Roger Waters has been a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign within the cultural arena. He has lobbied countless artists to refuse to perform in Israel, while publicly criticizing others for doing so.

Wish You Weren’t Here Roger Waters


Boycott of Waters Launched With Petition, Website and Film

A group calling itself “We Don’t Need no Roger Waters” are calling for a boycott of musician Roger Waters. The Change.org petition wants a worldwide boycott of Waters until he renounces antisemitism and the unjust boycott of the State of Israel. The group has launched a website and Facebook page, and will be releasing a movie this summer.

The former frontman for Pink Floyd has increasingly used his rock-star status to defame and call for the boycott of Israel. He infamously flew a pig drone painted with swastikas and Stars of David at his concerts in 2013. Waters screens anti-Israel film clips during his live shows and viciously attacks any artist that chooses to perform in Israel.

Waters isn’t just anti-Israel, say his detractors, he’s actually a Jew-hater. They are firing back against his supporters by countering that Waters is not just anti-Israel, but actually a racist who espouses bigotry and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

According to the filmmakers, “Wish You Weren’t Here is a shocking, explosive and compelling film by award winning filmmaker/No.1 NY Times bestselling author Ian Halperin.” The film sets out to answer such questions as is Roger Waters an anti-Semite?

Halperin, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, traveled for two years researching his story, and the film includes interviews with leading figures such as including Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, Haras Rafiq, Palestinian and Israeli leaders, U.S., British and French government officials, The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Alan Dershowitz and Dr. Charles Small.

Instead of using music to build bridges and foster peace, it seems that Waters is actually another brick in the wall.

 

Shalit signs on to petition seeking Pollard’s freedom


Freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit joined the call on President Obama to release spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

Shalit on Monday signed an online petition asking Obama to commute Pollard's life sentence to time served.

“I have signed a petition, and call on you to do the same. Freedom is a great gift and privilege,” Shalit posted on his Facebook status. “I thank those who worked for my release, and now I ask you to join the struggle to save Pollard.”

More than 150,000 Israelis have signed the petition. The petition, which appears in Hebrew and English, was placed online Feb. 11 and will be hand delivered to Obama during his visit to Israel later this month, according to the Justice for Jonathan Pollard organization.

Shalit was freed from more than five years of captivity by Hamas terrorists in October 2011.

Pollard's wife, Esther, also appealed to Obama on Monday during an interview with Israel's Channel 2.

“Mr. President, all Jonathan and I are asking for is your compassion, your compassion and your mercy,” she said in English.

She added, “The greatest dream that Jonathan and I have is that he will be home for Passover this year, to sit next to me at the Passover seder, to drink his cup of wine, finally, after 28 years, as a free man.”

Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who spied for Israel, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987, despite a plea bargain in which he admitted his guilt. The calls to release Pollard have intensified in the last year, with pleas from lawmakers and former top officials of both U.S. political parties.

Israeli prosecutor: Yishai’s plan to deport migrants not approved


Israel's state prosecutor, saying the government has not approved a plan to arrest Sudanese asylum seekers, rejected a petition by Israeli human rights organizations to prevent its implementation.

“So far, no order has been issued to detain the infiltrators from Sudan,” the State Prosecutor's Office said Thursday in replying to the petition regarding the plan by Interior Minister Eli Yishai. “If such an order is issued in the future, it will be officially released by the (Immigration and Population) Authority 30 days before it takes effect.”

Six human rights groups had filed a petition in Jerusalem District Court against the plan announced Aug. 28 by Yishai that all Sudanese asylum seekers would be arrested and detained if they did not leave Israel by until Oct. 15. This month, the court issued an injunction against the plan until a hearing scheduled for the end of October.

Ankie Spitzer leads worldwide minute of silence for Munich 11


Ankie Spitzer led a minute of silence to honor the Munich 11 that was streamed live around the world.

Spitzer, the widow of an Israeli coach who was among 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team killed at the 1972 Games, led the minute of silence on Sunday evening at the JCC Maccabi Games opening ceremonies at the JCC Rockland in suburban New York.

The JCC Rockland had initiated a petition drive, which turned into an international campaign, to hold a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics in memory of the Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinians terrorists at the Munich Olympics. The International Olympic Committee turned down the request despite high-profile supporters such as President Obama, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and governments around the world.

