Polish Leader Has Extremist Allies


The new president of Poland was elected with the backing of anti-Semitic supporters. But not all Polish Jewish officials believe that Lech Kaczynski, who will take office in December, should be criticized for his extremist bedfellows.

Kaczynski, the former mayor of Warsaw, was elected last month, narrowly defeating outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is popular with Jews inside and outside Poland.

The Catholic-oriented Law and Justice Party of the incoming president governs Poland in coalition with two extremist parties, Self-Defense and the League of Polish Families (LPF), “whose members have frequently expressed anti-Semitic sentiments,” according to Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute, which monitors national attitudes toward Jews all over the world.

When he became mayor of Warsaw in 2002, Kaczynski accepted the demand of the LPF to build a monument to anti-Jewish figure Roman Dmowski in the city center, according to the Stephen Roth Institute. Dmowski was the chief ideologue of the nationalist anti-Semitic movement Endecja in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, the LPF is closely connected to Radio Maryja, a station that openly espouses anti-Semitism and is popular among conservative Catholics who have rejected Pope John Paul II’s message of love and reconciliation toward the Jewish people.

Andrzej Lepper, the leader of Self-Defense, has repeatedly made enthusiastic references to Goebbels’ “propaganda skills” and Hitler’s “economic policy,” according to the Stephen Roth Institute.

But some Jewish officials in Poland say they have no reason to believe Kaczynski will be unfair toward the Jewish community, which numbers an estimated 8,000.

“President Kaczynski in all of his dealings has been forthcoming, fair and respective of the needs of local Jews and their role in Poland,” said Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who has lived in the country for more than a decade. “Any rumors about him being anti-Semitic are unfair. I think he will actually be a very strong ally against anti-Semitism.”

The rabbi interacted with Kaczynski when the latter was the minister of justice, responsible for investigating what happened in Jedwabne, where hundreds of Jews were massacred in 1941 by fellow Polish townspeople.

The case was hushed up until a book published in 2000 put the blame squarely on the residents, not on the Nazis.

As the minister in charge of the case, Kaczynski had the unenviable job of organizing the exhumation of victims’ bodies, which is against Jewish law. He eventually reached an agreement with Jewish leaders by which the dead were not disturbed.

“I met with him several times and he was a man of his word, even though he had far more reason to placate the rightists than to stick to Jewish law,” Schudrich said.

Kaczynski has vowed to continue strong political and commercial cooperation with Israel.

Kataryna Ober, a member of the Polish Union of Jewish Students, is bothered more by what she believes to be the incoming president’s homophobia.

“He is against gays,” the 19-year-old Ober said. “Gays are different. So why not gypsies and Jews as well? I think we should all be afraid of him.”

Kaczynski, then the mayor of Warsaw, prevented a gay rights group from marching last year, but then allowed a “march of the normal” — made up of anti-gay and anti-lesbian groups — to proceed.

The Polish Union of Jewish Students formally protested the mayor’s action.

Stanislaw Krajewski, co-chairman for the Council of Christians and Jews, took a wait-and-see attitude.

“I hope this man, the president, will keep up the work of the last president,” he said.

Outgoing President Kwasniewski was held in high esteem by Jews because of his warmth toward Israel and because of his willingness to admit that Poles had their share of guilt when it came to wartime atrocities against Jews.

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Wrongful-Death Claim in Burbank Shooting


The family of an Israeli immigrant killed by Burbank police is pursuing a $51 million wrongful-death claim against the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles. Assaf Deri, 25, died a year ago when Burbank undercover police officers shot him in an alley in North Hollywood.

Attorneys for the family said they filed their claim late last month, just prior to the one-year anniversary of Deri’s death, but the filing could not be verified on Friday, when the family went public with the legal action.

On June 25, 2004, plainclothes officers approached Deri after “boxing him into an alley with their vehicles,” according to the claim. A coroner’s report concluded that Deri died after officers shot him multiple times. The incident remains under investigation by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

The Journal previously reported that Burbank police characterized the shooting as self-defense. Officials said that the shooting occurred after two officers approached Deri’s car on foot while conducting a narcotics investigation in an alley near Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Oxnard Street. Deri, who was alone in the car, accelerated, said police, hitting and slightly injuring one of the officers. Out of fear for their safety, officers opened fire. The police have declined to speak in detail about the case pending the conclusion and release of the official investigation.

