Jews Forced to Flee Arabs Want Redress

Jews who fled Arab countries following the creation of the State of Israel are preparing to launch a new campaign for restitution.

Meeting in London at a forum organized by the World Organization for Jews From Arab Countries and Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, Jewish representatives from 14 nations met for two days last week to create the steering committee for the International Campaign for Rights and Redress.

The group plans to conduct an international advocacy and public education campaign on the heritage and rights of former Jewish refugees, documenting human rights violations against those who fled Arab countries, as well as their lost assets.

The director of the justice group, Stanley Urman, said the summit was a landmark occasion.

“It is a commitment by Jewish communities in 14 countries on five continents to once and for all document the historical injustice perpetrated against Jews in Arab countries,” he said. “It is not just a theoretical and educational exercise; it is concrete.”

Supported by the Israeli government, the plan also has the backing of Jewish communities in North and South America, Europe and Australia, with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International and the World Sephardi Congress involved.

“We are delighted to play a key role in this crucial project,” said Henry Grunwald, president of British Jewry’s umbrella group, the Board of Deputies. “The plight of Jews from Arab countries is all too often a cause that we in the wider Jewish community forget, and we must act to educate and raise awareness of this important issue.”

Organizers long have been unhappy that the issue of Palestinian refugees largely has eclipsed the question of the nearly 900,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries around the 1948 creation of the State of Israel. They want the Jewish refugees’ fate addressed as well in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Approximately 600,000 of these refugees settled in Israel; by 2001, fewer than 8,000 Jews remained in Arab countries. The displaced Jews were recognized as refugees by the United Nations, but there was virtually no international response to their plight.

The only way that the rights of former Jewish refugees can be asserted, organizers believe, is through an international advocacy campaign. They will launch the campaign in March with a special month of commemoration to highlight the torture, detention, loss of citizenship and seizure of property suffered by many Jewish refugees.

“This is a milestone in the effort to address the historic injustice to the Jewish communities in Arab countries,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We hope that this renewed, unified campaign will not only succeed in creating a comprehensive data bank, but will also put this issue on the agenda of the international community, which has neglected it for so long.” Data on the communal and individual assets lost in the mass displacements — incorporating public education, the collection of testimonies and programs to lobby media and governments — will be collected and preserved in a special unit established in Israel’s Ministry of Justice.

Urman declined to speculate on the value of the Jewish refugees’ assets, insisting that the fundamental issue was justice rather than compensation. Redress might come in many forms, he said, from a commitment to protect and preserve historical Jewish sites in Arab lands to the endowment of chairs at universities to preserve Middle Eastern Jewish culture.

In Iraq, the Jewish community numbered around 140,000 before being mostly dispersed in the 1950s. Like many others in his community, Maurice Shohet, president of Bene Naharayim, the Iraqi Jewish community in New York, abandoned his possessions when he fled Iraq with his family in 1970 at age 21.

The combined assets Iraqi Jewry left behind now could be worth billions of dollars. When the U.S.-led Iraq War began in 2003, the prospect of an elected, post-Saddam government offered some hope of restitution for the community.

But “so far, all we are hearing is the voice of the insurgents,” said Shohet, who visited his hometown of Baghdad last year, but cut short his trip because of violence.

With divisions rampant within Iraq society and the government still going through a transition period, compensation still seems far away. Yet that makes the issue more urgent, Urman said.

After Israel’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, there might also be a new impetus toward fresh talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If Gaza results in renewed commitment by the Palestinian Authority to advance serious peace negotiations, it will have moved us forward to a resolution of both the Arab and Jewish refugee issues,” Urman said. “But it’s a big if.”


Bush Touts Palestine in Europe


President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”


A Matter of Mindset


For an Israeli who lives in Jerusalem, it’s strange being the only Jew in the room. Yet that’s how it was on Jan. 10 as I gave a talk on the current political situation to an international conference of Catholic bishops at the elegant Knights Palace Hotel in the Old City.

When I left the house that morning, my 15-year-old son wished me good luck.

“And Abba,” he added, “wear a kippah.”

We are a traditional family, yet neither my son nor I go around with a yarmulke as a matter of course. Nor do I generally wear a kippah when meeting with Jewish groups. But his instinct was wise and correct: Among the Other, stand up and be identified.

As I walked down to the Jaffa Gate, though, I wondered: Will my knitted skullcap give rise to preconceptions about my political views? Will it mark me as a right-winger, a settler? Or will most of those assembled be fairly oblivious to the nuances of Jewish headgear, what author Donna Rosenthal, in her book “The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land” (Free Press, 2003), refers to as “kippology”? I decided to wear it. (Besides, some of the clerics would be wearing theirs, too.)

My next problem was how to lead off. My custom is to start with a moment of levity. Not everyone was fluent in English. Few if any were accustomed to my kind of humor. Again, I took a chance: “The Frenchman says, ‘I am tired and thirsty. I must have wine,'” I said. “The German says, ‘I am tired and thirsty. I must have….'” The bishops grinned and said, “Beer.”

“And the Jew says,” I continued gingerly, “‘I am tired and thirsty. I must have diabetes.'” Following a few interminable nanoseconds of high anxiety on my part, the room burst into laughter.