“Maybe at the London Games we did not get the minute, but let me assure you, we did not have silence either,” Spitzer said at the Rockland JCC event. “For 40 years we walked this long and lonely road by ourselves, but not anymore. Two years ago I came here to the JCC Rockland and the JCC decided to dedicate the Maccabi Games to the memory of our loved ones. They were the ones who initiated the petition on the internet, and through this petition the world woke up.”

Some 1,225 athletes from 36 delegations from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico and Venezuela will compete in sporting events this week in the Maccabi Games.

How the Munich 11 petition went viral


It began two years ago as an idea by volunteers at a suburban Jewish community center and turned into a major international campaign, galvanizing everyone from President Obama to the mayor of London.

And in case you haven’t heard yet about the movement to get the International Olympics Committee to hold a minute of silence to honor the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain at the Munich Games in 1972, NBC’s Bob Costas has promised to raise the issue and hold an on-air moment of silence in his Olympics broadcast.

The campaign for the commemoration gained steam in May, when IOC President Jacques Rogge denied a request by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon for an official moment of silence during the Games to honor the Munich 11.

“I intend to note the IOC denied the request,” Costas told the Hollywood Reporter last week. As the Israeli team walks into the 80,000-seat Olympics stadium, Costas said, he will say, “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

In making that pledge, Costas added his name to a growing list of public figures calling for the official IOC moment of silence. The list includes Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, 140 Italian lawmakers and some 50 members of the British Parliament. The Olympic Games’ opening ceremony is Friday.

In a personal letter, Julia Gillard urged Rogge to recognize the Munich 11 during the opening ceremony “or at an appropriate time during the Games.” That, she said, would allow the Olympic movement “to honor, before the world, the memory of those whose lives were lost during that horrific event.” On Monday, the IOC’s Rogge surprised many by holding an impromptu moment of silence to honor the Munich 11 before delivering brief remarks in the Olympic Village, marking the first time the athletes have been memorialized inside in an Olympic Village.

“I would like to start today’s ceremony by honoring the memory of 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals that have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village,” Rogge said at the event for the Olympic Truce, a U.N.-backed initiative calling for an end to hostilities during the two weeks of the Olympic Games. IOC executive board members, special guests, Olympic athletes and officials attended the event.

“The 11 victims of the Munich tragedy believed in that vision,” Rogge said. “They came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity. We owe it to them to keep that spirit alive and to remember them.”

But two widows of the slain Israelis criticized the move to The Jerusalem Post as a public relations stunt and slammed Rogge for holding fast to his decision against an official commemoration.

The campaign for an official commemoration at the 2012 Games was born when Steve Gold and a few other volunteers at the Rockland County JCC in suburban New York decided to dedicate the Maccabi Games they were hosting to the murdered Israelis.

One of them knew Ankie Spitzer, wife of the Andrei Spitzer, an Israeli fencing coach killed in the attack, and asked her to record a video promoting a petition for an official IOC moment of silence. In the past, Olympics officials have attended private Israeli or Jewish ceremonies marking the tragedy, but other than the day after the murders themselves, the IOC has not held a commemoration of its own of the Munich massacre.

The petition was launched, and since April the signatures—and news stories about the effort—quickly mounted. At last count, some 104,000 people had signed on to the petition.

On Monday, Gold left for the London Games, where he, Spitzer and Ilana Romano – whose weightlifter husband, Yossef, was killed by the Palestinian terrorists in 1972—plan to present their petition to Olympics officials.

The campaign gained visibility last week when Obama lent his support to the effort via an email from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor to Yahoo! News, and this week when Romney—who was CEO of the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City—threw his support behind the effort.

Gold, who was the first person to sign the petition, credited Jewish and non-Jewish organizations with picking up on the effort.

“Everybody knows somebody. There was not one organization that said they would not help us,” he said. “To them this was a no-brainer, and everybody started putting it on their website, whether it was the Anti-Defamation League or the Board of Rabbis or the Jewish Federations of North America. So it began to go viral. It’s cool stuff.”

Gold said it is remarkable that a petition about something that happened four decades ago has had such an impact.

“Here’s a cause that’s 40 years old and it has resonated,” he said. “I believe it hit a nerve and that people had this in their head for 40 years and weren’t able to tell anybody about it. We gave them that opportunity.”

On Sunday, London Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled a memorial plaque to the Munich victims at a ceremony near the Olympic village organized by Hackney Borough Councilman Linda Kelly and Martin Sugarman, chairman of the Hackney Anglo-Israel Friendship Association, according to the London Jewish Chronicle.

