Critics Pound Paper Panning Israel Lobby


Two weeks after two prominent political science professors published a paper that they promised would expose the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, the collective reaction so far suggests they get a “D” for impact.

“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s John. F. Kennedy School of Government, has been the subject of numerous Op-Eds — which generally have discredited it — but has been all but ignored in the halls of Congress, its purported target.

Among other assertions, the paper suggests that the pro-Israel lobby (especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has helped make the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, steered the country into the Iraq war, silenced debate on campuses and in the media, cost the United States friends throughout the world and corrupted U.S. moral standing.

Walt and Mearsheimer portray as interchangeable the pro-Israel lobby and the neo-conservatives who have developed Bush’s foreign policy. Not surprisingly, this report got negative reviews from pro-Israel groups. The paper’s “disagreement is not with America’s pro-Israel lobby, but with the American people, who overwhelmingly support our relationship with Israel,” said an official with a pro-Israel lobbying organization in Washington.

The Anti-Defamation League called the paper “an amateurish and biased critique of Israel, American Jews and American policy.”

Especially outrageous, some said, are the paper’s insinuations that Jewish officials in government are somehow suspect.

“Not only are these charges wildly at variance with what I have personally witnessed in the Oval Office, but they also impugn the unstinting service to America’s national security by public figures like Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and many others,” David Gergen, Walt’s fellow academic at the Kennedy School and a veteran of four administrations, wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Daily News.

One of the few positive reviews came from white supremacist David Duke, who said the authors reiterate points he has been making for years.

The controversy passed almost unnoticed on Capitol Hill. A statement from Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) was typical of the few who bothered to pay attention to the paper, which Nadler called “little more than a repackaging of old conspiracy theories, historical revisionism and a distorted understanding of U.S. strategic interest.”

U.S. support of Israel was no mystery, Nadler said: “Israel is our only democratic and reliable ally in an extremely volatile and strategically important region. It is in our nation’s best interests to maintain that alliance.”

The authors said that they anticipated silence, arguing that the Israel lobby is “manipulating the media [because] an open debate might cause Americans to question the level of support that they currently provide.”

The problem with that theory is that some of the harshest criticism of the paper has come from individuals and groups who have long called for changes in how the United States deals with Israel.

“It was a lot of warmed-over arguments that have been tossed about for years, brought together in a rather unscholarly fashion and presented as a Harvard document, clearly not deserving of the title,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, a group that has argued for increased U.S. pressure on Israel to achieve a peace agreement.

In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt have quietly removed the imprimatur of the Harvard and Kennedy schools that originally appeared on the paper. Walt holds the Robert and Renee Belfer professorship at the Kennedy School, and the paper appalled Robert Belfer, a major donor to Jewish causes, according to a report in the New York Sun. The chair is the equivalent of an academic dean at the Kennedy School, one of the most influential foreign policy centers in the United States.

“It read more like an opinion piece than serious research, and even as opinion it was so overreaching in some of its claims,” Roth said. “It didn’t have a lot of utility.”

One of the harshest critics of the paper was Noam Chomsky, the political theorist who routinely excoriates the U.S.-Israel relationship. He ridiculed the paper’s central “wag the dog” thesis, that the United States has “been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state.”

Walt and Mearsheimer “have a highly selective use of evidence (and much of the evidence is assertion),” Chomsky wrote in an e-mail to followers.

One example, he says, is how the paper cites Israel’s arms sales to China as evidence that the Jewish state detracts from U.S. security interests.

“But they fail to mention that when the U.S. objected, Israel was compelled to back down: under Clinton in 2000, and again in 2005, in this case with the Washington neo-con regime going out of its way to humiliate Israel,” Chomsky noted.

One of the paper’s more curious conclusions is that “what sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness. But there is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway U.S. policy toward Israel.”

If so, it begs the question of why Walt and Mearsheimer set out to write the paper. Mearsheimer did not return a call for comment.

In other areas, the paper gets facts wrong, for example when it says Israel wanted to sell its Lavie fighter aircraft to the United States, when it was strictly a domestic project.

According to the writers, “pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element.”

Off the record, Jewish officials here reverse that equation, saying their support for the Iraq war was necessary in order to curry favor with a White House that was hell-bent on war. In fact, the adventure unsettled many Israeli and Jewish officials because of concerns that the principal beneficiary would be Iran.

“That really jumped out at me,” Roth said. “Among nasty neighbors, Iran was clearly the greater threat.”

Jewish groups and individuals at first were reluctant to react to a paper they saw as impugning their patriotism, but in time they could not resist. Detailed debunkings of Walt and Mearsheimer have proliferated.

Some of these, notably by fellow Harvard professors Ruth Wisse and Alan Dershowitz, have likened the writers to Duke — a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan — and other anti-Semites.

For some Jews, however, the criticism proved that despite the paper’s flaws, it correctly identified a symptom afflicting discussion of Israel: a tendency to dismiss all criticism as anti-Semitism.

“Even if the paper is as bad as its critics say, that does not obviate the need to respond to the points it makes,” said Eric Alterman, a media critic for The Nation. “So far, most of what I am seeing is mere character assassination of exactly the kind I, also, experience whenever I take up the issue. This leads me to conclude the point of most — but not all — of the criticism is to shut down debate because AIPAC partisans are wary of seeing their arguments and tactics subjected to scrutiny of any kind.”

Community Briefs


 

Prepare to Be Redistricted

Welcome to the political New Year in California, where the partisan warfare begins as soon as the champagne runs out. Most of the aggravation at the moment is revolving around Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s broken promise to public schools – but there’s a far deeper political debate brewing, as well.

The issue is redistricting, included as one of the Republican governor’s four main points of reform in his recent State of the State address. Essentially, the question is whether to take away the power of politicians to strike deals with each other on how their own districts are drawn. For Jewish Los Angeles and its familiar political faces, that could mean landing in a new Assembly, state Senate or congressional district with a new representative.

Schwarzenegger points to the fact that not a single congressional seat changed parties in the 2004 elections because both parties colluded to carve out safe regions for themselves to mutual advantage.

Redistricting is only supposed to happen once a decade after each census, but Schwarzenegger can’t wait that long to fight for the people, so he’s backing a state constitutional amendment introduced by Bakersfield Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy. The amendment would put redistricting in the hands of a commission of retired judges.

Some Democrats, like Westside state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, are accusing Schwarzenegger of trying to pull a Tom DeLay-style Texas power grab, where midcensus Republican redistricting netted the GOP four extra House of Representative seats in 2004.

But California is not Texas, and some local Jewish Democrats are not worried.

“I waiver between indifference and welcoming it,” Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) told The Journal.

Berman’s two criteria for supporting redistricting by a committee of judges are that they do not take into consideration any political data on citizens when drawing the maps, and that they do not try to achieve any partisan result.

“There may be some inconveniences for existing Democratic incumbents, but in the end a fair and legal redistricting is going to more likely help my party than hurt it,” Berman said.

With Democrats firmly in control of California (Arnie excepted), Berman said redistricting would be far more dangerous to GOP incumbents.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) agrees, saying that there are senior Republican congressmen who could be in electoral trouble if their districts are redrawn: “This is chiefly a Democratic state.”

Sherman estimated that if every district were a microcosm of the state as a whole, Democrats would win all 53, “with the exception of those where Republicans could recruit a candidate with 22-inch biceps.”

Sherman’s major concern on the issue is the sheer cost of re-educating the public about who their representatives are.

And as for Los Angeles’ Jewish communities, Berman said that they can rest assured that whichever district and representatives they end up with will “be quite responsive” to their needs, whether or not they are Jewish.

Mayoral Debate: Different Place, Same Themes

On Jan. 13, a snarling traffic jam surrounded Temple Beth Am on the Westside. Inside, the five major L.A. mayoral candidates debated public policy just out of earshot of furious commuters.

All of the substantive questions that night were provided by the Jewish audience on tiny slips of paper read by the moderator (who, not incidentally, was late because she got stuck in traffic).

Familiar themes repeated themselves: Mayor James Hahn emphasizing decreasing violent crime, Councilman Bernard Parks accusing Hahn of corruption, state Sen. Richard Alarcon promoting his government ethics initiative, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg preaching innovation in government and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa riding his wave of optimism.

The candidates were discouraged from addressing each other directly because there was no opportunity for rebuttal. This was a forum for the people.

On the particularly apropos issue of mediating L.A. traffic, Hahn uninspiringly told the crowd that “we all have to recognize there’s no magic bullet…. There’s a lot of little things.”