I explained my reasons for telling this classic joke. (An early version may be found in the marvelous three-volume Hebrew “Book of Jokes and Wit,” compiled by Alter Druyanov in 1922.) First, to underscore what everyone knows — that people of different cultures have different tastes and mindsets. And second — more importantly — that despite the image of the tough, brash, domineering Israelis, we have a deep strain of insecurity, too. And that unless one understands that, one cannot understand the political situation.

I should hasten to add that I was not the only speaker invited to address the group. After I concluded my remarks — which touched on political messianism, Ariel Sharon’s new government, the scourge of anti-Semitism, Jewish empathy for the oppressed and, above all, the hope that the new Palestinian leadership will finally turn away from self-destructive violence — Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, a Palestinian academic and chair of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem, took the lectern to express his point of view.

“I am tired and thirsty,” he began, “but I am denied the water.”

And so it went: the occupation (“we are in a prison”); the “three Gs” (“gates, guards and guns”); and the wall (which Israelis call a security fence, and he called “a sharp knife cutting our flesh and sucking our blood”).

“We must awaken the Jewish conscience,” he said, as if I had not dwelt, for 20 minutes, on the urgent need, in the face of myriad obstacles, to remedy the suffering of the Palestinians.

“Your pressure,” he told the bishops, “is very much needed.”

The time came for closing remarks. I recognize, I said, that when one puts a metaphor on the table, others are free to make of it what they will. For my part, I hope that we can envision together a thirst-quenching glass that is at least half full. And if diabetes, alas, is an incurable disease — at least at present — it is surely treatable. And that, too, is a good thing.

But my Palestinian colleague wasn’t buying. He dismissed my rosy rhetoric. He demanded historic justice. And so it went.

In the days since, I have been replaying that morning in my mind — and reading the papers, watching TV and talking to people in the know — and wondering: We are again sitting down at the table, but are we in for the same old story? Will they demand of us, and we of them, things that neither can deliver? Or is there reason to believe that this time around — with Yasser Arafat finally gone — a conflict that has proven strikingly intractable, and has thwarted generations of talented diplomats, can finally be resolved?

Actually, I do think there is reason for hope. Abu Mazen, the new Palestinian president, is a pragmatist. He recognizes, as do most of those who voted for him, that terrorism is the wrong way to go. He knows that the Palestinians need to clean up corruption, overhaul their security apparatus and establish a viable democracy — not just because this is what the Americans want, but because it is good for them. For decades, Arafat manipulated the Palestinian leadership, playing one person against the other in order to stay in power. Now, the best and brightest of them need to work together, to build credibility in Washington and — here comes the hardest part — to build confidence among the Israeli public.

And what about our own house? Can we, as a society, overcome our well-earned fears, our internal divisions, our habitual self-absorption and take bold steps toward peace? If Prime Minister Sharon can get us out of Gaza — despite the demagogic tactics of the settlers, and in the face of fiery opposition from within his own party — he will have implemented an essential principle of statecraft: Just because what you are doing in your own self-interest also serves the interests of your adversaries, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

If both we and the Palestinians can, in fact, come to share that crucial mindset, a breakthrough may be in store. Someday, we may even laugh at each other’s jokes. n

Stuart Schoffman is an associate editor and columnist for The Jerusalem Report. His e-mail address is


Tikkun Alone

Tikkun and its founder-leader Rabbi Michael Lerner came to Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 8 to run an area-wide conference, which proved both heartening and disappointing.

It was heartening because, on one level, Lerner and his progressive San Francisco-based organization have remained consistent. Much has changed since he founded the progressive, intellectual Jewish Tikkun Magazine in 1986, but Lerner still supports both the Israelis and the Palestinians; still criticizes the Israeli government, particularly where he perceives its policies to be racist and unjust; and still champions a peace policy for the Mideast, today most clearly articulated for him by the Geneva accord.

All of this was made clear in Lerner’s opening address. His signature theme during the Clinton years, “The politics of meaning,” has given way to different language, but still drives home the essential connections between spirituality and community.

“Imagine a community of people working for social and economic justice, peace, nonviolence, and ecological sensitivity … a movement that gives equal priority to our inner lives and to social justice.”

His was a passionate exhortation to reject cynical political realism in favor of building a global community based on kindness, generosity and love.

There was also little change in his attack on the Jewish establishment, as Lerner took on, full-tilt, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee and other major Jewish American organizations. Lerner said they had hijacked American Jewry and had held themselves out to Congress and the White House as the only authentic Jewish voice, backing Sharon and Israel at all costs and in all policies; all of which helped prevent the emergence of the democratic, just Israeli society Lerner hopes to see one day.

But then came the disappointing part.

Tikkun had hoped for a turnout of 200 or more at Temple Isaiah on Pico Boulevard, but, at 1 p.m., when the conference started, workmen began moving in the chairs so the room would not appear empty. When the conference finally began a half-hour later, about 80-90 people had gathered in what had become a smaller, intimate hall.