The claim asserts that Deri “was not engaging in any illegal or suspicious activity, and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” It also states that Deri had no previous criminal record. In addition, the filing alleges that officers were quick to draw their weapons because Deri looked Middle Eastern. Deri “was killed because of his race and national origin (Middle Eastern) and his religion (Jewish) and/or his perceived religion (Muslim),” in the words of the claim.

Later that night, police went to Deri’s apartment and handcuffed his girlfriend and his father, who was visiting from Israel, said family friends. Officers allegedly roused them at midnight, told them that Assaf Deri was dead, then held them there overnight without allowing them to make phone calls. The claim states that officers “conduced a fruitless search for contraband and/or illegal activities without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion.”

 

AIPAC Staffers Go to Grand Jury


 

Top officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have appeared before a grand jury and two senior staffers have been placed on paid leave in the latest developments in the federal investigation of the pro-Israel lobby for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the case.

At the same time, the Pentagon staffer at the center of the allegations, accused of espionage by the FBI and then pressured into an alleged FBI “sting” against AIPAC, has been quietly rehired by the Pentagon, over the FBI’s objections.

Sources close to the investigation, while confirming these details, say they do not foresee an imminent resolution before AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which begins May 22. Rumors that something might happen sooner have been swirling around Washington in recent weeks.

The investigation came to light last August with an FBI raid of AIPAC’s Washington headquarters. Files belonging to two senior staffers, policy director Steve Rosen and Iran specialist Keith Weissman, were confiscated.

News of the raid was leaked to CBS News as it was happening, igniting worldwide media coverage and speculation about a “nest of Pollardites,” a reference to the American Jewish naval analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1986.

Allegations soon surfaced that Rosen and Weissman had accepted classified information on Iran from Larry Franklin, an Iran analyst for the Pentagon, in 2003.

The FBI launched another raid on AIPAC headquarters in December 2004. It also issued grand jury subpoenas to four top staffers: Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director; Richard Fishman, the managing director; Renee Rothstein, the communications director; and Raphael Danziger, the research director.

In late January or early February, sources say, several of the four testified before the grand jury. AIPAC would not comment on the proceedings of the grand jury, which was convened by U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, the federal prosecutor in eastern Virginia.

Rosen and Weissman were placed on paid leave in January. At around the same time, Franklin returned to the Pentagon in a “nonsensitive position,” sources said.

Franklin, who had been threatened with an espionage indictment by FBI assistant director David Szady’s counterintelligence division, was pressured into acting as an FBI informant against AIPAC, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the FBI’s tactics against Franklin. In an earlier case involving a CIA staff attorney, Szady had been publicly accused of targeting Jews with security investigations.

“I think that shows that Franklin was never any sort of espionage threat,” a source close to Franklin said. Franklin has been described as overeager but intensely patriotic.

“Franklin was obviously more of a victim than a threat,” said one source intimately familiar with the government’s case against Franklin.

Szady told a contact that Franklin’s rehiring by the Pentagon was not “our call,” and was done over the FBI’s strenuous objections. An FBI spokesman refused to comment on the rehiring.

Franklin has not been called to testify before the grand jury, nor have there been significant discussions or even contacts about a plea or a resolution, according to sources familiar with the Justice Department’s case against Franklin.

“Nothing is happening, and Franklin is back at work,” said a source familiar with the FBI’s investigation.

Rumors have swirled that something was about to happen in the case before AIPAC’s policy conference, but key sources familiar with the case say no resolution of the case “seems possible” by then, barring an unforeseen development.

Scheduled out-of-state travel for key people could make settlement negotiations difficult, sources say. Multiple sources associated with Franklin and the prosecution’s cases confirm that genuine settlement discussions are not yet even underway.

AIPAC also was clamping down on any speculation about the latest developments.

Earlier statements from the organization, repeated as recently as December, asserted that “neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified.”

Under a new gag order by defense attorneys, AIPAC spokesmen have declined to repeat the original statement. The standard reply now is, “It is not appropriate for AIPAC to comment on any issue related to any ongoing investigation.”

An AIPAC spokesman added that the statement should “not be construed as a no-comment.”

The FBI and prosecutor McNulty refused comment.

Senior FBI officials, stung by criticism of Szady, are trying to understand exactly what conduct the agency is investigating. Two FBI agents recently talked to a senior Jewish communal leader, not to extract potential evidence but “simply to understand how AIPAC works,” according to one participant.