“It is entirely right this morning that we should remember those events,” Johnson said. “And today let us hope that these Olympic Games that we are holding in London this week, 40 years later, are not only happy and peaceful, and also that they will be remembered in years to come.”

Romney joins calls for Olympics moment of silence


Mitt Romney joined the campaign for a moment of silence at the London Olympics to remember the 11 Israelis killed at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

“Gov. Romney supports the moment of silence in remembrance of the Israeli athletes killed in the Munich Olympic Games,” Andrea Saul, the spokeswoman for the presidential campaign of Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presumptive Republican nominee, said in an email.

Romney, who directed the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, will attend the opening ceremony on Friday. His support comes four days after President Obama joined the growing calls for a moment of silence.

“We absolutely support the campaign for a minute of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said last week.

Romney has come under fire from Democrats for not voicing similar support for a moment of silence on the 30th anniversary of the massacre during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent Holocaust historian, faulted Romney for not expressing support for such a moment in 2002, when his position directing the Winter Olympics would have weighed heavily with the International Olympic Committee.

“Mitt Romney’s failure to do that was failure of character,” Lipstadt told Reuters. The historian told the news agency that she supports Obama but is not connected to his campaign.

Saul did not answer JTA’s query about Romney’s position on the moment of silence during the 2002 Olympics.

The families of the victims of the 1972 massacre have mounted a global campaign to get the IOC to hold an official moment of silence at the Games—something IOC officials already have rejected for this year and have never done in the past. However, IOC representatives have attended Israeli and Jewish-organized commemorations.

On Monday, IOC head Jacques Rogge held a moment of silence in the Olympic Village, the first time the deaths have been commemorated in the athletes’ home during the Games.

Along with Obama and now Romney, the U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, about 50 members of the British Parliament, the Israeli government, Jewish organizations worldwide and about 100 members of Australia’s Parliament have urged the IOC to hold a moment of silence.

National Jewish Democratic Council removes Adelson petition


The National Jewish Democratic Council, citing peace among Jewish groups, has taken down a petition calling on Republicans not to accept money from Sheldon Adelson.

“Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ),” said a statement sent late Wednesday by NJDC President David Harris and Chairman Marc Stanley. “Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.”

The petition based the call on allegations by a former employee suing Adelson for firing him that the billionaire casino magnate agreed to allow prostitution at his casinos in Macau, China; on the claim by McCain that Adelson, with the tens of millions of dollars he has infused into the Republican side of this year’s elections, was effectively introducing Chinese money into the campaign; and on federal investigations into allegations that Adelson has paid bribes in China.

A number of Jewish groups and figures, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, the Republican Jewish Coalition and Alan Dershowitz called the allegations unconscionable, noting that all had yet to be proven.

Harris and Stanley said in the statement that “we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination. We stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts.”

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have given tens of millions of dollars this year to political committees supporting Republicans in general and Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, in particular, although it is not clear if he has directly given to Romney.

He is a major giver to Jewish causes, especially the Birthright Israel program bringing young people to Israel and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and has donated to causes associated with or favored by those who have defended him in this case.

Petition links Peres prize to Pollard


An Israeli petition is demanding that Shimon Peres condition his acceptance of the U.S. Medal of Freedom on clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

The online petition, which had garnered more than 10,000 signatures on Monday, praises Israel’s elder statesman for the honor that President Obama plans to bestow on him later this year.

“We ask you to exploit your unprecedented diplomatic status to act immediately for Jonathan Pollard’s release, before you receive the medal,” the petition states. “Only this will avert a situation whereby conferring the Medal of Freedom makes a mockery of Jonathan and his country.”

Pollard is serving a life prison sentence for passing Israel military secrets while he served as a civilian U.S. Navy analyst in the 1980s. Israel, which gave Pollard citizenship, has lobbied consecutive U.S. administrations to grant him an early release.

A Jerusalem official declined to comment directly on the petition addressed to Peres, the Israeli president, but said the Netanyahu government continued to view Pollard’s case as a priority.

Obama during his speech earlier this month before the AIPAC policy conference said he would award the medal—the highest honor that the United States can award to a civilian—to Peres this summer.