Tikkun has, of course, changed since its early magazine years. Its statement of purpose today describes Tikkun as a center for those of all religious and spiritual traditions who seek to integrate spiritual depth with social change. It is no longer in its ambition a voice solely of and for Jews. However, while Salam al-Marayati, the Los Angeles-based executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and actor Ed Asner were two of the conferences multicultural speakers, nearly everyone present was Jewish. I couldn’t help notice that it seemed strikingly different from earlier conferences I had attended, particularly one in Jerusalem in the early 1990s, and another in New York a year or so later.

In Jerusalem, I remembered, more than 500 Israelis and American Jews had gathered at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for a series of panels and speeches that stretched over five days and, occasionally, long into the night. The Princeton University political scientist Michael Walzer, had attended as had Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua. In New York, a year or two later, the city’s Jewish writers, intellectuals and academics gathered at a large Manhattan hotel. Irving Howe was there along with writers Anne Roiphe and Lore Segal; it seemed electric. It looked as if the Jewish left finally had found a home again, created by of all people a former UC Berkeley doctoral-political activist and psychotherapist who was an Orthodox Jew.

Tikkun has had its share of rude bumps since that time. Lerner’s wife, who had provided much of the capital behind Tikkun, divorced him and pulled her funds from the organization. A move to New York, where it was hoped there would be an abundance of Jewish intellectuals and supporters, foundered. Tikkun moved back to the Bay Area.

In Los Angeles, a hoped-for expansion and presence seemed elusive. Substantial contributions from Hollywood never materialized, and the wealthy Jewish establishment was not supportive, in part because its members perceived Tikkun to be opposed to their power and interests. They were part of the problem, according to Lerner; at least that is the way they perceived his message.

If his philosophical stance remained consistent throughout the years, his organizational skills were more hit and miss. Tikkun was soon viewed, perhaps incorrectly, as a one-man band. And while the bandleader was deemed bright, and his views of Jewish American leaders and of Israel bold and appealing to many progressives and intellectuals, there was a certain amount of grumbling: he was disorganized; he dominated conferences and rambled on and on; and he played the performer as he aligned himself in an intellectual road show with black philosopher Cornel West.

It was natural that Jewish leaders heading the professional organizations might be opposed to Tikkun and Lerner. But it now appeared that progressive Jews in organizations such as Los Angeles’ Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), while not opposed, were not part of the team, even though both organizations championed Muslim-Jewish dialogues in American cities. The point appeared to be that PJA was doing something concrete and sustained about it, in Los Angeles at least.

Meanwhile, Tikkun appears to have shifted some of its emphasis to college campuses, hoping to establish training programs and strong university networks of students willing to commit themselves to working for a just society and peace in the Mideast. It sounds like an appealing program, but one that may find itself marginalized on the cutting edge of ideas and idealism — and conferences.

Gene Lichtenstein is the founding editor of The Jewish Journal.

Sharon Plan Raises Myriad Questions

Ariel Sharon’s major policy statement at the Herzliya
security conference last week might have made world headlines, but it’s far
from clear what the Israeli prime minister has in mind. Sharon called on
Palestinian leaders to open negotiations with Israel and threatened unilateral
steps if they don’t, but he did not spell out those steps.

In fact, Sharon’s long-awaited Dec. 18 speech, in which he
broached the possibility of a unilateral Israeli pullback from the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, raised more questions than it provided answers.

For example, does Sharon envision a major Israeli withdrawal
and a large-scale evacuation of Jewish settlements? Or will the pullback be
minimal, with few settlements evacuated and the Palestinians surrounded on all
sides by security fences? Will Sharon be able to get American support for his
new policy? Will he listen to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or to the Shin
Bet security service, which are urging him to go in opposite directions? Will
he actually be able to dismantle dozens of settlements, assuming he wants to?
And what are the likely political ramifications in Israel?

Local pundits give two very different readings of the prime
minister’s intentions.

According to one reading, Sharon’s plan is to redeploy
Israeli forces behind the security fence being built between Israel and the West
Bank, and to “relocate” dozens of Israeli settlements from the Palestinian to
the Israeli side. According to this scenario, the fence would be no more than a
temporary security line, and the Palestinians would have the option of coming
back to the negotiating table at any time to set final borders.

But there is another, widely divergent reading — that Sharon
intends to complete a second, “eastern fence,” along the Jordan Valley,
enclosing the Palestinians between the two fences on about 50 percent to 60
percent of the West Bank. Under this scenario, Israel would retain the Jordan Valley
as a buffer zone between the Palestinian entity and Jordan.

Whether the Palestinians have territorial contiguity or only
contiguity of movement will depend on which way Sharon goes.

The IDF’s Central Command, responsible for the West Bank,
has drawn up a contingency plan called “Everything Flows,” in which a system of
bridges, tunnels and bypass roads provides the Palestinians with freedom of
movement, without full territorial contiguity.

Whether Sharon gets American support will depend on which
plan he adopts. The United States insists that Israel do nothing to undermine
President Bush’s vision of a viable Palestinian state. That would seem to rule
out American support for the eastern fence plan.

For his part, Sharon has said that whatever he does will be
fully coordinated with the United States. Indeed, there is nothing more
important in his foreign policy doctrine than Israel’s U.S. ties. Therefore,
it’s hard to see Sharon pressing for the eastern fence scenario.

