Community Briefs

Palestinian Journalist Critical of Arafat toSpeak Here

“Arafat is a powerful symbol. But today it’s very difficult to say that he has control over what’s happening on the ground.”

Coming from an Israeli journalist, such a statement would hardly be surprising. However, these are the words of a Palestinian journalist who used to work for the Palestine Liberation Organization newspaper.

Now a producer for NBC News, as well as a correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, The Jerusalem Post and Jerusalem Report, Khaled Abu Toameh is not afraid to criticize the Palestinian leadership.

Abu Toameh will be in the Los Angeles area next week for a number of appearances. His visit is being sponsored by Bridges to Israel-Berkeley and, locally by StandWithUs and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Sounding frustrated with the Palestinian leadership, Abu Toameh said that in general, the leaders find it “convenient to blame Israel and America and the West for their failure,” rather than looking internally at their own corruption.

Abu Toameh was born in 1963, in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Hebrew University, he went to work for the PLO newspaper. After several years, he grew tired of being a mouthpiece for the PLO and began seeking work with the foreign media, specializing in Palestinian affairs.

Jews who openly criticize Israel can be accused of airing dirty laundry at best, being a traitor at worst. But for Palestinians who openly criticize the Palestinian leadership, it can be far worse. A Palestinian journalist reporting on the Palestinian Authority might face harassment, beatings, imprisonment or in rare cases death.

Abu Toameh said that, for the most part, his colleagues don’t begrudge him for writing for the Israeli media.

“If the Palestinian media opens and gives me and my colleagues a platform, we’d go there tomorrow morning,” he said.

Khaled Abu Toameh will speak Thursday, May 6, at 8 p.m. at Temple Beth Haverim, 29900 Ladyface Court, Agoura Hills. $10-$12. For more information, call (818) 991-7111. He will speak Friday, May 7, at 8:15 a.m. at The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Conference Room B. Free. For more information, call (310) 836-6140. — Alexandra J. Wall, j., the Jewish Newsweekly of Northern California

Journal Marketing Director Joins Governor’sStaff

Michelle Kleinert, former director of marketing and communications for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, has left the newspaper to become the liaison to the Jewish community for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kleinert, whose official title is deputy director of community affairs, has more than 14 years of marketing and public relations experience.

The Journal has tapped Lisa O’Brien to replace Kleinert. An international affairs graduate of UC Davis, O’Brien has held a number of marketing positions in the corporate world, including at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Mattel Inc. and Andersen Worldwide.

Kleinert, a Democrat, has long roots in California and a tight connection to the Jewish community. A graduate of Beverly Hills High School and UC Berkeley, she went on to work at the Shoah Foundation and in 2001 served as director of public relations for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She joined The Journal staff in 2002. A Santa Monica resident, she has a thick Rolodex of prominent California Jews that she has assembled over the years.

O’Brien, 30, said she hopes to grow The Journal’s readership, increase its visibility in both the Jewish and non-Jewish community and boost its advertising. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Claremont Teacher Charged in Hate-CrimeHoax

In a case that deeply affected Jewish college students, prosecutors have accused a faculty member at Claremont McKenna College of perpetrating a hate crime hoax.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged Kerri Dunn, 39, a visiting assistant professor of psychology, with a misdemeanor count of filing a false police report, and she may also face federal charges of making false statements to the FBI.

Dunn reported in early March that while she was speaking at a campus forum on racial intolerance, her car was vandalized and spray painted with the words “Kike Whore,” “Nigger Lover,” “Bitch” and “Shut Up.”

According to various reports, Dunn was considering converting from Catholicism to Judaism, “although no one seems to have any first-hand knowledge about this matter,” said professor Jack Schuster, a faculty leader on the campus Hillel Council.

The initial vandalism report shocked the campus and Jewish students and professors in particular. There was a full day of protest rallies and Hillel Council director Rabbi Leslie Bergson reported that a large number of previously indifferent students showed up at the Hillel Center.

A week later came another bombshell, when Claremont police announced that according to two eyewitnesses, Dunn herself had vandalized her car.