The leader explained how the American Jewish community relates to its ancestral homeland. The conversation was characterized by the participant as “extremely congenial.”

The investigation grew out of a sting last summer by Szady’s counterintelligence division after Franklin, the Pentagon analyst, was observed at a Virginia restaurant in June 2003 sharing a classified Iran policy draft with an AIPAC staffer, according to multiple sources aware of the prosecution’s case.

Such sharing of in-progress drafts with outside think-tanks and experts is common in Washington foreign policy-making circles. In this case, however, Szady’s surveillance agents were watching, the sources say.

About a year later, the sources say, the counterintelligence division used the technical violation observed in the restaurant to pressure a frightened Franklin into becoming an undercover informant.

Sources confirm that while Franklin was without defense counsel, Szady’s agents threatened him with a long prison term for espionage, which would have ruined his family financially. Franklin was placed on unpaid leave and forced to take odd jobs to support his five children and wheelchair-bound wife.

Under FBI pressure, Franklin agreed to feed AIPAC’s Rosen and Weissman bogus information about plans to kidnap Israelis in Kurdistan, the sources say. AIPAC officials reportedly passed that information to the Israeli Embassy in an attempt to save lives, sources say.

Franklin also allegedly was directed to sting a group of other Washington figures associated with the controversial Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, and with neoconservative circles. Those efforts apparently went nowhere.

On Aug. 27, 2004, FBI sources leaked details of the investigation to CBS News just as federal agents executed search warrants for hard drives and files at AIPAC headquarters. That night, CBS News led with an explosive story about an Israeli mole in the government, a story that since has been discredited.

Shortly after the FBI’s alleged scheme to set up AIPAC became public last fall, Franklin secured prominent defense lawyer Plato Cacheris, who ended Franklin’s cooperation with the government.

Rosen hired defense counsel Abbe Lowell, who represented former President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings.

It remains to be seen whether Rosen, Weissman and AIPAC will emerge from the investigation intact.

The entire Jewish community is watching closely.

As one Jewish leader who asked not to be identified said, “If AIPAC is targeted in this fashion, it is not good news for the rest of us. AIPAC would be only the beginning.”

New York Times best-selling journalist Edwin Black, author of the award-winning “Banking on Baghdad,” first revealed charges of anti-Semitism against FBI personnel and other details of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of AIPAC.

 

Israel Taps Into Interfaith Tourism


 

As Israeli tourism officials focus on their main demographic with seven new tourism DVDs targeting Christian churches, 233 people will travel to Israel on Dec. 20 for the Los Angeles Jewish community’s 10-day, post-Chanukah Mega-Mission. The number falls short of the 400 Jewish tourists who were expected to go, with the drop-off partly due to the Orthodox Union’s (OU) convention last month in Israel.

“There were many conflicts that ran into it; the OU conference certainly was one of them,” said Young Israel of Century City Rabbi Elazar Muskin, a Mega-Mission co-chair. “Nobody’s blaming anybody as long as they’re going to Israel.”

The Mega-Mission is part of an up tick; tourism ministry statistics show that the 2003-2004 level of Jews visiting Israel did increase after several years of stagnant or decreasing Jewish tourism due to terrorism and the ongoing intifada. But a bulwark of Israeli tourism remains visits and pilgrimages by Christians.

Synagogues participating in the Mega-Mission include Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Muskin’s Orthodox Young Israel congregation, the Conservative Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, Mission Viejo’s Temple Elat, Arcadia’s Congregation Shaarei Torah, Congregation Ha-Makom in Northern California and Adat Shalom and Temple Beth Am, both in West Los Angeles. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Southern California Board of Rabbis endorsed the mission, which was coordinated by Israel Tour Connection..

The Mega-Mission will have Jewish Angelenos meeting with Israel’s tourism minister plus opening and closing trip dinners.

“From the first stage I believed in this project,” said Noam Matas, the tourism ministry’s departing Western U.S. director, who noted that the average tourist spends about $1,000-$1,500 per day in Israel. “People want to go to Israel; the only thing that they were lacking was the leadership to take them.”

Individual synagogues running their own tour groups to Israel this year cut interest in the $2,300-person Mega-Mission. Reform congregation Temple Israel of Hollywood ran a 10-day study mission in mid-October, including a visit to help its sister shul near Jerusalem. Muskin’s own synagogue saw 65 of its members travel to Israel over Thanksgiving weekend for a bar mitzvah.