On the other hand, for years Sharon has been carrying around
a map based on “Israeli interests” which, like the eastern fence scenario,
leaves the Palestinians with no more than 60 percent of the West Bank. If the
post-withdrawal lines seem to correspond to Sharon’s “Israeli interests” map,
suspicion will grow that he is trying to impose a permanent arrangement on the
Palestinians based on a minimal Israeli withdrawal.

The IDF, however, is urging Sharon to be generous with the
Israeli withdrawal. The army’s planning branch, under Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland,
has presented Sharon with an ambitious plan leading to the establishment of a
Palestinian state with temporary borders.

The IDF is asking Sharon to show the Palestinians and the
international community how serious he is by handing over West Bank cities to
the Palestinian Authority — a process that until now has been conditional on
Palestinian willingness to fight terrorism — as soon as possible.

The army is also advising Sharon to lift roadblocks and
allow free movement between Palestinian cities, even at the risk of more
terrorist attacks against Israel. The IDF’s argument is that if such moves are
not reciprocated by the Palestinians, the world will be much more understanding
of a subsequent, unilateral Israeli move. If the moves are reciprocated, then a
negotiated settlement could be in the cards.

The weight Sharon attaches to the IDF view can be gleaned
from the fact that Eiland, who is slated to become head of the National
Security Council, has been appointed to lead a team of experts fleshing out
Sharon’s unilateral program.

But there also are other, opposing voices in the Israeli
defense establishment. The Shin Bet is urging Sharon to proceed very carefully
and not hand over cities or lift roadblocks until Palestinian terrorism stops.

The Shin Bet argues that the Palestinians are doing nothing
to combat terrorism. These officials say that a devastating Oct. 4 suicide
bombing in a Haifa restaurant may have been the last major terrorist attack,
but only because Israeli forces have succeeded in foiling 26 suicide bombing
attempts since then.

Perhaps the biggest question for Sharon is whether he will
be able to relocate dozens of Jewish settlements.

So far, the government has not set up a team to negotiate
with settlers over compensation or alternative housing.

Even if it does, the right-wing, ideological settlers — as
distinct from those who moved to the settlements for lifestyle reasons or
because of government financial incentives — are unlikely to cooperate.

The government already is having difficulty dismantling
sparsely populated, illegal settlement outposts; when it comes to large,
authorized settlements, settler opposition is sure to be much fiercer.

Every such relocation would be a major operation for the
army. Given the army’s manpower limitations, the settlements probably would
have to be dealt with one by one, in an emotionally wrenching and
time-consuming process.

Sharon also can expect opposition from within his own Likud
Party and from the far right. As soon as a relocation program goes into effect,
the National Religious Party and the National Union are expected to quit the
governing coalition, and some Likud lawmakers will stop automatically
supporting the government.

Eleven of the Likud’s 40 caucus members already have signed
a petition demanding that any settlement relocation first be authorized by the
caucus. Others are pressing for a full-scale debate on Sharon’s new policy at
next month’s party convention.

The immediate test for Sharon will be whether he can pass
the 2004 budget by the end of the year. Last minute, right-wing opposition to
the budget could have a far-reaching effect on Sharon’s ability to move his
policy forward.

Of course, all the unilateral arguments would become
irrelevant if Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei were to come to
the table and negotiate a deal with Sharon on the basis of the internationally
backed “road map” peace plan.

But few on the Israeli side, including Sharon, believe that
will happen.

That leaves the two key, and so far unanswered, questions:
Which unilateral plan will Sharon adopt, and will he have the political support
to implement it? Â

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

World Briefs

Israel Lifts BBC Ban

Israel said it would resume ties with the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), which recently named an ombudsman to oversee its Middle East coverage. Israeli officials long have charged pro-Palestinian bias in the BBC’s coverage. Israel stopped cooperating with the BBC last summer after it repeatedly aired a TV show about Israel’s nuclear program that implied Israel was a rogue state.

Pollard Loses Again

A U.S. judge rejected a claim by convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. On Nov. 13, Judge Thomas Hogan dismissed a claim by Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel, that his previous lawyers did not do all they could to free him. Hogan also denied a request by Pollard’s lawyers to gain access to classified documents that could help his release. Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst, is serving a life sentence in a U.S. jail.

AMIA Extradition Denied

A former Iranian diplomat accused of helping bomb an Argentine Jewish center will not be extradited to stand trial. A British judge ruled last week that there was not enough evidence to extradite Hadi Soleimanpour to Argentina.

The Iranian diplomat was arrested earlier this year in Britain for suspected involved in the 1994 car bombing of the AMIA center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Soleimanpour was Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the attack.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s Justice Ministry confirmed that suspicious Swiss bank accounts connected to former Argentine President Carlos Menem have been found, but none that connect Menem to a multimillion-dollar bribe he allegedly received from Iran to hinder a probe into the bombing.