Dunn has declined comment, but her lawyer, Gary S. Lincenberg, issued a news release stating that his client “maintains her innocence and hopes that this case will not divert attention from the racism problems on the Claremont College campuses.”

D’ror Chankin-Gould, 20, student president of the Hillel Council, said that he, for one, doesn’t care whether the “Kike Whore” slur was spray painted by Dunn or another perpetrator.

“It doesn’t matter who did it,” he said. “It’s anti-Semitism and it’s unacceptable.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

L.A. Entrepreneur Funds Technion BioMedicalInstitute

A $100 million pledge by Los Angeles entrepreneur Alfred E. Mann to establish a biomedical engineering institute at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, has been announced by the American Technion Society.

The Mann institute, bearing the donor’s name, is to focus on the development of medical devices and processes to improve human health and well-being.

The pledge, when redeemed, would constitute the largest philanthropic gift to an Israeli institution, Technion sources said.

Mann, 78, is a veteran inventor and entrepreneur in medical technology, who has created and sold a string of companies over a 50-year span. He is currently chairman and CEO of Advanced Bionics Corp., headquartered in Sylmar, and of the MannKind Corp.

“He is that rare combination of an engineer who also understands business, and has tremendous drive and energy,” said Robert Davidow, Mann’s friend and a Technion Society board member.

Mann has previously established a similar institute, whose researchers work at the intersection of science, medicine and engineering, at USC. Plans are under consideration for other such institutes at UCLA and Johns Hopkins University, but the Technion is the sole beneficiary outside the United States.

Mann praised the Technion as a “world-class research university, characterized by excellence, passion and brainpower, that is as good as any on the planet.”

He is currently on an extended travel schedule and was unavailable for comment. However, Mann is known as a hands-on and closely involved donor, and it is unlikely that the Technion institute will get under way until he has an opportunity to discuss its function and research scope on the ground.

Mann was born in Portland, Ore. and already showed his future bent as a school boy when he melted down the family’s old flatware into silver sheets and sold them to classmates in a jewelry-making class.

His Advanced Bionics Corp. manufactures and distributes cochlear implants for hearing disabilities and a broad range of neurostimulation systems. His other company, MannKind, specializes in biopharmaceuticals and novel therapeutic technologies. — TT

History’s Children

A rush of stories in the press this week about the past.

First, innocuously enough, music. Zubin Mehta, I read, brings the Israeli Philharmonic to Weimar, Germany to join forces with the Bavarian State Orchestra in a concert that clearly is about something more than music. Just before the concert, the musicians — Germans and Israelis, with their respective links to a past that is everpresent and unforgiving — pay a visit to Buchenwald.

Then they perform Mahler’s soaring 2nd Symphony, “Resurrection,” with a first movement that could pass for a death march and a finale that is ascendant, the triumph of the human spirit. Is this a transitory moment that will soon fade? Or a transitional moment, ushering in a new way for us to connect with Germans and our shared past today?

Then onto Albert Einstein. Growing up in my family, there were two Jewish heroes: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. If I succeeded in school, ate the proper food and behaved according to the rules my parents and grandparents prescribed for me, I might — just might — follow in one or the other’s footsteps. It came as a shock to discover that FDR was not Jewish. Oh well, that left Einstein. I excelled at math; went to the Bronx High School of Science. You never know.

Now with the publication of Volume Eight by the Princeton University Press (1,143 pages in two parts) detailing Einstein’s life from 1914 to 1918, I learn more about my childhood hero than perhaps is good for me to know. He was 34 in 1914; and of course during this four-year period Einstein completed work on his theory of relativity, a brilliant leap of mind and imagination (and at least seven years of hard work), that many believe to be his greatest accomplishment.

But the Volume also provides insight into behavior toward his first and second wife that can best be described as self-absorbed and callous. According to the letters and the papers, Einstein began an affair with his cousin, Elsa, while still married to his first wife, Mileva. His letters to wife number one come across as unfeeling and somewhat imperious.