“So they turned it into a mission, which is great, but they’re not going with me in December,” the rabbi said. “Did as many rabbis and synagogues get behind it they should have? No. This is a big Jewish community; there is a sense of community but it’s not as strong as it should be because of its size. There’s nothing to criticize when you get 200-plus going to Israel; it’s fine, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the L.A. community to promote tourism.”

Matas also is working with Rabbi David Wolpe of Westwood’s Conservative Sinai Temple for plans to lead 100-200 Jewish tourists to Israel next May, plus a different trip for all the Chabads of Southern California. From Dec. 30-Jan. 6, Seattle-based Jewish talk show host Michael Medved plans a West Coast interfaith trip.

With Tourism Ministry budget cuts creating a leaner U.S. marketing staff, Matas has been leading the outreach to evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches. After a three-year tour working from his base at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, Matas left his director’s post on Dec. 7 as part of his normal ministry rotation. His successor has not been named, and Matas will remain in Los Angeles for the next few months working on ministry projects, including a stronger push into Latin America.

In 2005, evangelical Christian churches will start receiving customized tourism ministry DVDs, hosted by prominent Christian pastors, including the Rev. Jack Hayford of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys. The ministry’s Hayford-hosted “Destiny & Desire” DVD has been sent to about 38,500 pastors.

The other DVDs in the seven-DVD set will target Latino tourists with Spanish-speaking pastors, plus individual English-language DVDs for Calvary Chapel, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God and Nazarene congregations. Ministers from each of those faiths will talk to their own congregations about Israel.

“The message is different from DVD to DVD,” Matas said. “And the whole thing comes together as an online DVD library.”

The Tourism Ministry also is producing a tourism DVD for Christian women, showcasing sites relevant to the stories of biblical figures such as Rachel and Esther. While all the DVDs are hosted by prominent Christians, the final productions are edited by Israeli tourism officials.

Distribution of the 2,500 copies of the Christian women’s DVD will begin in January, when about 600 DVDs will be given to ministers’ wives at a Christian convention in Palm Beach, Fla. Separately, the leadership of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention has given Matas a pledge to put the Baptist-specific tourism DVD into all Southern Baptist churches nationwide.

 

Is Israel Spy Claim a Neocon Backlash?


Hours after CBS News first reported that federal officials were investigating a possible Israeli "mole" at the Pentagon, the first analysis hit the wires claiming that the emerging scandal wouldn’t damage U.S.-Israel relations.

It was quick journalistic work, but it wasn’t worth the bytes it was written on. The plain fact is, the scandal will affect Jewish and pro-Israel interests in myriad ways — even if the federal investigation fizzles and no charges are brought. And any proof that Israel was spying on the Pentagon, with the cooperation of the pro-Israel lobby, would be devastating both for Israel and for the Jewish community here.

At the very least, the fast-moving controversy highlights the many gray areas created when two close allies share military and strategic information through a web of formal and informal contacts.

Jewish leaders believe the leaks that produced the CBS story and the exaggerated talk of a mole may have been triggered by the bitter struggle between administration neoconservatives — many of them Jewish, many in the top ranks of the Pentagon organization chart — and the traditional conservatives and military and intelligence professionals who fear the neocons have led America into a military debacle in Iraq and want to do the same in Iran.

In particular, these forces have been critical of Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, a hawk’s hawk and the boss of the man at the epicenter of the controversy, Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin.

This week, unnamed officials told reporters that the premature revelations had compromised their investigations, and that Franklin’s status remained "murky." But, on Tuesday, there were reports federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., the site of a number of recent high-profile spy and terror prosecutions, were nearing a decision on legal action.

But even if the investigation produces no arrests and no evidence American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) went beyond the bounds of legal lobbying, it has the potential to cause damage to Israel, to Jewish interests here and to U.S.-Israel relations.

The accusation of a "mole" — that term made sensational headlines, but it wasn’t borne out by later reporting — plays into the ongoing belief by many on both ends of the political spectrum that a cabal of Jewish neoconservatives led America into a destructive war in Iraq, not because of America’s interests — but Israel’s.

The charge lacks credibility for several reasons, including President Bush’s obvious determination to topple Saddam Hussein from the earliest days of his administration and the fact that Israel never considered Iraq its most dangerous enemy.

But it has been persistent and damaging, and it is bound to gain new currency with this week’s barrage of news stories, some of which implied that pro-Israel neocons improperly gave Israel input into U.S. decision making on Iraq, as well as Iran. As the story spun out in the press, the Iraq references faded, but they are unlikely to be forgotten by those eager to blame the Jewish state and its American friends.