Orthodox to Meet on Singles ‘Crisis’

The National Council of Young Israel will hold its third annual “Shidduch Emergency Conference” in New York. The annual event will address issues related to finding a mate, such as overcoming obstacles to commitment, medical and genetic issues to consider, developing empathy between singles and married people, Internet matchmaking and coping with the emotional strain of break-ups, divorce and broken engagements. The conference will be held Nov. 23 at Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Aliyah Infomercials Set

TV infomercials touting immigration to Israel will run across North America. Nefesh B’Nefesh, or “Jewish Souls United,” which seeks to boost North American immigration to Israel, said it plans to buy spots on family and religious cable and satellite networks to run a 30-minute advertisement called “Israel: Homeward Bound,” touting a “bold new wave” of aliyah. Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the group’s executive director, said the ads will begin airing next week and will run for several months. The group claims to have brought 1,500 people to Israel this year and last, and is hoping to form a “significant partnership” with Israeli agencies.

Yarmulkes Out in France

French Jewish children should wear regular hats, instead of yarmulkes, to avoid anti-Semites, France’s chief rabbi said. On Tuesday, Joseph Sitruk told Radio Shalom, a Jewish community radio station, that he didn’t want young people “isolated in the metro or on suburban trains to risk becoming a target for aggressors any more than I want our young Jews to respond and become the aggressors themselves.”

Sitruk’s comments followed a new outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents in France.

Security Council Endorses ‘Road Map’

The U.N. Security Council endorsed the “road map” peace plan, with U.S. backing. Some Jewish leaders fear the resolution will make Israel vulnerable to diplomatic sanctions if the peace process falters. The resolution passed Wednesday and calls on the parties to “fulfill their obligations under the road map in cooperation with the Quartet,” the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations. Those four drafted the road map. The resolution also demands “an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction.” Security Council resolutions have the force of international law, and Jewish leaders worry that Arab nations will claim Israeli actions violate the new resolution.

“When you have Syria and other unfriendly and hostile countries, you can see the potential for mischief and abuse,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Right-Wing Activists Unite in Jerusalem

As thousands of joyous Christian tourists danced through the streets of Jerusalem on their annual colorful Feast of Tabernacles parade, a group of well-funded neoconservatives gathered on the other side of the capital at the inaugural Jerusalem Summit.

The exclusive Oct. 12-14 conference at the King David Hotel united right-wing thinkers, activists and media primarily from the United States and Israel for what they hope will become a new umbrella organization aimed at providing an alternative to the "road map" and a tougher stance on terrorism in Israel.

"The only way to fight terror is without political restraints," said Ehud Olmert, minister of industry and trade and vice prime minister, at the summit. The former Jerusalem mayor dismissed the road map and said that Israel must "decide on a unilateral process based on what we want."

The conference was planned to coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles, when more than 3,000 Christians come to Israel to express support for Israel and to see the Land of Jesus.

"Jewish people remind the world that they are accountable to God," the Rev. Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, which sponsored the Feast, said, addressing the Jerusalem Summit.

The summit reiterated the growing ties between Evangelical Christians and conservative Jews and presented a wide range of the right: fairly moderate Mideast analyst Daniel Pipes advocated resuming the peace process when the Palestinians give up terror, while Ambassador Alan Keyes called not for peace but for victory through military means. Other speakers included government officials such as Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Tourism Benny Elon and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Uzi Landau; and American policymakers Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Mideast analyst Frank Gaffney and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.

Perle also accepted the Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson Award for strengthening the role of values and vision in politics.

"We find the traditions of both of these men [Perle and Jackson] to be firmly entrenched amongst many decision makers in both Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.," said Summit Director Dmitry Radyshevsky, former Moscow News New York bureau chief and Harvard Divinity School graduate who moved to Israel four years ago.

Radyshevsky serves as the executive director of the Michael Cherney Foundation, the primary sponsor of the conference, along with the Ministry of Tourism and the National Unity Coalition for Israel, an organization representing 200 groups of both faiths. Cherney, a Russian businessman and philanthropist, started his foundation on June 1, 2001, in order to help Russian victims and families of the Dolphinarium disco bombing, which occurred across from his office, killing 21 and injuring more than 150 others.

"At some point, we realized that we had to fight the root of terrorism, not just aid the victims," said Radyshevsky, who was the public face and driving force behind the summit, which was planned half a year ago and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage. The summit put forth a four-point declaration, calling radical Islam a threat to civilization, the United Nations a failure, Israel in need of defense and the war on terror a righteous cause.

Whether this summit represents a new coalition of the right or a one-time spark remains to be seen.

"It’s not enough to have money," one attendee said privately, "you have to have momentum."

The Bush Doctrine and the use of military force were not the only alternatives presented to the current road map. Minister of Tourism Elon, head of the Moledet Party, also unveiled at the summit his peace plan, "The Right Road to Peace," which basically calls for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and the international recognition of Jordan as the Palestinian state, with the Arab residents of the West Bank becoming citizens of the Palestinian state in Jordan.

The Elon Plan was released just as "The Geneva Accord" peace proposal was made public from Egypt by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Arafat adviser Abed Rabo. The new Geneva accord offers Palestinians a state in the West Bank in return for relinquishing the right of return. This new plan, which has not been recognized by the Israeli government, is based on U.N. resolution 194, which allows refugees to choose between return and compensation.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is said to have described the document as "the greatest historical mistake since Oslo," and tried to marginalize the drafters as people on the fringe. But whether this will be a one-time spark or a continuing effort remains to be seen. "They need to get more sophisticated," one invited speaker said.

