Pelosi calls for transparency from both sides in mosque dispute

Nancy Pelosi agreed with an ADL call on a group planning a mosque near Ground Zero to reveal its funders, but said the mosque’s opponents should do the same.

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives weighed in Wednesday on the controversy. She echoed statements from President Obama that freedom of religion is paramount, but that the decision about the planned mosque is a local matter.

“The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Where a place of worship is located is a local decision.” New York authorities, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have supported the mosque and community center, planned for a run-down area within three blocks of the World Trade Center felled in the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks.

Polling shows most Americans oppose the planned mosque, which also will serve as as an interfaith center, and a vocal opposition group has garnered the support of much of the Republican leadership, who have made the mosque an issue in the November midterm elections.

The Anti-Defamation League earlier this month issued a statement upholding religious freedom and decrying mosque opponents who have made bigoted statements, but also calling on the center’s organizers to respect the sensibilities of Sept. 11 victims and build it elsewhere.

The ADL also called for the organization behind the planned mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, to release a list of donors,  apparently heeding reports that its leaders have in the past consorted with Islamic radicals.

Pelosi in her statement said she agreed with a statement from the Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom group that includes a number of prominent rabbis on its board.

Pelosi quoted this sentence from the Interfaith Alliance statement: “We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.”

The entire Alliance statement expressed disappointment in the ADL: “It is unfair to prejudge the impact this center can have on reconciliation before it is even built,” it said. “And we must remember that just because someone prays in a mosque, that does not make them any less of a citizen than you or me.” It was not clear from her statement whether Pelosi endorsed the entire Alliance statement.

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said he appreciated Pelosi’s support for transparency, but regretted the politicization of the issue.

Pelosi pilloried, garden party for Israeli art and artists

Pelosi Pilloried at American Jewish University Lecture

Rather than praise, which one might expect from a roomful of women and the ceiling-smashing Nancy Pelosi, insults were hurled toward the stage.

“Traitor!” screamed one woman.

“Liar!” shouted another.

One man’s high-volume, breakneck rampage got him physically removed from the room. His diatribe, though nearly indecipherable, left Pelosi stone-faced but shaken.

Pelosi, on a break from her post as the first female Speaker of the House, landed at American Jewish University (AJU) on Aug. 11 to promote her new book, “Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters” (Doubleay). Faced with an acrimonious audience, one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of the Bush administration was lambasted for opposing impeachment proceedings against the president.

During a 90-minute Q-and-A with AJU President Robert Wexler, Pelosi discussed her childhood, her unexpected rise to power and the need for more women in government in front of an audience of nearly 400 people.

When Wexler pressed her on a question about Congress’s dismally low 9 percent approval rating, Pelosi defended herself and her colleagues. This prompted an irate audience member to accuse Pelosi of shirking her constitutional responsibilities by not impeaching Bush for the deceptive reasoning that led to the Iraq War.

“I have complete comfort with the frustration,” she said. “I’m from the streets.”

But when several others rose from their seats in protest, Pelosi became defensive.

“I take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Don’t tell me I don’t do that,” she snapped. “Why don’t you go picket the Republicans in Congress that will not allow us to have a vote on the war?”

It’s puzzling that L.A. liberals were charmed by the likes of Karl Rove, who appeared at a similar event in February, but were hostile to Pelosi, who was visably deflated by the time the crowd quieted down.

“What else do you have for me?” she asked a bereft Wexler, who didn’t follow up on the impeachment issue.

Despite her book’s message of empowerment to America’s women, Pelosi was pelted as if she were a harlot.

A Glamorous Garden Party


Besides ranking among the world’s greatest violinists, what do Yitzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman and Gil Shaham have in common?

All three, when they were starting out, got a crucial career boost through scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF), a low-key organization that has had an enormous influence in nourishing Israeli talent in music, theater, art and design, film and dance.

Local AICF supporters got a special bonus as guests at a garden party, concert and dinner July 27 at Marilyn Ziering’s Mediterranean-style villa in Beverly Hills, which instantly transported participants to the Riviera.

AICF was founded in 1939, when the small Jewish community in Palestine exported oranges instead of high-tech devices, and last year it awarded more than 1,100 scholarships (at $1,800 a pop) to promising Israeli students in the performing and visual arts.

This information was supplied courtesy of Debby Edelsohn, co-president of the Los Angeles AICF chapter with Renee Cherniak, and Marguerite Perkins-Mautner, whose husband, Charles Edelsohn, served as the afternoon’s ace photographer.

Also joining our table were Barbara Gilbert, the Skirball Museum’s curator emerita, and her husband, the doctor, as well as the young stars of the event, violinist Natanel Draiblate and violist Tom Palny, both Israelis, and New Yorker Brian Hatton, cello.