The scandal will refocus attention on a group of Jewish neoconservatives who have been polarizing figures both inside and outside government circles, including Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

The charges, even if unsubstantiated, could impede the widespread military cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem — ties that are even more important as the allies fight the terrorist forces that have targeted both nations. At the political level, there may be little impact, but the taint of even discredited spy charges could sow suspicions and fears that will make day-to-day cooperation at the working level more difficult.

The charges will also have a chilling effect on countless Jews serving in important government positions.

The new spy scandal is also bad news for the one American jailed for spying for Israel: Pollard, now in his 19th year of incarceration. This week’s stories will re-energize the military and intelligence officials who have worked so hard to prevent his release and make this president and the next one even warier about the political fallout from a Pollard pardon.

There is also the potential human tragedy of a non-Jew who cares about Israel whose reputation and career could be destroyed by a trial in the press, not the courts. It may turn out that Larry Franklin simply "mishandled" government documents in the course of routine, perfectly acceptable contacts with Israeli representatives — a far cry from espionage.

If there is evidence of improper actions by pro-Israel lobbyists and by Israeli officials, the results could badly undercut the good work done by years’ worth of pro-Israel activism and fan the fires of anti-Semitism based on the fallacious charge that Israel distorts U.S. policy to serve its own interests.

But even if the charges are quickly revealed as overblown, the fact that they have exploded in the middle of an emotionally charged presidential campaign and as protests proliferate over the Iraq war could adversely affect the Jewish community and Israel. Jewish leaders are worried — and they are right to be.

Doc Links Teacher to Mysterious Death


Czech officials plan to shelve an investigation into the mysterious death of a top American Jewish official nearly 40 years ago, despite suspicions that he may have been murdered.

The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes is considering dropping the case of Charles Jordan for lack of evidence — even though officials say they are now "investigating the suspicion of the crime of murder."

The move comes as a team of Czech investigative journalists claims to have uncovered fresh evidence since they made a television documentary about Jordan’s death last year.

The body of Jordan, vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), was found floating in the Vltava River close to the Charles Bridge on Aug. 20, 1967, four days after he disappeared from the Esplanade Hotel in central Prague.

Jordan apparently had told his wife he was going to buy a pack of cigarettes, but no one saw him leave the hotel.

Investigators decided to focus on the murder theory last October, three weeks after the documentary presented new leads.

They concluded that it’s unlikely that Jordan — who had a fear of water and was unable to swim — chose to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Vltava. It was "highly improbable" that Jordan’s drowning was the result of an accident, they said.

The documentary, "Father of the Refugees," claimed that the Czech secret service was heavily involved in Jordan’s death, which came two months after Israel’s stunning victory over several Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Jordan, an expert on refugees, allegedly was trying to make secret deals with Arab and Communist regimes, buying freedom for Jews who lived there.

The documentary suggests that Jordan may have made enemies because of a groundbreaking plan to rehabilitate Palestinian refugees, which he was due to present at the United Nations a week after his death.

The documentary makers have presented new evidence to the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes suggesting a strong Arab link to Jordan’s death.

Martin Smok, co-author of "Father of the Refugees," said the evidence emerged when a new witness came forward after the documentary.

According to Smok, the new witness said that his former schoolteacher, Marie Podloucka, with whom he had a "strong relationship," had told him repeatedly that on the night of Jordan’s disappearance she allowed some Arab "commandos" to access the Esplanade Hotel via her apartment, which was next door.

She also allegedly claimed to have helped drag Jordan’s unconscious body out of her flat.

Smok said the witness also claimed Podloucka told him she had hidden "the Arab students who participated in the murder at her country house," and that "the Egyptian embassy had something to do with the whole action."

Smok said a subsequent review of the criminal investigation file from 1967 showed a reference to a disturbance involving some Arabs at Podloucka’s home, which was described as having "direct access to the Esplanade Hotel."

Smok said investigators apparently showed no interest in following up the lead, instead threatening him for not revealing his source’s name.

"I am being punished for sharing information with them, which if they were willing to perform any work on it could lead to the names of Jordan’s murderers within a couple of weeks," Smok said.

But Jan Srb, a spokesman for the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes, or UDV, said the case would be shelved for lack of evidence.

"The case should have been shelved last year," Srb said. "On orders of the state prosecutor, the UDV examined some information from the film. It didn’t bring anything new."