As the Geneva Accord took the main stage in the Mideast, the Jerusalem Summit continued, and even invigorated the members’ desire to unite and find an alternative.

"They are talking to people who are active terrorists," said David Bedein, the bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency and attendee of the conference, who said the Jerusalem Summit is now more important than ever. "What this conference has done is get all the different people who think that peace can be achieved through means other than the Oslo process … together to talk to each other."

He said that the conference would produce results such as having more academics present papers, and having people become more media savvy.

But regardless of the future results, what the conference has done has allowed people of similar thought to feel, for once, they said, like more than a fringe minority.

Novelist Naomi Ragen, who has penned best-sellers on the religious world, such as "Sotah," puts out a daily newsletter on her Web site on the situation in the Middle East.

"What this conference does for me is to help me feel that I’m not alone."

StandWithUs Hosts Second Conference

When 14-year-olds Kobi Mandel and Yosef Ishran were found brutally stoned to death by Palestinian terrorists on May 9, 2001, Jews around the world mourned. For L.A. residents Roz and Jerry Rothstein, the tragedy was the last straw.

The husband and wife team gathered nearly 50 Jewish leaders from across the religious and political spectrum together in their living room on May 21, 2001, to discuss the mobilization of the Los Angeles Jewish community in support of Israel. The meeting marked the birth of the grass-roots pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.

“It’s not just about how this intifada affects Israel,” Roz Rothstein said. “It’s about how the intifada has affected Jews around the world.”

On May 4, StandWithUs will host “Can You Defend Israel?” a repeat of the popular Israel advocacy conference held last January at Temple Beth Am, which drew 325 participants from around the country (organizers were forced to turn away more than 100 people). The second conference, also to be held at Temple Beth Am, is expected to attract an equally sizable crowd.

“This is a how-to conference. This is not a briefing conference,” said Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs. “It’s how to write, how to deal with the media when you’re not happy, how to advocate. It’s the most sophisticated, most up-to-date information available.”

StandWithUs has become one of the most active pro-Israel groups in Los Angeles today. Its efforts include educating on all levels — monitoring media, helping to expose militant Islamic groups and leadership, improving public relations with Israel and promoting Christian-Jewish alliances. The conference is one step in the organization’s effort to give Los Angeles Jews a professional voice.

Sponsored by 13 additional Jewish organizations and six synagogues, the mission of the May 4 conference is to train people to be ambassadors for Israel.

Rothstein said that even though people might know the information, it is the ability to express that information that they are often lacking. “The other conferences are more informational. They give briefings,” Rothstein said.

Workshops at the conference will include practical tips on lobbying for Israel and dealing with the media, techniques in public speaking and history briefings.

“Our intention is to offer a full plate of politically oriented speakers. But we have an agenda to teach people to advocate for Israel — the most effectively and most efficiently,” Rothstein said. “We don’t want people to spin their wheels. We want people to be very sharp.”

Featured speakers will include radio talk show host Dennis Prager; Elliott Brandt, Western States director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; public speaking expert Richard Greene; Dr. Roberta Seid, director of research and education for StandWithUs; Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition of Hillel: The Foundation For Jewish Campus Life, and professor and international affairs expert Jonathan Adelman.

The conference will also cater to college students, a segment of the population that has seen some of the fiercest of anti-Israel sentiment. Although it has been quieter on campus recently, Rothstein said that being prepared and proactive is as important now as ever.

“It’s a hidden agenda of the Muslim student associations across the country — the ‘free Palestine’ agenda and making Israel into the famed bad guy,” Rothstein said. “It’s still there … it’s just waiting right now.”

One of the main issues that will be addressed at the StandWithUs conference is incitement.

“Incitement was a word used in Oslo but it was an empty term,” Rothstein said. “Incitement from the cleric speeches must be monitored on the radio, TV programs need to teach peace, textbooks need to be revamped, the teachers need to teach peace, the posters of suicide bombers and making bombers into heroes needs to end.”

Rothstein said that a peaceful resolution is dependent upon incitement being broken down as an accountable issue in the road map language.

“We’re going to spell out incitement as an issue and hope that everyone will be able to lobby on this issue,” she said.

StandWithUs Advocacy Conference II will take place on
Sunday, May 4, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Register by phone at (310) 836-6145 or online at

Peace ‘Map’ Fears

Israel backers are raising numerous concerns about the latest version of the U.S. "road map" for Middle East peace.

Analysts and Jewish leaders say the latest version, currently being hammered out in Washington, diverges from President Bush’s June 24 speech, in which he called for new Palestinian leaders and said a Palestinian state could be created only after significant institutional reforms. They also say Israel has not been consulted enough in the preparation of the document.

Also of concern is the fact that the State Department, which is considered to be softer on the Palestinians, is working on the plan, rather than the White House, whose views on the conflict are considered closer to Israel’s.

"The concern is that some of the key players credited with crafting Bush’s speech are now focused on Iraq," said one official with a Jewish organization. "Some of the other folks in the State Department have moved to fill the vacuum."

Israel has complained that it learned about the revised road map only from news reports. Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky raised some of Israel’s concerns during a visit to Washington last week.