The trio was warmly applauded for its renditions of Mozart and Beethoven works, with a rousing medley of Israeli songs as an encore.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

(Above, from left) Brian Hatton (cellist), Rene Cherniak, Netanel Draiblate (violinist), Marguerite Mautner, Tom Palny (violist) and Debby Edelsohn

Speaker Pelosi, Speaker Itzik talk tough on Iran at Hadassah conclave

As the personification of women’s empowerment, two of the most influential female politicians in the United States and Israel stood on the stage, greeted by the cheers of more than 1,800 delegates to the 94th national Hadassah convention.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik had telling messages, embroidered with some warm personal touches.

Pelosi let it be known that she was a mother of five and grandmother of seven, and later noted, “I have more Jewish grandchildren than anyone.” (A pardonable exaggeration, since she has only two Jewish grandkids, who, however, serenade her with “Happy Birthday to You” in Hebrew.)

Itzik couldn’t quite match Pelosi, but countered with her three children, all Jewish.

On the occasion, though, what was most on the minds of the two speakers was the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“We must take the madmen in Tehran seriously,” Itzik urged. “Their nuclear plans threaten not only Tel Aviv, but also New York and Los Angeles.”

Pelosi called for “far-reaching and tighter sanctions that recognize that Iran is a danger to the entire world,” adding that global security “demands that Iran give up its nuclear ambitions.”

The San Francisco Democrat, who led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel in May to help celebrate the nation’s 60th anniversary, demanded the return of Israeli hostages held by the Iran-supported Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.

She said that the wife of hostage Eldad Regev had presented her with a set of her husband’s military dog tags.

“I wore the dog tags when I was meeting the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the president of Syria,” she said.

Pelosi also warmly praised the work of the Hadassah Medical Organization and its two medical centers in Jerusalem.

Noting that the Hadassah hospitals were open to anyone, regardless of race or religion, she told the delegates, “Hadassah accepts all patients, not because they are Jewish, but because you are Jewish.”

Pelosi also called for Jewish community support for a series of health-related bills, ranging from stem-cell research to Medicare reform, which passed both houses of Congress, but were vetoed by President Bush.

“But it won’t be long until these bills become law,” she promised. “The next president will sign them.”

Hadassah’s national president, Nancy Falchuck of Boston, standing between Pelosi and Itzik, referred to them jokingly as “Stereo Speakers” and praised them as pioneers who had shattered the glass ceilings in their respective countries.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has some 300,000 women members in the United States and an additional 30,000 male associate members.

The four-day convention at the Bonaventure Hotel ended Wednesday, July 16, after a crammed program of sessions, workshops and plenary addresses on current politics, the future of medicine, anti-Semitism, women’s health, information technology, being green and projects in Israel.

The opening event with Pelosi and Itzik concluded with a lengthy video presentation intertwining the histories of the State of Israel and Hadassah, from 1948 to the present.

Actor Henry Winkler inadvertently turned the fairly straightforward narration into somewhat of a comedy routine by repeatedly mangling the pronunciation of such words as “Ein Kerem” (the site of the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem) and “intifada.”

Both Winkler and the audience took the lapses in good humor, with the latter frequently shouting out the correct pronunciations. The show was saved by three lovely singers of the Ashira Trio and two talented male actors.

Two women, sitting on either side of this Journal reporter while watching the proceedings, represented two poles of Hadassah membership.

On one side sat Benita Ross of Canton, Mass., a veteran of Hadassah conventions for 30 years. Now serving as the organization’s national chair for Jewish and Zionist education, she represents five generations – from her grandmother to her granddaughter – of Hadassah activism.

On the other side was Svetlana Kaff, who personified the younger, professional women Hadassah is trying hard to attract.

The 34-year old immigration lawyer, one of three San Francisco delegates, arrived in this country as a 16-year old from Odessa and is the mother of two.

“I see few young persons here,” Kaff said. “The main problem is that if you have a job and children, there is very little time left for other activities.”

Kaff, who also volunteers for her city’s Jewish Family and Children’s Service and at her synagogue, said she joined her local Hadassah chapter “to give something back to my community.”

To avoid charges of minority and gender discrimination, The Journal also interviewed Elliott G. Spack, one of 75 members of the male Hadassah Associates attending the convention.

The Edison, N.J., resident is also part of an all-Hadassah family, consisting of his wife Barbara, a board member, and three daughters, all of whom attended Hadassah’s Young Judaea study programs in israel.

Spack, who retired as executive director of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, said that by joining the Hadassah Associates, he and other men “recognize the commitment of our wives and the importance of what they are doing.”