The JDC’s country director for the Czech Republic, Yechiel Bar-Chaim, said in a statement that the committee "is keenly interested in seeing all new leads in this case vigorously pursued. We believe that the current status of this investigation for the murder of one of our top officials continues to be worthy of public interest."

But documentary director Petr Bok said he was not surprised by Czech authorities’ apparent lack of enthusiasm to continue investigating Jordan’s death.

"This case is perhaps a Pandora’s box involving secret-service games and the Middle East. It’s still a hot topic today," he said.

"Father of the Refugees" screens May 5, 7:30 p.m. at the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. To R.S.V.P., call (310) 440-1222.

The Answer Isn’t…


Aliyah is the oat bran of the Jewish people. We know it’s good for us. We know we should be having more of it. But truth is, we just find it hard to swallow. And we certainly don’t like it shoved down our throats.

While in Israel last week, I heard several Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on down, proclaim that increased Jewish immigration to Israel is crucial to the country’s long-term well-being. And each time I heard an Israeli or American Jewish leader say that, I thought: “Uh-oh.”

If Israel’s well-being depends on tens of thousands of us Diaspora Jews packing up and moving there, the country is in worse trouble than I thought. The numbers of Jews who immigrate to Israel from Western nations — never a very large figure — has greatly declined of late and shows no signs of reviving.

“Where are they going to come from?” an Israeli official — who preferred not to be identified — asked me. “The ones who had to come here came; the ones who wanted to come here came. There just aren’t that many Jews left to rescue. And even the ones who are in trouble don’t want to come here.”

Aliyah from Western countries has never been huge. Israel’s numbers have swelled more as a result of what analysts call the “push” immigration — Jews who have been pushed out of the homelands — rather than from “pull” — Jews who feel drawn to Israel not out of need, but desire.

About 9,200 immigrants arrived in Israel in the first half of 2003, and most of these were pushed there. Over half — 5,100 immigrants — came from the former Soviet Union, 500 arrived from Argentina and 1,500 from Ethiopia. That means approximately 2,100 arrived from the rest of the Jewish world: France, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and the United States.

These numbers represent a drop of 39 percent, as compared to the same period the previous year. Although many Orthodox Jews and yeshiva students still immigrate to Israel, aliyah from North America is half of what it was in 1984, prior to the outbreak of the first intifada or Palestinian uprising.

The aliyah equation is even more lopsided, especially when balanced against emigration from Israel. Many Jews from the former Soviet Union have actually chosen to return there. Israelis who have any native rights in European countries are seeking passports for themselves and their children.

Last week, an article in Ha’aretz revealed that about 700,000 Israelis actually live outside the country. An earlier survey found that a significant proportion of Israeli youth saw little future for themselves in Israel. A friend of mine, who immigrated to Israel more than 20 years ago from the United States and raised his children there, said he suspects all of his kids will immigrate to America.

Behind the call for a magic carpet of aliyah lay an odd mixture of hope and despair. Aliyah is — excuse the expression — the Hail Mary strategy of an Israeli government that sees no other way out of a looming demographic disaster.

Sharon’s government has advanced no serious long-term strategy for dealing with the fact that within several years, the Palestinian population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean will outnumber the Jewish population. For years, Israelis on the center and the left have pointed out that when this happens, Israel will have to choose between being a Jewish State or being a democratic one.

One solution is for Israel to dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and return to (roughly) its pre-1967 borders. Another is bringing in more Jews. As ludicrous as it seems given the numbers, that’s the only solution advanced by Sharon in a speech last week to some 5,000 North American Jewish supporters of Israel.

The fact that Sharon’s call for aliyah received a sustained ovation perplexed me. After the speech, I asked various audience members if they planned to take up the prime minister’s call and move to Israel. Of course they thought I was joking.

“Remember the old saying,” a journalist friend reminded me. “An American Zionist is someone who gives his own money to send someone else’s kid to Israel.”

The situation in Israel is grave. The economy is depressed, security is tight and most Israelis I met were gloomy about their country in the short-term, at least. Anti-Semitism abroad may yet create a wave of “push” aliyah to Israel, but it’s not something you want to depend upon.