Conceived in conjunction with America’s "quartet" partners — the United Nations, European Union and Russia — the road map has been under revision for more than a month, addressing concerns raised by all sides.

It is expected to be released when quartet leaders meet in Washington on Dec. 20. Israeli officials want the release postponed until after Israeli elections on Jan. 28.

The road map calls for a three-stage approach leading to an interim Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next year, and the creation of a permanent state by the end of 2005.

In the first stage, the plan demands the appointment of a new Palestinian Authority Cabinet and the creation of a prime minister’s post. It also demands that Israel improve humanitarian conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and dismantle any settlement outposts created under the Sharon government.

Later, it would require the Palestinians to write a constitution. It also calls for a monitoring system led by the quartet to ensure that the two sides meet their commitments. In addition, the road map calls on Israel to withdraw troops from all areas occupied since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000 and to freeze all settlement activity.

The second phase, which would run through the end of 2003, begins with Palestinian elections in January and an international conference to form a provisional Palestinian state. The third phase, due in 2004 and 2005, calls for a second conference and negotiations toward a final peace agreement.

The new version does not address some of the fundamental concerns that Israel raised last month. Specifically, Israel is concerned that the road map does not repeat Bush’s demand for a change in Palestinian leadership and does not set standards that the Palestinians must meet before the sides progress from stage to stage.

Israel wants the steps to be performance-based, not dictated by a timeline that runs regardless of how well the Palestinians honor their commitments, as was the case under the Oslo peace accords.

"We’ve had very negative experiences with timelines in the past," an Israeli official said.

Israel is also not happy that quartet members — three of whom it considers biased toward the Palestinians — will serve as monitors, playing a role that until now has been filled by the United States.

The new version speaks of moving through the process with the "consensus" opinion of the quartet — essentially giving the United States veto power — but Israeli officials argue that isn’t enough. They want any monitoring to be left solely to the United States.

Several analysts say that, unlike Bush’s June 24 speech, the road map essentially allows Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to remain in power. Bush also said that no Palestinian state could be created until the Palestinian leaders "engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure."

Israel has complained that the security steps the plan demands of the Palestinians are too vague.

"The road map is not faithful to Bush’s June 24 speech, which makes crystal clear that removal of Yasser Arafat is a prerequisite of any American diplomatic initiative," said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Also of concern is the lack of consequences for Palestinian noncompliance.

If the road map is released next month, it will come during national elections in Israel, where Haifa’s dovish mayor, Amram Mitzna, will lead the Labor Party. The Likud leadership was to be decided in a Nov. 28 primary, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a heavy favorite to defeat his challenger, Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli officials have been asking for the release to be postponed until after the Jan. 28 national elections. Sharansky made the request in Washington last week, but so far the United States has resisted.

"We haven’t made any decisions in terms of announcements or anything," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said last week.

Releasing the road map during the election campaign would be seen as a gift for Mitzna, who has said he will meet with any Palestinian leader, including Arafat. Sharon has refused to meet with Arafat because of Arafat’s ties to terror groups.

However, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Monday that postponing the release would be as much an act of interference in Israeli politics as releasing it. He also suggested that Sharon would not be hampered by the road map.

"He needs to show the Israeli electorate not only that he can fight terrorism, but that he has a way out of the process," Indyk said at a forum at the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow. "He needs to support it."

Indyk also said that based on the fate of other peace plans presented over the past two years, Sharon knows there is little chance the road map will be implemented. Therefore, Indyk said, he has little to lose by supporting the plan.

Makovsky speculated that the United States may be insisting on releasing the document quickly to strengthen U.S. attempts to woo Arab support for a potential attack on Iraq.

"Introducing the document at such a sensitive juncture, very little can be accomplished," he said. "It makes me wonder if Arab states are seeking to insist upon the quartet’s passage of the road map as a prerequisite for their acquiescence to the American actions in Iraq."

Partners in Profit

While Israel searches for a reliable partner in peace, partners in business were in no short supply at last month’s California-Israel Bio-Partnering & Investment Conference. The “Bio” is short for biotechnology, a collective term for the various medical and technical innovations currently gathering great momentum. The “Partnering” was a meeting of the minds and monies of businesses in California and Israel, previously separated by thousands of miles, concerned with these innovations. The conference brought together Israeli companies specializing in biotechnology with scores of Southern California firms in biotech, venture capital and marketing, and other businesses eager to join in the Israeli biotechnology boom.

Much has been made of the recent growth spurt in the “Silicon Wadi,” the high-tech industry that has revitalized Israel’s once troubled economy, leading a surge of innovation that has placed Israel among the technology elite with the second highest rate of per-capita startups after California’s Silicon Valley. One might have expected any meeting between Californians and Israelis to be filled with the rhetoric of “a common pioneering spirit” and similar proud comparisons. Some of that natural pride could be heard in opening remarks and in the congratulatory letters of politicians in the conference handbooks, but 15 minutes into this two-day meeting, the business at hand was the business of biotech.