Israeli Supreme Court discusses prisoner exchange appeals


Israelis opposed to a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas sought Supreme Court intervention on Monday to block the release of hundreds of jailed Palestinians in return for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The first phase of the swap, to take place on Tuesday, should bring to a close a saga that has gripped Israelis over the five years of Shalit’s captivity in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

But under Israeli law, those against the planned release of 477 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were convicted of deadly attacks, can appeal before the exchange is carried out.

Four petitions were filed with the Supreme Court by the Almagor Terror Victims Association and relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks.

Judging from similar appeals in prisoner exchange deals in the past, the court is unlikely to intervene in what it considers a political and security issue.

“I understand the difficulty in accepting that the vile people who committed the heinous crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter, released by his office, to bereaved Israeli families.

Hamas prepared a heroes’ welcome in Gaza for 295 of the prisoners due to be sent to the Israeli-blockaded territory. Palestinians regard brethren jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in a struggle for statehood. Israel holds some 6,000 Palestinian prisoners.

An opinion poll in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth found that 79 percent of the public supported the deal with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel’s destruction.

Shalit, now 25, was captured in 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades.

Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, tightened its blockade of the coastal territory after he was seized and spirited into the Gaza Strip.

The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis, many of whom have served in the military. But they also feel a sting over the high price they feel Israel paid for Shalit.

Yossi Zur, whose son Asaf was among 17 people killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in the Israeli city of Haifa in 2003, asked the Supreme Court to prevent the release of the prisoners, three of whom were linked to the attack.

“From our experience with past deals, and sadly we have a lot of experience, we know how many Israelis will be killed as a result of the release of these terrorists. I am here to protect my children who are still alive,” Zur told Channel 10 television.

In a rare step, the court has allowed Shalit’s parents to appear and argue in favor of the deal for their son.

“Nobody knows what the impact of any delay, or any change, even the smallest, in the terms would be,” they wrote in a letter to the court.

Israel’s Prison Service has bused the 477 Palestinian prisoners under heavy guard to two holding facilities ahead of their release.

On Tuesday, some of the Palestinians will be brought to Egypt’s Sinai desert, where the exchange for Shalit will take place. Some of those prisoners will be taken to the Gaza Strip and 41 will be exiled abroad. Shalit will be flown to an air base in Israel to be reunited with his family.

A smaller group of prisoners on the release roster will be taken from Israel to the West Bank, where they will be welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, and their families.

Hamas sources said the exiled prisoners will be received by Turkey, Qatar and Syria after being brought to Cairo, where the movement’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, will greet them.

In the second stage, expected to take place in about two months, the remaining 550 Palestinian prisoners will be freed, officials said.

Israel’s deal with Hamas seemed unlikely to have an impact on international efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed 13 months ago.

Abbas has been pursuing a bid for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the absence of negotiations with Israel.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ari Rabinovich; Editing by Angus MacSwan; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza

Israel’s Supreme Court to mull petition against Shalit prisoner swap


Israel’s Supreme Court will consider petitions by terror victims’ families to cancel the Shalit prisoner swap deal.

The court said Sunday it would hold a hearing before a three-justice panel at noon Monday to consider a petition filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association against the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The association also asked the court to delay the releases to allow more time to study the list and make objections. Several families also have filed separate petitions against the release of particular prisoners. 

Israel’s Prison Service late Saturday night published the list of the 477 prisoners to be released in the first stage of the Shalit deal. According to Israeli law, the names of the prisoners to be released must be made public 48 hours before the scheduled release to allow for appeals against their release.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israel began transferring Palestinian prisoners to jails near their release sites

Shalit is scheduled to return to Israel via Egypt on Tuesday at the same time as the first set of prisoners are returned to Gaza and the West Bank. Some Palestinian prisoners also will be deported abroad.

On Saturday, Israeli President Shimon Peres began formally pardoning the prisoners who are part of the exchange. He reportedly will attach a letter to the pardons saying that while he is pardoning the released terrorists, “I do not forget and I do not forgive.”

Shalit’s father, Noam, told Israeli media that the family has not yet received proof that his son is alive. The last proof that he was alive came in a one-minute video released two years ago.

Shalit was captured by Hamas-associated gunmen in a 2006 cross-border raid and reportedly has been held ever since in Gaza.

Over the weekend, German mediator Gerhard Conrad cautioned that the agreement signed by Israel and Hamas could still be derailed at the last minute, specifically by Iran.

