Obama could get a decent energy policy passed by the next Congress, you haven’t been counting the Koch brothers’ money or ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Letters to the Editor: Occupy, Iran, Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish


Why Occupy?

Rob Eshman is to be commended for raising the issue of the Occupy movement (“Occupy Ideas,” May 11). A Lexis/Nexis search reveals that media reports about income inequality “skyrocketed to 1,269 stories” in October 2011 from 409 stories before the Occupy movement occupied public spaces, according to Occidental politics professor Peter Dreier. Today such stories are few and far between.

The endorsement of the May 1 action by Occupy Los Angeles was intended to raise awareness among the general public that trade unions have always been the engine for creating and maintaining a middle class. That a few demonstrators went to Prada or that they would not be interested in the 1 percent who were attending the “Land of Milken Money” conference is irrelevant. The Occupy movement has shown repeatedly its support for labor and its recognition that labor unions — though representing a diminishing percentage of U.S. workers — set a standard for living-wage jobs, working conditions and benefits that impact the larger workforce.

We do concur that stable communities require a middle class and with Mr. Eshman’s statement that “our political class, of all stripes, seems incapable of acting on it.” Precisely: That is why ordinary people created the Occupy movement, which works with those losing their homes to foreclosure, those who are homeless, the medically indigent and others reduced to desperate need.  

Julie Levine
Topanga

Gene Rothman
Culver City


Iran Can’t Be Trusted

Iran’s leaders are adherents of a religious ideology that believes Jews must be wiped out (“Can Israel Live With a Nuclear Iran?” May 11). Professor Pillar should check the Koran to corroborate this religious imperative. It is also an ideology that justifies the oppression of women, the requirement for any Muslim who changes religion to be executed and the nullification of any national history that relates to other beliefs. How can anyone suggest that logic, as we know it and as Professor Pillar teaches it, prevails? Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran, once claimed that a single nuke would destroy Israel and that Iran would live on even if Israel launched nukes in a dying retaliation.

No sensible person can trust Iran to act rationally. Accordingly, Israel is absolutely correct to state that it cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran and is justified in taking this position. How a professor of security studies can deny this casts some doubts about his motives or his knowledge of the ayatollahs’ culture.

Larry Shapiro
Rancho Mirage
He of Little Faith


Interpretive History

I regularly read Marty Kaplan’s opinions, but this particular essay was so right on the money that I don’t know if I want to scream or throw in the towel (“Don’t Know Much About History,” May 11). Distilling history and collective memory into a narrative that is all too easily manipulated to suit one’s political goals is possible, in part by the evisceration of our public education system and the emergence of biased media. The flood of corporate money is only icing on the cake that we have already baked. I no longer believe that anyone in Washington or [Sacramento] works on behalf of the citizenry. When we all lose faith, what remains?

Rudy Mikula Jr.
via e-mail


Balancing Left and Right

You recently have been printing letters bashing Dennis Prager on a regular basis. What about printing letters criticizing some of your left-wing contributors, like Raphael Sonenshein, who thinks Republicans should be taking advice from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who left office in California in a cloak of scandal (“Advice From the Governator,” May 11)? It’s obvious that your publication is hopelessly left wing.

Chuck Colton
Los Angeles

It seems that Raphael J. Sonenshein and our former governor, in their zeal to preach on the need for Republican candidates to move to the center, forgot about our most recent statewide election in 2010. Two eminently qualified business-oriented centrist Republicans with records of real accomplishment who could have actually helped the state, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, ran against entrenched lifelong politicians with not much of a record to run on. One was known as Gov. Moonbeam in his last attempt at the office, while Sen. Barbara Boxer has an almost-perfect 24-year record of being undistinguished. Yet neither race was even close.

Perhaps in his next article, Sonenshein could give us some insight into how the State of Texas, with no income tax at all, is running circles around California.

Avi Peretz
via e-mail


Free Screening Worth Its Price?

I went to a free advance screening of “Romeo & Juliet in Yiddish” (“A Love-Hate Relationship,” May 11). It was too expensive.

Edward Petlak
Los Angeles

American activist’s parents ask Israeli Supreme Court to reopen case


The parents of American activist Tristan Anderson, who was injured during a West Bank protest, have asked Israel’s Supreme Court to reopen the case against Israeli border police.