“It would be preferable if the Israeli society were to flourish thanks to its own power of attraction and not because of the existential weakness of Diaspora Jewry,” said professor Sergio Della Pergola of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Aliyah is identity politics carried to the extreme. The small percentage of Jews who are actually pulled to live in Israel represents a much larger percentage of Jews who choose not to live in Israel, but who feel close and supportive of it nonetheless. I suspect the decline in one number reflects a decline in the other. As Israel’s own existential situation worsens, both these numbers are bound to deteriorate.

On the way home from Israel late last week, I noticed a counter set up at Ben-Gurion International Airport. A charming American-born woman stood behind an array of informational pamphlets on aliyah. Don’t just visit the dream, the booth advertised, come live it.

I couldn’t help notice that in the three hours I spent in the busy terminal, not a single person visited the woman at her booth. The duty-free counter, needless to say, was packed.

Survivors Sue Claims Commission


Survivors are suing the commission on Nazi-era insurance claims, a commissioner has called for the resignation of its chief and Jewish officials handling the claims acknowledge serious problems.

But they also say there probably isn’t a better way to dole out the claims.

The anger and frustration some lawmakers and survivors feel toward the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims peaked last week when several survivors filed suit, claiming the organization was delaying payments.

California’s insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, a member of the commission, later joined the suit and called for the resignation of the commission’s chairman, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Survivors Jack Brauns, Manny Steinberg and Si Frumkin, all Los Angeles-area residents, charged that the ICHEIC improperly delayed or denied payments totaling more than $1 billion on policies held by the survivors or heirs of those who perished under Nazi rule.

"This is a commission that is supposed to help survivors," said William Shernoff, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. "But from what we see, they are helping the insurance companies more than survivors."

They also are seeking Eagleburger’s resignation, saying his salary — which they estimate at over $300,000 — is paid for by the insurance companies. The plaintiffs believe Eagleburger is working in the insurance companies’ interests.

"This is blood money stolen from survivors," said Frumkin, chair of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jewry.

For his part, Eagleburger says he has no intention of resigning. His aide, Anais Haase, said that time and resources planned for investigating claims would be diverted to defending against the lawsuit if the survivors persist in fighting them.

"We don’t believe we are mistreating survivors or their heirs," Haase said. "We offer the only option available at no cost to survivors and their heirs."

The plaintiffs are asking the ICHEIC to place more pressure on Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali to divulge more unpaid life insurance policies. The ICHEIC has published 9,000 names of Generali policyholders, but the claimants suggest the list could exceed 100,000 policies.

Shernoff said Holocaust survivors and their heirs should also maintain the right to use litigation to gain money owed them, rather than working through the ICHEIC.

The suit was filed under California’s Unfair Business Practices statute, but it’s unclear whether the ICHEIC can legally be defined as a business.

A Generali official in New York called the lawsuit baseless and misleading, saying that thousands of claimants "have and will continue to be paid and offered generous amounts through ICHEIC, which is supported by leading Jewish Holocaust restitution organizations and the State of Israel."

Stuart Eizenstat, a special representative for Holocaust issues in the Clinton administration, said the lawsuits could wreck the ICHEIC system if the suit nullifies the agreements the commission has reached with the insurance agencies.

"It continues to cast a cloud of debate over the exercise," he said. "It diverts energy and attention from filling claims."

Eizenstat said he appreciates that the suit is an expression of frustration over the slow process of paying claims. But he and others contend that the insurance companies, not the ICHEIC, have made the process more difficult by withholding names.

Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, agreed.

"There is no bad faith here," he said of the ICHEIC. "There is bad information after 50 years."

Singer acknowledged that the organization has had trouble completing its mission.

"ICHEIC has a mammoth task, and it’s bigger than we ever thought it was going to be," Singer said. "We couldn’t have known it at the time."

He suggested an ombudsman might be able to bridge the gap between the ICHEIC and the Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC, founded in 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has had some problems in the past two years. Eagleburger threatened to resign last year after difficulty securing cooperation from German insurance companies.

Congressional representatives and others also have chastised Eagleburger and the commission for its slow progress, especially considering the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC also has been criticized for spending $56 million in five years, and Eizenstat agreed that the organization cannot be considered a model of efficiency.

But both Eizenstat and Singer defended Eagleburger.

"Larry has earned every nickel and then some," Eizenstat said. "He’s had to undergo hell to bring the parties together."

California Gov. Gray Davis issued a statement Saturday accusing the ICHEIC of "not meeting its mission.

"The system does not work, claims are not being investigated and survivors are not being paid,” Davis said in the statement.

Edwin Black and Tom Tugend contributed to this report from Los Angeles.