In Gaza, preparations were under way for mass celebrations for the released prisoners, including setting up stages throughout the coastal strip and reception tents at the homes of the prisoners’ families.

Petition filed for anti-circumcision measure in Santa Monica


An anti-circumcision group will circulate a petition in Santa Monica, Calif., to place a measure seeking to ban male circumcision on an upcoming ballot.

A Notice of Intent to Circulate a Petition, proposing a ballot initiative prohibiting “Genital Cutting of Male Minors” for the November ballot in Santa Monica, was filed with the city, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles reported. The filing comes on the heels of an anti-circumcision measure approved for the November ballot by San Francisco city officials last week. 

The text of Santa Monica’s proposed initiative is identical to the one that will appear on the San Francisco ballot, according to the Jewish Journal.

The measure makes it a misdemeanor crime to circumcise a boy in Santa Monica before he is 18 years old. The maximum penalty would be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Circumcisions would be permitted only for medical reasons, with no religious exemptions.

Santa Monica, which has a population of 90,000, has two hospitals and six synagogues, according to the Firedoglake online news site.

Jewish boys traditionally are circumcised at eight days of age and Muslims at some time during boyhood.

The group MGMBill.org, which stands for Male Genital Mutilation, reportedly is behind the initiative.

Petition requests break between Memorial, Independence days


Bereaved families and their supporters have signed a petition calling for a break between Memorial Day and Independence Day.

The petition says it is too difficult both emotionally and logistically to have Independence Day immediately follow Memorial Day. The petition points out that the families experience significant emotional pain on Memorial Day, and then must find their way home from cemeteries and ceremonies during which they encounter closed roads and preparations beginning for Independence Day.

The petition, which has garnered 5,000 signatures, many from bereaved families, requests an at least 24-hour break between the two observances.

The change would require Knesset legislation.

Anti-Islam Petition Fails to Sway UCLA


“Islam is NOT a religion.”

“Please understand the danger that Islam poses to our society.”

“OUTLAW ISLAM IN AMERICA!”

These and many other similar comments appear alongside the names of more than 1,000 signatories to a petition calling for the Muslim Student Association (MSA) to be banned from the UCLA campus.

The effort, begun in early February, was led by the Calabasas-West Valley chapter of ACT! for America. Spurred by reports on conservative blogs about the 13th annual MSA Western Conference, which took place Jan. 14-16 on UCLA’s campus, the Calabasas group demanded the MSA be prohibited from gathering on campus on the grounds that the group was “advocating the overriding of the authority of the government of the United States.”

“Under the guise of free speech,” Shari Goodman, the Calabasas chapter’s leader, wrote to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, “they [MSA] have for years conducted a campaign to not only delegitimize the state of Israel at numerous campuses throughout the country, but they have also engaged in unprecedented anti-Semitism directed at Jewish students on American college
campuses.”

UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said the university had been monitoring the petition and would not accede to the request to ban the MSA. “We believe the MSA and its leaders demonstrated exemplary leadership leading up to and during the conference,” Hampton said. “UCLA has a rich tradition of facilitating the free and open exchange of ideas. We do that in an environment that respects differences of opinions.”

Even allies in the fight against Islam have come out against the Calabasas chapter’s petition. David Horowitz, a conservative writer with little love for Islam (and even less for the free speech practiced at many American universities) slammed the petition on his Front Page Mag blog. Calling it “misguided,” even as he reiterated the basic claims on which it was based — namely that the MSA “is a creation of the Muslim Brotherhood” and a “sister organization of the terrorist group Hamas.”

Horowitz also reported that Brigitte Gabriel, the founder, president and CEO of ACT! for America, did not support the campaign by the Calabasas-West Valley chapter, one of 501 individual and autonomous chapters across the country. Gabriel could not be reached for comment.

Orthodox feminists make little progress on agunot


With strident calls for action and threats of “taking to the streets” if the issue is not soon resolved, participants in the 10th anniversary conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) ratcheted up the rhetoric around the plight of agunot, “chained women” whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious bill of divorce.

“Let this be the last JOFA conference where we need to ask if there’s a halachic heter [permissive legal ruling] for agunot,” Tova Hartman, founder of an Orthodox feminist synagogue in Jerusalem, told the approximately 1,000 people, mostly women, who attended a conference earlier this month in New York City. “The time has come to stop kvetching.”

The rhetoric on agunot contrasted sharply from that on other topics at the conference, where a sense of confidence bordering on the triumphant prevailed, owing to the substantial progress made in the decade since JOFA’s founding.