Anderson’s parents on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to reopen the case, saying that not all of the security forces that were present at the protest were properly investigated, according to Haaretz. The request comes on the third anniversary of Anderson’s injury.

The Justice Ministry had decided that there was no criminal intent on the part of Israel security forces in Anderson’s injury.

Anderson, 38, of Oakland, Calif., was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and went into a coma during a Palestinian protest against the security fence in the West Bank village of Na’alin in March 2009. He has recovered from his injuries.

Demonstrators protest weekly at certain areas along the security fence, including at Na’alin. The protests often turn violent, according to the Israeli military

Occupy Oakland was scheduled to hold a “Connecting Across Occupations” rally on Tuesday that Anderson was scheduled to attend.

The book of Maccabees, occupied


At the Dec. 5 meeting of the Los Angeles General Assembly — the utterly democratic body that acts to guide, if not exactly govern, Occupy Los Angeles — a facilitator named Chase posed the following question:

“Should we reoccupy a space? And, if so: Where, how and why — or why not?”

It was just six days after an army of 1,400 Los Angeles Police Department officers in riot gear evicted hundreds of Occupy L.A. protesters from their two-month-old encampment surrounding Los Angeles City Hall. Despite new concrete barriers topped with chain-link fence that now surround all of the formerly occupied spaces, the General Assembly, or GA, is still convening every evening at 7:30 on the City Hall grounds — a square block that protesters now call Solidarity Park.

On this day, however, thanks to the filming across the street of a movie starring Sean Penn, the protesters had to wait a full hour to gather on City Hall’s grand stairway on the west side of the building.

Some occupiers lobbied the film crew to end their shoot early, while others openly considered getting arrested by one of the dozen or so police officers on hand to keep the crowd of protesters on the sidewalk. A few occupiers also discussed the possibility of moving the GA to another location for one night.

“Personally, I think the GA is far more important than where it is,” protester C.J. Minster said, while acknowledging that a rule adopted by the GA in the days before the LAPD raid also would make the meeting difficult to move.

“Any change to that has to be approved by a GA,” she explained. “And if you can’t convene a GA at Solidarity Park, it’s kind of a vicious cycle.”

With the Occupy movement’s protesters in most cities across the country now forcibly removed from their encampments, the question of whether, where and how to reoccupy has taken on considerable urgency. And even though the Los Angeles protesters who attended the Dec. 5 GA probably weren’t thinking about Judah Maccabee — probably not even Minster, who was wearing a black knit kippah — perhaps they should have been.

Chanukah begins at sundown on Dec. 20, and this season it is worth remembering that Judah Maccabee — aka Judas Maccabeus — who led a small band of Jews in a successful armed revolt against the Seleucid rulers of Judea in the second century B.C.E., the act the festival of Chanukah commemorates — is one of Jewish history’s most famously successful occupiers. And the way Jews celebrate this wintertime holiday is shaped by that essential question facing the recently removed protesters — whether to reoccupy.

That isn’t the only parallel between the Maccabees of old and the occupiers of today.

Although Judah Maccabee (whose nickname Maccabeus means “the hammer”) was a freedom fighter, his battle against the Seleucids also pitted him, his brothers and their followers against fellow Jews in an internal struggle — a civil war, even — over the future directions of Judean society and Jewish practice. The Maccabees, who wanted to restore the temple to its traditional practices, fought and killed other Jews who had adopted the Hellenistic ways of the imperial overlords.

Similarly, the Occupy movement — which is, it must be said, a non-violent protest movement — pits groups of Americans with different ideas about the future direction of the country against one another. The occupiers portray the battle as one between the overwhelming majority of Americans (“the 99 percent”) and the rich and powerful of Wall Street (“the 1 percent), a division that, coincidentally, aligns with the Maccabean model, as Hellenized Jews were primarily wealthy Jerusalemites, and those fighting on the side of the Maccabees were poorer, rural Jews.

A protester is arrested as Los Angeles Police Department officers dismantle the Occupy L.A. encampment outside City Hall in Los Angeles on Nov. 30. The nearly two-month-old encampment is among the oldest and largest on the West Coast aligned with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations protesting economic inequality in the country and the excesses of the U.S. financial system.  Photo by Lucy Nicholson/AFP/Getty Images

Read closely, the story of the Maccabean revolt includes a few more unexpected parallels to the story of Occupy so far. To be sure, some of these allegorical links may take a bit more intellectual squinting than others to perceive.