Then, shortly before he is to marry Elsa, he proposes marriage, almost as an afterthought, to her 20-year-old daughter who works for him at Berlin’s newly created Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics. In a letter to a close friend seeking advice, the 20-year-old young woman indicates her mother has offered to bow out if that’s what the daughter wants. She writes: “Albert himself is refusing to take any decision; he is prepared to marry either mama or me. I know that A. loves me very much, perhaps more than any other man ever will, he also told me so himself yesterday.”

In the end, instinct and her sense that she loved Einstein more like a father or uncle than a lover/husband prevailed. “It will seem peculiar to you that I, a silly little thing of a 20-year-old, should have to decide on such a serious matter,” she wrote. “I can hardly believe it myself and feel very unhappy doing so as well.”

Einstein married Elsa and lived with her until her death in 1936. Do these cast new light on Einstein’s role as the great (probably the greatest) physicist of the century? And as Jews, do we think any the less of him; have second thoughts about Einstein the cultural hero?

Finally (just for this week anyway), we have Edward W. Said, probably the most eminent Arab-American in the U.S. Until the Oslo negotiations, Said, an author and respected professor of literature at Columbia University as well as a musicologist, had been a member of Arafat’s Palestinian National Council. But he split with Arafat over Oslo, which he felt was a sellout to the Israelis. It is fair to say that Said’s views on the Mideast have carried considerable weight with academics, journalists and intellectuals in America and Europe (among both Jews and non-Jews) and have earned him great admiration from Palestinians.

Now it turns out that Said has lied, has invented a past as a Palestinian whose family was ejected from Jerusalem by the Israelis when he was 12-years-old. An article in the current (September) issue of Commentary magazine by Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, spells out just how much of Said’s story is fiction — a dramatic, emotional (and false) story that has been used effectively to buttress his intellectual and political charges against Israel.

Apparently Said was born in Jerusalem in 1935, but came from a wealthy family in Cairo. He did not grow up in his famously remembered house in Jerusalem, nor attend a school there that he nostalgically has recollected in print and on TV. Rather he enjoyed a life of wealth in Cairo until Egyptian head Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized much of Egypt’s industry. Said’s family lost their place in the sun because of Nasser, not David Ben Gurion. Fortunately, his father held an American passport.

All of this and more is described in Weiner’s Commentary article, “My Beautiful Old House and Other Fabrications by Edward Said.” Embarrassing, to say the least. We can recognize his desire to personalize; to identify with the dispossessed among his people; to convince his peers that his passion is a product of life experience as much as it is a reflection of political philosophy. Still, he lied. How do we (and his Palestinian admirers) deal with this? Do we reject every political statement he has uttered, every political argument he has made? Do we write him off as a fraud who duped us for a while, until history caught up with him? And now do we let him fade, ignominiously, from view? Or do we sift through his politics and his scholarship for what has merit and value, separating ego and folly from the contributions he has to offer?

I must confess to a fondness for history. Science notwithstanding, history was my favorite subject at school. When I read memoirs and letters and stories about people and the past, and see them change before my eyes, I always feel that time has somehow turned a corner. When I wasn’t even looking.

A few years ago, I met for a series of “get acquainted” lunches with one of our community leaders, a man I came to respect. He was concerned that we published too many stories in The Jewish Journal that raised questions about the beliefs and “conventional wisdom” shared by many in our community. You and I understand the dynamics of politics and history, he explained, but your readers don’t have the background to absorb this new information. The stories can only lead to conflict, when the Jewish community needs to be united, he said. That’s why we needed to emphasize some stories and avoid others.

I did not agree. Not just because I am a journalist and, so, professionally committed to publishing news that is accurate and true, even if the stories lead to different views within our community. I also have a personal predilection. When I encounter history’s new take on a familiar story or person, it’s as though the world around me, and the people within it, have suddenly altered. My life ever so subtly has begun (once again) to change. And — German musicians, Albert Einstein and Edward Said notwithstanding — I am always grateful for the knowledge, pleased by the new discoveries, even as (or maybe because) it forces me to rethink my convictions and my life anew. — Gene Lichtenstein