Women today serve as congregational heads, spiritual leaders and advisers on matters of religious law. They have greater access to rigorous textual study that once was the domain of men. And their participation in public prayer is on the rise with the growth of so-called “partnership minyanim,” in which women take on some leadership roles — including reading the Torah and leading certain prayers — in an otherwise typical Orthodox service.

Other issues, like marking a girl’s bat mitzvah, have fallen off the agenda entirely now that such celebrations are par for the course in Orthodox congregations.

“It is a slow and gradual progress,” JOFA Executive Director Robin Bodner said. “There is definitely progress. There is definitely change.”

Hartman electrified the conference with her talk of civil disobedience and the creation of alternative religious courts to address the plight of agunot, who under Jewish law are forbidden to remarry until their husbands have “released” them from marriage with a get, or religious bill of divorce.

In the worst cases, husbands have refused to grant religious divorces to their wives for years, sometimes issuing the documents only in exchange for sizable ransoms.

In the United States, various rabbinic courts and civil laws provide some recourse. In New York, state law requires spouses to remove all religious barriers to remarriage before a civil divorce is granted; a similar law is under consideration in Maryland.

In Israel, marriage remains under the purview of rabbinic courts that have the power to enforce their rulings. The problem, agunot advocates say, is that those powers are rarely used by judges, all of them male and drawn mostly from the ranks of the ultra-Orthodox.

An international rabbinic conference on the topic, the first of its kind, was scheduled for last November by Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar. It was canceled at the last minute, however, reportedly due to pressure from Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, an Ashkenazi rabbi widely considered the most authoritative figure in the fervently Orthodox world.

“It’s time that we in the Modern Orthodox world challenge the power of a handful of extremist Charedi rabbis,” Sharon Finkel Shenhav, the only woman serving on Israel’s commission to appoint religious judges, said at the conference.

Shenhav said the ultra-Orthodox, also known as haredim, control the courts only because “we let them.”

One possible halachic solution, the so-called “tripartite” solution, would have couples sign a prenuptial agreement stipulating that the marriage is dissolved if a husband and wife voluntarily live apart for a certain amount of time.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the American-born chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, argued for that option in an address to a standing-room only crowd at the convention.

While some accused the rabbinic courts of outright corruption, Riskin said the principal obstacle to resolving the issue is the courts’ preoccupation with “what they think is the purity of Israel as over and against the plight of the agunah.”

The tripartite solution is nearly airtight from a halachic standpoint, Riskin said, but it would only affect future marriages and would have little impact on existing agunot. Even so, he’s under no illusions that the idea will be enacted.

“If it does not work, then I believe we will have no choice but to establish alternative batei din,” or rabbinic courts, he said.

JOFA plans to take ads in Jewish media demanding action on agunot from the Orthodox rabbinate. The ads, which call the situation an “injustice” and a “disgrace,” would be timed to coincide with the Fast of Esther, which falls this year on March 1.

“If the community rose up, ultimately that’s how things are changed,” Bodner said. “We need to keep pushing for this change. We’re going to do it. Somehow, some way.”

Remembering Terrorism’s Victims


On this bright September afternoon, Zion Square, at the bottom of Jerusalem’s downtown Ben Yehuda outdoor mall, is the usual confusion of pedestrian traffic — shoppers, students, soldiers, tourists, all hurrying about their business in every direction. A few minutes after 1 p.m., a small group of men and women joins the throng, bringing a little flock of children and strollers into the middle of the square. One of the men somewhat uncertainly unrolls a hand-lettered sign that says, in Hebrew, “Prayer Vigil,” and the group stands in a tight circle, reading psalms from prayer books in low voices.

This prayer vigil marks the second anniversary of the 1997 Ben Yehuda suicide bombing, in which four people were killed and some 100 injured. Its special aim is to memorialize Yael Botwin, 14, who had immigrated to Israel with her family from Claremont, and who was killed in the blast.

The vigil’s organizer (with some help from the Zionist Organization of America) is another Angeleno, 18-year-old Yael Fischer, a recent graduate of Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles. Before recently coming to Israel for a year of seminary study, Fischer, a tall, studious-looking girl in glasses, launched a rabbinic petition drive, which upward of 50 Southern California rabbis of all denominations have now signed. The petition urges President Clinton to demand that Yasser Arafat surrender two Palestinian Arabs (identified by the Israeli government as Bashir Daher and Mahmoud Abu-Hanudeh) who helped prepare the Ben Yehuda attack.