Who knew, for example, that according to the second Book of Maccabees, Jews in Jerusalem and Judea first celebrated Chanukah by dwelling in booths? And weren’t those occupiers dwelling in outdoor temporary shelters, too?

I know I’m stretching somewhat: Of course, a sukkah is not a tent. And while we still remember the Maccabean armed revolt 2,000 years after it happened, it’s not yet known whether we will even be talking about the Occupy movement when Americans go to the polls next November .

Nevertheless, this comparison between historical precedent and current events presents Occupy as a movement at a crossroads, facing a choice not unlike the one the talmudic-era rabbis confronted around the first century C.E. when they created our Chanukah observances and began a process of downplaying the Maccabees’ significance.

And as other journalists already have tackled such important questions as whether Jesus would have been an occupier, or if Santa Claus should be the patron saint of the movement, why not indulge the “Maccabees as occupiers” idea, if only as an unconventional way of retelling the story of Chanukah?


Because most Chanukah stories focus on the miracle of the oil that lasted a full week longer than it should have, and not on the Maccabees’ military campaign, a quick recap of the Maccabean revolt — courtesy of the introductions to the first and second Books of Maccabees in the New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha — is probably in order:

The story begins around 175 B.C.E. The Seleucid Empire, which achieved the height of its glory and influence under Alexander the Great in 332-323 B.C.E., was slowly waning. In Judea, the Seleucid-imported Hellenistic culture, a mix of Greek and Semitic practices, divided the Jewish community, appealing to some Jews, but offending those who wanted to hold fast to their traditions.

Enter Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, who prohibited outright the central practices of Judaism — forbidding Jews from keeping the Sabbath, forcing them to eat non-kosher animals and outlawing the practice of circumcision. With the help of corrupt, Hellenizing Jewish high priests, Antiochus’ emissaries to Judea also plundered the city of Jerusalem, stole the temple’s sacred objects and profaned the altar by sacrificing a pig there.

These developments distressed the Jews who wanted to keep their traditional practices, and no one more so than a priest named Mattathias who lived in the town of Modein, outside Jerusalem. Over the next seven years, Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah, led a revolt that led to the death of Antiochus, the reclamation — or reoccupation — of the temple by Jews and the beginning of a century-long dynasty of effective independence for Judea.

Back to modern times: For just about 60 days, Occupy L.A.’s temple was City Hall Park (located just off of Temple Street, as it happens). And if democracy can be seen as the official religion of the United States, the occupiers saw themselves as publicly practicing its central rite — exercising their First Amendment-protected right to free speech. (Whether they had a right to set up a 24-hour encampment — which was initially welcomed by the City Council — is another matter.) It was also not uncommon to hear protesters accusing the American equivalent of Judean high priests — elected officials — of some type of corruption, and of looting the nation’s treasure to further enrich the “1 percent.”

For the sake of argument, let’s go one step further with this analogy of “Maccabees are to Temple-era Judaism as Occupy protesters are to American democracy.”

When Judah and his brothers recaptured the temple, they sent in …

“… blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. …” (1 Maccabees 4:42-45)

The people of Occupy L.A., a self-described leaderless movement, have pursued a similar two-pronged tactic when it comes to cleansing the American democratic process, which they see as having been defiled by unchecked corporate influence.

Some Occupy activists pursue agenda items through existing legislative channels; one speaker at a recent GA urged protesters to contact elected officials to express their opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act. In short, they haven’t discarded all aspects of American democracy — but by establishing their own representative body on the steps of City Hall, Occupy L.A. is sending a clear message: The “altar” of democracy in the City of Angels has been profaned, so we have established a new one in its place.

Clergy object to LAPD’s methods of clearing Occupy L.A.


The members of an interfaith group of clergy who ministered to Occupy Los Angeles protesters throughout the two-month occupation of the lawn around Los Angeles City Hall are objecting to what they call a distressing “level of violence and brutality” used by the 1,400 Los Angeles Police Department officers who cleared the encampment from City Hall Park in the early morning hours of Nov. 30.

“Occupiers were pushed and hit and corralled and hunted down by police in a military fashion,” the Occupy L.A. Interfaith Leaders Support Network wrote in a letter delivered to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Dec. 1.