Villaraigosa spoke of extending mass transit rail to the ocean, though the MTA reports that just reaching to Culver City will take until 2010.

Hertzberg seemed to have the most thoughtful traffic plan in his Commuter’s Bill of Rights, which focuses on putting L.A. commerce and industry on a more dispersed schedule rather than the usual sunrise-sunset gridlock. Whether he could actually enact those provisions as mayor, such as keeping heavy trucks off the road during rush hour, is another question.

On the issue of the local economy, Parks blasted Hahn’s administration for failing to attract more large business headquarters. He said Los Angeles, which has none, pales in comparison to Atlanta, which boasts 30. Alarcon took the opposite tack, saying, “We cannot acquiesce to multinational corporations,” but rather ensure that the L.A. working class has decent wages.

The widest diversity of opinion came on the topic of crime. Parks, a former police chief, said the LAPD enjoys too many perks for too little work, Hahn said the LAPD needs more money and Hertzberg accused the mayor of wastefulness in asking for more funds when only 3 percent of all new city income since 2001 was spent on police.

New Math for Population Growth

A huge and growing Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, popularized in Israel as the “demographic bomb,” reinforces the notion that much of the territories are untenable for Israel to retain.

But now, even as disengagement proceeds, Los Angeles businessman Bennett Zimmerman and a team of researchers are claiming that only 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza combined – about 1 million fewer than leading Israeli demographers had projected and 1.4 million fewer than the Palestinians claim.

Bennett’s report is making the rounds at Republican bastions like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

The new study focuses on several supposed mistakes in the previous data. Among the differences in the new study: It prefers Palestinian Ministry of Health birth records over statistical projections, it claims to find a high level of emigration from the territories and it found a case of double counting, where 210,000 Jerusalem Arabs who were already counted in Israel’s population survey were included in the P.A. survey.

“If you look at the reports of [demographers] Arnon Soffer or Sergio Della Pergola, they use numbers issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics [PBS] in their forecasts,” Zimmerman said. “We say that the projection from the PBS didn’t come to be.”

The study has not gone unnoticed by other researchers in the field. Demographer Della Pergola spoke to The Journal from Israel: “I gladly acknowledge that the effects of international migration should be computed, but there are very limited possibilities for absorption of Palestinians abroad.”

The main discussion is about fertility, said Della Pergola. He questioned the quality of the Ministry of Health records, which point to fewer births.

“The U.N. has shown that it is much better to prefer a [statistical] model when actual data collection is totally inadequate,” he said.

He noted there has been a long tradition of underreporting “vital events” like births by the Palestinians.

And as for the fertility rate, Della Pergola said that Zimmerman’s team used Jordan as a model (which has low average birthrate) for the Palestinians, rather than the Israeli Arab model (which is much higher).

Zimmerman said his team was simply trying to audit the existing data.

“Ours was a question of verification,” he said.

Della Pergola isn’t buying it: “I find here an attempt to fit the data to their preconceptions. It is based on total ignorance of the scientific literature.”

 

Barghouti Release Would Reward Terror


 

In May 2004, Marwan Barghouti, one of the leaders of Fatah in the West Bank and head of the Tanzim organization, was sentenced to five consecutive life terms, plus another 40 years, by an Israeli civil court that found him guilty of five cases of murder of innocent citizens, attempted murder and membership in a terror organization.

With the demise of Yasser Arafat and little support in the Palestinian street for Mahmoud Abbas, calls have been heard to consider releasing Barghouti as a means of stabilizing the new Palestinian Authority regime. My contention is that releasing Barghouti would essentially mean rewarding and thus further encouraging terrorism.

Barghouti rose to public attention as a leader of the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1993) and an alternative leadership to Arafat’s Tunis-based elite. In the 1990s, Barghouti was considered to be a pragmatist, and some even considered him a supporter of the peace process with Israel.

But after the terror campaign began in 2000, he became acting commander of Hallelei El-Aksa, Fatah’s military arm, and an outspoken supporter of terror as a means of attaining the Palestinians’ strategic objectives. Barghouti played an active role, including organizing and financing terrorist acts. Brutal attacks against men, women and children were carried out at his direct or indirect behest.

In his trial, Barghouti was accused of dozens of other charges of murder and planning terrorist acts, but due to intelligence security considerations, these charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. Nevertheless, the court unequivocally ruled that all of these acts had been carried out with his support, making use of funds and armaments he had made available, and therefore he bore moral responsibility for them.

In light of the upcoming elections for head of the Palestinian Authority and the concern that Abbas lacks sufficient support from the street necessary to ensure stability, Barghouti is often discussed as an alternative. Some analysts claim that only Barghouti can prevent Hamas from strengthening its position and provide Abbas with the legitimization and popular support he needs to reignite the peace process.

Barghouti’s release may indeed produce positive short-term consequences from Israel’s viewpoint by propping up a regime headed by Abbas, who is considered a moderate. But is this boon worth the likely long-term damage to the interests of both Israel and the United States in their resolute war against terror and terrorists who have no compunctions about killing men, women and children?

Barghouti’s proposed release is analogous to Yigal Amir, the assassin of Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, expressing remorse for his actions and in exchange for his release from prison, promising to become a public spokesman against political extremism and against political assassination. It is inconceivable that anyone in Israel would even contemplate such an absurd proposal seriously.

Barghouti’s release could also serve as an eye-opening lesson for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden: If a man whose guilt has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is released, terrorism must pay off.

Thus, there is no room for leniency motivated by short-term political considerations when engaging in today’s brutal battle against world terrorism.

Finally, despite Arafat’s exit from the stage, the road to agreement and reconciliation is long and arduous. What is to prevent Barghouti — who chose the path of terror when the results from the political route were not satisfactory to him and still considers violence to be the most effective means of ending the occupation — from making the same choice again if future negotiations hit snags?

Amira Schiff is a doctoral candidate in the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University. She is currently writing her dissertation on the prenegotiation process in the Israeli-Palestinian and the Cypriot conflicts. This op-ed and the one above are part of a debate series initiated by The Center for Israel Studies at The University of Judaism.

 

Stakes Loom Big in Future of High Court


The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) gets it and so does the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. Both groups have made careful scrutiny of the Bush administration’s judicial nominations a top priority in the past year.

Groups on the religious right get it, as well: Almost nothing President Bush does during his about-to-begin second term will affect the American future as profoundly as his appointments to the courts.

Already, the president has appointed more than 200 conservative federal judges. Now, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist ailing and several other Supreme Court justices talking about retirement, most observers expect two to four high-court openings in the next four years.

It’s an issue with enormous importance to the Jewish community, but traditional communal caution may keep Jewish organizations — with those two exceptions — on the sidelines. And that could ultimately compound the damage done to key concerns of the Jewish community.

Last week’s presidential election represented a political coming of age for the Christian right, which turned out in force to ensure the re-election of Bush and help elect a more conservative Congress. Now, those groups expect payback. And increasingly, what they want most is more conservative judges who share their perspective on the nation’s culture wars.

They understand this fundamental truth: While legislation can change day-to-day political realities, the courts — and the Supreme Court in particular — change the very fabric of American democracy.

Legislation to implement priorities like public funding for religious education and social services, curbs on abortion and restrictions on homosexual rights is difficult to pass and always involves compromises infuriating to the purists. Legislation, too, can be undone by future Congresses when the political pendulum swings back.

But a transformed federal judiciary can affect policy in a much more powerful and enduring fashion. Rehnquist, appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1971, has influenced American life for 32 years under seven chief executives.

Congress often lurches off in new directions when elections alter the partisan balance. The court sometimes reverses course, but ponderously — as the Founding Fathers intended.

Conservatives know this, which is why they plan to press their advantage with a president they played a pivotal role in re-electing. And the results could be dramatic.

When lawmakers balked at Bush’s sweeping faith-based initiatives, the president simply implemented sweeping programs to funnel government money to private charities through executive action.

Many of those programs are being contested in federal court, where some cases will be heard by the president’s conservative appeals court judges. A Supreme Court with a few new Bush appointees could turn those programs into permanent reality for America.

Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, hangs by a judicial thread. One or two new Bush appointees to the Supreme Court will almost certainly snap it.

The current court, narrowly divided, has moved cautiously in allowing government money to go to parochial schools — something favored by Orthodox groups, opposed by most other Jewish organizations. Bush appointees could help the court throw that caution to the wind.

Christian groups have limited their activism on behalf of school prayer in recent years because of restrictive high court rulings, but already, there is talk in evangelical circles about new school prayer proposals to take advantage of the expected changes in the court.

Christian conservatives say that the biggest threat to the nation now is gay marriage, and they fully expect a new court — possibly headed by Justice Clarence Thomas — to slam the door firmly shut on such partnerships. If they succeed, it will be the nation’s first major retreat after decades of progress on civil rights, a troubling development for other minorities.

Hate crime statutes favored by a range of Jewish groups have been under assault from the religious right and could also be in jeopardy.

The conservatives accuse the courts of “judicial activism” — doing from the bench what Congress and legislatures have been reluctant to do. But that’s exactly what they want to do, but from a conservative Christian starting point.

Judicial tyranny, apparently, is in the eyes of the beholder.

Jewish groups have a huge stake in the debate, but their collective voices may be muted as the battle over the judiciary takes a quantum leap in intensity.

Only NCJW and the RAC, with their strong focus on abortion, civil and religious rights, have made the judicial battle a major focus, although several others have weighed in on one or two nominees they considered particularly egregious.

Most other Jewish groups are too worried about their nonprofit status, their politically diverse lay leadership and contributors — and, most of all, their precious access to the centers of power in Washington.

That reticence will be harder to maintain in the next four years. If Jewish leaders want to play a role in the most sweeping change in American society in generations, they will have to wade into the messy, high-stakes fight over the judiciary.

Continental Divide


With just a few minutes to go before we are to take the stage Stan Kritzer, the elder statesman of the Temple Ner Tamid brotherhood, gathers

us speakers into a small side room off the main sanctuary for a last minute talking to.

“Now look,” Kritzer says, “we heard what happened at Sinai and we don’t want that happening here.”

At Sinai Temple in Westwood the week before, Republicans audience members shouted down Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) as he praised John Kerry’s record on Israel and defense. It was great theater, one participant told me, but lousy debate.

Stan wanted a civil, informative evening. Attorney David Nahai was to speak for Kerry. Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California (RJC) Executive Director Larry Greenfield for President Bush, and I was moderating.

“If people are warned and they still won’t listen,” Kritzer said, “they can deal with me.”

I looked Kritzer over: a pleasant, gray-haired man in his 70s, but in his prime I’m sure he kicked butt.

It seems that over the past few weeks, that’s what things have come to. This election season, our political divisions have gone from normal to nasty. The bright side to this is that activism and involvement are up. For Hollywood Democrats, the scut work of electioneering has become glamorous. A television producer told me he’s never seen so many friends lend their hands to everything from voter registration efforts in local malls to precinct walking in south Florida.

I’ve been moderating debates and forums, a lot of them over the past weeks. Just when you’d think there’s not one Jew left who couldn’t recite the Kerry or Bush talking points, the seats fill and the sparks fly.

On Oct. 11 some 500 young professionals jammed into Sinai Temple for a debate between talk show host Dennis Prager and Forward editor J.J. Goldberg. The debate, sponsored by The Forward, The Jewish Journal and Sinai’s ATID program, followed a pattern that stuck. I polled the audience and found it was 50/50 Bush-Kerry, with a few undecideds. At the end of 90 minutes of passionate debate, I asked if anybody had changed his or her mind. Nope.

The other fact that became clear was that Israel, Iraq and terror are the gut issues for the people who show up for such events. This is an existential vote, and the speakers could not have framed their sense of the choice more starkly. Our guy will save us, their guy will destroy us.

Same debate, different people, Oct. 17 at the University of Judaism. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) vs. the RJC’s Greenfield. Greenfield has been as ubiquitous as CNN tracking polls lately. The crowd of 100 is again 50/50 — despite surveys that show Bush taking no more than 24 percent of the Jewish vote. But the Republicans came out in force to cheer, and Greenfield doesn’t disappoint.

Berman is, without question, one of Israel’s most important supporters in Congress, and he tells the audience he wouldn’t support Kerry if he thought for a moment doing so would compromise Israel’s security. I think I hear some low boos, although I’m not sure exactly what for.

Actually, I know what for. In a political season everything is politicized. The Journal runs ads, paid ads, earning us good clean cash, from the RJC — and our answering machines fill with nasty accusations of favoritism, as if we wouldn’t cash a Democratic check as well (we would).

A man at one debate accuses me of “showing my bias” as if I’d stripped to my boxers, or briefs.

I say, “For Kerry?”

“Yeah, right,” he sneers.

At Ner Tamid another man accuses me of favoritism.

“For Bush?” I ask.

“You wish,” he shoots back.

All week I replay a long, vicious voice message accusing The Journal of selling out to the right because we ran a few more pro-Bush letters than pro-Kerry ones, and because we reported that immigrants are voting Republican — which they are.

The bright spot of the week comes at Temple Beth Am, when I moderate a discussion, “The Jewish Perspective on Stem Cell Research.” The Orthodox, Reform and Conservative rabbis all agree that such research is vital. That’s right: three Jews, one opinion. For a moment, I wonder if the messiah will waltz in.

But that, of course, is the exception. As a moderator I struggle to get speakers to move beyond the standard campaign rhetoric, which only comforts the convinced. It’s clear this election is about security — that’s true for Jews as it is for most Americans — and there’s nothing quite so secure and warm as a mind closed to doubt.

The media doesn’t help, and the Internet has become one big I-told-you-so, where messages and articles that only reaffirm our beliefs zing about like electrons from one true believer to another.

So it’s not surprising that when we finally come face to face with those who disagree with us, we’re offended when we should be curious, we shout instead of listen, we lecture instead of ask.

In the end, Kritzer’s worse fears came to naught. The 300 or so people who attended the Ner Tamid debate were spirited and involved, but civilized.

I didn’t ask how many people had changed their votes or their minds or a single opinion — I’d learned by then that’s not the point of the exercise. The question is, what is the point? Although the Jewish vote in this election isn’t evenly split, it is deeply divided. Come Nov. 3, those divisions can deepen or heal. I know who I’m voting for Nov. 2, and I know what I’m hoping for Nov. 3.

Why Bush: Kerry Could Harm Israel


Debates are a chance for the candidates to speak without scripts and show what they truly believe. And in the first presidential debate, Sen. John

Kerry (D-Mass.) made a revealing comment. While making a point about the war in Iraq, Kerry said that as president, he would make sure America could pass a “global test” before defending its interests.

Kerry’s threshold for action is being able to “prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.”

Subjecting foreign policy and national security decisions to Kerry’s “global test” would have a critical effect not just on America’s ability to defend itself, it would dramatically affect the security of one of our most loyal allies, Israel.

A troubling proportion of the global community considers Israel a racist, illegitimate state. Some of the leading diplomats of the European community, who publicly tolerate Israel’s existence, in their parlors and their cafes dismiss Israel with scatological terminology.

When international bodies have the opportunity, they ban the presence of Israelis wherever possible — Israeli athletes, Israeli academics, Israeli scientists, Israeli businessmen and Israeli diplomats can all attest to this.

And this is the community to which Kerry would kowtow on matters of national security and foreign policy?

Kerry predictably has sent his Jewish political allies to vouchsafe for his pro-Israel bona fides. They say his fealty to Israel is nonnegotiable.

But does Kerry have the ability to tell the European community, as President Bush has done repeatedly, that anti-Zionism is a modern and savage form of the ancient evil of anti-Semitism?

Does Kerry have the gumption to personally confront soft allies over anti-Israel, anti-Semitic epithets, as President Bush did to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed? Would Kerry tell his secretary of state, as President Bush did, to abruptly leave an international conference that had become a public lynching of Israel?

Does Kerry have the willingness to tell Arab states that American support for Israel is not a bargaining chip as we seek to win their cooperation in Iraq?

President Bush faced that very same quandary in spring 2002, when Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank. Arab nations blamed Israel’s actions for their inability to join the coalition then forming to confront Saddam Hussein.

But President Bush didn’t budge. The United States has vetoed eight anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Security Council. With that support, Israel effectively destroyed many of the terrorist cells that had plotted slaughters in buses, cafes and Passover seders in Israel.

By comparison, Kerry, his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), and their foreign policy advisers have shown that they would rather focus on detente and diplomacy than on protecting their friends. But we know from experience that sometimes saying “no deal” to one’s enemies is more effective than saying “I’ll compromise.”

President Bush understands this, and John Kerry does not.

Jews who are Democrats may not yet grasp this, but clearly, Israel’s enemies do. The Jerusalem Post reported last month that the Palestinians likely will wait until after the election to present a U.N. resolution calling for sanctions over Israel’s West Bank security barrier “in the hope that if John Kerry wins, the U.S. may not cast a veto.”

A telling point: The world knows what it’s getting with Bush. But it has different expectations for Kerry.

Fundamentally, John Kerry’s foreign policy instinct is to negotiate, to deal and to bargain away strengths. Thus Kerry’s 1980s fantasy that unilateral disarmament would defeat the Soviets; the opposite was true. Thus his mistaken belief that the Sandinistas represented the democratic will of the Nicaraguan people; the Nicaraguan people demonstrated the exact opposite.

Thus Kerry’s 1990s fantasy that Yasser Arafat was a “model statesman”; he was a master terrorist. Thus his theory that the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 wasn’t worth fighting and the second Gulf War wasn’t worth funding. Wrong again on both counts.

Ask Israelis whether they believe the removal of Saddam was a mistake — or that this war, as both Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean say, was “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

But Kerry is most egregiously wrong when he says American foreign policy must meet a “global test.” America’s support for Israel should never be contingent on a permission slip from France, Germany or the United Nations.

Any president who subjects America’s alliance with Israel to a “global test” knows exactly what he will get: total failure.

Norm Coleman is a Republican senator from Minnesota.

Truthbusters


In the checkout line of any Whole Foods Market, you can pick up a copy of a magazine called Adbusters. It’s a 120,00-circulation leftist journal, published in Vancouver, with a corresponding Web site that prides itself on deconstructing the commercial forces its editors believe erode “our physical and cultural environments.”

The current March/April issue features a lead-in piece by editor Kalle Lasn titled, “Why won’t anyone say they are Jewish?” In it, Lasn points out the fact that of the 50 or so neocons influencing United States diplomatic and defense policy either within government or in media and think tanks, about half are Jewish.

“Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper-power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of the them are Jewish.”

The last sentence wasn’t an aside, it was the point. To prove it, Lasn thoughtfully listed alphabetically every neocon he could think of (he missed some) and put a black dot next to the Jews (he missed some). The design department may have flirted with the idea of a yellow star, but decided to go for understated. The fact that many of these post-Cold War warriors are Jewish has been remarked upon and written about quite a bit since the lead up to the second Gulf War, especially in the European and Arab press. Pat Buchanan has been hyperventilating about it for years.

Lasn presented his point not in the spirit of revelation, but of social inquiry. “But the point is not that Jews (who make up less than 2 percent of the American population) have a monolithic perspective,” he wrote. “Indeed, American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat and many of them disagree strongly with Ariel Sharon’s policies and Bush’s aggression in Iraq. The point is simply that the neocons seem to have a special affinity for Israel that influences their political thinking and consequently American foreign policy in the Middle East.”

And the point of “The Passion of the Christ” was not to prove that heinous Jews dressed as medieval Shylocks killed Christ, just that the Temple priests had an affinity for power and money that led to the death of the Christian savior. Hey, as Mel Gibson says, the facts are the facts.

At the end of his piece, Lasn posed the question, “Does the Jewishness of the neocons influence American foreign policy in the Middle East? Or is this analysis just more anti-Semitism?”

I think on “Law and Order” they call that leading the witness. On the eve of Gulf War II, I wrote that if it were to turn into Vietnam II, fingers may very well start pointing at these Jewish neocons. After all, as David Brooks wrote in that Jewish neocon redoubt, The New York Times, in the code language of conspiracy mongers, “con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish.'” The hard left and hard right converge, as humorist Tom Lehrer always knew they would, in their suspicion of “The Jews.”

A policy maker’s religion can be relevant, whether you are Jewish, Muslim or born-again Christian.

Adbusters is free to single out Jewish names on a list, but to do so without a deeper, considered analysis of what that so-called phenomenon means is an invitation to anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering. It’s incitement under the guise of insightfulness.

We are on the cusp of Purim, a joyous, joke-filled holiday (see cover) that recalls a time Jews found themselves in the corridors of power yet faced with an existential threat. Then, as now, Jews were powerful and weak, poor and rich, assimilated and separate, liberal and conservative; yet the Hamans of the world were all too happy to scapegoat them all and be done with it.

“If you can give your foes a collective name – liberals, fundamentalists or neocons – you can rob them of their individual humanity,” Brooks wrote. “All inhibitions are removed. You can say anything about them. You get to feed off their villainy and luxuriate in your own contrasting virtue. … Improvements in information technology have not made public debate more realistic. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Conspiracy theories are prevalent. Partisanship has left many people unhinged.”

Happy Purim.

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.

Dividing Lines


About two miles northwest of Bethlehem, Israel’s much-discussed security fence comes to an end — not with a bang but with a whimper.

A massive pile of coiled razor wire lays in a tangled heap beside the completed portion of the fence, which here separates the newly built Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa — a pile of stone-fronted apartment houses plopped onto a mountaintop — from the Palestinian city across the valley.

Israel’s Ministry of Defense doesn’t call the fence a fence. Spokespeople there refer to it as the ma’arechet, or "the system." The system, designed to prevent Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel, is actually a two-sided series of barriers. The layers go as follows: a razor wire fence, an anti-vehicle ditch, a patrol road, a gravel road raked to betray footprints, an 8-foot-tall fence studded with cameras and electronic sensors; then, on the other side of the electronic fence, the mirror image: gravel road, patrol road, vehicle ditch, razor wire. The remote sensors relay information of trespassers to army posts, which can dispatch a patrol in minutes to race up the roads and investigate.

Marc Luria, an American immigrant to Israel who is lobbying the Knesset for full and speedy completion of "the system," drove me through an open gate and up the empty patrol road — a bit of a thrill considering the traffic that chokes the country’s real roads — to the place where the fence ended. Construction equipment lay scattered about nearby, and workers backed cement trucks up to the spot. But the workers weren’t completing the fence: they were building a road that would bisect the system and continue on deep into the West Bank, to the Jewish settlement of Nokdim. Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman happens to live in that settlement, so Israelis, for whom a cynical sense of humor is practically a birthright, have taken to calling the nascent road "Lieberman Street."

The intersection of Lieberman Street and the system is as good a place as any to try to understand this small, divided and complex country. Here are the symbols of Israeli prowess — modern development, military might, technological ingenuity. Here, too, is the proof of Palestinian presence: The system separates several Palestinian homes from the homes across the wadi and from a mosque some 500 yards up the opposite hill. Lieberman Street goes out to a settlement inhabited by religious Jews who believe their presence there is a God-given right that cannot be compromised.

Even a large drainage pipe running beneath the fence resonates. A sensor is affixed to its iron grill as well, because five months ago, a terrorist shimmied through such a pipe beneath a northern section of the fence, emerged onto Israel’s new transnational highway, and fired on a passing car, instantly killing a 7-year-old boy.

But of course the most obvious symbol is the fence itself. To many Israelis it is a sign of increased security. To many Palestinians it is a sign of conquest. But there is no denying that it is an all-too-convenient image for a deeply divided land and society.

The most profound political division I found in Israel on this trip is the same one I found 19 years ago, when I lived for two years on a quiet street near the center of Jerusalem: what is to be done with the Palestinians and the territories?

In 1967, following an attack on Israel by Arab armies, Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, along with the Sinai and the Golan Heights. The conquest tripled the size of the land Israel controlled — from 8,200 to 26,000 square miles — and brought 1 million Palestinians under Israeli control.

Analysts estimate that within a few years, the Palestinian population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean will exceed the Jewish population. The loss of a Jewish majority within Israel’s post-1967 borders will force Israel to face the choice of being either a non-democratic Jewish state or a binational state that is no longer Jewish. One day in the next two or three or five years, said former Speaker of the Knesset Avrum Burg, a Palestinian baby will be born who will tip the population balance between Jews and Arabs in the land called Greater Israel. "If the Palestinians put down their weapons and go for one vote," Burg said, "that will be the end of the Jewish State as we know it."

Burg said these dire words to participants in the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) General Assembly (GA), which brings together representatives of Jewish communities throughout North America (see story, page 24). Five years ago, UJC planners decided to hold the assembly in Israel, and went ahead with their plans despite the increased terror and a State Department warning against travel to Israel. The turnout astounded organizers: 5,000 Jews attended from around the world, making it the largest GA in the meeting’s history.

Organizers took heat from some Israelis for not presenting some of the serious problems facing the country, a charge North American co-chair Susan Gelman denied. "We didn’t run away from any issue," she told reporters at an opening press conference.

What the program’s Israeli critics didn’t understand is that the goal of every GA is first and foremost to rally the fundraising troops. The GA always includes Israel, but it is never all about Israel. The divide between the American and the Israeli Jewish experience is such that, with the exception of a small percentage of passionate activists, Israel is more of a symbol to American Jews than a reality. Israel is their team, and they show up for the big games (war, peace treaties), but they don’t follow every game, or even every season. This GA, held in the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, may have had Israel as its focus, but it also devoted time to issues of concern primarily to the North American audience: addressing dwindling affiliation rates, philanthropic leadership, gay and lesbian inclusion, alternative spiritual expressions, etc.

But either out of design or accident, this year’s GA tried to draw delegates much deeper into the game. In the past three years, when Israel has been on the agenda, the forums have tended to be less than sharply critical and the Israel-oriented events more cheerleading than scrimmage. This week some of Israel’s strongest and least critical American Jewish supporters got a taste of the political debate that has defined so much of Israeli society.

At the opening ceremony, delegates leapt to their feet and cheered when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared, "Our enemies have yet to understand that the Jewish people can’t be broken, and will never be broken."

But the next day they heard Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrachi say, "Solidarity with Israel is not always an uncritical solidarity with the Israeli government. Sharon speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He says he supports the ‘road map’ but he has not removed one illegal settlement from the West Bank."

Ezrachi was the rule, not the exception. At the sessions I attended, speaker after speaker exhorted American Jews to get involved in the debate over the Palestinian question. "We are facing the most difficult historic choice since 1948, and it is imperative that every Jew must take a stand," Ezrachi said.

Arye Carmon, founder of the Israel Democracy Institute, told another audience, "I call on you to agonize with us. The time has come to translate slogans into action."

Israelis and others outside questioned whether it was American Jewry’s place to weigh in on the policy direction of a country they don’t live in. It is not Diaspora Jewry’s role to be nuanced and involved, one resident told me, it is our role to just support Israel in the face of an international community that finds it legitimate to question the existence of Israel but not of, say, Finland.

But in another session, Ami Ayalon, the former head of Israel’s General Security Services, or Shin Bet, directed his remarks — ominously — to just that concern. "You have to think about what will happen as a result of our actions to Jews everywhere," he said. "I’m not sure we [Israelis] understand that."

The debate that marked these particular GA sessions distilled the concerns I found everywhere during my week and a half in Israel. Ayalon made waves internationally just as the GA began by joining with three other former Shin Bet directors in publicly criticizing the direction of the Sharon government. It was an unprecedented moment in Israel’s history when an interview with the four appeared in the Nov. 14 edition of Yediot Aharanot. Sharon, they said, is using terror as an, "excuse for doing nothing," in the words of Carmi Gillon. "In this terrible situation," Ayalon said, "where civilians are slaughtered in restaurants and buses, in my opinion there is no other way but to take unilateral steps."

Ayalon, together with Palestinian activist Sari Nusseibeh, drew up a declaration of principles that they are circulating among Palestinians and Israelis as a way of building grass-roots support for negotiations. Along with his former colleagues, he believes the current government is endangering Israel’s security and its democracy by reacting to terror militarily without a strategy that holds out hope for the Palestinians.

But it is terror that has made the debate over the Palestinian question both more urgent and more difficult. "It is hard to talk about peace and democracy when you are under attack," said MK Tommy Lapid, the leader of the Shinui Party.

I spoke with Israelis who were convinced that the only solution to the conflict was the eradication of the Palestinian people. "I shoot first, then I ask whether they’re interested in peace or not," said a man who had just returned from reserve duty in the Gaza Strip.

A diplomat I spoke with echoed another common idea for addressing the problem: increased aliyah, or immigration, to Israel. One million Jews moving to Israel, she said, would counter Palestinian population growth. Sharon received a standing ovation for saying the same thing to the GA delegates. "It’s so crazy," said one participant of Sharon’s suggestion. "These people are not going to come, and they would think it’s a tragedy if their kids came."

As Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar pointed out, the 30,000-40,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have recently left Israel have made Moscow one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the world. The sad fact, said Lapid, is that the Israel he sought refuge in as a survivor of the Holocaust is now the most dangerous place in the world to be a Jew.

The presentations at the GA were Israeli society in a nutshell: vibrant and fearful, cautious and defiant, pessimistic and hopeful. Sometimes, as in the case of Lapid, one speech hit all these notes. Yes, there must be a two-state solution, he said, but don’t expect it to put an end to conflict. "We will give up all kinds of biblical dreams in order to have a pragmatic solution," he said, "but to promise you there’s only a few steps we have to take and they have to take is not enough."

The security fence, Lapid said, may be a system for defense, but it is not a solution.

Israelis harbor deep doubts that their leaders, much less the Palestinian leadership, are able, now and in the foreseeable future, to work out a settlement to their conflict. Lacking that, they know full well the clock is ticking on the demographic issue, a conflict that a temporary security system manages but doesn’t solve. The deepest divide of all here remains the one between the country Israelis and American Jews want, and the one they are likely to get.

Israel Reconsiders Peace Policies


Last week’s massive bus bombing, which killed 21 people, most of them ultra-Orthodox Jews and some of them children, may turn out to be a defining moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It signaled the collapse of the hudna (cease-fire) declared by Palestinian terrorist organizations in late June and generated potentially far-reaching Israeli, American and Palestinian policy reappraisals.

Israel launched a string of targeted strikes against terrorist leaders, warning that it would no longer distinguish between political and military echelons of any organization waging terror, including Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.

The United States exerted unprecedented pressure on the Palestinian Authority to unite its armed forces, collect illegal weapons and smash terrorist organizations before a new cycle of terror and reprisal spins out of control.

And the Palestinians made some tentative moves against terrorists, while urging a new cease-fire that Israel suspects is designed to tie the Jewish State’s hands and avert the need for the Palestinian Authority to take more tangible steps against groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Officially, Israel and the Palestinians continue to back the American-initiated "road map" peace plan. Indeed, both parties claim the breakdown stems from the other side’s failure to implement its obligations under the road map, and both maintain that their new moves are designed to force more scrupulous execution.

Some critics, however, say the flaw is not in the failure to implement the road map but in the plan itself, and they are calling for a new approach.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, never a fan of the road map, has revived his call for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, has reiterated his proposal for an American trusteeship over Palestinian areas.

For different reasons, both say the road map in its present form will never work.

Still, Israel remains committed to the plan — and aides say Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hopes the renewed policy of targeting Hamas leaders will help get the plan back on track.

Critics charge that the targeted killings are a deliberate ploy to undermine a peace plan Sharon never wanted, but his aides claim the strikes make clear to the Palestinian Authority what will happen if it continues to evade a confrontation with Hamas.

Moreover, Sharon aides say, knowing they are targets could convince Hamas leaders to suspend hostilities. If they don’t, Israel believes, eradication of the top leadership will weaken the movement’s ideological and organizational coherence.

The policy of striking at Hamas leaders has revived the debate in the Cabinet and the defense establishment over what to do about Arafat — who, Israeli officials say, is every bit as much a supporter of terrorism as the Hamas leaders, and more of a thorn in the side of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu support expelling Arafat, and the government is preparing an "Arafat file" so that it will be in a position to explain any action it may decide to take against him.

Several months ago, Amos Gilad, a top adviser to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and an expert on Arafat, convinced Israeli leaders not to expel Arafat, arguing that Arafat would be more dangerous abroad than confined to his headquarters in Ramallah. Now, however, Gilad says the option of expelling Arafat should be considered seriously. Gilad argues that international conditions have changed with the road map, and Arafat’s disruptive influence has grown since Abbas was appointed.

Barak, however, argues that recent events prove that with or without Arafat, there is no peace partner on the Palestinian side. Therefore, in Barak’s view, there is no point to pursing the road map. Instead, he says, Israel should complete its security fence along the border with the West Bank as quickly as possible and then withdraw behind it.

At the same time, it should announce a generous peace plan of its own that would show that the fence’s route — which cuts into the West Bank at several points to surround major Israeli settlements — is not a land-grab but purely a security arrangement until the Palestinians are ready to talk peace.

Moreover, Barak and others argue, the road map offers the Palestinians statehood before the sides have settled the key issues of borders, Jerusalem and refugees — something that’s "very dangerous for Israel," Barak said.

Indyk agrees that the Palestinians are not yet prepared to cut a peace deal with Israel — but his conclusion is that they need considerable American help. Recent events show that no solution is possible without deep American involvement, said Indyk, who proposes an American trusteeship in Palestinian areas.

In a New York Times Op-Ed piece in late August, Indyk explained what he has in mind: "With United Nations backing, the United States should establish a trusteeship for Palestine, relieving Arafat of all his powers and providing an American-led force to fight terrorists alongside the Palestinian security services. The United States would have to supervise Palestinian reformers in their efforts to build accountable institutions."

"[If President] Bush really wants to help create a democratic Palestinian state," Indyk wrote, "it should be clear by now that the road map alone won’t get him there.”

As for the Palestinians, the new situation has led to the first real challenge to Abbas’ position as prime minister, as some suggest replacing him with the speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Ahmad Karia.

Karia is considered closer and more amenable to Arafat, and his challenge is part of a renewed power struggle between Arafat and Abbas that included Abbas’ recent attempt to place all security forces under his overall command, which Arafat foiled.

The outcome of this struggle could determine whether Israelis and Palestinians are heading for a new cycle of bloodshed or whether this beleaguered peace process can still be salvaged.

Positive Picture at University Goes Untold


It has been a great year in Jewish studies at San Francisco State University (SFSU). The program enjoys surging enrollments.

A comparative religion course on Judaism, Christianity and Islam fills to capacity with representatives of all three faiths. Jews and non-Jews sit together and debate the question of intermarriage in a class on the Jewish family. For the first time ever, students can now graduate with a major in modern Jewish studies.

These positive developments will likely surprise many observers, especially in the wake of international media coverage that has focused on several high-profile anti-Semitic incidents at SFSU. These accounts have sensationalized extremists at the cost of a more nuanced and accurate understanding of campus life.

When an e-mail describing events at an Israel rally raced around the country last spring, news organizations began a journalistic version of the old schoolyard game of telephone, with each telling of the story even more dramatic than the last.

A student-led Israel program quickly became a pogrom. A bitter, but nonviolent altercation degenerated, according to news reports, into fists flying.

Major newspapers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Jerusalem picked up the story. Internet Web sites posted the e-mail, while Jewish magazines reprinted the story, with their own analysis added, in the months that followed.

The descriptions proved so negative that a colleague with scholarly expertise in American journalism told me that he imagined lawlessness throughout the campus, and a Jewish leader suggested that I carry a Smith & Wesson revolver to protect myself.

As alarming as this and other events have been, they are not the greatest campus threat. At SFSU, much of the public perception of Jewish life has been defined by the deplorable acts of a few, while a host of impressive stories have not been told.

Extremists will always seek our attention and exploit it for their own ends. We will have suffered a worse defeat if we allow these incidents to define our larger understanding of the university or our place in it.

While last May’s high-profile confrontation between Jews and Palestinians captured the public’s imagination, few heard of a decade-old, student-initiated Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group. Organized by a Palestinian American graduate student and her Israeli American friend, the SFSU Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue invites Palestinians and Jews to "listen to all narratives, overcome stereotypes, [and] see each other’s equal humanity."

Many of the fears elicited by the news coverage of last spring’s contentious rally could have been eased had readers known about this effort for deeper understanding.

Last February, as part of the university’s commitment to a year of civil discourse, three leading Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals flew from Israel and the West Bank to offer their assessments of the conflict. A former adviser to the Israeli foreign minister, a consultant to Israel’s negotiating team and the executive vice president of Bethlehem University engaged the audience and one another on the prospects for peace in the region.

Without political vitriol, they presented a variety of perspectives and understandings. Members of the panel remarked that such a dialogue could not have occurred in the Mideast.

It was the invitation to speak at SFSU that brought these communal leaders together. The university, far from causing intragroup discord, created an impressive opportunity for regional leaders to engage one another in constructive debate.

SFSU, like so many universities, offers the opportunity to interact with people of diverse backgrounds. This came home for me when I befriended SFSU’s first-year professor of German language and literature.

When I learned that the Jewish studies program would receive a copy of the Nuremberg Trials transcripts, I got on the phone to my German-speaking friend to ask him if he would survey the volumes with me.

Together, we struggled to unseal the boxes and remove the 40 books inside. He opened one of the transcript proceedings and in a powerful and chilling moment, recited testimony. Hearing those words, in perfect German, haunted me.

After he translated the passage into English, we began what has become an ongoing dialogue of our own. He shared his own struggle with Germany’s past and the ways he has tried to create reconciliation among his generation of Germans and Jews.

I observed that a mere 60 years after World War II, the two of us could sit together and study a document from the worst moment in our collective histories.

Stories such as these abound in the university. It is a place where countless interactions help people come to understand one another in profound, new ways.

During the years to come, there is sure to be more bigotry from ideologues intent on abusing the pluralist spirit of the university. But they should not enjoy the ability to define the university, its principles or the beliefs of those who teach and learn there.

Perhaps, in fewer than 60 years, a young Palestinian and Jewish scholar can sit and learn together, as well.


Marc Dollinger is acting director of Jewish studies and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman chair in Jewish studies and social responsibility at San Francisco State University.

The Right of Return Goes Both Ways


With the growing worldwide focus on displaced Palestinians, Jewish groups are suddenly raising the issue of a different kind of refugee: the almost 1 million Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries after the creation of Israel in 1948.

The timing is no accident. While the effort by groups such as the World Jewish Congress (WJC) points to a genuine injustice, it is also intended to neutralize the ongoing effort by the Palestinians and their supporters to insist on an Arab right of return to Israel as part of any peace deal. However, there are important differences between the two refugee situations that will make that a hard sell to a skeptical world community.

Last week, a group called Justice for Jews from Arab Countries published a report documenting the human rights crisis facing Jews in that part of the world following the creation of Israel. The report concludes that the persecution achieved its primary aim — forcing more than 850,000 Jews to flee, roughly comparable to the number of Arabs who fled the new state of Israel.

There was a big difference, though, in how the refugee populations were treated. More than two-thirds of the Jewish refugees quickly found their way to Israel, where they and their descendants now comprise the majority of the Jewish population.

In fact, the Jewish State did too good of a job. Despite some conflict with the European Jewish elite, the refugees were absorbed with little fanfare, and as a result, most of the world has no inkling that these people were once forced to abandon their homes and property. Thousands also came to the United States, laying the base for a vibrant and increasingly influential Sephardi community.

The Palestinian refugees were treated differently.

With the collusion of the United Nations, they were confined mostly in squalid refugee camps in a number of countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, as well as in Gaza and the West Bank. No effort was made to absorb the refugees. On the contrary, they were kept isolated, living under horrific conditions, to serve as living pawns in the effort to disparage and pressure Israel.

Arab governments professed deep concern for the Palestinian people, but they treated the refugees in their own countries as lepers, refusing to give them citizenship, limiting their civil rights, providing little or no economic aid. Palestinian refugees weren’t absorbed, they were exploited mercilessly.

The international community contributed to this exploitation by failing to challenge the Arab nations. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), created in 1950 to help displaced Palestinians, became the only international agency devoted to keeping refugees in camps, rather than resettling them, in effect creating a permanent refugee population.

Since the disastrous Camp David peace talks in 2000, Palestinian leaders have put the right of return at the top of their list of negotiating priorities. That concept, as they define it, involves the right of refugees and their descendants to return to their original homes — including in Israel.

Israelis have a wide range of views about what their country should give up as part of any comprehensive peace agreement, but on one issue, they speak with a unified voice: granting an unlimited right of return would be national suicide for the Jewish state.

Jewish groups that are raising the issue of Jewish refugees today say it’s a matter of fundamental justice, and that’s true. But the real motive here is political — trying to deflate the Palestinian demand for an unlimited right of return by pointing out, accurately, that Palestinians weren’t the only ones to be wrenched out of their lives and their homes when Israel was created.

Avi Beker, WJC secretary general, recently said that the campaign — which included congressional hearings on the subject — is an effort to bring "balance" to the refugee issue and thereby affect the quest for Middle East peace.

Both sides have legitimate claims, the Jewish groups argue. The most appropriate solution doesn’t involve massive shifts of population, but humanitarian efforts to resettle refugees where they are or in the newly created state of Palestine, or — in the case of Jewish refugees — to provide fair restitution for the property that was stolen from them when they were forced to flee.

The new Jewish strategy for bringing some balance to the refugee debate makes sense, but it is unlikely to sway Israel’s enemies or its many detractors in Europe and elsewhere. The reason is simple: much of the world doesn’t want a fair solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis.

To the Arab nations and to many in Europe, perpetuating a suffering Palestinian refugee population — impoverished, bitter pariahs — is a valuable tool in the ongoing effort to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish state.

Israel did the humanitarian thing by quickly absorbing Jewish refugees. The Arab nations that profess such sympathy for Palestinian refugees have done the opposite, thereby revealing their real motives in the refugee debate.

New Shot Fired in Media Bias War


The never-ending debate over the existence of left-wing bias in the media got a boost a few days ago with the revelation that the editor of one of America’s top daily newspapers had evidently joined the ranks of critics of the “liberal media.” A leaked memo from Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll discussed “the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, ‘politically correct’ newspaper” and noted that “occasionally we prove our critics right.”

The specific target of his displeasure was a front-page story about a new Texas measure requiring women who seek abortions to receive counseling about abortion alternatives and abortion’s alleged risks. The article, Carroll complained, showed a clear slant in favor of the law’s pro-choice critics.

Conservatives generally responded to the story with a mix of, “What else is new?” and, “We told you so.” Meanwhile, some liberals voiced concern that the media were bending over backward to appease their right-wing critics.

These reactions are fairly typical. To most people on the right, the liberal slant in news coverage on television networks and in the major newspapers is a self-evident truth. To most people on the left, it’s a right-wing canard that much of the public believes, simply because it’s repeated often enough — for instance, in books such as last year’s best-seller, “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News,” by Bernard Goldberg, and “Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right,” by Ann Coulter.

The latest book to charge into the battle of the media, “What Liberal Media?: The Truth About ‘Bias’ and the News,” by Nation columnist Eric Alterman, attempts to give ammunition to the liberal side. According to Alterman, liberal bias in the major news media did exist once but withered away with the start of the Reagan years. He argues that in the past two decades, conservative complaints on the subject have been either deluded or manipulative — a way to intimidate the media into favoring the right for fear of being accused of favoritism toward the left.

Like many liberals, Alterman deplores the prevalence of conservative opinions on talk radio, in television punditry and even in print commentary. But in all these cases, the audience knows what it’s getting: political opinion, not straight-up news coverage. Goldberg and other critics argue that truly insidious bias comes wrapped in the cloak of neutrality, when reporters confuse their biases with facts. Thus, the Los Angeles Times story on the Texas abortion law referred to “so-called counseling.”

Actually, Alterman concedes a major part of the conservative critics’ case. He writes that most elite journalists are “pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-separation of church and state, pro-feminism, pro-affirmative action and supportive of gay rights,” and that coverage of these issues tends to reflect those views. On the other hand, he asserts that the media lean rightward on economic matters and tend to be tougher on Democrats than on Republicans in their political coverage.

Media criticism is a tricky business. It’s relatively easy, without resorting to outright distortion, to produce phony or dubious evidence of bias by focusing on particular articles or TV stories — or even portions of stories — while ignoring other things that do not fit one’s argument. To some extent, both sides in the media wars resort to such tactics.

What’s more, there’s some truth to the cliche that bias is in the eye of the beholder. Many of my liberal friends hold the media guilty of fawning on George W. Bush and demonizing Bill Clinton; my conservative friends believe the opposite.

In many ways, conservative and liberal critiques of media bias mirror each other. Both are skewed by the critics’ often extreme ideologies. To Coulter, journalists who have once worked for liberal politicians, such as New York Mayor John Lindsay, are members of the “far left,” comparable to the John Birch Society on the right. To Alterman, conservative pundits such as George Will and Bill O’Reilly are radical rightists, whose counterparts on the left would be unreconstructed Stalinist Alexander Cockburn and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Both sides are also given to using media bias as a convenient excuse for the political failures of their camp. In my view, the conservatives, for all the flaws and the hyperbole, make a stronger case. Nonetheless, complaints about the liberal media often smack of a right-wing version of the “victim culture,” which conservatives, themselves, have so heartily mocked.

The dispute over media bias is unlikely to be settled any time soon. For the readers and viewers, a strong dose of skepticism toward both sides might be the only healthy response.


Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at the Boston Globe.

The Jews and Iraq


Pollsters didn’t survey American Jews after last week’s
dramatic United Nations speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell, but if they
did the results would probably show that the community is on the same
wavelength as a confused, anxious American public.

Ask any rabbi or community relations professional; in Jewish
communities across the nation, there is support for the Bush administration’s Iraq
policy laced with healthy doses of skepticism and outright opposition — the
whole range of reactions of a worried nation.

That refutes an article of faith of the anti-war Left — that
American Jewish concerns about Israel, and pressure from the right-wing
government in Jerusalem, are critical factors in propelling America to a new
Gulf War.

That theory is wrong on several counts.

Despite the prominence of several Jewish defense hawks in
the administration, no reputable analyst believes Israel’s views, or a U.S.
desire to protect the Jewish State, are significant factors in the Bush administration’s
single-minded focus on Iraq. President Bush’s determination to press ahead with
the military option has nothing to do with his friend in Jerusalem, Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon.

Most Israelis would like to see the Iraqi threat
neutralized, but their enthusiasm for a U.S. attack is tempered by memories of
the Scud attacks in 1991, and the knowledge that this time around, Saddam could
lash out with much deadlier weapons, especially if he is wounded, but not
removed.

And many Israelis doubt the sweeping Mideast vision of the
administration officials who predict a tidal wave of moderation across the Arab
and Islamic worlds if the Iraqi dictator is sent packing. As the U.S.
experience in Afghanistan has shown, a successful military campaign does not
necessarily translate into successful nation and democracy building.

In this country, most Jewish leaders have quietly signaled
support for the administration’s tough stance. But even at the height of last
year’s debate over a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force,
only a small handful actually weighed in on Capitol Hill. Jewish leaders, wary
of a potential backlash and facing a community that is far from unified on the
war issue, have kept a very low profile as war preparations mount.

Out in the communities, the watchword is “ambivalence.”

As usual, there is a wide gap between dedicated pro-Israel
activists, who tend to put Israel first in their list of policy concerns, and
the majority of Jews who care deeply about Israel, but tend to view public
policy through a wider lens.

Among the latter group, there is understanding of the need
to fight terrorism, concern about Iraq’s threat to Israel, but also skepticism
about the administration’s motives.

According to a recent American Jewish Committee survey, 59
percent of American Jews approve of U.S. military action against Iraq — about
the same as the support from the American public at large — with 36 percent
opposed.

More than half of the Jews surveyed — 56 percent — worry
that a war between America and Iraq is “likely to lead to larger war involving
other countries in the Middle East.” 62 percent believe the threat of
terrorism against the U.S. will increase if the United States takes military
action against Iraq.

The survey also showed that while a majority of Jews still
approve of the way President Bush is handling the anti-terror war, the
proportion has dropped steeply from the overwhelming approval ratings in the
days after Sept. 11.

Again, Jews seem right in the uncertain American mainstream.

Jews remain one of the most liberal groups in American life;
not surprisingly, liberal Jews are already a significant presence in the
growing anti-war movement, despite the presence of vehemently anti-Israel and
even anti-Semitic forces in that movement.

Even some Jewish hawks say Bush has not made the case about
why Iraq can only be dealt with by massive military action, while diplomacy is
the preferred approach to North Korea — a nation that already has nuclear
weapons and which has demonstrated an unparalleled recklessness in selling
weapons to Mideast bad guys.

There may be good reasons for the disparity, but to many
Americans — Jews and non-Jews — the president has not made a persuasive case.

Big Jewish organizations generally support the president,
albeit quietly, because of their focus on Israel, but many rank-and-file Jews
see more pressing emergencies at home, where a sinking economy seems to
threaten the middle class way of life.

Last week’s terror alert warning of possible Al Qaeda
attacks against Jewish institutions and businesses may increase that
skepticism; why is the administration so determined to engage Iraq when Al
Qaeda is probably readying new attacks on American citizens?

Anti-war activists who see Jewish and Israeli pro-war
conspiracies are far off the mark.

It is true that some of the loudest and most prominent
advocates of war in the administration are prominent Jews. But the community
itself mirrors all the concerns and doubts that make war with Iraq a high
stakes political, as well as military, gamble for President Bush.

DeLay’s Dilemma


Pitched partisan battles are what’s in store for the upcoming 108th Congress. And for an anxious Jewish community, the shift to GOP control on Capitol Hill could contribute to something else: a renewal of the old fight between battle between single-interest pro-Israel activists and those who advocate a broader approach to political activism.

In theory, the community is served by a blend of the two. In reality, the intense partisanship of the new Congress and the parallel shift of Israel to the right will put the two approaches into direct conflict.

The new GOP congressional leadership is, by and large, more hawkishly pro-Israel than any of its predecessors, but also less in sync with a broad range of Jewish domestic concerns.

The fact that pro-Israel forces here will be defending a government in Jerusalem that is likely to move even further to the right will add to the communal tensions over the proper balance in Jewish activism.

Underlying the revival of the old debate is one undeniable fact: Israel is facing grave new challenges and an increasingly hostile international environment. But there is one place where support for Israel has become virtually wall to wall: the U.S. Congress.

Much of that has to do with several decades of focused, assertive lobbying by groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Also, pro-Israel political action committees and money bundlers have gotten the attention of politicians the old-fashioned way: through their campaign coffers.

The pro-Israel lobby has done a particularly good job of expanding support among conservative Republicans, once a group that had little sympathy for the Jewish State. In fact, many of Israel’s most ardent admirers today come from the right side of the political spectrum, in part because the single-issue activists have been happy to ignore the domestic positions of many of their newfound friends. That has produced impressive results, but it also causes a kind of political schizophrenia for the Jewish community.

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the incoming House Majority Leader, has become a key backer of Israel. More to the point, he is a strong defender of the hard-line positions of Likud. But on domestic matters, DeLay is one of the most conservative members of the House. It was DeLay who blamed the Columbine school shootings on the teaching of evolution and the lack of school prayer, not the ready availability of guns. And it was DeLay who told a recent Christian pro-Israel rally that, “This is the week you put people in office who stand for everything we believe in and stand unashamedly with Jesus Christ.”

He isn’t alone. When former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to town, he is routinely hosted by conservative Republicans. Bibi may have a hard time winning the upcoming Likud primary, but he would win hands down if the vote was taken in the GOP caucus on Capitol Hill.

That support may be particularly important if the Israeli government takes another turn to the right following the January 28 elections. The Bush administration may react negatively, but Israel will have a cushion of insulation in Congress, where conservative lawmakers will be the Israeli hard-liners’ defensive front line.

But most American Jews, while supporting Israel, take a broader view of politics. For many, the single-interest focus of many pro-Israel groups means consorting with the enemy.

The single-issue, pro-Israel folks say that’s irrelevant; what counts is American Jewish support at a time when Israel is painfully short of friends.

The multi-issue supporters say the price is too high. The focus on a single overarching issue distorts the Jewish community’s broad priorities, they insist; it creates a wrong impression that politicians can win Jewish votes and money by just mouthing the right pro-Israel slogans even if they oppose almost every Jewish domestic priority.

The single-issue advocates say that conservatism is the wave of the future, and that pro-Israel forces had better ally themselves with that political segment or get left behind.

The multi-issue advocates worry that the narrower approach to politics boosts lawmakers who support Israel for the wrong reasons, such as Christian biblical prophecy. And they worry about the emerging alliance between Christian conservatives and their congressional backers and the political right in Israel.

When he spoke at the AIPAC conference this spring, DeLay startled delegates when he said, “I’ve been to Masada, I’ve toured Judea and Samaria, I’ve walked the streets of Jerusalem and I’ve stood on the Golan Heights. And when I looked out, I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel.”

That was music to the ears of pro-Israel hard-liners, but it was jarring noise to the likely majority of Jews who still believe territorial compromise is Israel’s only hope for long-term survival.

Some multi-issue advocates worry: is the pro-Israel movement becoming more and more estranged from the Jewish mainstream — which generally supports centrist Israeli policies — because its new best friends are so cozy with Israeli right-wingers?

As the intifada drags on, American Jews seem unified in support of Israel. But just beneath the surface, there are deep fault lines that could start to touch off tremblers as the next Congress takes over.

Prager vs. Lerner: A Clash of Politics, Values


“Charged.”

That’s the atmosphere expected at an upcoming debate between two of the Jewish community’s most outspoken activists on each side of the political spectrum.

In Prager vs. Lerner, conservative talk show host Dennis Prager will debate Michael Lerner, editor of the leftist magazine Tikkun, on Nov. 7 as part of the Orange County Jewish Community Center’s book festival.

“They are thought-provoking speakers with polar-opposite views about nearly everything,” said Arie Katz, founder of the Community Scholar Program, which is co-sponsor of the Nov. 7 “We Beg to Differ” debate at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm.

Prager is best known as a veteran host of a conservative, nationally syndicated talk show, now broadcast on KRLA-AM, a radio station with a small percentage of the Los Angeles radio audience. He is also a prolific author, who teaches Torah twice a month at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles.

Lerner, a San Francisco rabbi, is the editor of Tikkun, a bimonthly magazine with a circulation of 24,000 that is variously described as leftist and progressive. Its stand on calling for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders and respect for Palestinian rights has earned Lerner death threats. He achieved fleeting mainstream fame by becoming a spiritual mentor to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in 1993 adopted his turn of phrase, “the politics of meaning.”

“Their agenda is an open book,” said Rabbi David Woznica, an executive vice president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who will moderate the exchange. No winner will be declared.

The two antagonists are both steeped in Judaism and regularly tested on their positions. Woznica’s intent is to illuminate for the audience the values that underlie those stances and how they arrive at differing conclusions.

“I love to ask why,” said Woznica, who moderated similar debates at the 92nd Street Y in New York, and has compiled a fat clipping folder in preparation.

Most polling shows that Jews remain the most liberal group in the United States, said Samuel G. Freedman, a Columbia University journalism professor and author of “Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of the American Jewry” (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Yet, many Jews are more conservative about Israel than any other foreign-policy issue, a viewpoint that also applies to the current confrontation with Iraq and the war on terrorism, he said. While there continues to be a vociferous peace camp, any private misgivings about Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are rendered irrelevant by the terrorism of the intifada, Freedman said.

The conservative shift by leaders of the established Jewish community is what prompted Lerner in 1986 to start the influential magazine with the financial help of his then wife, Nan Fink. With Tikkun (Hebrew for “repair”), Lerner’s editorial intent was to create a liberal alternative to Commentary, the conservative magazine of the American Jewish Committee, which has a circulation of 26,000. By comparison, National Review and The Nation, opinion journals of the political mainstream’s right and left, have circulations of 150,000 and 100,000, respectively.

Lerner says Tikkun articulates a vision of Judaism that rejects materialism, selfishness and vacuity. An unabashed utopian, in January he convened the Tikkun Community, seen as a movement committed to spiritual, economic and social transformation.

Its Tikkun Campus Network, by organizing academics, spiritual leaders and students into a new group, hopes to diffuse tensions on campuses inflamed by nasty barbs thrown by student supporters of Israel and Palestinians. Lerner’s son served in Israel’s military.

Lerner, 59, leads a 200-family nondenominational Jewish Renewal movement synagogue, Beyt Tikkun, started in 1996. He is a career chameleon: from anti-war activist in Students for a Democratic Society while attending UC Berkeley to philosophy professor, psychologist, editor and spiritual leader. He did not respond to several requests for an interview.

Prager, 54, a fixture on Los Angeles morning radio, spent 18 years in weekday shows on KABC-AM. He left two years ago when the new Disney management intended to end his show’s syndication.

Prager’s new radio home is KRLA, a Salem Communications Inc.-owned station that draws less than a 1 percent share of the L.A. radio audience, according to Arbitron. Salem’s programming includes other conservative talk show hosts, such as Michael Medved, and Christian rock and talk shows. Prager’s national audience in 33 cities is 287,700 weekly, said Monica Koffman, Salem’s research director.

Prager thinks his longevity on the air is owed to his personal appeal to listeners, rather than fitting into an ideological mold. “I try to earn my listeners respect in the ad hominem way I take on adversarial positions,” he said.

For seven years before entering broadcasting, Prager, who attended a yeshiva, was a lecturer and director of the Simi Valley-based Brandeis-Bardin Institute, which offers nondenominational Jewish education. Though the Jewish life courses he taught were well received, Prager was dissatisfied.

“I always wanted a broader audience,” said Prager, who has gone on to write four books, numerous opinion pieces and lecture extensively. On the air, he is a moralist, less scathing than some of his peers, but often dismissive of alternative views. He also is one of the few Jewish writers to build nontheological bridges to Christian supporters of Israel.

“If you can’t tell the moral gulf between Israel and its enemies, then there is something wrong with your moral compass,” Prager said.

Asked how he will prepare to meet Lerner, a reprise of a similar Oakland exchange 10 years ago, he said, “There’s nothing to prepare. It’s the easiest thing I’ll be called to do.”

Prager supports capital punishment and in 1992 opposed an effort by Conservative Judaism to re-examine views on gays and lesbians. He also can be inflammatory. In an opinion piece, he described the nations surrounding Israel as “morally equivalent to Nazism and Stalinism.”

The same 1990 article contains an eerily prescient prophecy. It says the West can save itself great suffering by confronting the Arab world and Muslim fundamentalism. “If not, once again, Jewish children will be gassed, but they will not be the only ones.”