The vigil is so low-key that most of the pedestrians crossing Zion Square rush by without a glance, unaware that an event is underway. But the small turnout and the shyness of the participants don’t distress Fischer. The main thing, she explains, is to make a statement, to increase public awareness both in Israel and in America.

“[The bombing] was an atrocity,” she says. “If you let it pass, you’re basically saying it’s OK.” Fischer adds that she was also motivated by the fact that, by coming to Israel this year, she is putting herself in the same “potential danger” as Yael Botwin.

By 1:30, the vigil is over. Among the participants who remain behind to talk are two women who lost their children in previous terrorist attacks. New York native Joyce Boim’s 17-year-old son, David, was shot to death while waiting for a bus outside the settlement of Bet El, north of Jerusalem, in 1996. Yehudit Dassberg’s daughter and American-born son-in-law, Yaron and Effie Ungar, were killed while driving near Bet Shemesh, “safely” inside the Green Line, also in 1996. Visibly holding back tears, both women demand that those responsible be “brought to justice.”

What are the chances for such “justice”? Not too high, probably. Individuals don’t count for much in the reckoning among nations, and anyway, the grief of individuals becomes an annoyance after a while, especially when, like these mothers’, it is inconsolable. The victims of terrorism — whom we so profoundly recognized as innocents when the gruesome pictures of violence were splashed across our newspapers and TV screens — have by now been partly redefined as obstacles to peace. The bereaved, women like Boim and Dassberg, insisting that the murderers of their children be apprehended and punished, sound obsessed with their private pain, not quite rational when compared to government leaders working on “national reconciliation” with the Palestinians. Aren’t they, and the remembrance of the dead, a bit in the way right now?

A few days after the prayer vigil in Zion Square, the Israeli government released from prison hundreds of Palestinian criminals, many of them involved in murders or attempted murders of both Arabs and Jews. Government spokespeople and media commentators made distasteful distinctions between the murderers of Arab “collaborators” and the murderers of Jews, between attempted murder and murder, and reassured that the baddest of the bad guys were kept in jail, all as a sop to Jewish public opinion here.

One senses, however, that the prisoners not released — murderers with “Jewish blood on their hands,” in the theatrical phrase — may represent a negotiating card rather than a definition of principle. Not surprisingly, many victims and their families were anguished by the release of those who had harmed them.

Meanwhile, not a few terrorists, including those who planned the Ben Yehuda bombing and those involved in the Jerusalem bus bombings of 1995 and 1996, live free in Palestinian territory. An American statute long on the books, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1986, permits prosecution in the United States of foreign nationals suspected of killing Americans abroad. Though 12 Americans have been killed by Palestinian terrorists since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993 (including three in the Jerusalem bus bombings), the prosecutions haven’t happened. This summer, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation that required the State Department to provide Congress with semiannual reports on investigations into Palestinian killings of Americans.

So the necessary legal mechanisms are in place to identify the terrorists, locate them, extradite them, try them. Why should it interfere with the peace process for those who murdered innocents to be brought to the bar? Isn’t that, in fact, precisely what a peace process should make possible?

At the prayer vigil in Zion Square, the person most noticeably missing was Julie Botwin, Yael Botwin’s mother, who still lives in Jerusalem. She did not object to the event, but she refused to participate. “What good will it do?” she asked bitterly when I called to find out why. “What does the U.S. government care about an American girl killed in Israel?”

That’s the question that the vigil was asking. Now it is time for Congress and the State Department to answer.


David Margolis writes from Israel.

Honey, I Want a Divorce


On Nov. 27, Jeff Brain, president of Valley VOTE, will be a very happy man. That’s the day he gets to turn in the more than 195,000 signatures that will start the ball rolling on the San Fernando Valley seceding from the city of Los Angeles.

Rumblings of separatism have been heard across the San Fernando Valley for more than two decades. But it took a special vote by the state legislature in 1996 to allow Valley VOTE (Voters Organized Toward Empowerment) to begin their petition drive. The issue took off like wild fire, as evinced by the impressive number of signatures (only 150,000 were required for passage) and the battles being waged in the editorial pages of the area’s two major newspapers.