“The mayor and police chief are patting themselves on the back because we are in Los Angeles and no one went to the hospital,” said Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, an associate professor at American Jewish University who signed the letter. 

“People were knocked over, pushed around, pushed with batons, chased down, corralled,” Cohen said, citing reports about police violence that were related to him by other members of the interfaith group who witnessed part of the police action. “It was kind of a ‘shock and awe’ operation, designed to terrorize the people that were there — and it worked. In that way, it worked.”

In addition to objecting to the tactics used against protesters by police officers, the letter from the group of priests, imams, ministers, rabbis and other faith leaders called the city’s decision to hold the 292 nonviolent protesters arrested on Nov. 30 in jail on $5,000 bail “unacceptable.”

The Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy established a presence at the encampment very early on. Every Wednesday morning, they met at the Interfaith Sanctuary at a structure that began its life as a sukkah. 

The group objected to the protesters’ being held on $5,000 bail, which, for many, Cohen said, represents an impossible sum of money to procure.

In addition to ministering to the occupiers through a variety of actions — including a Black Friday Interfaith Service held at the encampment the morning after Thanksgiving — some members of the Occupy L.A. Sanctuary also played a role in facilitating meetings between the mayor’s office and the leaders of Occupy L.A. in the days and weeks before the closure of the encampment.

When Villaraigosa first announced on Nov. 23 that the occupiers would be removed on Nov. 28 at 12:01 a.m., the interfaith group wrote to him,  asking for additional time — “weeks not days” — to allow the Occupy L.A. group to transition out of City Hall Park in a peaceful and democratic manner. That earlier letter, the text of which was posted on the Occupy L.A. Sanctuary blog on Nov. 25, was signed by 179 clergy members, and it got the mayor’s attention.

On the morning of Nov. 28, hours after the initial deadline to vacate was allowed to pass, a group of 14 clergy and laypeople calling themselves “the interfaith affinity group of Occupy L.A. supporting the occupation” met with Villaraigosa to make the case for calling off or delaying the removal of the encampment.

The mayor, however, did not budge. “Mayor Villaraigosa seemed very receptive to the ideas of the Occupy movement, even as he said the encampment needed to end, that that had become no longer sustainable,” said Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, who was among those at the Nov. 28 meeting.

In the end, the eviction went forward, and only the police, the Occupy protesters and a select group of reporters pre-approved by LAPD got to watch it from start to finish. A number of clergy members, Cohen said, had reached an agreement with the incident commander on the scene on Tuesday night, in advance of the LAPD raid, that should have allowed them to witness the arrests of any protesters.

That deal was broken.

“Clergy were not allowed entrance to the park during the crucial period in which they could have been helpful to occupiers who had not previously decided to be arrested,” the interfaith leaders wrote in their letter to Villaraigosa.

For his part, Cohen didn’t make it anywhere near the Occupy L.A. encampment in advance of the LAPD officers storming into the park early Nov. 30, and neither did Grater. Both were stopped in different spots by LAPD officers who had established a blocks-wide cordon around City Hall in an effort to keep the numbers of protesters in the encampment from swelling.

After being turned back, Cohen headed home and kept track of developments from there, but Grater remained at the spot where the LAPD line stopped his progress, at the corner of Main and Aliso streets. More and more people kept arriving, until the crowd numbered about 150 people, he said.

When a few large buses filled with police officers approached the intersection where the group of would-be Occupy L.A. protesters was massed, Grater said, the protesters “decided to sit down in front of the buses in the intersection and started singing. They were not going to let those buses go through.”

“The police exited the buses and were standing there,” he continued. “It was about a 20 minute face-off, and in the end, the buses backed up and found another way around. A lot of police officers walked.”

Even at those moments, when the potential for a conflict was most palpable, Grater said, the protesters held fast to Occupy L.A.’s commitment to keep their protest activities nonviolent.

“A lot of them were chanting, ‘Police need a raise, police need a raise,’ ” Grater said. “There was not much animosity.”

Although the faith leaders had failed to convince the mayor to allow Occupy L.A. more time to work things out using its democratic process, the advance notice given was sufficient to ensure that the sanctuary’s structure — a sukkah that belongs to Rabbi Jonathan Klein of CLUE-LA — could be retrieved before police dismantled the camp.

“Jonathan has it,” Grater said. “He took it down.”

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