Calendars Remove Anti-Israel Day


A campaign by Berlin-based activists has resulted in the erasure of “Al Quds Day” from some interfaith calendars in the United States and United Kingdom.

As Iran’s president was calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, members of Together Against Political Islam and Anti-Semitism were busy calling for “Al Quds Day” to be wiped off calendars — and the campaign is paying off.

Institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, from Harvard University to Northumbria University in England, have announced that they are deleting Al Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day — a holiday that focuses on the destruction of Israel — from calendars where it had been listed as a religious holiday. Al Quds Day fell on Oct. 28 this year.

The point is not just to clean up calendars, said political scientist Arne Behrensen, a co-founder of the activist group, but “to engage the political left in confronting Islamism and Islamist anti-Semitism.”

Members of the pro-democracy group include people of Iranian, Kurdish and Turkish background. Many of the Iranian and Kurdish members are refugees from their homelands.

The annihilation of Israel is the raison d’etre of the “holiday” that the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is marked with anti-Israel demonstrations in some Islamic countries, as well as in cities with large Muslim populations outside the Islamic world.

Berlin police have taken increasing interest in defusing the event in recent years, since an incident in which an Al Quds Day demonstrator proudly displayed his small children wrapped in mock suicide bomb belts. All posters and banners at the event now must be submitted for approval, including those in Arabic, and statements calling for Israel’s destruction are banned.

That may be why Berlin’s Al Quds Day demonstrations have declined in numbers, Behrensen said. His group has held counter-demonstrations for three years running.

That trend held true this year as well. Only some 400 marchers attended this year’s event on Saturday, down from 1,500 in 2004 and 3,000 in 2003, said Anetta Kahane, a co-organizer of a counterdemonstration and a member of the Berlin Jewish community.

The group also succeeded in getting a German organization to remove Al Quds Day from its calendar in 2003. This year, Behrensen focused on British and American institutions that he found on the Internet.

One recipient of the campaign’s recent e-mail, Debra Dawson of Harvard United Ministries in Cambridge, Mass., said she had checked with her group’s Islamic chaplain “and he assured me that this day is not an Islamic holiday, so I am removing it from the site.”

Spike Ried, president of the Northumbria University Students’ Union in Newcastle, England, said his group had removed the event from its online calendar and issued a written apology. It reads in part, “We now understand that this day is considered offensive to Israeli and Jewish people worldwide.”

Students submit dates to the calendar, and Al Quds Day “was included on the understanding that it was a religious day,” Ried said. After discussions with both Islamic and Jewish student groups, he added, “we understand now that it is a political day, and have therefore removed it.”

The union also has “drawn up measures to ensure that this does not happen in future,” he said.

Del Krueger, creator of an online interfaith calendar (www.interfaithcalendar.org) that is a source for many others, said he also had removed Al Quds Day from future calendars.

However, the event remains on the calendar for 2006, where it is defined as a “somewhat controversial Islamic observance.”

George Fraser, a city council spokesman in Dundee, Scotland, said the “entire calendar is being removed” because of the issue. The University of North Carolina in Asheville said it had removed the Al Quds Day listing from its calendar of holy days.

Terry Allen, administrator at the Charnwood Arts Center in Leicestershire, England, said he added Al Quds Day after finding it on Krueger’s site, believing it “was a Muslim religious festival.” The activists’ letter pressed him to look deeper.

“I would like to apologize for any offense which has unintentionally been caused by this mistake,” he wrote to the group.

A spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America said the issue was under discussion there as well.

Behrensen chose to focus on the calendars after reading a lecture by Mansoor Limba, an Iranian, in Malaysia in December 2004. Limba spoke with pride of how Al Quds Day was becoming accepted as an Islamic holiday around the world, recognized by a long list of organizations, including some Jewish ones.

“This is their strategy, to spread their propaganda worldwide,” Behrensen said. “We thought, if we want to counter them, let’s see what they’re doing, and we’ll try to prevent their success.”

 

State Fund to Keep Israel Investments


The California Public Employees’ Retirement System
(CalPERS), the nation’s largest public pension fund, has decided to keep Israel
on its list of permissible foreign countries in which to invest, in spite of
campaigns spearheaded by groups on several University of California campuses
demanding that it divest itself of Israeli equity holdings.

At the Feb. 18 meeting of the CalPERS Board of
Administration, Israel was green-lighted for its 10th straight year as an
approved country for investment.

Reacting to calls for a CalPERS boycott of Israel, Byron
Tucker, a Los Angeles spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis, told The Journal this
week, “We will continue to stand side by side with our friends in Israel, both
in business and friendship. The people of Israel are going through tremendous
difficulties right now.”

“They live with daily unrest, violence and death,” Tucker
continued. “California will not abandon its friends in their time of need.”

Campus activist groups — led by Arabs in Students for
Justice in Palestine and Jews for a Free Palestine — had been gaining ground in
their campaign for divestment from Israel, to the point where the UCLA Daily
Bruin editorially endorsed divestment last July. This prompted a pro-Israel
backlash, headed up by the UC Justice Campaign (www.ucjustice.org).

The Legislature formally rejected divestment in a joint
Assembly-Senate resolution in September.

Until last month, Israel was the only Middle Eastern country
in which CalPERS was permitted to invest. Neighboring Jordan has now been added
to the list. Egypt was evaluated but did not make the cut.

In other action, the CalPERS board, which oversees a fund
with assets of approximately $131 billion, complied with its requirement to
report to the Legislature on equity holdings in companies that may have
benefited from slave labor during the Holocaust era.

“CalPERS is required to annually report to the Legislature,
under Chapter 216, Statute of 1999 (SB 1245, Hayden), on investment holdings in
companies that may owe compensation to victims of slave or forced labor during
World War II,” Mark Anson, chief investment officer, wrote in a Feb. 18 letter
to the secretary of the California Senate.

According to Anson, the CalPERS report contains “the latest
information on companies that includes precursor companies, subsidiaries and
affiliates identified as employing forced/slave labor during World War II. To
compile the report, CalPERS contracted with Investor Responsibility Research
Center (IRRC). The center provided research from multiple information sources
and supplied a list of companies with a potential Holocaust-era restitution
liability.

The majority of the companies on the IRRC list in which
CalPERS holds stock are headquartered in Germany, Japan, Austria and
Switzerland. However, a few major U.S. corporations appear on the list, too,
including Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Eastman Kodak, Honeywell, NCR and
Pitney Bowes.

Sacramento-based CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco told The
Journal that the pension fund, itself, had received no direct protests from
groups demanding that CalPERS divest itself from investments in Israel.

“Israel was evaluated as one of 27 emerging equity markets
and received a passing grade, along with 14 other countries,” Pacheco said.

The pension fund’s consultant, Santa Monica-based Wilshire
Associates, reviewed the emerging market countries against a variety of
financial factors, plus other considerations, such as transparency, political
stability and labor practices/standards. Israel was ranked in seventh place overall
on the list — a weighted result after combining its No. 1 ranking in market
analysis and No. 8 in “country factors.”

Israel could arguably make a case for being included in the
category of “developed country markets,” which comprises the similar economies
of Finland and Singapore and the recent entry of Greece.

“Israel certainly meets the criteria for a developed country,”
said Doron Abrahami, Israel’s economic attaché in Los Angeles. “In terms of GDP
per capita, Israel is ahead of Greece. On the other hand, there are certain
advantages to being defined as an emerging market.”

Israel was approved by CalPERS, while some of the world’s
largest economies were not — notably China, Russia and India. Not one country
in conflict with Israel — or even hostile to the Jewish State — qualified.
Among those receiving failing grades were Malaysia, Pakistan and Indonesia.

CalPERS has approximately $1.6 billion currently invested in
emerging markets, including $83.3 million in Israeli equities.

“After CalPERS sets the policy guidelines, we oversee but do
not make the actual investments,” Pacheco emphasized. “That is done by our
active managers: asset management companies and investment banks.”

Although Pacheco originally said that CalPERS invests only
in public equity markets outside of the United States, IVC-Online in Tel Aviv
told The Journal that CalPERS has invested in six of Israel’s leading venture
capital funds through East Coast-based private equity manager Grove Street
Partners.