The petition itself will not ensure secession — only a vote from all registered voters in the city of Los Angeles could do that. But it will make possible a thorough study of secession, which will allow voters to know the full impact of such an enormous move.

“The most important thing for the people of Los Angeles to realize is that the impact on the city must be revenue neutral,” said Brain. “When I tell people on the other side of the hill about this, they typically react, ‘Well then let the Valley secede. Who cares?'”

For example, if the Valley normally contributes $30 million in taxes toward the police force, but only gets $25 million in services from the LAPD, the Valley would still have to fork over $5 million to the city every year after the break-up to maintain revenue neutrality. (“Like an alimony payment,” Brain explains.)

Then why secede? Because the money the Valley retains — like that $25 million — will be under the Valley’s control, said Brain. And if the new Valley’s city council decides it wants to allocate more for neighborhood watch programs or to put more officers on gang patrols, the decision is theirs to make.

One of the primary reasons Valley residents support secession is the desire to improve local schools. Many hold the perception that when extra money trickles down from Sacramento to L.A., it never quite reaches the Valley side of Mulholland Drive. They may have a point: of the district’s more than 800 schools, only 200 are located in the San Fernando Valley area, according to Pat Spencer, communications officer for LAUSD, despite the fact that the population is about equally split.

But Mayor Richard Riordan, who strongly opposes secession, said restructuring the LAUSD is a completely separate issue.

“Breaking up the Valley has nothing to do with breaking up the school district,” Riordan said. “Even now, 12 percent of the LAUSD is outside the city limits. And breaking up the Valley into one big school district would be stupid. If you wanted to improve matters, you should break it up into units where each superintendent would have a direct relationship with every school and not have to go through six layers of bureaucracy.”

While there is no organized opposition to compete with Valley VOTE, some major Los Angeles players, like the mayor, have expressed concern that the average citizen sees secession as a “quick fix” and does not understand how complicated it will actually be. Indeed, Riordan said, the process could take as long as a decade to implement, since its passage would undoubtedly be followed by numerous lawsuits against the Valley seceding.

“While I support the right of the people to vote their conscience, I think on the whole the loss of the Valley would be detrimental to the city of Los Angeles,” Riordan said. “It only takes a modicum of common sense to see that it cannot be a zero-sum game, because the city has a disproportionately higher number of poor who do not pay as much in taxes and who need more help.”

There are also contentions from numerous sources — including a scathing editorial in the Nov. 21 Los Angeles Times — that the petition itself was misrepresented as merely opting to study the issue of secession, rather than initiating secession itself.

“Valley VOTE is being disingenuous in the way it presented the petition,” said Matt Cahn, director of the Center for Southern California Studies at California State University Northridge. “This is a policy request; by signing the petition, voters are requesting secession and if it turns out to be fiscally viable it will go to a full vote of the entire area.”

Cahn said he believed the secession movement was as much about the perceived image of the Valley as about whether the Valley gets its fair share of city services.

“The Valley has an authentic gripe — being the stepchild municipality has been hard to swallow,” he said. “The Valley is the Rodney Dangerfield of Los Angeles, but part of the problem is that we don’t take ourselves seriously.

“Here at CSUN we’ve had to take a hard look at our constituency and realize, while we’re not UCLA, there are areas where we are actually better. It would be nice if people in the Valley could feel like that instead of comparing themselves unfavorably.”

Cahn’s department has already completed one study on the effects of secession, concentrating on race and class differences; they are currently seeking funding to perform a second study that would examine the political impact of the Valley breaking off from the city.

“The report will look at which constituencies will win and which will lose,” he said. “For example, Latinos in the Northeast Valley have a strong coalition with Latino communities on the other side of the hill, while the Valley’s Jewish community is networked into the Westside. This landscape is bound to change dramatically by cutting one-third out of the pie.”

Should Valley secession succeed, however, Jewish leaders said the break-up should have little effect on the continuity of city-funded services to the Jewish community.

“It’s still a little early on, but I would not anticipate that any new governmental body in the Valley would want to do anything to reduce services that are so highly regarded,” said Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of Jewish Community Relations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Brain agreed, saying that Jewish and other social agencies could even get a boost from the new Valley city.

“What we’re seeing in L.A. city is that the economy of scale is being overcome by the efficiency — or rather inefficiency — of size,” Brain said. “There are 87 cities in the surrounding area. All have lower business taxes. We think we can provide the same kinds of better quality services and lower taxes if the Valley becomes independent.”