In all, more than 150 representatives of more than 70 companies and organizations met at UCLA’s faculty center on Sept. 11 and 12. Executives of Israeli start-ups, along with established firms in search of funding and strategic partnerships, showed off their wares with video and PowerPoint presentations. For their part, the California-based firms came in search of innovative technologies in the fast-growing field. Carol Schneider, a partner at Lyon & Lyon intellectual property law firm, noted, “There’s just a lot of opportunity [at the conference]. Our firm has most definitely seen an increase in Israeli clients over the past few years.”
Following the presentations, conference facilitators set up meetings between the Israeli firms and interested California companies. With multimedia presentations and private one-on-one meetings, the networking was intense as strategies were shared, funding was proposed and “there were some very strong connections made. Every company reported strong leads in making partnership connections,” said event chair David Herskovitz.

The conference also featured panel discussion seminars designed to help Israeli companies with the details of doing biotech business in the U.S. Four such seminars, on issues like Food and Drug Administration testing and American intellectual property law, drew standing-room-only audiences of Israeli professionals to the conference rooms of the faculty center.

The conference, which is expected to become an annual event, was Herskovitz’s brainchild, five years in planning.

“I’ve always had a passion for Israel,” says the executive vice-president of Skilled Health Systems, L.C. While visiting in 1994, “I saw that a lot of the technology was there, but they didn’t know what to do with it in terms of penetrating U.S. markets.”

Citing the Israeli government’s encouragement of converting advanced military technology for civilian uses, along with the influx of a large number of scientists and engineers from the former Soviet Union, Herskovitz saw opportunities for strategic partnerships. As co-founder of the California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC), Herskovitz says, “I combined my twin passions, for my health care company and for Israel.” After years of inquiries and planning, CICC partnered with the Israel Export Institute and the Government of Israel Economic Mission to produce the meeting.

The event also provided an opportunity to honor Alfred Mann, one of Southern California’s great philanthropists and founder of more than a half-dozen biotechnology firms. Mann’s firm MiniMed has developed external and implantable pumps to reliably deliver insulin for diabetics, and his company Advanced Bionics has created a system for stimulating hearing in deaf people. Even with that level of success, Mann, seated in the audience during the Israeli presentations, was so impressed by one of the technologies in development that he invited the company’s representative to his home to discuss partnership possibilities.

The diversity of approaches and the range of technological innovations that make up the Israeli biotech industry was apparent to all in attendance at the conference, as was Israel’s place at the forefront of a health and business revolution. Said Tzur Ginad of DNR Imaging Systems, Ltd., “I started in data processing and networks 25 years ago. I see the same potential for growth now in biotechnology.”

For more information about the companies and organizations involved with the California-Israel Bio-Partnering and Investment Conference, contact the California Israel Chamber of Commerce at (323) 931-4469, or visit”

Debating the Future

The rampant factionalism and firecracker unpredictability that marks Israeli politics these days came visiting Los Angeles last weekend.

More than 300 people left their cozy Sunday morning behind to participate in the all-day conference, “Israel: 1999 and Beyond,” sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Relations Committee along with the Jewish Community Foundation. Although aimed at the twenty- and thirtysomething crowd, the conference attracted a wide range of people, from college students to senior citizens. Wider still was the range of topics and diverse viewpoints explored, from Orthodox hawks to Peace Now doves.

The event got off to a rousing start with a panel discussion that featured Judith Miller of The New York Times, Jonathan Rosenblum of the Jerusalem Post, Stuart Schoffman of the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz’s David Makovsky, and Rabbi Yedidya Atlas, senior correspondent for Israel National Radio and former consultant on Diaspora affairs for the chief rabbinate of Israel.

Conference Explores Peace Through Education

Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and how to achieve it: That was the topic on everybody’s lips when the 24th Annual Academic Conference convened at the Century Plaza Hotel last weekend. The panel, sponsored by American Friends of the Hebrew University, was followed by a luncheon featuring keynote speaker Dennis Prager, the KABC radio host best known for his “Religion on the Line” program.

During the three-hour panel titled “From Conflict to Conciliation: Two Sides of the Same Story — An Israeli and Palestinian Perspective,” Dr. Ruth Firer, a Holocaust survivor, and Dr. Sami Adwan, a Hebron-raised Palestinian, talked about their research and their commitment to bring their two cultures together through education.

Firer and Adwan discussed strategies they have developed at the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, which include focus groups and revisions of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks so as to give schoolchildren a more balanced and empathetic read on their respective and shared histories. In the hope of positively influencing future generations on both sides, the Israeli-based academians will target impressionable pre-adolescents with their methods. Despite their enthusiasm and optimism, the team promised no overnight solutions, describing their work as the beginning steps of a long-term process.

Rounding out the panel were Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller, who served as moderator; Paul L. Scham, J.D., research development coordinator at the Truman Institute; and Joe E. Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, who drew parallels between Israeli-Palestinian dialogue problems with communication breakdown in multi-ethnic Los Angeles.

After the conference, Prager admitted to the luncheon crowd that he has always been “in the middle” regarding the intersection of American Jewry and Israeli politics. The radio personality lectured on the importance for American Jews to concentrate on establishing a strong religious and cultural identity in this country, rather than meddling in Israeli issues. Basing his opinion on discussions with American Muslim and Jewish leaders over his 15-year broadcast career, Prager placed his faith in American forms of Judaism and Islam as role models to resuscitate their ailing Middle Eastern counterparts. — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor