Competing Moments of Truth on Schools


On Tuesday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to lay the groundwork for the most defining initiative of his term in office: his attempt to take control of Los Angeles’ schools. But the day before he does, opponents of his plan will beat him to the microphone. The L.A. teachers union has scheduled a Monday press conference, hoping, they said, to push Villaraigosa in a different direction.

Villaraigosa’s first state-of-the-city speech is likely to put bone and muscle on his school takeover pitch which, up till now, nearly a year into his term, has been theoretical and short on specifics. If Villaraigosa delivers what people all over town have been waiting for, a slew of interest groups will know where they stand and will begin to respond accordingly.

“Mayor Villaraigosa has made a major commitment to take on the reform of the school district, and the civil, political and media hierarchy of the city have taken up that commitment as a serious benchmark of his performance as mayor,” said David Abel, a publisher who founded New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, an organization that works to shape schools as centers of community revitalization.

Unless Villaraigosa holds off — and further delay might be seen as retreat or indecision — the mayor will set the city on a path toward mayoral control within about two years. That would put Villaraigosa on a timetable to win control in a first term as mayor and wield that power in a second term, if he is reelected.

“Getting this to happen,” said Abel, who supports mayoral control but is not directly involved in the effort, “will be a delicate balance between the doable, the clock and the mayor’s own strategic goals and political ambitions.”

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the L.A. teachers union, hasn’t been content to wait for the unveiling. Over the past several weeks, union leaders have met with community groups and other key players, trying to set up a parallel juggernaut. The effort is planned to culminate the day before Villaraigosa’s speech, at a news conference during which the union will unveil its own “Call to Action” on school reform.

Early this week, the union was putting its reform declaration in final form, trying to settle on wording that will attract as many allies as possible. The stated goals will have much in common with what anyone would like to see in Los Angeles’ schools: It will call for quality instruction by fully trained teachers, a rigorous, diverse and engaging curriculum and adequate (meaning increased) funding.

“I think Mayor Villaraigosa will agree with almost all of it,” said UTLA spokesperson Steve Weingarten. “This vision of ours does not stop and start with mayoral control. We will be proposing the most dramatic changes at the school site. If you have people at that ground level making decisions, then it’s secondary who’s controlling things at the top.”

Of course, until now, the teachers union has been the most consistently powerful political force in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The mayor’s intervention could change that.

A recent version of the union’s draft declaration didn’t take on mayoral control directly, but spoke generally of more representation, which for the union has meant an elected school board at one end and a switch to community-governed schools at the other. Union officials also have talked about expanding the school board and “professionalizing” it. Which means making school board service a full-time job and increasing a board member’s salary and staff. That agenda is hardly compatible with putting Villaraigosa in charge.

Specific wording on who would call the shots is tricky for the union, because potential members of the union’s hoped-for coalition are not themselves settled on the issue.

“Some are a little more opposed to mayoral control than others,” said one teachers union stalwart, joking that “some are atheists and some are agnostics.”

Groups at the table with UTLA have included ACORN, a national social justice organization with deep Los Angeles roots; CARACEN, an L.A.-based organization that focuses on the needs of Central American immigrants and Latinos; and One L.A., the local affiliate of the national Industrial Areas Foundation. The union also would like to bring on board officials from smaller cities, such as Carson, South Gate and Cudahy, that are served by the LAUSD.

“The new leadership of UTLA prefers to work in concert with community organizations as part of a real alliance for change,” said Joel Jordan, the union’s director of special projects.

The union desperately wants to avoid being the bogeyman of school reform. A hint of that worst-case scenario played out during a late-March panel discussion at the Latino-Jewish Roundtable, held at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Nobody ever gets fired,” said Marcus Castain, the mayor’s point man for developing a reform plan, while enumerating the district’s ills. “Fifty-three teachers were let got out of 37,000 in a school system where 75 percent of students are not making the grade.”

At the forum, Castain was supposed to have gone head to head with school board President Marlene Canter, who, like other board members, has evinced no desire to turn over authority to the mayor. But Canter couldn’t attend because a school board meeting ran late, and Canter’s pinch hitter avoided a verbal confrontation with Castain.

Instead, Lucy Okumu, an aide to Superintendent Roy Romer, suggested that Romer could find some common ground with the mayor if the goals included making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

The union failed to burnish its own image recently when it backed a school board candidate, Christopher Arellano, who works for the union as an organizer. His candidacy collapsed after The Journal and other media outlets reported that he’d exaggerated his academic credentials and failed to disclose two theft convictions. UTLA spent more than $200,000 on his behalf and Arellano limped into a runoff, but he and the union have abandoned his candidacy.

The union would prefer to be one of many groups supporting its Call to Action. But each invited participant has interests that don’t perfectly coincide with the union’s. One such group is the Community Coalition, a black-brown social justice organization of South Los Angeles. Its focus has been getting the school district to make a full college-prep curriculum available to every student, said Sheilagh Polk, the coalition’s communications adviser. That goal appears in the Call to Action.

Nonetheless, the Community Coalition and other groups also are meeting with the mayor’s office. It’s clear that the mayor, too, would like to line up as many allies as possible.

The union leadership considered staging a competing event on the day of the mayor’s address, but that idea was dismissed as unnecessarily confrontational, said UTLA’s Jordan. Besides, on the charisma scale, “You’re not going upstage Antonio.”

Jordan spent most of his career in the teaching trenches, one of a legion of Jewish educators devoted to serving communities of poor black and brown students. It was another Jewish educator, Herman Katz, who helped turn around a teenage Villaraigosa when he was in danger of becoming a dropout.

Jordan remains on a first-name basis with the mayor after having worked with Villaraigosa during the future mayor’s days as a UTLA organizer: “He’s one of ours,” said Jordan.

Or so he seemed when UTLA broke with much of organized labor and backed Villaraigosa for mayor last year instead of incumbent James Hahn. Jordan and recently elected teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy met with Villaraigosa earlier this year.

“If we could show him there might be another way to have an effect on schools…” said Jordan wistfully, adding, “he left that door open.”

Jordan also conceded: “He appears to be set on his course. I wouldn’t bet against that.”

 

Competing Moments of Truth on Schools


On Tuesday April 18, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to lay the groundwork for the most defining initiative of his term in office: his attempt to take control of Los Angeles’ schools. But the day before he does, opponents of his plan will beat him to the microphone. The L.A. teachers union has scheduled a Monday press conference, hoping, they said, to push Villaraigosa in a different direction.

Villaraigosa’s first state-of-the-city speech is likely to put bone and muscle on his school takeover pitch which, up till now, nearly a year into his term, has been theoretical and short on specifics. If Villaraigosa delivers what people all over town have been waiting for, a slew of interest groups will know where they stand and will begin to respond accordingly.

“Mayor Villaraigosa has made a major commitment to take on the reform of the school district, and the civil, political and media hierarchy of the city have taken up that commitment as a serious benchmark of his performance as mayor,” said David Abel, a publisher who founded New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, an organization that works to shape schools as centers of community revitalization.

Unless Villaraigosa holds off — and further delay might be seen as retreat or indecision — the mayor will set the city on a path toward mayoral control within about two years. That would put Villaraigosa on a timetable to win control in a first term as mayor and wield that power in a second term, if he is reelected.

“Getting this to happen,” said Abel, who supports mayoral control but is not directly involved in the effort, “will be a delicate balance between the doable, the clock and the mayor’s own strategic goals and political ambitions.”

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the L.A. teachers union, hasn’t been content to wait for the unveiling. Over the past several weeks, union leaders have met with community groups and other key players, trying to set up a parallel juggernaut. The effort is planned to culminate the day before Villaraigosa’s speech, at a news conference during which the union will unveil its own “Call to Action” on school reform.

Early this week, the union was putting its reform declaration in final form, trying to settle on wording that will attract as many allies as possible. The stated goals will have much in common with what anyone would like to see in Los Angeles’ schools: It will call for quality instruction by fully trained teachers, a rigorous, diverse and engaging curriculum and adequate (meaning increased) funding.

“I think Mayor Villaraigosa will agree with almost all of it,” said UTLA spokesperson Steve Weingarten. “This vision of ours does not stop and start with mayoral control. We will be proposing the most dramatic changes at the school site. If you have people at that ground level making decisions, then it’s secondary who’s controlling things at the top.”

Of course, until now, the teachers union has been the most consistently powerful political force in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The mayor’s intervention could change that.

A recent version of the union’s draft declaration didn’t take on mayoral control directly, but spoke generally of more representation, which for the union has meant an elected school board at one end and a switch to community-governed schools at the other. Union officials also have talked about expanding the school board and “professionalizing” it. Which means making school board service a full-time job and increasing a board member’s salary and staff. That agenda is hardly compatible with putting Villaraigosa in charge.

Specific wording on who would call the shots is tricky for the union, because potential members of the union’s hoped-for coalition are not themselves settled on the issue.

“Some are a little more opposed to mayoral control than others,” said one teachers union stalwart, joking that “some are atheists and some are agnostics.”

Groups at the table with UTLA have included ACORN, a national social justice organization with deep Los Angeles roots; CARACEN, an L.A.-based organization that focuses on the needs of Central American immigrants and Latinos; and One L.A., the local affiliate of the national Industrial Areas Foundation. The union also would like to bring on board officials from smaller cities, such as Carson, South Gate and Cudahy, that are served by the LAUSD.

“The new leadership of UTLA prefers to work in concert with community organizations as part of a real alliance for change,” said Joel Jordan, the union’s director of special projects.

The union desperately wants to avoid being the bogeyman of school reform. A hint of that worst-case scenario played out during a late-March panel discussion at the Latino-Jewish Roundtable, held at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Nobody ever gets fired,” said Marcus Castain, the mayor’s point man for developing a reform plan, while enumerating the district’s ills. “Fifty-three teachers were let got out of 37,000 in a school system where 75 percent of students are not making the grade.”

At the forum, Castain was supposed to have gone head to head with school board President Marlene Canter, who, like other board members, has evinced no desire to turn over authority to the mayor. But Canter couldn’t attend because a school board meeting ran late, and Canter’s pinch hitter avoided a verbal confrontation with Castain.

Instead, Lucy Okumu, an aide to Superintendent Roy Romer, suggested that Romer could find some common ground with the mayor if the goals included making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

The union failed to burnish its own image recently when it backed a school board candidate, Christopher Arellano, who works for the union as an organizer. His candidacy collapsed after The Journal and other media outlets reported that he’d exaggerated his academic credentials and failed to disclose two theft convictions. UTLA spent more than $200,000 on his behalf and Arellano limped into a runoff, but he and the union have abandoned his candidacy.

The union would prefer to be one of many groups supporting its Call to Action. But each invited participant has interests that don’t perfectly coincide with the union’s. One such group is the Community Coalition, a black-brown social justice organization of South Los Angeles. Its focus has been getting the school district to make a full college-prep curriculum available to every student, said Sheilagh Polk, the coalition’s communications adviser. That goal appears in the Call to Action.

Nonetheless, the Community Coalition and other groups also are meeting with the mayor’s office. It’s clear that the mayor, too, would like to line up as many allies as possible.

The union leadership considered staging a competing event on the day of the mayor’s address, but that idea was dismissed as unnecessarily confrontational, said UTLA’s Jordan. Besides, on the charisma scale, “You’re not going upstage Antonio.”

Jordan spent most of his career in the teaching trenches, one of a legion of Jewish educators devoted to serving communities of poor black and brown students. It was another Jewish educator, Herman Katz, who helped turn around a teenage Villaraigosa when he was in danger of becoming a dropout.

Jordan remains on a first-name basis with the mayor after having worked with Villaraigosa during the future mayor’s days as a UTLA organizer: “He’s one of ours,” said Jordan.

Or so he seemed when UTLA broke with much of organized labor and backed Villaraigosa for mayor last year instead of incumbent James Hahn. Jordan and recently elected teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy met with Villaraigosa earlier this year.

“If we could show him there might be another way to have an effect on schools…” said Jordan wistfully, adding, “he left that door open.”

Jordan also conceded: “He appears to be set on his course. I wouldn’t bet against that.”

 

An Ugly Day in the Neighborhood


Dr. Warren Lent is sure he knows why he was treated with such contempt and hostility that day last June. It was the kippah he wore on his head.

He had come to vote in neighborhood council elections at a jam-packed fire station in Hancock Park. Amid the tension and confusion, an angry poll worker repeatedly accused Lent, a soft-spoken surgeon, of trying to vote twice.

Things escalated to the point where the poll worker asked Lent if he was “man enough to step outside” to settle it, Lent said.

The poll worker eventually backed down, but Lent reported the incident to Michael Rosenberg, a candidate for the council who, along with a group of allies, was recording slights against Orthodox Jewish voters. From his spot the requisite 100 feet away from the polling place, and from his office desk, Rosenberg gathered reports on shouting matches, fraudulent ballots and tense stand-offs between Orthodox Jews and other voters, many of them non-Orthodox Jews.

More proof, to Rosenberg’s mind, that the upscale neighborhood of Hancock Park was out to get Orthodox Jews.

On the other side, non-Orthodox residents were just as disgusted by what they say they saw on Election Day — fake membership cards, line jumping and all manner of deception by Orthodox Jews trying to secure as many votes as they could. Yet more evidence that this group of Orthodox Jews is willing to bend — no, break — the rules to get what they want.

What both sides wanted was control of the local neighborhood council, a relatively new city institution meant to bring grass-roots voices into city policymaking, an ideal that hardly seems worth fighting over in other parts of town. But in Hancock Park, it came to symbolize a battle between those who believed the Orthodox were trying to plant a shul and school on every corner, and the Orthodox who felt that established residents were trying to choke off their community.

Throughout that day and for months following, both sides wondered how the strife ever got this bad. How could it be, they asked themselves, that Jews in Los Angeles were at loggerheads, mosly with other Jews, in an embarrassing conflict that divided along religious lines?

To Rosenberg and his associates, the answer is simple: The neighborhood had been heading in that direction for years, and the election was the climax of years of intolerance.

Other residents challenge that interpretation. They tell a more complex tale, one that holds Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jew and real estate developer, personally responsible for ratcheting up the enmity and pulling the neighborhood into something like a civil war.

On that day in June, the vast majority of Orthodox Jews, as well as unsuspecting local residents who came out to vote, were caught in the middle, stunned. Yes, everyone knew there had been conflicts between the Orthodox and the rest of the neighborhood, mostly centered on land-use disputes. And even while tensions had escalated over several years, setting the whole neighborhood on edge, no one felt as if Hancock Park was roiling with ethnic prejudice, which is how things looked and felt to many on Election Day.

“I can’t say it was anti-Semitism, he didn’t call me ‘dirty Jew,’ or say, ‘you Jews,’ and I don’t want to falsely accuse anyone,” said Lent of the poll worker. “I don’t know what his true motivation was, but one thing was clear to me. He was ready to punch me, and he wasn’t going to give me a chance to explain.”

To moderate — and even extreme — voices on both sides, these elections were a wake-up call, setting in motion halting efforts at peacemaking.

Today, contentious issues and tough questions persist. Aside from continuing enmity over the election, residents are battling in court over the construction of a synagogue on a busy residential street. And an Orthodox school and its neighbors are testing just how far they can push each other.

But on both sides, there are people willing to face tough questions so they can begin to bridge the divide.

Do some Hancock Park residents harbor mistrust toward anyone who looks Orthodox? Is this a case of intolerance, or one of some Orthodox Jews behaving badly and now everyone paying the price? How much is just miscommunication? And is the community suffering because it let a few people, notably Michael Rosenberg, become the voice of the Orthodox community?

Conflicting Claims

In the first two years, starting in 1999, that civic activist John Gresham had been organizing the area’s first Neighborhood Council in the Midwilshire area, he hadn’t heard much from Orthodox Jews, even though he knew that Hancock Park, one of 15 neighborhoods in proposed council borders, was heavily Orthodox.

Michael Rosenberg

Michael Rosenberg: “I told everybody else that we have a little problem — they don’t like us Jews.” Photo courtesy Sheryl Rosenberg

So he recalls being stunned when, in December 2001, Rosenberg, a businessman he knew only peripherally, filed a rival claim on the territory Gresham and a group of about 150 involved residents and business people had staked out as the future Midwilshire Neighborhood Council.

Claiming to represent homeowners, Orthodox interests and other underdog groups he had allied himself with, Rosenberg applied to the city for certification as the official neighborhood council in Midwilshire’s borders, throwing two years of grassroots mobilization into tumult.

“It was essentially our map, but [Rosenberg] had changed the name at the top and said, ‘We represent everyone there,'” Gresham said.

“So my initial reaction was: Why? And my second reaction was: What do we have to do to prevent this? And then my third reaction was: Wait a second, who is in his group? Who does he represent?” Gresham said.

To Rosenberg, the question of why is an easy one to answer. He felt that the existing organization was not doing enough to truly represent the will of the people

“They were certainly not considering us as part of them,” he said. By us, Rosenberg meant Orthodox Jews, but not exclusively that group. He’d also recruited residents and business owners, including Asians, blacks and Latinos, outside Hancock Park proper.

Such a divisive confrontation was not what city planners had in mind when officials developed — and voters approved — the formation of neighborhood councils as part of the 1999 City Charter. The idea was to develop grassroots civic involvement, giving residents, businesses and neighborhood groups actual influence — but not outright voting power — on city matters that affect them. Today, there are 88 neighborhood councils, with influence over issues such as zoning, traffic patterns, utility rates, taxes and general decisions about the character of a neighborhood.

“The bottom line on a national and global level is that everything starts in someone’s neighborhood,” said Gresham, who lives within the neighborhood council’s borders, just south of Hancock Park, and who started mobilizing neighborhoods in the 1970s.

Gresham’s job as a vice president at M.L. Stern Investment Securities leaves him only late-night hours to dedicate to grassroots politics, but his earnest involvement has won him widespread admiration.

In fact, in 1999, when the city was first setting up the neighborhood council system, city representatives asked Gresham, who is also active at the Reform Temple Israel of Hollywood, to organize the Midwilshire area. This effort had been proceeding for two years when Rosenberg suddenly stepped in.

Gresham said he is dumbfounded by Rosenberg’s claim that important segments of the community were willfully excluded. Gresham had spent two years forming the Interim Midwilshire Neighborhood Council, made up of homeowners associations, business associations, and representatives for renters, students and nonprofits. The council area includes 50,000 people in 15 distinct neighborhoods within the area roughly from just west of Western Avenue to La Brea Avenue, from Olympic Boulevard to Melrose Avenue.

“We kept trying to get more people to the table so we would have a true cross-section — including Michael — and we are accused by him of not doing that? I just have no comprehension of what he is talking about. It’s foreign to me,” Gresham said at a late night meeting in his office, glasses perched atop gray hair and eyes squinty with fatigue.

Gresham had first met Rosenberg when he came to a meeting of the Midwilshire interim board, a few months before he filed his rival claim.

Rosenberg appears in the minutes of that November 2001 meeting as having volunteered to help iron out the group’s by-laws and participate in outreach. Gresham invited him to be on the board. But, after the meeting, Rosenberg had a run-in with a board member who recognized Rosenberg as an advocate for a synagogue involved in a vicious land-use dispute.

Rosenberg says he was told that the neighborhood council process had already begun, and that he wasn’t needed — or wanted.

“After the way they treated me I told everybody else that we have a little problem — they don’t like us Jews,” Rosenberg said. “We are outsiders.”

So Rosenberg gathered a few signatures from friends and business associates, including Orthodox activist and developer Stanley Treitel, and in December 2001 filed his own application with the city to become the Greater Hancock Park Neighborhood Council.

The city department that oversees neighborhood councils, which is committed to making these bodies truly representative, did not want to favor existing homeowners groups over ad hoc entities. In the spring of 2002 the city ordered Gresham and Rosenberg to negotiate a merger.

“We ended up giving in to them on every single point they wanted because they would not budge,” said Gresham, saying the negotiations over minutia occasionally became uncivil, to the point of table-pounding and screaming.

Rosenberg says the meetings were a ruse, since Gresham’s group continued meeting behind his back.

Gresham said of course his group continued to meet, openly, to continue the work of getting certified — just as he expected Rosenberg’s group to keep meeting.

But whether Rosenberg had a group at all was a question Gresham never felt was adequately answered. Gresham said Rosenberg seemed to make decisions on his own, without consulting a board, and got angry with Gresham for always wanting to check back with the Midwilshire interim board.

Rosenberg says he had a group of about a dozen active volunteers and many more supporters, Jewish and non-Jewish, who empowered him to make decisions.

While he initially started with some close Orthodox friends, Rosenberg later pulled in some non-Jewish businessmen and disgruntled residents who felt they were not being represented by this nouveau establishment.

Among those was Morris Shaoulian, the lessee of the Scottish Rite Auditorium on Wilshire Boulevard and Lucerne Avenue in Hancock Park-adjacent Windsor Square, who is currently in litigation with the city over the use of the building.

After several months of negotiations, the newly named Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council was formed, with Rosenberg and Gresham as co-presidents, and an unwieldy 56 board members — 28 from each side.

At a hearing in December 2003, the city certified the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. But before doing so, the city lopped off a section that jutted out of the Council’s linear borders south of Olympic Boulevard, saying the small area, which Rosenberg had added, was not organically part of a territory that was already too big.

That severed appendage had included a large portion of Rosenberg’s allies, including 14 of his 28 board members.

“In that area we had representation of people who were black, Hispanic, Koreans, some gays and lesbians — and they were so upset to be cut off from the neighborhood council,” Rosenberg said. “And after that they said you guys stabbed us and they didn’t want to meet anymore.”

While the council was certified, it still needed to set up procedures to elect its board members, an election initially slated for March 2004.

But disgusted with what he saw as a biased and farcical process, Rosenberg dragged his feet and didn’t bring his representative to any planning meetings. March came and went without elections.

Gresham and the city tried to schedule meetings with Rosenberg, but were continually put off.

Without Rosenberg and his people, the board had no quorum, and could not set up the election procedures, which meant voting could not commence.

Suddenly, in the early summer of 2004, a process that had been in the works for years, involving hundreds of people and thousands of hours of work, was at a dead halt.

Gresham was at his wits end. And he was beginning to wonder what was driving Michael Rosenberg.

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, head of Kehillat Yavneh: “We have never tried to steamroll over the neighbors. We have never tried to hide what we’re doing.” Photo by Kevin Scanlon

‘Red Flags All Over the Place’

Baby faced and jowly with a soothing Latin lilt to his speech, Rosenberg doesn’t hide the fact that he is motivated by a large chip on his shoulder, despite his obvious success — he runs a thriving international real estate business, he and his family own thoroughbreds and he is the president of World Derby, Inc., which promotes horse racing events. He and his wife Sheryl have raised their four sons in a luxurious home at the eastern edge of Hancock Park, where they have lived for 21 years.

But Rosenberg’s parents lost everything and everyone in the Holocaust, including three sons — Michael’s brothers. The family found refuge after the war in Peru, where Michael was born and where he lived until the late 1970s.

As for his involvement in Hancock Park politics, Rosenberg is adamant that it’s all a matter of principal. He scoffs at the speculation, put forth with no evidence by some who are critical of him, that his involvement in neighborhood politics has been motivated by potential financial gain for his real estate business, which he says is mostly out of state or out of the country.

Instead, Rosenberg said, he was initially motivated by ill-advised land-use policies that neighborhood establishments supported. But the matter became a personal cause after he encountered intolerance at neighborhood meetings, which he ascribed to his wearing a kippah and representing the Orthodox community.

During the rise of the Nazis, leading up to the Holocaust, “in Hungary, my parents had to endure rules of you can’t go there and you can’t shop here, and this was the beginning of the same things — red flags were going up all over the place,” he says of restrictions being placed on land-use in Hancock Park and the accompanying intolerance he perceived. “That is the ultimate goal, to restrict use of the land and to rein in a group — and that is what they were trying to do with us at the end of the day.”

Rosenberg is referring to the ongoing attempt by local preservationists to designate Hancock Park a Historical Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), which, at its most stringent, would mean changes by homeowners to their residences would have to go through rigorous scrutiny by city boards.

The Hancock Park Homeowners Association, a 57-year-old body, supports the historic zone, as does the office of Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the area. In 2001 Rosenberg had attended a meeting of the association and told the members that a majority of Hancock Park residents did not support the historic designation. No one on either side of the issue, in fact, has done authoritative polling.

The challenge was not well received, and Rosenberg said he was treated rudely, as though he were an outsider with no business there.

Soon after, Rosenberg and Treitel, along with a handful of other Jewish and non-Jewish members, founded the rival Hancock Park Resident’s Association. They sent out a mailing asking people to join them in opposing the historic zone. Rosenberg claims he received 1,100 letters in his support, which he filed with the city’s planning department. A department representative confirmed that his office has received hundreds of letters both in support and against the historic designation.

Within the next month, the city’s planning department will hold the first of many public hearings about the HPOZ, leading up to a likely decision this summer by the City Council.

While the Orthodox community — including everyone from Modern Orthodox to Chasidic — is hardly unified in supporting or opposing a historic zone, Rosenberg was certain he recognized yet another effort to choke off the growing Orthodox presence — many Orthodox families have remodeled old area homes to accommodate large families, adding bedrooms and modern kosher kitchens.

Rosenberg became increasingly convinced that longer established neighbors — many of them non-Orthodox Jews — were uncomfortable with the visibly distinct and insular Orthodox community, people who dressed in black hats and coats in the heat of the summer, who ate at different restaurants and sent their kids to different schools. The Orthodox, he believed, were a grudgingly tolerated “them,” not regarded as part of the community fabric.

Rosenberg is not alone in reaching that conclusion.

“The other side will tell you it’s nothing personal, it’s only about zoning, and I wish I could believe that,” said Alan Stern, an Orthodox businessman and philanthropist, whose wife Lisa won a seat as an alternate in the neighborhood council elections. “But it’s just not true. When you dig deep enough and start talking, there is a lot more that I find worrying. Many of them don’t like those black hats and coats walking in Hancock Park. It’s not a kind of look they feel comfortable with.”

Jane Ellison Usher

Jane Ellison Usher, president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission: “I think there need to be other Jewish voices.” Photo by Kevin Scanlon

An Urban Oasis, Divided

Hancock Park is one of Los Angeles’s most picture-perfect neighborhoods, where sloping lawns on winding streets are crowned with elegant Tudor, Spanish and Mediterranean mansions built mostly in the 1920s. It covers roughly a linear mile between Highland and Rossmore Avenues, from Melrose Avenue to Wilshire Boulevard.

Jews began to move into this urban oasis 40 years ago, when clauses in home deeds prohibiting sales to Jews or blacks were removed. As Jews shifted eastward from Fairfax, Orthodox institutions became centered on and around La Brea Avenue, a few blocks west of Hancock Park. The last decade has seen a surge in the number of schools, shuls and kosher establishments in the area.

There are about 20 shuls on La Brea, Beverly and surrounding streets, and about a dozen kosher establishments. At least four new schools have been established in the last 10 years, and enrollment at existing schools has surged. Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Torath Emeth, for example, had about 700 kids in preschool through eighth grade 10 years ago, and today has more than 1,100.

With that growth has come increased tensions with established neighbors, including some residents who have been there for decades, and many more recent arrivals — a good number of them non-Orthodox Jews — who treasure the area’s serenity and architectural beauty.

Some residents fear the character of the neighborhood, which is zoned for single-family homes only, is being threatened by haphazard remodeling projects and by institutions — notably a shul and a private religious school — moving into Hancock Park itself.

“Hancock Park is a beautiful suburb in the middle of a busy city, and if people keep chipping away at it, soon it won’t be a beautiful, serene neighborhood anymore. It will be changed forever,” said Jolene Snett, an activist who is involved in crafting a preservation plan, which would limit what homeowners could do with the parts of architecturally historic homes visible from the street.

Snett, a member of Temple Israel of Hollywood, was elected last June to the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.

It was the arcane subject of zoning that led to the Neighborhood Council confrontations and became the focus of lawsuits and angry rhetoric over the last 10 years. In 1999, Yeshivat Yavneh, a 400-student Orthodox day school, moved from Beverly Boulevard west of La Brea Avenue into the Tudor estate that had housed Whittier law school on Third Street and Las Palmas Avenue. Neighbors saw to it that Yavneh’s conditional-use permit was highly restrictive (see sidebar).

While the school and neighbors agree that Yavneh has worked hard to be a good neighbor — carefully controlling noise and carpool chaos — tension has continued to build over when and what Yavneh can do with its building. Yavneh is now planning to bring to the zoning board a proposal for an 8-foot security fence, which neighbors oppose, and a plan to change the terms of who can pray in the school on Shabbat, an issue that neighbors say Yavneh has not been honest about.

“We have made every effort to be as conciliatory as possible with the neighborhood and have done our best to make sure we are in compliance with whatever conditional-use permits were granted to us by the city,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, head of Kehillat Yavneh, which holds Shabbat prayers at the school for the Yavneh parent body. “We have never tried to steamroll over the neighbors. We have never tried to hide what we’re doing, and for some reason there are certain extremists in the neighborhood who are opposed to having any greater presence for Orthodox Jews convening for religious activity or prayer, regardless of the impact on the neighborhood.”

At the same time, Korobkin is working with his own community to be more open, because he acknowledges that insularity may have contributed to the hostile environment and closed communication lines.

“Our guilt is that we have not sufficiently been good neighbors in the sense of reaching out and letting them know that we are part of the community, and we are here to work together with the rest of the community,” he said. “If an Orthodox Jew is having a Kiddush [party] at his home because his wife gave birth, and he invites 100 people from all around and his neighbors are not invited to the Kiddush — that type of thing creates ill-will,” he said.

Korobkin, and many others, believe that Yavneh is suffering the fallout of an earlier land-use dispute involving Congregation Etz Chaim, the synagogue to which Rosenberg and many of his neighborhood allies belong.

Etz Chaim is a small congregation that for 30 years met in the June Street home of Rabbi Chaim Rubin. In 1995 it purchased a 3,600-square-foot house on the corner of Highland Avenue and Third Street, enraging neighbors protective of the area’s single-family-home zoning status. The legal battle had already begun when in 2002 Etz Chaim razed the home and rebuilt an 8,200-square-foot structure with a main sanctuary and a mikvah (see sidebar).

Neighbors contend the shul violated local zoning laws and trampled due process, and the shul contends neighbors are attempting to infringe upon its religious freedom. The dispute is currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but regardless of the outcome, residents are likely to remain angry about the bulldozer approach the congregation took.

“Third and Highland was this giant smack in the face to all of Hancock Park that said, ‘We are going to do whatever we want and no on is going to stop us,'” said Gary Gilbert, a writer and producer, who lives in Windsor Square.

While Orthodox residents who don’t belong to Etz Chaim were not vocal about the matter, many of them also were troubled by both the manner and the outcome of the construction.

“None of us like that shul either. I didn’t think what they did was right, and I certainly wouldn’t want that happening next door to me,” said Marty Gurfinkel, a Yavneh parent who is now participating in reconciliation meetings.

But the idea of Orthodox Jews speaking out against other shul-goers was anathema, and so, Gurfinkel says, the Etz Chaim dispute fermented a false sense, both among the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, of us and them.

“It created a lot of negativity and came at a severe cost,” agreed Larry Eisenberg, a pediatrician who rues the fact that none of his Orthodox peers felt it appropriate to challenge Etz Chaim.

Eisenberg, a Hancock Park resident and past president of the West Coast board of the Orthodox Union, was elected to the neighborhood council on a platform of opposing traffic mitigation measures and the historic zone designation. He was not allied with Rosenberg, and had nothing to do with Rosenberg’s quest. But, he says, at the first few meetings of the neighborhood council over the past few months, he has felt that he is the object of suspicion and bias from other council members, just by virtue of being Orthodox.

Indeed, anti-Orthodoxy seemed at its height after last summer’s elections. Deeply troubled by the hostility and intolerance he saw, Gary Gilbert, an active member of Temple Israel, informally canvassed his neighbors in advance of launching reconciliation efforts.

“I went to my neighbors and I said, ‘Tell me about the Orthodox.’ And they said, ‘They think they are above the law, they will do whatever they want if it is good for them, and they don’t care about anyone else’s needs but their own,'” Gilbert recounted.

And while Rosenberg might offer that up as more proof that he was right — that the locals do hate the Orthodox — some argue that Rosenberg himself opened that door, back in 2004, when he and his cohorts brought the neighborhood council process, which activists had been working on for five years, to a screeching halt.

Stanley Treitel

Stanley Treitel, neighborhood activist: “We have to move on to some degree.” Photo by Kevin Scanlon

The City Takes Over

With elections nowhere on the horizon, Gresham was relieved when, in July 2004, the city decided to take over setting up the elections. The city began the process by holding focus groups with area stakeholders to come up with election procedures.

Rosenberg came to some of those meetings with his supporters, and advocated for eliminating both the age limit and the need for proof of identity for voters, pushing for self-affirmation — actions eyed with suspicion by many.

The city, for its part, determined that people could vote in as many categories for which they qualified as stakeholders. That is, you got one vote if you owned property, another if you also rented property, still another if you worked in neighborhood — not to mention a vote for attending a local school or belonging to a local organization. Each category is represented by a board member. In the end, some people would vote as many as 19 times.

In March 2005, after the city decided that age limits and identification would be required, Rosenberg sued the city for violating the council’s bylaws, a case that was quickly dismissed.

Increasingly alarmed at the free-for-all the city seemed to be setting up, Gresham worried that anyone, including non-residents, could become a stakeholder by setting up a bogus organization, and that underhanded scheming would be rampant.

In February 2005, Gresham summoned some active neighbors who decided to form Neighbors United for Fair Elections, a group whose initial mission was to see to it that election procedures were fair and logical.

“The real villain in this enterprise is the [city’s] Department of Neighborhood Empowerment,” said Jane Ellison Usher, a Jewish attorney who answered Gresham’s call to action. “The way the department established procedures was to say to whatever group of people happened to show up at a meeting, ‘How do you feel on these three or four points?’ And whoever was sitting in the chairs would cast votes, and those were turned into formal recommendations for the board and the department.”

Usher, a former president of the Windsor Square Homeowners Association, was recently appointed president of Los Angeles planning commission. She had been involved early on in the neighborhood council process and stepped out in dismay when the city forced Gresham into negotiations with Rosenberg.

Usher is known among friends and detractors for being resolute and blunt — as someone who, by her own admission, doesn’t mince words. As elections neared, Usher began circulating aggressively worded e-mails to bring the masses to the polls.

“Don’t let the bad guys outnumber us again,” begins a Feb. 21, 2005 email, co-signed by Usher, Jolene Snett and Cindy Chvatal, who is now vice president of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. “Do you want a neighborhood controlled by the man who has leased the Scottish Rite or by the activists who have defied all zoning rules and built a temple at Third and Highland?”

Another e-mail, sent after the city delayed elections that had been set for May 2005, decries the city’s “twisted thought process.”

“Disabled by the notion that Michael Rosenberg might again sue, his forte, they [city organizations] have become the reliable enablers of the hijacking of this neighborhood by a handful of bogeymen,” wrote Usher and Chvatal.

The same e-mail ended with the imperative to “Grab your white hat and enough votes to win.”

Orthodox community members saw in that an allusion to their own black hats. But Usher, who grew up in a small town in Ohio, says the white hat reference is nothing more than a regional expression about good guys in white and bad guys in black.

And, she says, her references to “minions” was in no way meant to evoke minyans (a quorum of worshippers), and “bad guys” referred to the city organizations messing with the elections, not to the Orthodox community.

As Usher’s e-mails circulated, rumors spread within the Orthodox community of nefarious, well-organized plots to stifle Jewish interests. For its part, the Orthodox community fielded nine candidates, many brought in by Rosenberg.

Some e-mails originating in the Orthodox camp compared what was happening in Hancock Park to Nazi-era restrictions, and rumors spread about plots to bus in Muslims on Election Day to defeat the Orthodox.

While some rabbis decried the more egregious rhetoric, the idea took hold that getting out the Orthodox vote was a matter of saving the community.

“On the slate are individuals who have proven hostile to the interests of our community. If they win, any new shul or school, any expansion of existing shuls or schools, any remodeling of any home, will require their approval,” read a letter sent out by the Yavneh school. The letter urged all community members — even domestic help — to vote, and to enroll in newly formed organizations to qualify as stakeholders in more categories.

When Neighbors United got wind of the mobilization in the Orthodox community, fear began to spread that the Orthodox were trying to take over local politics so they could plant a shul and school on every corner in Hancock Park.

To both sides, elections had become a matter of saving the neighborhood.

An Election Debacle

The hype and propaganda worked, bringing out a record 1,200 voters on Wednesday, June 15, 2005, who cast a combined 29,000 ballots, higher than any other council elections since the city founded the Neighborhood Council system, which generally does allow for multiple ballots per person.

But rather than being a triumph of grass-roots activism, the turnout signaled the extent to which fear and suspicion had taken over.

By all accounts, the fire station on Wilshire Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue — the single polling place for the day — was a madhouse, with poll workers overwhelmed by the turnout, and voters and volunteers equally befuddled by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment’s impenetrable election procedures.

According to the city’s exorbitantly inclusive rules, voters were allowed to define themselves as stakeholders in up to 19 categories.

That meant that on Election Day, voters — many of whom did not live or work in the area — stood on line with fistfuls of ballots, a startling site in this one man, one vote culture. (One of the first actions of the newly elected council would be to revise election rules, allowing a maximum of two votes per person.)

And things got very, very ugly.

Neighbors United, the non-Orthodox group, created an Election Day staging area at the nearby Wilshire Ebell Theater, offering a free shuttle service to the polling place, where parking was difficult.

At the Ebell, Neighbors United registered voters and enrolled them in organizations to qualify for more ballots. Slates of candidates were endorsed. In some categories where the two or three highest vote-getters would win seats, Neighbors United provided an alphabetical breakdown for voters to follow to optimize the number of its winning candidates (i.e., if your last name begins with A-F, vote for this candidate; G-M for that candidate).

Orthodox community members say they saw Neighbors United people — including volunteer poll workers — at the polling place trying to intimidate Orthodox voters and handing out membership cards, some of them for organizations founded for just for the purpose of boosting vote totals.

The Orthodox community was not nearly as well organized, but its members were busy, too. Neighbors United members allege that they saw candidates campaigning outside the polling place, in violation of election rules, and people handing out “your name here” membership cards for organizations. Some of these had changed addresses to be within council boundaries; others hadn’t existed the week before.

One member of Neighbors United said that while she was looking for parking, two Orthodox men sitting in a car in front of the fire station indicated they weren’t leaving. Seconds later, she saw them relinquish the space to another Orthodox Jew.

Orthodox voters speak of harassment: If you looked Orthodox you were treated with greater scrutiny and greater contempt by poll volunteers, who came mostly from the ranks of Neighbors United (they were, after all, better organized).

And throughout the day, e-mails and phone calls continued to circulate, urging more people to come out and vote.

In the end, five Orthodox men, including Rosenberg, were elected to the Neighborhood Council, out of 31 seats. Gresham, ironically, only won as an alternate (when a board member can’t make the meeting, he takes her place). Gilbert and Treitel are alternates; Usher, Snett and Chvatal all won seats.

Nine people, including Rosenberg and Alan Stern, filed challenges against the election results, but the city dismissed all of them.

“There was considerable fraud on both sides, and a number of rabbis were not comfortable with that,” said Irving Lebovics, West Coast president of the Orthodox umbrella organization Agudath Israel. “But the bigger issue to me was that in this election there was a tremendous amount of anti-Semitism. We had people who showed up to vote like any good citizen, and they were harassed and screamed at from vans on the street. It was unacceptable.”

Charges of anti-Semitism became a sore point after the election. After all, a significant number of the Neighbors United activists are Jewish.

“To evoke the Holocaust for political gain in a neighborhood zoning dispute, and for one group of people to allege anti-Semitism against another group that they don’t see eye-to-eye with politically, especially when many in the group are Jewish, is a problem,” Jolene Snett said. “These are serious claims, and to use them in a political manner, so readily and so quickly, and often to fellow Jews, I find very troubling.”

For her part, Usher says she feels compelled, as a Jew, to offer an alternative voice when she sees Jews behaving badly, as she believes some leaders at Etz Chaim and Yavneh did.

“I think there need to be other Jewish voices,” she said. “Frankly, it is repulsive to me that I am connected or associated in any way with the people perpetrating these deceptions, so I intend to speak out.”

“I am a Jew, I am a practicing Jew, and I feel that deception is shameful,” Usher said in an interview at a Beverly Boulevard pastry shop not long after the election. “Did I ever think I would see the day I would feel the need to stand up and say I am Jewish and I have a bone to pick with other Jews? Did I even anticipate that day? No.”

Peace Talks

Today, with the elections well in the past, Usher’s stridency has mellowed.

At the neighborhood council meetings — there have been four since the elections — Usher sits just one seat away from Stanley Treitel, a colleague of Rosenberg’s whose passion and vociferousness were off-putting to some during the thick of the strife.

At the January meeting, Treitel handed Usher his card and asked her to call. Usher and Treitel met for breakfast at La Brea Bagel a few weeks ago, where the two, who had formerly demonized each other, talked about issues in the neighborhood, and vowed to keep an open dialogue.

“I’m very optimistic. I don’t see or feel any hardliners drawing lines in the sand,” Usher said.

“We have to move on to some degree,” agreed Treitel, noting that Usher is now the head of the city’s planning commission, an organization that holds the key to approval of community projects.

While Usher’s and Treitel’s new connection is off to a good start, things are not going as well for a larger-scale reconciliation effort.

In November, a group of Orthodox, liberal Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors met to plan a blood drive and neighborhood safety fair for January. But three weeks after the initial planning meeting the event was off.

Yavneh had offered to host the event, but since Yavneh is in the middle of troublesome negotiations over its city operating permit, residents who live nearby wondered if Yavneh’s hospitality was motivated mainly by a desire to build support for dealings with the city.

And, ironically, holding a large event like the blood drive would have violated Yavneh’s permit.

It wasn’t the outcome Gary Gilbert and his wife Judy hoped for when they convened about 20 people in their Windsor Square living room last summer, following the election, to save the neighborhood from itself.

“One of the reasons I got involved is because I heard the phrase ‘the Orthodox’ 50 times, and then I heard the term ‘Jew’ in a way I never heard before in Hancock Park,” said Gilbert, a producer and writer of comedies, including the “Seinfeld” pilot.

The Gilberts joined forces with Rabbi Korobkin of Yavneh, who independently had set out to begin the healing process, contacting local clergy and L.A. Voice, an organization that works with faith-based organizations to build community.

At the first, smaller meeting about a month after the election, about 20 people from varying backgrounds sat in the Gilberts home and introduced themselves, putting names and faces to the impersonal “other side.”

“I’m not a professional mediator or conflict resolution person. I’m just a Jewish guy from the neighborhood who is really upset,” Gilbert recalled telling those at the first gathering in August. “I’m here to say let’s figure out what to do. I have no plan, no agenda — my agenda is why can’t we all get along. So let’s give it a try.”

A second meeting took place in November at the home of Marty and Candice Gurfinkel — a new home that blends impeccably into its surroundings and stands in regal rebuttal to the charge that the Orthodox have no aesthetic sense. It was there that the plan for the blood drive was devised, and after the meeting, a dozen neighbors stood around the dessert table schmoozing.

But despite the thaw, some were uncomfortable, feeling like they were skirting the real issues, moving ahead with joint activities to foster relationships when old wounds had yet to be healed, or even acknowledged.

“We perceive that the other neighbors look at us with such a sense of suspicion and distrust, that they feel anything we are trying to do is completely self-serving and disingenuous and we are not concerned with being good neighbors,” Korobkin said recently. “If you start with that premise, it is hard to win people’s support to work toward common goals. It’s hard to move things forward.”

But Korobkin persists in his efforts toward reconciliation, understanding that not only Yavneh’s future, but the entire neighborhood’s rests on everyone’s ability to work together.

As for Rosenberg, he has spent much of the last six months in Peru tending to family matters. He’s missed most of the Neighborhood Council meetings, but the one he did attend, he voted against all of the proposed measures, which passed anyway.

One of those measures reduced the number of future board members on the Neighborhood Council from 31 to 21 for the next elections in March 2007. Members who supported the motion said the board was too unwieldy with 31 members.

Treitel, who voted against the change, noted in an interview that Orthodox Jews had a good chance of filling the seats that were cut, in categories such as education, religion and nonprofits. He worries that the interests of the Orthodox community are now further jeopardized.

Rosenberg plans to do whatever it takes to accomplish what he says was his initial goal: to ensure that everyone in the neighborhood is represented, and that no one, especially not the Orthodox community, gets left out of the process.

“I feel bad that people have a perception of me as being a bad person,” Rosenberg said. “I’m not a bad person. I have given a lot of my time and money to make people aware of what I believe to be very important things.”

 

Will Europe Back Hamas Sans Conditions?


Cracks are showing in the international demands on Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism before it takes over the Palestinian Authority.

Ignoring the preconditions, Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to host leaders of the radical Islamic group in Moscow, prompting similar overtures from elsewhere in Europe.

“We believe that it is an initiative that can contribute to advancing our positions,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau was quoted as saying late last week in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. “We share with Russia the goal of leading Hamas toward positions that would allow for the goal of two states living in peace and security to be reached.

There was consternation in Israel, which had hoped to parlay Hamas’ unexpected victory in last month’s Palestinian Authority election into a chance to make the Palestinian terrorist group embrace a new political pragmatism.

While some foreign analysts wrote off Putin’s move as a bid to boost his diplomatic standing, many Israelis predicted it would spell the end of the “road map” to peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, which had been co-sponsored by Russia.

“As far as Israel is concerned, the Quartet, which adopted the road map in 2003, now becomes a ‘Trio’ whose members are the United States, European Union and United Nations,” analyst Ze’ev Schiff wrote in Ha’aretz.

Fending off a hailstorm of Israeli criticism — as well as a possible showdown with Washington — Russia insisted it only wanted to help tame Hamas.

“We will ask Hamas to change their position according to the latest decisions of the Quartet, which are recognition of Israel, rejection of terrorism and execution of the Palestinian Authority’s past agreements” with Israel, said Russia’s Middle East envoy, Alexander Kalugin.

Such declarations did little to convince Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has worked to persuade the international community that Hamas reform must precede its recognition abroad.

“First they start with talks, after that they ‘try to understand.’ Then give money, then legitimacy. This is what we must act against,” she told Israel Radio.

“This is a black-and-white situation,” Livni said. “The biggest problem is that Hamas does not accept the terms of the Quartet.”

There’s also the matter of funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA). The 25-member-state European Union, which gave the PA some $600 million in 2005, is the PA’s single largest source of financial support.

The initial EU stance toward Hamas could be found in the clear-cut words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who during a recent visit with PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Germany would not speak to Hamas until it renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the front-runner in Israel’s March 28 general election, assumed a resigned tone over the Russian move. But he told his Cabinet that once the new Palestinian Authority Parliament is formed — beginning next weekend — “the rules of the game will change.” The remarks were interpreted as a threat that Israel could sanction a future Hamas-led government by refusing to hand over taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Despite the pressure piled upon it, Hamas insists it has no plan to change its charter — calling for jihad against the Jewish state — or give up its weapons. At best, some Hamas leaders have offered Israel an extended truce — cold comfort given that the group’s theosophy predicts Zionism’s end by the early 2020s.

Some Israelis predict that Hamas will end up paying at least lip service to the idea of peace, which will be eagerly welcomed by an international community feeling hard-pressed by the U.S.-led “war on terror” and the more recent Danish cartoon furor.

“Hamas will say something out of the corner of its mouth,” predicted Ma’ariv’s editor in chief, Amnon Dankner, in a front-page commentary. “A hazy bit of mumbling with deliberate dissembling, in order to allow the world to establish ties with it, talk to it, and recommend it to Israel as a negotiating partner.” Dinah A. Spritzer contributed to this article.

 

Will Violence Again Flare Up in 2006?


Will the Palestinians start the new year with a renewal of violence?

That has been the question asked by many nervous Israelis in the final weeks of 2005, as the “truce” declared by Palestinian terrorist groups early last year came to an end.

True, there was never a complete cessation of violence. Islamic Jihad, which did not join in the truce, carried out several suicide bombings during the pact’s nine-month stretch.

But the relative lull helped Prime Minister Ariel Sharon engineer the Gaza Strip withdrawal and is credited by the Shin Bet with a 60 percent decrease in Israeli casualties from terror during 2005.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who coaxed terrorist groups into observing the cease-fire he declared with Sharon last February, appealed for an extension.

“I think it is our interest that the truce continues, in order to have the opportunity to reconstruct our country and to make things take their ordinary course,” he said last week during a fundraising trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Hamas, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and smaller factions have so far resisted the call.

According to last week’s Shin Bet report, arms smuggling into Gaza has skyrocketed sixfold since Israel left during the summer. In the West Bank, terrorists have already test fired a rocket in a bid to emulate the tactics of their Gazan comrades.

But there may be a grace period in the works before the dreaded resurgence of violence comes. Hamas is running in Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections on Jan. 25 and has sought a more mainstream political profile. It is seen as unlikely to resort to major terrorism before the votes are in — assuming, of course that the vote is not postponed.

Further complicating matters for the Palestinians is the speedy deterioration of Gaza into anarchy. Six foreigners have been kidnapped by gunmen there in recent days, belying Abbas’ pledge to turn the coastal strip — post-Israel — into an orderly prototype for a future Palestine.

All of this means that the U.S.-led “road map” for peace could soon end up in tatters.

Sharon may be preparing for that eventuality. According to a front-page report in Ma’ariv, the prime minister has sent Israeli officials to propose to the United States that, following the Palestinian Authority election, the road map should be abandoned in favor of unilateral action.

Sharon wants President Bush’s endorsement for Israel declaring a border that would include some West Bank land, while allowing for the creation of a temporary Palestinian state beyond, the newspaper said Monday.

“A wave of Hamas terrorism will thwart any hope” of progress in peacemaking, wrote Ma’ariv’s editor in chief, Amnon Dankner, and its senior political correspondent, Ben Caspit.

The road map, they added, “looks like a dead end, which in effect provides Sharon with a fig leaf to cover up the new diplomatic path being planned in Jerusalem.”

There was no immediate U.S. response, and a senior Israeli political source dismissed the article as” speculation.”

But Sharon, who looks set for re-election in March, has made no secret of planning to settle the conflict with the Palestinians during a third term in office — whether or not Abbas is a partner. Bush has already given his tacit approval to Israel’s intention to hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs, making their eventual annexation a formality.

Which leaves the question of whether the Palestinians will launch a new terror war or make do with what territory they get, hoping for economic revival and some domestic stability.

In a rare vote of confidence for potential progress, Turkey plans to take over the Erez industrial zone on the Gaza-Israel border, a move that would provide employment opportunities to hundreds of Palestinians. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is due in the region later this week to sign the deal.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Ankara sees the initiative as a chance to boost its pull in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and has been undeterred by Gaza’s recent cross-border violence.

Calendars Remove Anti-Israel Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shake-Up!


Rep. Howard Berman can work the J-circuit with the best of them. He knows who’s who among synagogue presidents, what to wear at bar mitzvahs, what to say to which rabbis and which chicken-dinner fundraisers are can’t miss. A smart Jewish politician in a heavily Jewish district quickly figures these things out, and Berman, 64, has represented his San Fernando Valley district since 1980.

By now, Berman knows almost instinctively where he needs to be.

So what’s he doing helping organize a Veteran’s Day parade in Pacoima, a working-class, Latino enclave?

The answer is that Berman’s 28th District has become a lot more Latino than it used to be, and Berman knows he needs to serve those constituents, too. That combination of political savvy and attention to public service has kept Berman in office these 25 years.

But staying in office could get a lot more challenging for Berman — as well as for several other elected officials who happen to be Jewish.

Proposition 77, the redistricting measure on next week’s special elections ballot, is likely to shift considerably more Latino voters into Berman’s district — and perhaps give rise to a viable Latino challenger. The same pattern could play out for several other Jewish politicians, including Reps. Adam Schiff in the Glendale/Pasadena area and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley. Rep. Jane Harman, in the South Bay is less likely to be threatened, although her district is historically competitive to begin with. Rep. Henry Waxman, with his Westside and heavily Jewish base, probably has nothing to fear.

California’s congressional delegation also includes three other Jewish members, Tom Lantos, from Northern California, and Bob Filner and Susan A. Davis in the San Diego area. Filner presently faces a challenge from California Assemblymember and former City Councilman Juan Vargas.

So is a threat to Jewish incumbents reason enough for a Jewish voter to think twice about supporting Proposition 77 — especially when there are critics who take issue with the measure on other grounds? On the other hand, American Jews have traditionally lent support to causes that uplift marginalized communities. Wouldn’t it be fair to make it more likely that a Latino would represent a community comprised mostly of Latinos?

This Jewish side effect is one of many considerations posed by Proposition 77, one of a wearying welter of measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative would take the power to redraw legislative districts away from the California legislature and place it in the hands of three retired judges. It also would accelerate redistricting — changing things almost immediately rather than waiting for the next round of census data. Proposition 77 would apply both to state legislators and members of Congress, like Berman.

The ostensible goal of redistricting after a census is to keep the population of residents about the same in each district. Politically, a twin aim has been to keep incumbents in office, a strategy that is abetted by both Democrats and Republicans.

Up to this point, redistricting has worked in Berman’s favor, sharply reducing the percentage of Latino voters in his district, although Latinos currently make up a majority of his district’s residents. His current district cuts across the eastern heart of the San Fernando Valley, running east of the 405 Freeway and south of the 210 Freeway. When he was first elected, Berman’s district had just a 22 percent Latino electorate. An alternative map, put forth by the Rose Institute at Claremont-McKenna Colleges as more “fair,” would result in Berman representing an area in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is Latino.

Berman opposes Proposition 77, but also insists that he works hard to be, on merit, the first choice of his district’s Latino voters. He is a long-time supporter of rights for agrarian workers, many of whom are Mexican nationals — an issue that has resonance even for U.S.-born Latinos — and he’s served for 23 years on Congress’s immigration subcommittee. Berman said he spends more effort on the bread-and-butter issues of the northern, more Latino end of his district than he does in the south.

Then there’s the symbolism of the 2004 Veteran’s Day parade.

“The first Veteran’s Day parade in the San Fernando Valley is centered in Pacoima — not Sherman Oaks, not Granada Hills,” Berman said.

So it was that veterans from both world wars, Korea and Vietnam marched down the streets of a largely Mexican-American community in the north San Fernando Valley. And they’re going to do it again this year, winding up in the park named after Mexican American rock star Ritchie Valens, of “La Bamba” fame. Latinos, Mexican Americans in particular, have always signed up for the U.S. military in outsize numbers, Berman noted, despite facing discrimination and exclusion at home. The same goes, he added, for the war in Iraq — a disproportionate number of Latinos from his district, native-born and immigrant alike, headed off to serve.

Supporters of Proposition 77 assert that there is ample reason for all voters, Jewish and otherwise, to shake-up the status quo.

The conservatively inclined Rose Institute doesn’t take a position on Proposition 77, but it released a study in September calling for an overhaul of the present system.

“Here in California , the need for reform is clear and almost universally acknowledged,” the report’s executive summary says. “The 2001 gerrymander is likely to live on as a lesson in the abuses that can occur when incumbents are in control….”

The study makes its case with maps of zigzagging districts, including one, California Congressional District 23, that it dubs the “Ribbon of Shame.” District 23 has become a narrow band that twists south along the coast from San Luis Obispo County down to Ventura, connected at places with a razor thin slice of territory. It is represented by Democrat Lois Capps.

Redistricting cuts many ways. The 2001 plan suddenly made the seat of Brad Sherman shakier, shifting thousands of Latino voters to him from Berman, leading to some public sniping between Berman and Sherman.

At one point, the mapping marooned Sherman’s home at the end of a sliver surrounded by Berman’s new district. To top it off, the architect of the re-draw was veteran political consultant Michael Berman — to be sure, he’s well qualified, but he’s also the brother of incumbent Howard Berman. In the end, Sherman was able to keep his residence within a larger swath of his district.

The Democratic head of California’s Senate Redistricting Committee told Sherman, in effect, to shut up and accept it. A majority of the Latino legislative members, 16 of 19, voted in support of the redistricting plan — a show of fealty to the California Democratic caucus and Democratic control of the legislature. And both Sherman and Berman have survived in office.

But the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) sued. MALDEF argued that the redistricting could have concentrated Latino voters in a new district instead of splitting them between Sherman and Berman. A panel of three federal judges ruled against MALDEF, saying the overall results of all the redrawn districts did not discriminate against Latinos.

But the issue never subsided. Author and commentator Joel Kotkin, who supports Proposition 77, said that the current lines have polarized the California legislature, contributing to governmental gridlock with politically safe ultra-liberals opposed by politically safe ultra-conservatives.

“What we have done is dysfunctional,” he said. “We have too many liberal Democrats and too many conservative Republicans.”

In that argument, Kotkin is echoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has endorsed Proposition 77 as a central element of his “reform” package of initiatives.

A more moderate and effective state Legislature should matter to all voters, including Jews, Kotkin said. Besides, he added, “I don’t think somebody being Jewish is the issue as much as whether that person represents the interests of the district.”

Nor is he worried that that California’s congressional delegation would be less pro-Israel if the Jewish Democrats were to fall.

“The old Waxman and Berman kind of politicians — liberal on other issues and good on Israel — will find it increasingly difficult as internal pressure within the Democratic Party becomes increasingly anti-Israel,” Kotkin said.

There’s a dose of politics embedded in Kotkin’s analysis, including a presumption that, over time, Republicans will be better for Israel, better for Jews and maybe better for Californians.

In fact, to many critics of Proposition 77, the initiative is all about politics and not so much about fairness.

Schwarzenegger wants a more acquiescent legislature, and this is his way of getting it, said Peter Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College who directs the school’s Urban & Environmental Policy Program.

“Arnold may call it a technical maneuver, but it’s about eliminating Democratic safe seats,” said the left-leaning Dreier, who opposes Proposition 77: “Republicans are very good at playing hardball and masquerading blatant power grabs as good government.”

Another lefty analyst, Harold Meyerson, takes issue with Kotkin’s implication that Jewish Democratic incumbents can be sacrificed because the best pro-Israel politicians of the future will be Republicans. While most members of the California Democratic caucus are not aligned with “hardline Israeli politicos,” Meyerson said, there’s a consensus of support for Israel within the caucus.

For some districts, the issue isn’t Democrat-to-Republican, but it could well be Jewish-to-Latino.

“A few of these districts might have Democrats of other ethnicities if they weren’t carved the way they were,” said Meyerson, editor at large for American Prospect and political editor of the L.A. Weekly.

There are, of course, other hard-boiled political considerations. The Jewish members of Congress have accumulated seniority, which helps them play key roles in matters pertaining both to Israel and broader foreign policy.

“This is a case of five members [from Southern California] who are interested in international relations in general and U.S.-Israel relations in particular,” Berman said. He, along with Reps. Schiff and Sherman, serve on the International Relations Committee; Rep. Harman sits on the Intelligence Committee.

Berman points to his 22 years as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee: “I know Israeli leadership, Palestinian leadership, maybe some Saudi leadership. There’s a lot of time and experience there.”

Still, it’s hard to find anyone who will outright defend a system that is gruesomely gerrymandered to protect incumbents. But for leftie progressives there’s more at stake than the downside of the status quo. For them, the California congressional delegation sits as a bulwark against the George Bush Conservative Republican majority — whose own members hail from equally gerrymandered states. In better times (for Democrats), the California delegation could become the lynchpin of an emerging Democratic — and more liberally Democratic — majority. That’s not something that progressive Democrats, such as Meyerson and Dreier, want to let Schwarzenegger tamper with.

The year 2005 may prove a watershed year for Jews politicians in Southern California. In addition to the members of Congress, Bob Hertzberg nearly made the mayoral runoff; the L.A. City government has three Jewish council members (though it recently had seven) and a Jewish city controller (Laura Chick); Jewish members hold three of seven seats on the Board of Education. It hasn’t been so many years since Jews weren’t allowed on some local golf courses. But influence — or even a seat at the table — can be as fleeting as rapidly evolving demographics. Just ask African Americans, who worked so hard to win voting rights, but who have already lost majority status in many parts of town.

But does it matter for Jews, who are so thoroughly intergrated into L.A. life and commerce?

It does for Howard Welinsky, a longtime Democratic Party activist who’s also prominent in the Jewish community and civic affairs.

“What is now at stake,” he said, “is that in Los Angeles, we have five Jewish members of Congress. And they’re all at risk.”

It matters to Welinsky that, “in the history of this country — and I’ve researched it — we’ve never had five Jewish members of Congress in one county. I can’t imagine anything that has greater impact in Jews in Los Angeles than this.”

For Welinsky, it’s not exactly about being pro-Israel, even though he certainly is. He’s taken with historicity of having five Jewish members from one area. Perhaps it’s comparable to the current reconfiguration at work in the Jewish heart of Fairfax Avenue. Why does it matter that a kosher grocery store, a shop selling Judaica and a place offering music from all over the Jewish Diaspora might fold to make room for pricey, non-Jewish boutiques that can afford the higher rents?

Only because, to some people, it does.

As for Berman’s fate, “I don’t think Howard Berman would lose, but those who have not been in those seats very long might find themselves facing well-funded campaigns by Latinos and other groups,” said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, who opposes Proposition 77, even though she thinks the present system needs improvement.

Goldberg herself represents a majority Latino voter district.

“They vote, And they picked me,” she said. “Why did they pick me? Because I look out for the interests of the communities I serve. And that’s what they cared about more than my ethnicity.

“There are people in the population who vote their race, their gender their ethnicity, their sexual orientation,” she said. “I don’t think they’re the majority. People really do care about what you’re going to do when you get there.”

Shifting political nuances make these judgments ever more complex. Rep. Filner, a Jewish member being challenged by a Latino candidate, spent time in jail as a Freedom Rider, clearly reflecting concern for the interests of people of color. His opponent, Assemblyman Juan Vargas, is “pro-life,” inconsistent on civil liberties issues, but liberal on immigration. The district’s population already is 55 percent Latino, 18 percent Anglo, 15 percent Filipino and 12 percent African American.

Jewish Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson, from a district that includes Santa Barbara and Oxnard, was termed out and replaced by Pedro Nava, who ran on an environmentalist platform, a position well in tune with most Jews.

Coalition politics involving Jews has frequently worked well for L.A.’s Latinos, and vice versa. Former Rep. Edward Roybal, the groundbreaking Latino who died last month, was first elected to Los Angeles City Council by a Latino-Jewish-labor coalition. And then there’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who grew up in formerly Jewish East Los Angeles and rose to office with broad Jewish support.

“Jews and others can represent communities of color,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs. “That has never really been the argument against apparent dilution of Latino or other minority voting strength in a particular political or voting system. It is all about fairness, in being able to elect a representative of the community’s choice on a level playing field.”

Proposition 77, almost inevitably, could make Congress less Jewish. But that’s just a starting point for addressing the question of whether Proposition 77 is good for California.

There’s a New Deputy in Town


Competition for postings to Los Angeles is fierce within the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and two young diplomats who made the grade, Yaron Gamburg and Gilad Millo, have joined the staff of the consulate general here.

Gamburg, 34, has taken over the post of deputy consul general, the No. 2 man after Ehud Danoch, and is concentrating on political and security issues, as well as relations with the Latino, Korean, Russian, Israeli and Persian communities.

Born in the Ukrainian city of Zhitomir, the hometown of the great Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik and 60 percent Jewish before the Holocaust, Gamburg made aliyah to Israel at age 18.

After earning a master’s degree in political science at the Hebrew University, Gamburg worked on immigrant absorption before joining the Foreign Ministry.

His first major assignment was a three-year stint as spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Moscow, followed, for the last two years, as director of the Foreign Ministry’s cadet course, a kind of basic training for future diplomats.

Reflecting the attractiveness of the career diplomatic service, some 2,500 Israelis apply for jobs each year, of whom only some 20 are accepted, Gamburg said.

Close to 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, like Gamburg himself, have had an enormous impact on Israeli society and the economy. They make up some 40 percent of the work force in Israel’s high-tech sector, outnumbering all past and present Technion graduates.

Gamburg is married to Delphine, a native of France, and their son, Tal, has just celebrated his first birthday.

Gilad Millo, the new consul for communications and public affairs, was literally born into the foreign service. His father, Yehuda Millo, served 37 years as an Israeli diplomat, including as ambassador to Italy, and young Gilad was raised, two or three years at a time, in Bonn, London, New York, Ankara and Jerusalem.

He did not immediately follow in his father’s footsteps, starting off as a singer in the Israeli rock band, White Donkey, and then as a television reporter and editor on the foreign news desk of Israel’s independent Channel 2.

Millo, also 34, joined the Foreign Ministry three years ago, initially serving as its youngest spokesman. During the past two years, he has been the deputy head of the Israeli mission to Kenya and six other African nations.

During his term, he initiated extensive food relief projects for malnourished African children and was the driving force in the formation of the African Women’s Forum for Israel.

Besides media relations, Millo is also responsible for academic and cultural affairs, and he is visibly frustrated that practically all the news headlines about Israel in the United States are about the conflict with the Palestinians and terrorism.

“Media reporting on Israel seems to follow the rule, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,'” he said. “In reality, Israel is a fascinating place. We are leaders in technology and agriculture, we have great universities and wonderful beaches.

“There are stories to be told about our business initiatives, the environment, what we’re doing to help developing countries, how we’ve dealt with masses of immigrants, and so forth,” he emphasized.

Millo met his wife, Hadas, while both were serving in the army, and they have two children, Omer, 6, and 2-year-old Lisa.

The jurisdiction of the Los Angeles-based consulate includes Southern California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

 

Faith-Based Hurricane Relief


The Bush administration is dramatically expanding funding for faith-based groups as part of its hurricane relief efforts, and some Jewish groups are warning that it could blow a big hole in the church-state wall.

“It’s like the levees; once the church-state wall is breached, it’s very hard to rebuild,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which is criticizing the stepped-up faith based push as an effort to push an ideological agenda, not disaster recovery.

But other Jewish groups are wary of appearing like obstacles to the massive recovery effort.

“Everybody understands that helping people right now is a priority. Nobody wants to be seen as putting up roadblocks,” said an official with one major Jewish group. “The problem is, there are some in the administration who clearly want to take advantage of this to advance their causes.”

Last week the Washington Post reported that the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is funneling money to religious groups, including churches and other houses of worship, that are providing a variety of services to displaced Gulf Coast residents.

According to news reports, the FEMA action came after pressure from conservative leaders in Congress.

Pelavin said his group is “concerned. This move by FEMA is unfortunately part of a bigger picture we’re seeing, where under the cover of hurricane relief, the administration is moving forward to advance proposals that wouldn’t otherwise have any traction.”

That bigger picture, he said, includes the waving of Davis-Bacon Minimum-wage requirements in post-hurricane rebuilding efforts, reflecting a longstanding priority of conservative groups, and last week’s decision to include religious school students in an ambitious system of vouchers intended to compensate schools for taking in children displaced by the storms.

Other groups took a more nuanced stance.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that his group won’t oppose the FEMA funding for religious charities, but expressed concern about its long-term impact.

“These are extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “It’s an emergency, so it’s something we won’t oppose. But it’s something we will watch and assess and, when necessary, speak out on.”

Several Jewish leaders expressed concern that federal agencies, under pressure from congressional conservatives, are creating political “facts on the ground” that may be offered up as precedents the next time Congress or the administration consider a major faith-based program.

“We have concerns that it may be overdone and these actions may be cited as precedents in the future,” Foxman said, adding that his group will also examine whether the administration’s new faith-based push is coming at the expense of non-religious relief organizations.

Some Democrats lashed out at the new faith-based push.

Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow with the partisan Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), said, “A lot of Republicans see the hurricanes as an opportunity to take conservative proposals off the shelf and slip them into the relief effort.”

The new faith-based push, he said, may be part of an administration effort to quell the growing rebellion within the party over spending.

“Many Republicans fear the conservatives are bolting over spending and the deficit,” he said. “Policy sweeteners — including the faith-based agenda — may be an effort by the administration to defuse that rebellion.”

But Nathan Diament, Washington director for the Orthodox Union, said FEMA is not doing anything it hasn’t done in previous emergencies.

“It’s always been the case that religious groups have delivered disaster relief in various forms, in partnership with FEMA,” he said. “The Salvation Army is a religious organization, and they’ve been doing this forever.”

The statutes and regulations governing FEMA, he said, allow for participation by religious groups “on a nondiscriminatory basis. If you’re a Jewish organization providing shelter in a time of emergency, you can’t just take in Jews. That’s built into the system.”

He said Jewish groups criticizing the FEMA policies are not being practical.

“It’s really a question of just how absolutist and unyielding and unpragmatic groups are going to be,” he said. “And it’s a question of whether they are capable of realizing that different situations require different responses.”

Head-Start Bombshell

Also on the church-state front, Jewish groups reacted predictably to the late September addition of faith-based provisions to a bill reauthorizing the Head Start preschool program.

Religious groups, including churches and synagogues, have long participated in the popular federally funded preschool program, but have had to comply with nondiscrimination hiring guidelines. The House-passed amendment, offered by Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) and approved by the full House, eliminates that requirement.

According to Orthodox groups, that just levels a playing field that discriminates against religious service providers.

“It will allow a number of religious entities to participate in Head Start programs when, in the past, they were reluctant because of the limitation it put on a number of things, including hiring,” said Abba Cohen, Washington representative for Agudath Israel of America.

Forcing Head Start-funded programs run by Jewish groups to hire without regard to religion, he said, would alter the religious character of these programs — which is why many Orthodox groups shunned Head Start in the past.

“This will bring more Head Start programs into the community,” he said. “It’s a matter of equity; it will make Head Start more accessible.”

But advocates of church-state separation cried foul, saying that allowing overt hiring discrimination in Head Start would be a dangerous precedent.

Religious groups can discriminate in hiring when using their own funds, said Richard Foltin, legislative director for the American Jewish Committee — but it sets a dangerous precedent when those policies are backed by federal funding.

He said the amendment is particularly dangerous because “it represents a willingness to change longstanding civil rights safeguards.”

The debate turned what had been a bill with broad bipartisan support into a partisan hot potato; the faith-based amendment passed by a 220-196 margin, with only 10 Democrats supporting the controversial proposal, and now even some Head Start advocacy groups say they will lobby against the measure if the Senate includes the faith-based provision.

Opponents hope to block the amendment in the Senate. Michael Lieberman, ADL’s Washington counsel, said “for us, it will be the most substantial, most meaningful religious liberty confrontation in Congress since the Istook [school prayer] amendment fight in 1999.”

Lieberman said opponents have “a fair chance” of defeating the faith-based amendment in the Senate.

Jewish Groups in Darfur Push

Jewish groups, working with other religious and social justice organizations, continue to demand much stronger U.S. and international efforts to end the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan before it’s too late.

The Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of 134 faith-based and human rights groups, met recently with top administration officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, and with members of Congress.

The group issued a letter to President Bush urging that Darfur be put much higher on the nation’s list of foreign policy priorities.

The coalition also offered some specific recommendations, including pressing China and other nations to support strong international action to end the crisis and pressing for a U.N. Security Council resolution expanding the mandate of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), and for U.S. financial and logistical support for that mission.

The group is also calling for regular State Department reports on the situation in Sudan and the effectiveness of U.S. efforts.

Most major Jewish groups have signed on to the coalition; Jewish participants range from the Orthodox Union to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The political coalition behind the effort is just as broad; it includes Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans), an ardent conservative, and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), a liberal.

That broad coalition is necessary “to keep the pressure up and to show the administration that there really is a big constituency out there that wants the U.S. to play an assertive role in stopping the killing,” said Martin Raffel, assistant director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), who attended last week’s Darfur meetings.

Standing for Israel — With Evangelicals

For years, his efforts were scorned by the leaders of mainstream Jewish groups, but today, with his ability to distribute $ 25 million annually in contributions from Christian donors, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein says he has been “vindicated.”

Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, was in Washington last week for the second “Stand for Israel” conference, a gathering of evangelical supporters of Israel and Jewish activists.

Eckstein’s Fellowship, with more than 400,000 Christian donors, supports projects in Israel and the former Soviet Union.

“Just last week, we were asked to help secure the bus station in Beersheba after recent incidents; we were able to give $1 million,” he said in an interview.

The Stand for Israel group is the pro-Israel advocacy arm of Eckstein’s expanding empire.

Delegates to this week’s conference, he said, were scheduled to hear from top leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, and members of Congress, including Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) — who will be honored for his pro-Israel effort along with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Despite growing Christian contributions to Israeli causes, Eckstein conceded that mainstream Jewish leaders remain dubious about building bridges to the pro-Israel evangelicals.

“More and more Jews get it,” he said. “But the leadership — they just haven’t adjusted to the new realities.”

Those realities include an evangelical president and top congressional leadership, and the continuing criticism of Israel by mainline Protestant denominations, he said.

“We see no real change in emphasis [in major Jewish groups] based on all these things that are happening,” he said. “But at the grass-roots, we have a number of young Jewish leaders who see it, who understand it. But if I were to measure it in terms of the major organizations — it’s not there, unless they want to tap into the money.”

He said that the fact most evangelical supporters of Israel opposed the recent Gaza withdrawal — 75 percent, according to a poll sponsored by his group — also angered Jewish leaders here. That’s a little ironic, since Eckstein said that he supported the disengagement.

Eckstein said he is ready to move in some new directions.

“We’re taking this show on the road,” he said. “What we’ve done in the United States — rallying evangelical support for Israel — we will now do in Latin America, in the Far East, in Australia.”

And Eckstein, who has in the past complained about the lack of support from top Jewish leaders, now claimed indifference.

“I’ve set my direction, I’m going to go my own way,” he said. “If the American Jewish community comes along, great; if not, that’s fine, too.”

 

Jordan King Courts U.S. Jews on Future


Jordan’s king believes Jews can play a key role in his campaign to win back the Muslim street.

“The Amman message,” initiated by Abdullah II, brought together scholars from the eight main streams of Islam in July to issue edicts that marginalize terrorists who purport to act in the name of Islam — particularly Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

The next step is to bring the message to Jews and Christians, according to Joseph Lumbard, the young American Muslim hired by the king to coordinate outreach.

“We want to get beyond the idea of a clash of civilizations to a dialogue of civilizations,” Lumbard said. “We would like to expand the term ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ to ‘Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.'”

Abdullah and his Palestinian-born queen, Rania, met recently with Pope Benedict XVI and followed it up with a policy speech at Catholic University in Washington.

Last week, he spoke on “Judaism and Islam: Beyond Tolerance” to more than 80 rabbis from around the United States gathered in Washington.

“Our communities must see each other as sharing a common heritage and a common future,” the king said.

The speech, drawing on Quranic verses and Jewish readings that counsel accommodation and respect for other monotheistic faiths, was well received.

“It was very impressive, eloquent and pointed,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel. “One hopes the message will take root in Islam and serve to further the goal he set forth of mutual respect between Muslims and Jews.

More than any other Arab leader — and even more than his father, the late King Hussein — Abdullah has attached his fate to the West. He has opened Jordanian markets and plans to introduce Western democratic reforms. Like his father, Abdullah also has fostered the only truly warm Arab-Israeli peace, and he met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the United Nations earlier this month.

Coupled with a biography firmly rooted in the West — his mother is British and his schooling is American and British — these goals deny Abdullah the appeal among ordinary Arabs that many of his contemporaries have, despite his lineage: Hashemite kings are believed to be direct descendants of Mohammed.

Abdullah’s solution is to use the Arab street’s hardiest vehicle — Islam — to move it toward his vision of moderation. The July assembly in Amman of 180 Islamic scholars from 45 countries concluded with 17 of the most senior scholars issuing religious edicts outlining two principles: Fatwas issued by Muslims not formally trained in Islamic law are not legitimate; Muslims must refrain from calling other Muslims apostates. The two statements were clearly aimed at Al Qaeda and its leaders.

Lumbard, a Cairo-based scholar who helped organize the summit, said the pedigree of the scholars at the Amman meeting lent heft to their fatwas in a way that multiple other efforts to moderate Islam — many of them stemming from Western capitals — could not.

Whether the effort resonates remains to be seen. Lumbard acknowledged that even those scholars, respected as they are, have become remote from an Arab street succored by the Internet and satellite television. The next step, he said, was to compete in those fields with the radicals who advocate terrorism.

Abdullah, 43, places much stock in youth, because half of Jordan’s population is 18 or younger. His first stop in the United States was a meeting with a group of high school students from two Washington public schools, the Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md., and the Islamic Academy in Fairfax, Va.

Significantly, the most skeptical students at the gathering appeared to be Muslims from the Saudi-backed academy. When one young woman in a scarf expressed doubts that Abdullah’s moderation reflected the Arab world’s “general consensus,” Queen Rania struggled for a response, and could cite only an outpouring of Arab sympathy for Americans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

By contrast, the Jewish students were clearly impressed.

“He’s very courageous for taking such a message,” said Moshe Broder, a senior at the Hebrew Academy. “He’s a pioneer.”

Abdullah will have to start at home, and that could be a problem. Creating change in Jordan’s highly conservative and tribalized political culture has never been easy. A recent campaign against “honor killings” of women has had mixed results at best, and the royal court’s embrace of peace with Israel is not shared by other Jordanian elites, never mind ordinary Jordanians.

The king will have to flex the kind of muscle his father occasionally did to overcome skeptics who see him as ensconced in the West, said Hiam Nawas, a Jordanian expert on political Islam.

“Abdullah will have to spend a fair amount of his own political capital if he wants his message to become authoritative in Jordan,” she said.

One way to sell the moderation is to show that it brings results — hence Abdullah’s appeal in the West, simultaneous with his religious outreach, for expanded trade and political ties.

“Even as we work for peace, development must go forward,” he said at the United Nations last week. “When developed nations commit to active, increased development support, they advance global progress for all. The world knows what is needed — fair trade, increased direct assistance and debt relief.”

That means persuading the West that Islam has a place alongside Judaism and Christianity as an equal. That’s where Abdullah’s current tour of the major faiths comes in.

He has some persuading to do. As welcome as the Amman summit was, it falls short of specifically addressing terrorist acts or of addressing the virulent strain of Islamic anti-Zionism that undermines some fundamentals of Jewish and Israeli co-existence.

Marc Gopin, an Orthodox rabbi and a religion professor at George Mason University in Virginia who helped organize Abdullah’s address to rabbis, said Jews should see the July fatwas as a crucial first step in marginalizing extremism.

“This helps cut off terrorism’s legs, because terrorism is based on fatwas,” he said. “That may be dissatisfying from the Israeli-Palestinian perspective, but it’s an admirable goal and one we should support.”

Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, added, “We’re encouraged by what he has been saying and doing. He’s a model of what we would like to see elsewhere in the Middle East.”

By reaching out to religious leaders, Abdullah also addresses a facet of the conflict that diplomats often neglect, said Robert Eisen, who heads the religion department at George Washington University — that the men and women of the Middle East viscerally see the conflict as not just about borders but about beliefs. The king could demonstrate that the language of religion is as much a basis for reconciliation as for conflict, he said.

“Jews and Muslims share common moral values that should allow us to find common ground to fight the extremists in our religions,” he said.

 

A Historic Event


It was a remarkable sight: the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan sitting on a New York dais alongside leaders of the American Jewish community and Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations — while eating a kosher dinner beneath a blue-and-white banner reading: “Council for World Jewry.”

It was all the more notable, considering the significant personal risk the appearance must have entailed for Pervez Musharraf, who has been the subject of several recent assassination attempts at the hands of Muslim extremists who are violently anti-Israel and anti-America.

There was near-unanimous agreement among Jews and Pakistanis at Saturday night’s event that Musharraf’s mere presence before an audience of Jewish officials represented a potentially historic step in Muslim-Jewish relations. For his landmark gesture, the Pakistani general received a series of standing ovations.

“I would never have imagined that a Muslim, a president of Pakistan and, more than that, a man in uniform would ever get such a warm reception from the Jewish community,” Musharraf said as he ascended the platform to excited applause.

Beyond the novelty of the appearance, however, Musharraf’s half-hour speech met with disappointment from some Jewish leaders who found his remarks rich in hyperbole but poor in specific proposals.

“If we waited 100 years [to hold this meeting] it would have been even more historic, but what is it we have achieved?” asked Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “In his world, in his culture, in his environment, this is a major step. From our perspective, it isn’t.”

Some lamented that Musharraf said little beyond his previous comments about establishing relations with Israel, which he again conditioned on future actions by Israel, culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian state. Musharraf’s address followed closely his brief encounter last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the sidelines of the United Nations World Summit and a recent meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries, which do not have full diplomatic ties.

Still, said Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress — whose Council for World Jewry sponsored the event — given Musharraf’s domestic political constraints, Jews should not underestimate what he was able to offer.

“It is not helpful for us to be critical of a Muslim leader who, given his political pressures, comes to speak to us and doesn’t give us everything we want at that moment in time,” Rosen said. “We couldn’t have expected that he would have announced last night that he would immediately begin normalizing relations with Israel. It wasn’t a real expectation.”

Challenged by Foxman to show more leadership by moving to formalize Israeli-Pakistani relations right away, Musharraf responded that “57 years of hatred, bitterness, animosity cannot be undone so fast.”

“It is my sincere judgment that this is not the time to do it,” he said. “We need to be very patient. I need some more reasons and rationale. I need some more support” to be able to convince the Pakistani people to go along with the move.

Israel’s foreign minister, for his part, said he looked favorably on the meeting as a step in what he acknowledged could be a “long process” toward full ties.

“The time has come, I believe, to have full diplomatic relations with all of these” moderate Muslim countries, Silvan Shalom told Jewish journalists this week. “I believe that many of them are close. They’re always looking for the appropriate time.”

Shalom did not attend the Musharraf event.

Musharraf spoke about religious similarities between Muslims and Jews and characterized recent hostility between the two groups as an aberration against a background of historical coexistence. He further earned plaudits for insisting that terrorism “cannot be condoned for any cause.”

While he referred to “Schindler’s List” and praised Sharon for the recent Gaza Strip withdrawal, Musharraf upset many in the audience by insisting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a root cause of world terrorism, and that Pakistan won’t forge diplomatic ties with Israel until the Palestinians have a state — essentially giving the Palestinians a veto over the entire process, several Jewish leaders noted afterward.

“Palestine has been at the heart of troubles in the Middle East,” Musharraf said. “I have no doubt whatsoever that any attempt to shy away or ignore the root causes of terrorism is shutting one’s eyes to reality and is a sure recipe for failure.”

That sentiment struck a raw nerve among many Jews in the audience, who lamented that Muslim nations for too long have tried to lay the blame for many of the world’s ills on Israel.

“The root cause of terrorism is the same as the root cause of Nazism: simply, the hatred of Jews through teaching hatred of Jews,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Musharraf also called on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and respect other faiths’ attachment to Jerusalem. He did not express any corresponding demands on the Palestinian side.

“Israel must come to terms with geopolitical reality and let justice prevail for the Palestinians,” Musharraf said. “They want their own independent state, and they must get it.”

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan has had something of an image problem in the West. Daniel Pearl, a Jewish reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and decapitated by terrorists in Pakistan; Osama bin Laden is thought to be in hiding somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; a Pakistani nuclear scientist was discovered to have supplied nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, and Pakistan’s extensive network of religious schools has been accused of spreading a radically violent and anti-Western version of Islam.

Many in the audience saw Musharraf’s decision to address a Jewish audience as a public relations move, rather than the reflection of a serious desire for detente. Like many in the Muslim world, Musharraf views the American Jewish community as key to securing political influence along the Beltway, some said.

Musharraf didn’t do much to dispel this impression.

“I feel privileged to be speaking to so many members of what is probably the most distinguished and influential community in the United States,” he said.

But Mossadaq Chughtai, director of the Pakistani American Liaison Center, which runs the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, dismissed this line of thinking.

“We have good standing with Congress” and the White House, he said, noting that President Bush has hosted Musharraf at Camp David. “Not as good as AIPAC, but we’re making strides,” Chughtai said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Still, many considered the symbolism of the event key. Unlike Palestinian leaders, who often have made conciliatory statements to foreign leaders in English, while urging their constituents to war in Arabic, Musharraf spoke before a full contingent of Pakistani media beaming his words back home, where they are likely to be controversial.

For Dr. Abdul Rehman, an officer of the MMSI mosque in Staten Island, N.Y., Musharraf’s appearance gives the “green light” to Muslims to work toward cooperation and dialogue with Jews.

Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis, thought Musharraf was “very sincere” and praised him for not making grand promises that he would not be able to fulfill.

“There’s no question he will have a hard time explaining to his people what he’s doing and trying to bring them along,” Lazar said. “On the other hand, he didn’t give any kind of time frame” for normalizing ties with Israel.

At the least, the event led to immediate interreligious dialogue in the hallways: Lazar was seen chatting and posing for photos with Imam Ghulam Rasul of the MMSI mosque and invited mosque leaders to visit him if they’re in Moscow.

Pakistani television reporters pulled Israelis and American Jews aside for interviews to be broadcast in Pakistan.

“I think the event was very significant,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Something that hopefully can be built upon.”

Michael Arnold contributed to this report.

Rehnquist’s Legacy: Church-State Rulings


Chief Justice William Rehnquist was often the sole dissenter on the separation of church and state after he joined the United States Supreme Court in the early 1970s, arguing that while religion did not deserve extra protection, it merited federal funding.

But now, after leading the court for 19 years, Rehnquist’s legacy is a court majority — and the law of the land — much closer to his perspective.

“Initially, he was the person crying in the wilderness,” said Steven Green, the former general counsel for the nonpartisan group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “With time, he was able to get a coalition and move the court in his direction.”

Rehnquist, 80, died Saturday, after a long battle with thyroid cancer. His death creates the second vacancy on the high court; Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the court and its moderate core, announced her resignation on July 1.

Defining the line that separates church and state was one of the hallmarks of the Rehnquist court. The chief justice, joined by two other conservatives and two centrist jurists, consistently allowed government funding of religion, including school vouchers. But the court stopped short of allowing public religious exercises like school prayer, despite Rehnquist’s support for the practice.

At the same time, the Rehnquist court will be remembered for limiting special protections for religion and for undoing protections for religious expression that were sanctioned by previous justices.

And while it was not particularly progressive on civil rights issues, the court will likely be remembered for the times that it bucked the political trend in recent decades away from civil liberties, analysts said, notably decriminalizing sodomy and integrating state military academies.

Bush moved quickly to fill Rehnquist’s seat. On Monday, he nominated Justice John Roberts, whom he had originally named to replace O’Connor, for the post of chief justice.

Rehnquist’s deepest impact may lie in the area of church-state separation. The court set a high bar for proving the government was violating the Constitution by endorsing religion. It ruling in 1989 that a depiction of the Nativity in a county courthouse endorsed religion, for example, but said a menorah and Christmas tree on display outside the court did not.

“As long as it treats all religions equally, he would argue nothing in the establishment clause prevents supporting religion and endorsing religion,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who is also a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University.

Rehnquist’s dissents in school-funding cases, in which he argued for greater government aid to parochial schools and religious institutions, were at first a lone voice. But as the court became more conservative throughout the 1980s, he persuaded fellow justices to back school vouchers.

They were found constitutional in 2002, two years after the court had allowed state educational equipment and computers to go to religious schools.

Rehnquist also backed prayer at football games and graduation ceremonies and the practice of holding a moment of silence in public schools. That’s where he lost the center of the court — Justices O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy — who were concerned about the potential for coercion is such school prayer.

Rehnquist’s opinions made uncomfortable the large majority of the American Jewish community that seeks a strong wall separating church and state. Orthodox groups often took the alternative view, seeking increased governmental support and funding for religion.

Even among the Orthodox, however, Rehnquist had a mixed record. He believed religion should not get any special treatment, either positive or negative. Free exercise protections were limited under Rehnquist, requiring religious liberty advocates to seek congressionally mandated protections for areas like prison accommodations and land use.

“You’ve got this mixed verdict,” said Nathan Lewin, the counsel for the National Jewish Coalition on Law and Public Affairs, an Orthodox group. “Jewish groups have been able to operate better in terms of establishment clause constraints, but the harm that the Rehnquist court has done to the free exercise clause is enormous.”

Rehnquist wrote the 1986 majority opinion that found an Orthodox rabbi in the Air Force could be denied the right to wear a yarmulke.

“I think he had less sensitivity to the religious needs of minorities than other justices,” said Lewin, who argued for the rabbi, Simcha Goldman, in the case.

In 1990, Rehnquist joined Justice Antonin Scalia in a ruling against two Native Americans who sought unemployment compensation after being fired from their jobs for smoking peyote as part of a religious ceremony.

The court found religious beliefs do not excuse people from compliance with a valid law. The majority opinion said allowing exceptions for laws that affect religion would require exemptions for most civic obligations, from compulsory military service to payment of taxes.

“We’ve been in very different territory since,” Saperstein said. “We have a long way to go to get back to where we were.”

The ruling was widely criticized in Washington, and Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, with support from Jewish groups. The law said government could not burden religious exercise without a compelling government interest.

The court found the act unconstitutional in 1997, saying Congress could not enact legislation that infringed on states’ rights. A narrower law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, passed Congress in 2000. The Supreme Court upheld one aspect of the new law, which allowed for greater religious accommodations for prisons, earlier this year. The second part, requiring a compelling reason for government to deny religious organizations reasonable land use, may also be challenged in the future.

Rehnquist was first nominated to the Supreme Court in 1971 by President Nixon. He was elevated to chief justice in 1986 by President Reagan. Many expected the Rehnquist court to overturn the legal right to an abortion. That never happened, but Saperstein said Rehnquist “prevailed around the margins” by approving waiting periods and parental notifications for abortion.

The Rehnquist-led court “has done a remarkable amount of what it was expected to do,” Douglas Laycock, a religious-liberty scholar at the University of Texas School of Law, said of the court. That includes restricting habeas corpus review for prisoners, upholding the death penalty and creating obstacles to federal civil rights cases.

But, Laycock said, it will likely be best remembered for rulings that bucked the conservative trend. That includes the 2003 rulings that decriminalized sodomy and legalized the concept of affirmative action. Rehnquist himself took positions against both reforms.

The court will also be remembered for its affirmation in 2000 of Bush’s win in Florida and of the presidency. Rehnquist wrote that much-analyzed opinion, which seemed to contradict his decades of support for states’ rights when it overruled the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. Rehnquist also presided over the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton, in 1999. Supreme Court scholars said Rehnquist was not openly devout and that he was not driven by a social agenda. Instead, they said, he was motivated by a belief in states’ rights, despite the apparent exception of Bush v. Gore.

“He seemed to be very deferential in religion areas to allowing the government to regulate as it wishes,” said Green, a professor at the Willamette University College of Law in Oregon. “Sometimes that means infringing religious liberty, sometimes that means bringing down the wall.”

 

New Study Breaks Down 2004 Election


 

Newly compiled information suggests that a few more Jews voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry last November than originally reported, and highlights several areas where Republicans are gaining momentum within the Jewish community.

The analysis by the Solomon Project, a think tank associated with the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), shows that the Massachusetts senator received 77 percent of the Jewish vote, to President Bush’s 22 percent. That’s a slight change from the 75 percent Kerry was said to have received in polls released soon after the vote.

The new information, released Tuesday, is based on a broader sample of exit polls that incorporates both the national poll released in November and a state-by-state poll that was not widely released.

The wider survey finds that Bush fared particularly well with Jewish men, garnering 28 percent of their votes, compared to 16 percent of Jewish women. In particular, he captured 35 percent of Jewish men younger than 30.

The new report could put to rest lingering questions about the extent of gains Bush made within the Jewish community. Many Republicans expected Bush would do well among Jews — especially in such targeted key states as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — because of support for his Middle East policy.

In the end, Bush won more than the 19 percent of the vote he received in the 2000 election against then-Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the first Jew on a major party national ticket.

“There’s been some small movement in the Jewish community toward the Republicans, but nothing really dramatic,” said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst.

Rothenberg said he found the report’s methodology “kosher,” but Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he is wary of exit poll analysis because the results on Election Day seemed to inflate Democratic strength.

“I think any credible person would look at this as somewhat revisionist history,” Brooks said. “I don’t think this passes the credibility threshold in terms of statistical accuracy.”

The report does confirm the potential for greater movement of Jewish votes to the GOP in the future.

Republicans have been targeting young Jewish voters and the Orthodox, who have become more politically active in recent years, and are considered more likely to vote for the GOP because of their more conservative positions on social issues.

The analysis uses a wide set of polling data on Jews taken in the weeks and months before the election to understand voting trends within subgroups of Jews.

While no analysis of Jewish votes has had enough Orthodox participants to garner a reliable result, Tuesday’s report suggests that Bush may have received half or more of their votes.

Three independent polls had Bush winning at least half of the Orthodox vote, but each had a sample size of only between 49 and 70 people.

A report by the American Jewish Committee last summer, taken of Russian Jews, suggested Bush may have received more than half of their support as well.

A poll by the Mellman Group, which did surveys for the Kerry campaign, found that 47 percent of Jews who attend synagogue every week supported Bush, compared to 48 percent for Kerry. The Democrat did substantially better among Jews who attended synagogue once a month or less.

“We know a lot more about different types of Jewish voters than we did a few days ago,” said Ira Forman, research director of the Solomon Project and the NJDC’s executive director.

Forman said the information highlighted for him that Democratic efforts to court Orthodox and Russian voters were inadequate.

The core of Democratic support within the Jewish community remains women, the analysis found. Kerry received 82 percent of the vote among Jewish women. That Democratic trend ran across the generations, as 90 percent of women older than 60 voted for Kerry and 88 percent of Jewish women younger than 30 backed him.

Despite the support Bush got for his Israel policies, Rothenberg said it’s hard to move ethnic groups from one party to another.

“It’s hard to change people’s inclinations and pre-existing voter preference,” he said. “If they’ve chosen one way for 20 or 30 years, they tend to do it again.”

But, he said, the Jewish vote will remain important if the election hinges on certain states where disproportionately large numbers of Jews live.

“It’s all about what states people are in and how many people you need to move,” Rothenberg said.

 

Freeing Barghouti Could Benefit Israel


 

Once again, Israel is facing one of those moral dilemmas that are so much a part of life in the Middle East. This time, the question at hand is whether Jerusalem should release a convicted terrorist, Marwan Barghouti.

The convict, a former head of the Palestinian grass-roots movement, Tanzim, might be the only person who could unify the fractured Palestinian entity and lead it to a peace deal with Israel. At first glance, the stakes are clear; substantive and procedural notions of justice suggest that Barghouti should serve his time in full.

He was involved in the killing of Israeli citizens and was convicted for his deeds. Pragmatism, on the other hand, dictates for a release.

Israel’s long-term political interests could be best served if Barghouti is out of jail. Faced with similar choices in the past, Israel has always preferred pragmatic calculations over the subtleties of justice.

Israel, after all, allied with dictatorial regimes in Africa and South America in the ’60s and ’70s and made multiple deals with the PLO and Hezbollah in the ’90s and ’00s, in which hundreds of terrorists were released. In the latest demonstration of pragmatism, Israel freed hundreds of terrorists last January in return for one Israeli citizen who was deemed valuable because he had access to highly classified information.

Even if we leave behind the simple pragmatic argument in favor of Barghouti’s release, there are other good reasons why he should be freed.

First, releasing Barghouti may, in fact, be morally justified. Many experts think that Barghouti is the only person that stands between chaos, or even worse, a Hamas government in the Palestinian areas. Both outcomes would be bad for Israel and would lead to many more years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in which thousands more innocent civilians would suffer.

So isn’t the right moral decision the one that will prevent further fatalities? The one that will create a moderate Palestine that one day will live at peace with Israel?

Second, there is the issue of Barghouti’s trial. He is the only Palestinian leader that has been brought to trial in Israel in four years of conflict.

Israel’s preferred strategy in dealing with leadership figures in the Palestinian uprising has been, simply put, to kill them. By mid-October, Israel had assassinated 179 people who were suspected terrorist leaders.

A number of those assassinated were as central as Barghouti in the Palestinian struggle: Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi both killed in 2004, and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Abu Ali Mustafa killed in 2001.

In other words, Israel made an informed choice to keep Barghouti alive and in jail. One Sharon adviser admitted recently in The New York Times that in arresting Barghouti, Israel “had in mind possibly releasing him some day as an alternative to Mr. Arafat.”

It is no surprise then that Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz suggested two weeks ago that releasing Barghouti is a possibility. In short, freeing Barghouti will merely conclude Israel’s original strategy.

Third, Barghouti’s arrest and trial expose an inconsistency in Israel’s position. Israel has treated the conflict with the Palestinians as more of a war than a law enforcement issue.

Military forces bore the brunt of the conflict, and suspects in terrorism were killed rather than arrested. Yet, when it came to dealing with Barghouti, the paradigm of law enforcement was invoked.

Those who object to his release argue today that it is his conviction that should prevent Israel from releasing him. Although Israelis don’t like to admit it, Barghouti’s status is more akin to that of a prisoner of war than that of a common criminal. By freeing Barghouti, Israel will merely be applying to his case the same standards that have been applied to the conflict as a whole.

The Barghouti issue is not a simple one, and a decision to allow a convicted murderer out of jail is a stomach-turning choice. Yet there is a lot at stake. With Arafat’s death, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is coming to a crucial crossroad, and Barghouti’s release offers at least one possible road to a more stable future.

Given that there are good moral arguments both for and against releasing Barghouti, in terms of consistency with Israel’s broad strategy in the conflict to date and for good pragmatic reasons, allowing Barghouti to go free is the right decision.

In the last four years, Israel missed a number of opportunities to end the cycle of violence. Let’s not miss this one.

Ehud Eiran is a doctoral candidate at Brandeis University and a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School. He served as an assistant to the foreign policy adviser in the Israeli prime minister’s office (1999-2000).

 

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.

Evangelicals Back Israel at RNC


"Well, umm, it’s interesting," Air America radio talk show star Al Franken opined on the future of the growing coalition between Jews and evangelical Christians who support Israel.

We’re at the Republican National Convention, walking across the overhead bridge linking Madison Square Garden and the U.S. Post Office’s James A. Farley Building, where the media are encamped.

"Evangelical Christians support Israel because according to prophecy, Jews have to be in Israel in order for the apocalypse to happen, and the messiah and all that stuff," he said.

"And when that happens, of course, Jews will all burn in hell," Franken said. "And so I think at that point the coalition will break up."

Hades humor aside, the evangelical Christian support that the Jewish community’s position on a secure, safe Israel is becoming more prominent. The phrase "Christian Zionism" in the past few years has entered the lexicons of Israel’s Jewish American supporters as well as liberal Protestants, who usually ally themselves with liberals on issues like abortion and gay rights and are opposed to evangelicals’ alliances with Jews.

This week’s Republican National Convention continued to press the case for Israel and continued Jewish-evangelical Christian fraternization. On Aug. 29, a pre-convention Chelsea Piers party hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main draw was U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who is popular with evangelicals.

"Look, they’re not traditional allies on some social justice issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, a public awareness campaign that spent a combined $1 million on pro-Israel advertising during the Republican and Democratic conventions. "That doesn’t mean that we can’t be a big tent and work together on issues that are near and dear to our hearts."

Dan Israel, a Jewish telecommunications executive and a GOP alternate delegate from Georgia, said Christians’ love of Israel is not predicated on converting Jews or wishing them hellfire.

"They don’t want to convert all the Jews, because they feel there has to be Jews in the land of Israel for the messiah to come," Israel said. "They don’t feel that every single Jew has to be converted because if that ever happened, the messiah wouldn’t come because there’d be no Jews left in the land of Israel."

Much Christian support for Zionism is often more personal than biblical.

"I had a tremendous experience when I was serving in the Middle East, and certainly recognize the importance of Israel’s security," said Geoff Davis, a former 82nd Airborne commander and a conservative Christian running for Congress in the open seat in the Northern Kentucky’s suburbs of Cincinnati, where his Democratic opponent is Nick Clooney, George Clooney’s dad.

"People are motivated by many different perspectives," Davis said. "I’ve seen it from a wide variety of perspectives. I think what opened my eyes the most was running U.S. Army flight operations on the ground in a multinational force, and the importance of seeking a peaceful solution that preserves the only democratic government in the Middle East. Israel has to have a right to defend itself."

When Franken’s fellow Minnesotan, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, took to the podium at the Plaza Hotel this week near Manhattan’s Central Park, the freshman Republican made it plain to the mostly Jewish audience of 1,500: "I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate without the strong support of the Republican Jewish Coalition," he said.

Coleman was one several senators praising the RJC at the growing Jewish GOP group’s swank afternoon party, with police keeping about 120 loud and animated, but nonviolent protesters across the street from the Plaza. Like many senators, Coleman also counts evangelical and fundamentalist Christians as part of his political core. But while Jews and conservative Christians find common ground in supporting Israel’s right to exist, how the Jewish state will exist can at times divide liberal and centrist Jews and evangelical Christians.

"Where it becomes complicated is when many of them oppose the idea of territorial compromise," said David Bernstein, Washington, D.C., chapter director for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which this week in New York held not only a forum on Jewish Republicans plus talks on the Sudanese crisis and anti-Americanism, but also four separate discussions on Jewish American relations with Latinos, Korean Americans, Indian Americans and Turkish Americans.

"There is no Jewish-evangelical alliance," said Bernstein, explaining the frustrations that can occur between some Jews and some Christians. "There’s an illusion of alliance because both evangelical Christians and Jews [support Israel]. That doesn’t mean that they’re coordinating in any way, shape of form. Their support is valuable, but that doesn’t mean there’s coordination."

Bernstein said that some evangelical and fundamentalist Christians he knows feel more comfortable with more conservative Jewish-oriented Israel advocacy groups that present tough, no-compromise policy scenarios which may appeal to Christians with Bible-driven views of what modern Israel should be.

Republican National Committee Chairman and former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot downplayed any Evangelical-Jewish rift on policy specifics, saying that the party has, "bridges built to virtually all of the faiths."

Washington pundit Norman Ornstein said policy disagreements between Jews and Christians are found in abortion and gay marriage, so therefore Israel should not be an exception just because evangelicals support Jews with a basic, upfront Christian Zionist support for Israel’s right to exist.

"Friends in a broad issue may not be friends in the specifics," Ornstein said. "Some evangelical organizations are going to have clashes, with the more centrist and liberal Jewish organizations that are pro-Israel because they ally themselves with very tough-minded positions. But it’s not true of all evangelicals, and a lot of evangelicals who support Israel don’t necessarily adhere to a no-compromise position. So you’re going to find shifting alliances."

Other Jewish political activists are unfazed by policy differences with Christians and welcome not only their U.S. support but also how their religious tourism dollars have been a bulwark keeping alive Israel’s tourism industry, which has suffered due to terrorism, which has kept many Jewish American tourists away in large numbers in the past few years.

Stanley Treitel, an L.A. Jewish community activist who attends Young Israel of Hancock Park, dismissed AJC concerns about the influence that more conservative Zionist groups may have on Christians, such as the Zionist Organization of America.

"I think that’s internal Jewish fighting," Treitel said. "I don’t think that anybody can control any one group. They [evangelical Christians] see that the right step to be taken with Israel is on the right side of the aisle, not on the left side, as we see with the AJC or the American Jewish Congress; they’re on the left side of the aisle."

Watergate legend and radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy also understands why Jews and Christians break bread together on Israel.

"People who are religiously observant, as Christian evangelicals are, are respectful of other people who are religiously observant, as are so many Jews," said Liddy, whose GOP "Radio Row" microphone table was about 15 yards away from Al Franken’s Air America table. "Both religions have strong senses of good and evil, right and wrong. And so I would suggest that they are natural allies."

We Have an Obligation to Speak Out


The major reason many American supporters of Israel line up behind the policies of the Israeli government is that they do not want to be in the position of second guessing the Israelis. The feeling is that they live there and have to bear the consequences of whatever policy Israel adopts, while Americans — living thousands of miles way — are not affected, at least directly.

That is why some in the pro-Israel community — people who do understand how destructive the status quo is for Israel — shrink from doing or saying anything that might be construed as critical of those Israeli policies that perpetuate the status quo.

There are, however, two things that are wrong with this logic.

The concept of "we are one" is a two-way street. Israelis have the right to call upon Diaspora Jews to lend a hand when their assistance is needed. And Jews outside of Israel have the obligation to speak up when they are worried that Israeli actions are, essentially, detrimental to Israel.

The second thing wrong with this logic is that the Israeli government — like our own government — is far from infallible. It makes mistakes, including mistakes that have jeopardized the state’s survival.

Helping Israel avert those mistakes or change direction after mistakes have been made is a critical responsibility we owe to Israel. Sitting idly by when disaster looms is no act of friendship, let alone kinship.

These thoughts come to mind following my reading of a new book about the Yom Kippur War by Abraham Rabinovich. ("The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East.")

It’s not a new story. Anyone involved with Israel — and who was born before 1963 — is bound to vividly remember the worst moments in the Jewish state’s history. A combined surprise attack by Egypt and Syria succeeded in bringing Israel to the brink of annihilation.

Israel was utterly unprepared for the war. Along the Suez Canal (then Israel’s border with Egypt), 500 Israeli soldiers faced 80,000 Egyptians. On the Golan Heights, 180 Israeli tanks faced 1,400 Syrian tanks.

Not surprisingly, Israel’s first defenders were, for the most part, wiped out. It took well over a week for Israel to regain the initiative. In the meantime, Prime Minister Golda Meir contemplated suicide, while Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said that there was a strong chance that the state could be lost. By war’s end, 3,000 Israelis were dead.

And, according to Rabinovich, it all could have been avoided. According to the official Agranat Commission report on the investigation of the Yom Kippur failure, Israeli officials simply ignored almost unmistakable signs that the Egyptians were preparing for war.

Soldiers on the front reported massive increases in Egyptian activity. Spies told the Israelis that Egypt and Syria were about to strike. And King Hussein actually flew to Tel Aviv to tell the prime minister that war was about to break out.

All the evidence was ignored. Why? Because Israel’s political leaders adhered to a strategic view called the "concept." According to that view, Egypt would not attack until it joined in an alliance with Syria and until it had certain Soviet-built weapons in hand.

As far as Israel knew, neither of those conditions was met. Therefore, there would be no war and military calls to mobilize against the imminent threat were ignored. The concept mattered; reality didn’t.

The same concept prevented the Israeli government from accepting Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s 1971 call on Israel to pull back from the Suez Canal. Sadat said that in exchange for a pullback of just a few miles — which would enable Egypt to re-open the canal and reap significant economic benefit — he would begin negotiating a peace agreement with Israel.

The United States thought Israel should seriously consider the offer and dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco to Israel to convince Meir that Sadat was serious. But Meir rebuffed him. The status quo was just fine.

It was at that point that Sadat decided that his best option was to go to war; if Israel would not reopen the canal, he would. And that is what happened.

Sadat ordered his men to cross the canal, and, following five years of postwar negotiations, the canal — along with the entire Sinai was returned to Egypt. The concept had cost some 3,000 Israeli lives.

Today, Israel operates under a new "concept." It is that the Palestinians are weak and always will be weak. It is that negotiations are a concession to the Palestinians, a favor one pulls back whenever there is an act of terror. It is that the only effective response to terror is to keep hitting back, avoiding negotiations, despite the fact that for three years, counterterror has not succeeded in eliminating terror.

It is that negotiating prisoner releases with Hezbollah murderers is permissible, while Mahmoud Abbas’ request for the same releases is met with foot-dragging. It is, above all, the belief that Israel can secure its future not in collaboration with the Palestinians but in their face.

No one argues with Israel’s right to fight terrorists. Without the effective actions of Israel’s security forces, who knows how many might have died in the nine major terror attacks that have been blocked since February (including several megaterror attacks). Nor can one argue with Israel’s demand that the Palestinian Authority join Israel (as during Oslo) in effectively fighting the terrorists and rooting them out.

But refusing to negotiate is not part of any anti-terror policy, nor is weakening those Palestinian forces most anxious to negotiate a peace agreement. As for clinging to a status quo that is deadly, that is simply indefensible.

The good news is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza initiative has the potential to break the status quo, although only if Israel’s actions are coordinated with the Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians. In any case, it’s a good start and represents a far more imaginative approach than the Israeli government had in the 1970s under a Labor government.

The lesson of the Yom Kippur war is that foreign supporters of Israel who sit still in the face of policies they consider to be self-destructive are performing no act of friendship. Who were the real friends of Israel in 1971 — the ones who told Israel that President Richard Nixon and Assistant Secretary of State Sisco were right when they urged Israel to cut a deal with Sadat? Or were they the ones — mostly here in the United States — telling Israel not to yield to U.S. pressure.

The answer is obvious. Friends do not allow friends to behave self-destructively. Israel has the right as a sovereign state to make its own strategic decisions. But we have the right — no, the obligation — to speak up when we think that those decisions could lead to disaster for a nation we cherish.


M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a longtime Washington staffer and former editor of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Near East Report.

Vote No on 57, 58: They Erode Duty


One of the central tenets of our Jewish political and ethical tradition is that cities and states are communities of obligation. Citizenship in these communities is defined by responsibility, and the most basic responsibility is to care for the neediest among us. Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas articulated this same fundamental truth in the concept of “humanist urbanism.”

Unfortunately, over the past quarter century, this core value has been eroded in California — dating from the abdication of communal responsibility embodied in the 1978 passage of Proposition 13. Because they continue and exacerbate this pernicious trend, Propositions 57 and 58 on the March 2 state ballot deserve to be defeated. However, two other ballot measures — Propositions 55 and 56 — merit the Jewish community’s wholehearted support.

Proposition 57, which seeks authorization for a $15 billion bond to pay off the state’s accumulated General Fund deficit as of June 30, 2004, violates California’s constitutional requirement that bonded indebtedness be incurred only for a “single object or work” — such as the educational facilities whose repair and restoration is provided for in Proposition 55. Even worse, repayment of this enormous bond will be based upon one-quarter cent of the state sales tax — the most regressive form of governmental taxation.

More fundamentally, since this proposed bond will take between nine and 14 years to repay, Proposition 57 simply passes the burden for current spending onto future generations and raises the overall debt burden beyond what is fiscally prudent, costing an average family more than $2,000. This is akin to taking out a second home mortgage in order to pay monthly living expenses.

Balancing the state’s budget on the backs of society’s weakest segments is also unethical. During their administrations, both Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson raised income taxes on the state’s highest earners. We would have expected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to do likewise — as well as to abrogate his unilateral reduction of the existing vehicle license fee — in order to ease the current economic crisis, and thereby protect education and social services.

Increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco products should also have been given careful consideration. Instead, the governor (with the Legislature’s complicity) opted to evade responsible action in the present and risk having the neediest disproportionately shoulder an enormous future burden.

Proposition 58, whose fate is tied directly to Proposition 57’s adoption, purports to require the enactment of a balanced state budget. However, it in fact permits short-term borrowing to be used to balance an unbalanced budget, thereby undermining this measure’s avowed goal of ensuring that a balanced budget will actually be enacted and implemented.

Moreover, although Proposition 58 purports to prohibit all future deficit-financing bonds, it cynically exempts the $15 billion bond called for by Proposition 57. To do so, Proposition 58 temporarily repeals existing provisions of the California Constitution that prevent the issuance of such a bond.

By contrast, Proposition 55 presents the archetypal purpose for incurring bonded indebtedness. Safe, modern and uncrowded schools are vital to the educational achievement of our children — a core Jewish value. Proposition 55 authorizes the state to sell $12.3 billion in general obligation bonds for the construction and renovation of K-12, as well as higher-education, facilities. Especially important, this measure makes a total of $2.44 billion available for use by districts with schools that are considered critically overcrowded.

Proposition 55’s strict accountability requirements should ensure that these funds are spent only on school rehabilitation and building costs, and these bonds will not raise taxes. Even the conservative California Taxpayers Association believes that Proposition 55 is a fiscally responsible way to finance school repairs and construction. The California Chamber of Commerce likewise supports Proposition 55 because it invests in our economy and in our future work force.

Finally, past experience proves that state budgetary gridlock harms those who are most vulnerable — the poor, the sick, the disabled, children and the elderly. To avoid the recurrence of this phenomenon, Proposition 56 permits the Legislature to enact budget and budget-related tax appropriation bills with a 55 percent vote, rather than the two-thirds majority vote currently needed.

A 55 percent vote still requires a larger majority to pass our budget than 47 other states and the federal government. Arkansas and Rhode Island are the only other states that currently require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.

Because Proposition 56 further mandates that the Legislature and governor permanently forfeit their salaries, per diem allowances and expense reimbursement for each day the budget is late, accountability is assured and the likelihood of partisan gridlock significantly minimized. Proposition 56 also has broad support from a wide array of education, health, public safety, disability rights, environmental protection, religion, business, labor and community groups.


Douglas Mirell is the immediate
past president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and currently chairs its
executive committee. He may be contacted at dmirell@pjalliance.org

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Vote Yes on 57, 58: They Will Ease Crisis


It certainly is an unusual situation, but we Republicans are encouraging you to vote to increase the debt of the state of California, and we are doing it with a straight face.

As you know, Proposition 57 is asking Californians to commit to a bond issue of $15 billion. This commitment will allow our state budget to be stabilized, so that we can begin the process of moving forward.

If you study the state budgets over the last few years as I have, you would see that we have had a deficit at the end of each year that keeps getting larger each and every year. Even when revenues were perceived to be at a peak, we were outspending those revenues. The state budget began each year in the hole that just got deeper as the months went by.

Now we have a twofold problem. We must deal with the backlog created from prior years and try to balance this year’s budget, where expenses still are outstripping revenues. Proposition 57 will allow us to focus on eliminating the current budget imbalance without the draconian past debt facing us.

As it is, we will face serious cuts in our state budget. The growth in expenditures will have to be eliminated and actual cuts in important programs will have to be made.

As much as some of us would like to effect the cuts now that are necessary to erase this debt, we have come to the conclusion that it would significantly harm our state’s economy. This would stifle the immediate economic growth we need to reach budget equilibrium.

This new debt is not going away. That is understood. We are going to have to pay it back over the next decade. It will be in a fashion that will allow our legislators to craft a budget that will not start wallowed in debt before the opening discussions begin. By our good fortune, this debt will be financed at today’s very low interest rates.

The question then becomes how do we prevent this disastrous situation from re-occurring. We must pass the companion proposition — No. 58. It specifically makes it illegal to create any future bonds to finance a budget deficit again. It requires the Legislature to balance the budget.

Proposition 58, in addition to requiring a balanced budget each year, establishes that there must be a budget reserve in case projected revenues fall short. This is an important part of the measure.

A year in advance, some very smart people sit down and project what the revenues are going to be for the next 12 months for the world’s sixth largest economy. As smart as they are, it is a Herculean task, where it is easy to be off a billion dollars or more. This reserve will recognize that projections are only projections, and we should provide a cushion for dealing with the inevitable changes.

These new budget requirements can only be deviated from when there is a fiscal emergency upon which both the governor and Legislature agree. Some would say that a balanced budget should be locked in stone.

Those feelings are certainly justified after the dismal performance of the last few years. Once we divorce ourselves from those feelings and look at the budgeting process on a long-term basis, it becomes easier to see that this is a necessary clause that allows our elected officials to act responsibly, when a true disaster happens. If, God forbid, another earthquake occurs matching the damage caused by the Northridge quake, we would all want our leaders in Sacramento to do what is necessary to return our lives to normal.

These are the reasons why a broad spectrum of the political and financial universe is supporting both Proposition 57 and 58. It is a reasoned plan of action.

There may be alternative plans that seem good, but this one is worked out and ready to go. Let’s give it a chance and make judgment about its success after we see the full effects.

There are many important votes to cast on March 2, but none is more important for the future stability of our state than to vote yes on Proposition 57 and 58.


Bruce L. Bialosky is the Southern California chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Crystal Ball Sees


It seems like we’ve been on the verge of 2004 for ages —
presidential election years always seem to distort the space-time continuum —
but now it’s really upon us, and a lively year it is certain to be.

Congress and the White House are up for grabs, the war on
terrorism is sputtering and political leaders face a host of pressing domestic
problems that they did their best to duck in 2003. In addition, the Middle East
is its usual seething tangle, ready to ensnare policymakers here and around the
world.

Here are a few predictions for the coming 12 months.

• The Presidency: More Up for Grabs Than the Pundits Say

Today’s conventional wisdom is that improving economic news
and Saddam Hussein’s capture have made President Bush all but invincible. Guess
again. Many key indices point to the president’s reelection, but that
conventional wisdom could be upset in a moment by a down tick in the shaky
economy, new terrorist attacks, big new scandals or bad news in Iraq.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, pulling far ahead in the
race for the Democratic presidential nomination, could become a formidable
candidate if he learns to stop shooting himself in the foot and steers toward
the political center.

Some Jewish voters, concerned primarily about Israel, will
make the long-awaited shift to the Republican side, but don’t look for a mass
exodus to the promised land of the GOP.

• Congress: More Republican, More Partisan

A year ago, the Democrats were plotting strategies for
winning back one or both houses of Congress. Today, they’re trying to figure
out how to limit their losses.

In 2003, the razor-thin GOP Senate margin allowed Democrats
to block a few of the administration’s most controversial domestic proposals
and a handful of judicial nominees. November’s election will likely make it
harder for them to keep that up.

• The Budget: More Red Ink

Lawmakers passed several big tax cuts in the past two years,
then fled the scene of the crime, abandoning 11 of 13 appropriation bills.

In January, lawmakers will have to pass a giant “continuing
resolution” to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year.
That pork-filled legislation is the opposite of the fiscal discipline both
parties piously promised.

Then it will be time to deal with next year’s budget. The
fiscal problems that gave Congress such fits this year will be that much more
severe, because they were just put off. Soaring defense costs could lead to
overwhelming pressure for domestic spending cuts.

However, with elections in November, lawmakers may once
again dodge the bullet, putting off the hard decisions until 2005, producing
bigger federal deficits and a bigger burden for the next generation.

• More Hype About Marriage

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on gay marriage
will propel so-called defense of marriage constitutional amendments to
political center stage. Conservative Christian groups will pull out all the
stops; gay and civil rights groups will fight just as hard on the other side.

The issue will become even more dominant, because of
politicians eager to divert attention from vexing issues — such as terrorism
and the retirement crisis — and it will continue to divide the Jewish community,
with Orthodox groups supporting the religious conservatives, defense
organizations and the Reform movement backing the civil rights advocates.

• More Movement Toward Public Funding of Parochial Schools

School voucher supporters are close to winning a big
skirmish in their war — a model voucher program for the District of Columbia.
That could ignite a flurry of new voucher proposals at the state and local
levels. The Supreme Court will rule in June on a case that could really open
the floodgates to new programs for parochial school funding.

The Bush administration will also continue using its
executive authority to give grants to religious groups that provide health and
services.

• More of the Same in U.S-Israel Relations

There’s plenty of potential for new U.S.-Israel friction,
but the Sharon government has a powerful protector: Yasser Arafat. As long as
Arafat is back at the helm of Palestinian government, Washington won’t really
turn the screws on Jerusalem, unless Sharon goes too far with his security
barrier and his proposal for “disengagement” from the Palestinians.

Less clear is the impact of a self-proclaimed protector of
Israel in this country: the Christian right. Televangelists and conservative
politicians such as Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have become avid backers of the
Sharon government and of the idea that Israel should not give up any land to
the Palestinians.

However, many of these new Zionists have been reluctant to
go against a Republican president when he pressures Israel. New conflict over
the fence and Sharon’s proposal could put that new friendship to the test.

• New Jewish Divisions Over Peace

Jewish doves, paralyzed by the resumption of Palestinian
terror in 2000, are coming back to life, but centrist Jewish groups here have
shifted to the right. In Israel, Sharon’s call for removing some settlements
will touch off a furious battle that will spill over onto the American Jewish
scene.

All of that means more polarization than ever in a Jewish
community that will continue to support Israel, but which has very different
visions for the Jewish State’s future.

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.

The DeLay Factor and the Jews


The recent clamor over Howard Dean’s demand for U.S. "evenhandedness" in the Middle East was sweet music to the ears of Jewish Republicans, who hope 2004 will be a watershed in their long but frustrating effort to rally Jewish voters to their cause.

But the Republicans could overplay their hand, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who sometimes makes Ariel Sharon sound like a peacenik, is just the man to do it.

The Texas congressman, who has emerged as a powerful friend of Israeli nationalists and right-wingers, was on the attack last week, lashing out at Dean, the surprise frontrunner in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

But DeLay’s pro-Israel ardor, while galvanizing to a small Jewish minority and useful to mainstream leaders, could neutralize the positive political impact of President George W. Bush — whose support for both Israel and an active peace process may play well among Jewish swing voters.

During his 18 years in Congress, DeLay, a former Houston exterminator, has been known mostly for his intense partisanship, his hard-right views on domestic subjects and his close relationship with groups like the Christian Coalition.

For much of that time he was considered cool to Israel — hostile to foreign aid, and not particularly sympathetic to the pro-Israel cause on Capitol Hill.

That began to change in the mid-1990s as pro-Israel conservatives courted the increasingly powerful DeLay, and as a key segment of his core constituency — conservative Evangelical Christians — began to put their version of "Christian Zionism" at the top of their list of priorities.

Some analysts say that agenda is based heavily on Christian biblical prophecies, which require constant warfare in the Middle East and a terrible fate for those Jews who do not jump aboard the millennial bandwagon.

Whatever their motives, their support has been welcomed by pro-Israel groups, which face mounting hostility from liberal "mainline" Protestant denominations. It was especially welcomed by the Jewish right, which for the first time had a politically powerful champion in Washington.

DeLay was reborn into the pro-Israel faith with a vengeance.

In 2000, he was one of only three lawmakers voting against a congressional resolution praising Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon, claiming that Israel was making a big mistake giving back any land.

In 2002, DeLay headed a congressional effort to deflect pressure on Israel from the leader of his party, President Bush.

This year, he delighted hard-liners when he told the pro-Israel lobby that Israel has a perfect right to keep Gaza and the West Bank.

"I’ve toured Judea and Samaria," he said, "and stood on the Golan Heights," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

He repeated that claim last week to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Jewish right-wingers here applaud such talk; mainstream Jewish leaders, while not entirely comfortable with it, are grateful for his support, and some swallow their discomfort over his hard-line views.

But if DeLay is the spearhead of a new GOP effort to woo Jewish voters, the party may be in trouble. Poll after poll shows that American Jews remain committed to the fundamentals of land-for-peace negotiations.

Despite the way Jews from across the spectrum have rallied behind a terror-beset Israel, there is very little support here for the settlers who are determined to hold onto their West Bank and Gaza outposts, or the neo-Kahanists who dream of "transferring" Palestinians somewhere else.

American Jewish leaders have expressed great skepticism about the Bush administration’s "road map" for Palestinian statehood, but polls indicate most American Jews support its principles.

DeLay may score points with some top Jewish leaders, who are interested mostly in his ability to serve as a counterweight to administration pressure on Israel, and with single-issue pro-Israel groups, which easily overlook a domestic record that makes him the prince of the Christian right.

But the majority of Jews are centrists whose votes are shaped by a wide array of issues, not just Israel. On both the foreign and domestic fronts, Jewish voters, while not as liberal as they once were, are poles apart from DeLay and his ultra-conservative colleagues.

On the Middle East, President Bush has struck a balance that may appeal to that Jewish mainstream: strong, unequivocal support for Israel, but also for a genuine peace process that everybody knows can only end with the creation of a real Palestinian state.

That combination could be especially attractive next November if the Democrats nominate a challenger beholden to the party’s left flank, where Israel isn’t exactly the most popular cause in town.

DeLay represents a support for Israel’s most extreme factions and a harsh vision for the future of the region that is repellent to many of the Jews the Republicans hope to attract.

Ten Years After Oslo


Ten years ago this week, Israelis and Jews around the world watched the famous handshake on the White House lawn with a sense of history in the making. Some believed the Oslo agreement was the harbinger of peace and the guarantor of Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Others saw it as a grave diplomatic error that allowed Israel’s mortal enemies the foothold they long had sought.

A decade later, Israel is convulsed by violence and terrorism, but some believe the “road map” peace plan may present a way out.

Three prominent figures intimately involved with the Oslo process — Dore Gold, Dennis Ross and Yossi Beilin –reflect on the lessons of the past decade and how they can inform today’s diplomatic efforts. In addition, political analyst Leslie Susser offers his insight on the major changes of the Oslo decade.


On the face of it, the Oslo peace process failed to achieve very much. Ten years after Israelis and Palestinians astounded the world by signing the accords, the two sides again are locked in armed struggle and are raising basic questions of legitimacy and recognition.

In terms of conflict resolution, the parties seem to have stumbled back to a pre-Oslo square one. But the situation today, in fact, is very different than it was a decade ago. Major political and geopolitical changes in the 10 years since Oslo, and the Oslo process itself, have colored political thinking on both sides.

In Israel, taboos like the existence of a Palestinian state have been irrevocably smashed, while on the Palestinian side, there is deeper questioning of the efficacy of the terrorist weapon. Perhaps most significantly, profound regional and international developments seem to be playing in Israel’s favor.

In Israel, the vagaries of the Oslo process changed political thinking on the right and the left. The peace process undercut the right’s dream of “Greater Israel,” while the process’ collapse shattered the left’s dream of an idyllic, two-state solution in a “New Middle East.”

Before Oslo, the thought of a Likud prime minister agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state would have been inconceivable. Indeed, when Oslo was signed, Labor leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were careful not to commit themselves to Palestinian statehood for fear of sparking a public outcry. Now, 10 years later, over 60 percent of Israelis — including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of the Likud — back the two-state solution.

The failure of the parties to see the Oslo process through led to two significant conclusions on the Israeli side: If there are new agreements, there must be scrupulous third-party monitoring to ensure implementation. But if, ultimately, there is no credible peace partner, Israel should consider unilateral separation from the Palestinians.

The recent peace plan, known as the “road map,” provides the third-party supervision the Oslo process lacked. If it, too, fails to gather momentum, calls for unilateral separation will grow in Israel.

The dynamics of Oslo clarified for many Israelis the advantages of a two-state solution and the demographic dangers inherent in the present status quo. Even erstwhile right-wingers like Dan Meridor, the former minister for strategic planning, now make the classic Labor argument that if it wishes to remain a Jewish and democratic state, Israel must separate politically from the Palestinians before they become a majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Though Sharon doesn’t use the demographic terminology, clearly it’s in the back of his mind when he says that Israel should not rule over 3 million Palestinians and when he calls for an end to “occupation.”

On the Palestinian side, two contradictory post-Oslo strategies emerged: forcing Israeli concessions through terror or abstaining from terror and turning international sympathy into pressure on Israel.

Encouraged by the Israeli retreat from Lebanon in May 2000 and what he perceived as Saddam Hussein’s growing power in Iraq, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat opted for violence.

However, his strategy imploded. No Arab states joined the struggle, the international community did not step in and Israel made no political concessions. On the contrary, the upshot was a discredited Arafat and a devastated Palestinian economy.

Moreover, after Al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Palestinian terrorism became associated with international terrorism, and Israel was allowed unprecedented freedom of action against the terrorists. Sharon was able to reoccupy Palestinian cities and to embark on a policy of liquidating Hamas terrorist leaders with little international protest.

Mahmoud Abbas, who became Palestinian Authority prime minister in April, led the post-Oslo policy alternative, denouncing Arafat’s “militarization” of the intifada as a huge strategic mistake that played into Israel’s hands. Instead, Abbas advocated a strategy of dialogue based on the road map, coupled with American pressure on Israel

But Abbas’ talk, combined with his failure to follow up his statements with any significant crackdown on terrorists, sealed his fate. He resigned in early September after losing a power struggle with Arafat. Ahmed Karia, an architect of the Oslo accords, was named his successor.

Regional developments since Oslo further weakened the Palestinian position. Most significantly, the threat of a powerful “Eastern front” against Israel — made up of Iraq, Syria and Jordan — collapsed. In 1994, a year after Oslo, Jordan made peace with Israel, while Saddam Hussein’s ouster in April removed Iraq and left Syria isolated, surrounded by American or pro-American forces in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

Other developments also worked in Israel’s favor. Israel’s close relationship with Turkey, developed in the wake of the Oslo process, has survived the intifada; U.S. control of Iraqi oil means a significant decline in the weight of the Arab oil card, and the weakness of the Arab League reflects a decline in the sense of a collective Arab identity.

For the Palestinians, these factors add up to a loss of their “Arab hinterland” and a growing sense of isolation. As a result, the Palestinians have had to turn to Iran for arms and financial aid.

In January 2002, the Karine A, a ship carrying arms from Iran to the Palestinian Authority, was intercepted by Israel. Today, according to Israeli intelligence sources, Iranian Revolutionary Guards based in Lebanon are transferring arms and funds to Hamas.

Ironically, a decade after Oslo, a non-Arab country — Iran — poses the most serious strategic threat to Israel, promoting Palestinian terror and developing nuclear and other nonconventional weapons with missiles capable of reaching Israel.

For Israel, the U.S. war in Iraq has a crucial bearing. If, over time, the Americans are seen to have won, it will be a major blow to all radical forces in the Middle East. But if they lose, Israel could find itself confronting buoyant radicals from all over the region.

Either way, one thing is certain: Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States has become much stronger in the wake of Oslo — a process in which, initially, the Americans were not even involved.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

When Intelligence Falls Short


Intelligence errors usually are associated with military disasters like Pearl Harbor or the 1973 Yom Kippur War, not with diplomacy.

Yet the last decade of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process may involve such an error of assessment. Looking back now, 10 years after the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, it’s clear that the failure to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement cannot be attributed to a lack of political will on the Israeli side or the failure of the United States to deal more forcibly with noncompliance.

Rather, it has to do with the more fundamental question of whether the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) really was prepared for reconciliation and peace with Israel.

The overwhelming evidence from statements by the PLO leadership was that it viewed the Oslo process as a tactical necessity to realize its ultimate strategic goal of recovering the entire territory of British Mandatory Palestine — including the area of Israel.

It would be a mistake to assign this intention to PLO leader Yasser Arafat alone. After all, it was the PLO’s top official for Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini, who on two separate occasions in 2001 described Oslo as a “Trojan Horse” that served the realization of “the strategic goal — namely, Palestine from the river to the sea.”

Similarly, the leader of the Fatah movement in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, told The New Yorker that even if Israel withdrew from 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not end. What was needed, he said, was “one state for all the peoples.”

Arafat, who after Oslo became head of the Palestinian Authority, usually was more careful about concealing his true intentions, but they nonetheless could be discerned. Right from 1994, he disclosed his view of Oslo as a temporary Islamic truce. But he generally would speak so forthrightly only in closed-door meetings in places like South Africa or Sweden. More recently, he frequently sent messengers to Palestinian cities to speak on his behalf.

Thus, the official Palestinian daily, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, on Jan. 30, 2001, carried an address in Arafat’s name by an ideologue affiliated with Arafat’s Fatah movement, Sakher Habash, that asserted: “Experience proves that without the establishment of the democratic state on all the land, peace will not be realized…. The Jews must get rid of Zionism…. They must be citizens in the state of the future, the state of democratic Palestine.”

The big question raised by these recent quotations is: Why did the Israeli and U.S. governments invest so much in the Oslo process if it was so clear that the PLO had no intention of making peace? Didn’t they consult with their intelligence establishments before investing presidential time at the failed Camp David summit of 2000? Where was the Central Intelligence Agency?

To its credit, Israeli military intelligence flatly warned about the security problems emanating from Oslo. The then-intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, told the Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, in 1998, “I cannot say at any point since it entered the territory in May 1994 that the Palestinian Authority acted decisively against the terrorist operational capability of Hamas, as well as the Islamic Jihad.”

But there were no public warnings about the PLO’s political intentions in the Oslo peace process. Henry Kissinger warned in his seminal work, “Diplomacy”: “What political leaders decide, intelligence services tend to seek to justify.”

Perhaps the U.S. and Israeli intelligence establishments were intimidated by their political echelons.

If there is a lesson from all this, it is that governments must allow their intelligence communities the freedom to express themselves and promote intellectual pluralism, if disasters in the Middle East are to be avoided. For diplomatic errors can be even more costly than military blunders — even if they were originally undertaken with the best of intentions.


Dore Gold is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. From 1997 to 1999, he served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. He is the author of “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism.”

Most State Aid Goes for Public Programs


Over the years, the state government has been good to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

George Deukmejian, whose Armenian heritage made him sensitive to the genocide of minorities, took the initial step in 1985 by allocating $5 million for the creation of the Museum of Tolerance when he was governor.

Since then, through Republican and Democratic gubernatorial administrations and successive Legislatures, the state has appropriated another $45 million for the museum’s public service programs and capital expenditures.

Critics blame the center’s political clout and lobbying for the state’s largesse. During the late ’80s and early ’90s, hardly a week went by that the Los Angeles Times and The Jewish Journal did not receive written complaints from critics, pointing to the close links between the center and the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and denouncing the public grants as a violation of church-state separation.

Center officials and supporters rebut such criticisms, pointing out that most of the state money flows to the respected Tools for Tolerance, nondenominational public service programs, in which law enforcement officers and educators are taught how to function effectively in a diverse and multicultural society.

The controversy surfaced again this year, triggered by California’s catastrophic fiscal crunch and the vagaries of the state budget-making process. One of the vagaries is that the funds for the teachers’ tolerance program fall under the always-strapped budget of the California Arts Council, rather than the Department of Education.

In Gov. Gray Davis’ 2003-04 budget, he initially proposed $5 million for the Arts Council, down from a high of $30.7 million in 2000-01 and $17.5 million in 2002-03. In the proposed $5 million budget, $1.5 million — or 30 percent — was earmarked for the Wiesenthal Center programs. However, the $5 million was eventually slashed to $1 million, with no funds allocated to the center.

Upon the initial Davis proposal of $5 million, a cry went up from struggling small-town symphonies, theaters and school arts programs over the budget cut and the center’s nearly one-third slice of the shrinking pie.

However, the Arts Council, which bore the brunt of the criticism, had no choice in the matter, said Paul Minicucci, its deputy director. The annual Wiesenthal Center allocation is a budgetary line item fixed by the governor and Legislature beforehand and is treated separately from the Arts Council pot available for actual grants.

In the wake of the slashed Arts Council budget, which now contains no funds for the center, Rabbi Meyer May, executive director and chief fundraiser for the center, took the harsh news from Sacramento personally and warned that the teacher training program’s future is in jeopardy.

Minicucci put the main blame for the perilous state of his agency on the unwillingness of the state government — more so than the people — to provide public support for the arts.

"We now tax Californians 2.7 cents per capita for all public art support," Minicucci said, noting that in Canada, which has 4 million fewer residents than California, the National Arts Council has a budget of $660 million. He said similar figures for European nations are "simply off the charts."

The Skirball Cultural Center, which has received $6.4 million from the state for orientation of mainly public school students at its museum over the past seven years, has also been affected. However, in light of California’s deep financial hole, Uri Herscher, Skirball president and CEO, decided not to apply for state funds. Herscher said he hopes to make up for the loss through private contributions.

Projections for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles are not clear, but for the current calendar year, it has received $42.7 million in city, county, state and federal funds.

The money, in turn, is allocated to the social services provided by such Federation agencies as Vista del Mar, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service, Aviva Center, Jewish Big Brothers and Bet Tzedek.

Iraq War Not Just Means to Just End


Two profound teachings of Jewish tradition should be guiding
the actions of Jews today in regard to Iraq.

The first is, “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof,” or “Justice,
justice, shall you pursue.” The ancient rabbis asked, “Why ‘justice’ twice?

They answered: “Seek just ends by just means; seek justice
for ourselves, justice for all others.”

Certainly it is a just goal to make certain that Iraq has no
weapons of mass destruction and cannot pour death upon Israel or the rest of
the world.

But war against Iraq is not the just means of accomplishing
this just end. Instead, it is likely to endanger many Iraqi, American, Israeli
and other lives. It is also likely to endanger Israel — bring on, as U.S.
intelligence experts have confirmed, the sharpest danger of a last-ditch
chemical-biological attack upon the people of Israel — and endanger the
moderate Arab governments that have made peace with Israel.

A war will also take hundreds of billions of dollars from America’s
own people — from health care for our seniors, schools for our children,
healing for the earth. An attack on Iraq will increase the unaccountable power
of the oil companies and regimes that have provided money to both the Al Qaeda
terrorists and the Bush administration, that have corrupted American politics
and robbed American stockholders, that befoul the seas and scorch the earth.

It will also worsen already deeply wounded human rights and
civil liberties, not only for Arabs and Muslims in America, but even for
Persian Jewish immigrants, who were recently rounded up along with Muslims, and
increase the use of torture of prisoners held overseas by the CIA, as it was
reported recently by The Washington Post.

So in good Jewish fashion, what is the practical alternative
to war? What would “just means” be?

American Jews could:

  • Support the Franco-German plan to intensify and prolong
    the U.N. inspection regime in Iraq, for months or years if necessary, while a
    totally different American and world approach to Iraq, the Middle East and
    Islam takes hold.

  • Encourage a multilateral “Marshall Plan” for massive
    relief and rebuilding in Iraq before war, not waiting until afterward, when
    there will be hundreds of thousands more dead, perhaps millions more refugees
    than are already suffering and dying under the misapplied sanctions.

The world Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities; the
European Union; and many nongovernmental organizations should supply food,
medicines and clothing to desperate Iraqis — and do this actually on the
ground, to make sure both that the effort does not just feed the ruling
dictatorship and that it is not just used as a tool by the United States or
other hostile powers.

  • Urge a worldwide treaty to eliminate weapons of mass
    destruction held by all nations.

  • Urge the United States to insist on all-Arab peace treaties
    with Israel, plus a peace settlement between a secure Israel and a viable
    Palestine.

  • Call a world conference of religious leaders to face and
    end the use of traditional texts and contemporary fears to justify violence
    against other religions, like the effort in some Christian communities during
    the past generation to eliminate anti-Semitic interpretations of Christianity.

  • Urge the United States to join the International Criminal
    Court and broaden its jurisdiction to include international terrorism, as well
    as governmental war crimes.

  • Urge the United States to adhere to the Kyoto treaties and
    begin an all-out effort to conserve energy and bring renewable energy sources
    on line, minimizing use of oil and coal.

These specifics are strands in a larger weave of planetary
community, and we need to be imagining that weave in all its wholeness. Then we
can choose what aspects of this future we can begin to embody in the present.

The second crucial Jewish teaching for this hour comes from
Psalm 34: “Bakeysh shalom radfeyhu,” or “seek peace and pursue it.” Again, the
rabbis asked, “Why both ‘seek’ and ‘pursue?'”

They answered: Most mitzvot can be done by sitting (to eat)
or standing (to pray) or even walking (to converse). But for the sake of peace,
we must not only seek it, but if it is running away, we must chase after it.

Most of the official American Jewish leadership has sat
paralyzed, while peace runs away from us all. They should join those
peace-seekers of the anti-war movement who take Jewish concerns seriously.

To do this, the mainstream Jewish community should learn to
distinguish between anti-Israel and “pro-Israel-pro-peace” strands of the
antiwar movement.

The United for Peace & Justice coalition, which
sponsored the New York rally on Feb. 15, is in the second strand of antiwar
energy. Its first Jewish member was The Shalom Center. Since then, Tikkun, New
York’s Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and various smaller local groups
have joined.

Mainstream Jewish groups should support the efforts of such
affirmatively Jewish antiwar groups, and should be making sure that their own
staff and leaders get to meet and talk with the Jewish anti-war organizers.

But this is only “seeking” peace. To “pursue” it as well,
the larger liberal and progressive parts of the mainstream Jewish community
should join such natural allies as the National Council of Churches, Sojourners
magazine, the NAACP and the Sierra Club, which have already formed a third
antiwar coalition: Win Without War.

For Jews like the Reform movement and the Jewish Community
Relations Committee/Jewish Council for Public Affairs network to be absent from
this table not only betrays Jewish values and interests but also fails to
represent Jewish concerns, when some of the most important American public
groups are creating a new center of moral and political energy.

It is as if mainstream Jewish organizations had refused to
take part in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s,
because some black groups were anti-Semitic.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the havurot,
progressive Jewish political groups, Jewish feminists and neo-Chasidic
teachers, like Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman
Schachter-Shalomi seeded change that sprouted in the mainstream Jewish
community during the 1990s.

In much the same way, anti-war Jews today are seeding change
that mainstream Jewry needs to learn from. As we now face the dangers to
humanity and earth from reckless, unaccountable economic greed and reckless,
unaccountable military power, they are drawing on and appealing to Jewish
values.

These values are not just empty rhetoric. They are embodied
in the practical needs of Jews who are suffering from environmentally caused
cancer and asthma, from overwork to the point of emotional and spiritual
exhaustion, from robbery of their pensions by Enronic pirates, from health care
diminished and schooling worsened to pay for war, from bottom-line downsizing —
even of academic, professional and high-tech jobs — from attacks on their
privacy and civil liberties and perhaps even from death as victims of terrorism
in an endless war that could have been averted.

Only at deep peril to itself will mainstream Jewry fail to
hear these prophetic voices.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. He is the author of “Godwrestling — Round 2” and co-author of “A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven.”

The Need for Campus Activism


The level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments on our
campuses has been hotly debated in recent months. Some see an alarming surge of
pro-Palestinian prejudices that drown out and intimidate
supporters of Israel — and too often cross the line into anti-Semitism. Others,
including some Jewish campus leaders, minimize these trends and criticize
organizations that have mobilized to counter them.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA’s Hillel, for example, in
a recent article in this paper, disparaged these organizations and their
materials as “propagandistic,” “polemical,” part of the “anti-anti-Semitism
industry” and of “dubious value.”

Sadly, even though most Americans remain supportive of Israel,
there is abundant evidence that in academia, opposition to Israel’s policies
has mutated into attacks that demonize the Jewish State, undermine its
legitimacy and foment anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports
that “campus anti-Semitic incidents were up dramatically in 2002.” “Too often,”
added a recent ADL newsletter, “anti-Israel activism crosses the line into
anti-Semitism … and the bad news is that there is a silent majority on campus
that is simply not speaking out against anti-Semitism.”

It is not surprising that this majority remains silent.
Left-of-center ideology, with its fashionable post-colonialist critiques of America
and Israel, dominate campus culture. Edward Said’s bitter anti-Israel polemics
hold sway in Middle Eastern Studies departments and pervade other disciplines.
Pro-Palestinian views that distort Israeli-Arab history and spread
disinformation have been accepted as fact in many campus circles. Visiting
Israeli professors called their past year in American academia “a nightmare”
because of their colleagues’ intense and often ill-informed bias, Ha’aretz
reported last August.

“An entire year of attacks, even in corridors, staff
meetings and conferences … there is an unquestioned assumption that Israel
and the Israelis are the bad guys,” said Dr. Liora Brosh who taught comparative
literature at a New York State University.

Joint Palestinian-Israeli discussion panels often exclude
the moderate view, though they masquerade as balanced presentations. Divestment
campaigns that blame Israel alone for the conflict and ugly slogans such as
“Zionism is Racism” abound. Pro-Palestinian rhetoric is couched in a potent
brew of popular campus causes for social justice, human rights,
anti-globalization and indigenous people’s rights; and pro-Israeli students who
share these values have trouble disentangling them from the Palestinian
position. They also face an unfriendly environment. As journalist Daniel Pipes
recently pointed out, when well-known pro-Israel speakers lecture on campuses,
they require security protection. Speakers critical of Israel, however, do not.

It is little wonder that many Jewish students feel
uncomfortable and besieged. The one-sided nature of the campus debate also
leads other students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who otherwise would have no
particular bias, to simply assume that Israel has no case.

Unfortunately, the solutions offered by some campus leaders
do not go far enough to address students’ needs or the larger problem. Their
recommendations — issuing healing messages, encouraging Jewish students to
reach out to Muslims, supporting moderate Arab Muslim students — certainly have
merit, but they do not help students understand Israel’s case and they do not
fill the urgent need to counter the barrage of anti-Israel disinformation.

Israel has compelling ethical and historical justifications
for its existence and its policies. The American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, ADL, National Hillel and grassroots groups such as StandWithUs have
mobilized to make sure this information is part of the campus debate. Their
arguments are mainstream, shared by a majority of the U.S. Congress and the
current Israeli government. All students should be familiar with these
positions even though they may not agree.

Pro-Israel organizations are helping turn the tide on our
campuses, The Forward reported on Dec. 20, 2002. Many campus activists credit
them “for providing increased resources and training to campus activists and
helping them develop more proactive approaches.”

Campus leaders need to be on the front lines encouraging —
not marginalizing — efforts to better inform students and to ensure that all
voices across the political spectrum are heard and respected. Suppressing
conservative pro-Israel views will have the unfortunate effect of keeping the
campus debate one-sided and of inhibiting dialogue. Students of today will be
the leaders of tomorrow. Hopefully, their college years will expose them to the
full range of issues about the beleaguered Middle East so they can make informed
decisions in the future. Â


Roz Rothstein is executive director of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid is director of research and education for StandWithUs.

Cal Keeps Class, Yanks Description


"Since the inception of the Intifada in September of 2000, Palestinians have been fighting for their right to exist. The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine … has systematically displaced, killed and maimed millions of Palestinian people. This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections."

— University of California, Berkeley, Course Description, 2002

"Politics and Poetics of the Palestinian Resistance," the freshman English class at UC Berkeley described above, began last week — but without the aforementioned description.

A group of California Jewish leaders was instrumental in changing that description — and in creating a task force to monitor future course descriptions. The leaders also prompted the university to insert a monitor into that class, which is taught by Palestinian activist Snehal Shingavi, a graduate student.

The monitoring comes at a particularly tense time this new semester, as Jewish groups are on the lookout for discord due to events in the Middle East. Issues such as campus divestment, pro-Palestinian rallies and controversial speakers have troubled Jewish groups as the violence in Israel continues, with Berkeley itself having a long history of participation in these events.

At Berkeley, this particular incident began last spring, when the university published an online catalog.

"This course doesn’t belong on the university curriculum," said Ami Nahshon, the executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay. "It’s a literature course for freshman English students. Literature means literature. Politics means politics. To create a literature course that’s so heavily politically biased is unacceptable." Nahshon immediately fired off over 2,500 e-mails encouraging others to help in the campaign to cancel the class.

Back at the campus, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl insisted that the section discouraging "conservative thinkers" from enrolling in the class be removed from the description.

Meanwhile, word spread to Gov. Gray Davis, who called a closed-door, off-the-record meeting in August at the Simon Wiesenthal Center with Southern California Jewish community leaders and a few of the UC Regents. Davis asked the Regents to arrive at a solution in response to the complaints.

Regent Norm Pattiz from Beverly Hills suggested creating a faculty/administration task force to follow up on this particular case and to address any similar situations that may arise in the future concerning academic freedom and academic responsibility. "I had made that suggestion since the process of changing the course description happened over a period of months," said Pattiz, who is also the founder and chair of Westwood One, America’s largest radio network. "Even the final description was not satisfactory to many of us. I felt that we couldn’t just let it go on with the implied implication that the university and the Regents approved of the nature of the course description."

In August, Atkinson announced new school policy. There will be a review and discussion regarding course description standards. The school’s English department must improve the review of course descriptions and establish a standard evaluation process. Finally, a task force has been formed to ensure faculty supervision and training for graduate student instructors. A faculty observer is currently attending every session of the Shingavi’s class.

Whether anti-Semitism played a role in the ordeal is debatable. "I wouldn’t go so far to say that this is an example of anti-Semitic behavior on college campuses," Pattiz said. "This is an example of inflammatory and inaccurate information to describe a class in Palestinian poetry, which I thought was completely inappropriate. I’m all for academic freedom."

Doug Mirell, president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance in Los Angeles also said that anti-Semitism on college campuses is not as big a problem as some believe. "I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Jewish community to be censoring the speech of others even when it’s inflammatory and false," said the Loeb & Loeb lawyer. "When the views and characteristics of the teacher and class are known, the next effort should be to work on alternative programming."

As far as conflicts involving course descriptions in the future, Pattiz thinks the task force will handle whatever lies ahead. "It will be a process," he said. "It’s premature to say what actions might come out of it. This group will do what it has been asked to do. They’ll look at individual situations so something like this won’t happen again."

A Confident Failure


Talk about cognitive dissonance. The mood in Israel may never have been so hopeless, the indices of quality of life may never have pointed so sharply downward, and yet the calmest, most content person in the country appears to be Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Politically, at least, he’s not out of touch with reality at all. The most recent poll in Yediot Aharonot, the country’s largest newspaper, showed Sharon getting an approval rating of 71 percent.

Here is a man who was elected by a landslide on the promise of peace and security, running on the strength of his reputation as a vanquisher of Arab terror. "I know the Arabs and the Arabs know me," he would repeat at rallies, implying as broadly as possible that the Palestinians would cower and quit the intifada as soon as he took over, and masses of Israelis actually believed it.

Yet here is Sharon, in the second half of his second year in office, and terror continues to run wild. Nothing the old warrior has done has put more than a temporary crimp in the intifada. He orders the assassinations of terror commanders, and the Palestinians retaliate with multiple bombings or the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister. And Sharon doesn’t exhibit any doubt, and certainly doesn’t change — what doesn’t work with force, works with more force, as the old Israeli cliché goes, and the body counts continue to soar on both sides.

Every public opinion poll shows Israelis with a categorically bleak view of the future — there is little faith in a military conclusion to the fighting, and none whatsoever in a political solution — not with Yasser Arafat, not with Sharon, certainly not with both of them together. The Bush administration, for its part, has shown itself to be decisively irrelevant. While right-wingers are thrilled that the White House is so friendly to their leader, an objective reading of the Israeli-U.S. relationship is that America has given Israel its blessing to prosecute an unsuccessful war on terror.

Then there is that other failing enterprise, the Israeli economy. People are losing their jobs and their businesses, public services are deteriorating because they have more and more needy clients and less and less money, yet the Sharon government is following the most fiscally "prudent" and socially indifferent policy ever seen during hard times. Spending for the settlements and yeshiva students continues apace, while aid to sundry communities of have-nots is being slashed. Meanwhile, Sharon and Finance Minster Silvan Shalom claim that the ranks of unemployed are growing because they’re too spoiled on "generous" benefits to work.

With terror stalking the streets, reserve soldiers getting called up for longer and longer duty in the West Bank and Gaza, absolutely no hope for peace on the horizon, an economy that’s drying up, conditions would seem ripe for an upheaval, the kind that political leaders don’t like to contemplate.

But the streets of Israel are quiet. People who have the money to go overseas for a summer vacation are flying off with unimaginable relief; those without the money watch TV and stay out of the heat. Some go to restaurants and movies, others are too scared.

Why is Sharon still so popular? Despite the condition of the country, he indisputably projects leadership — in the strength of his bearing, his vitality — even at 74 — his intimidating presence, his intelligence, his war record. He is a general of the old school, and this is a comforting to a frightened nation.

Maybe the country’s despair is working in Sharon’s favor. It may be that Israelis have decided that whatever they do, the Palestinians are going to keep trying to kill them, and their only choice to whether to kill back or not, so they choose killing back, which is what Sharon is doing.

One thing that’s certain is that Sharon benefits from the dearth of alternative leadership in the country. Within the Likud he is being challenged by Benjamin Netanyahu, but now that Sharon has invaded the West Bank and Gaza, Netanyahu no longer outflanks him on the right. The only move Netanyahu can suggest that Sharon hasn’t taken yet is expelling Arafat, and while this would likely be hugely popular, few but the extreme right think it’s the solution to terror, and many are frightened, with good reason, that it might only make terror worse.

Journalist Amnon Abramovitch has said Israel’s current political leadership is so poor as to constitute a "strategic threat" to the country’s survival, and he seems to have a point.

In Labor, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer have degraded what remains Israel’s largest political party by sticking with Sharon no matter what he does or doesn’t do. The one bright spot for the left came last week as Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna, a very liberal ex-general who wants to get out of both the Sharon government and the settlements, said he would run for the Labor Party leadership. Yet he will have a hard time beating Ben-Eliezer, who controls the party establishment, and even if Mitzna does take over Labor, he would be a longshot against Sharon because the left has no one anymore but its born-and-bred, hard-core supporters.

So Sharon has still has reason to be confident. But for how long?

Slackers No More


What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy? The answer to the old joke — "I don’t know and I don’t care" — has often been used to define young Americans of the past decade. It was tres en vogue to depict the rising generation of 20- and 30-somethings as disconnected, disillusioned and disenfranchised.

Today young Jewish professionals often are diagnosed with that same detached attitude toward their faith and their connection to Jewish culture. So goes the stereotype, along with the concern for the future of the Jewish community.

Yet on closer examination, it is evident that a growing number of young Jews are committed to preserving links with their heritage and with each other. The Journal recently spoke with several of these individuals to find out not only how they remain connected to their Jewish roots, but why.

Hailing from a cross-section of the community’s diverse subcultures, these individuals may not be the most powerful or influential young Jews in L.A., but they may be among the most important. They comprise the builders of L.A.’s future Jewish community, using their abilities to participate rather than complain, to take good ideas and turn them into great actions. They have distilled and implemented Jewish values to help improve the world around them and around us. Ultimately, it boils down to the two sentiments absent from their philosophical lexicons: "I don’t know" and "I don’t care."

Lee Broekman: Activist and Dignitary

The most rewarding aspect of her public service has been the ability to make things happen, said Lee Broekman, the field deputy in Los Angeles Councilman Michael Feuer’s office. She recently helped coordinate the project to create a playground at Griffith Park for children with disabilities, the first of its kind on the West Coast. "The kids were so thrilled," she said, recalling the grand opening of the park.

Feuer told The Journal that Broekman is exceptional. "I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with an array of outstanding young people in my career, but Lee certainly stands out as someone whose future has no bounds," Feuer said. "Lee wants to connect her academic training and her deep concern for people. For her, politics is something that has a reason. I see her with the potential to be a leader far beyond our city."

It’s hard to believe that the Israeli-born activist is only 24 years old, given her deliriously dense résumé. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Judaism’s (UJ) College of Arts and Sciences in 1998, receiving UJ’s Academic Excellence Award, and delivered the commencement speech on the topic of Jewish leadership.

Her push toward public life came in college, when she was galvanized by the impact made by her school newspaper, Catalyst. She became the paper’s junior-class representative, then editor-in-chief. "People weren’t just complaining but posing solutions to the issues they were not satisfied with," she recalled. Right after college, Broekman married schoolmate Jeremy Broekman (now director of the UJ’s Alumni Affairs).

After graduation, Broekman accepted a fellowship with the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs. As a Coro Fellow, she immersed herself in the world of public policy.

At Coro, Broekman found herself surrounded by people "like me — idealistic, if not to change the world, to change their world. I went from thinking everyone’s apathetic to everyone’s involved," she said.

Within a year, she interned at the California Employment Development Department, the Federal National Mortgage Association, the L.A. County Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO, L.A. Department of Water & Power, L.A. Urban Funders, the Department of Health Services, Los Angeles Unified School District and KCET’s "Life & Times."

Broekman got into local politics in 1999, working on election campaigns such as Phil Angelides’ bid for state treasurer and for County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. But it was her college experience as resident adviser that led her into her present position in Feuer’s office. "It prepared me for dealing with quality of life issues. Here it’s on a grander scale," she said.

Broekman continues to give back to the institutions that shaped her world view. She serves as a member of Coro’s Alumni Association Board of Directors and at the UJ, she sits on the Alumni Steering Committee, lectures on journalism and is the Catalyst’s faculty advisor. She also joined the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Young Leaders Committee after working with the ADL’s Salvin Leadership Development Institute, for which she has spoken on everything from hate crimes to Mideast affairs.

"A lot of my other friends are not as participatory," Broekman observed. "I used to get discouraged about it, but I understand that not everyone has the desire to be involved. I don’t think it’s that they necessarily don’t care about the world around them. Some are not intellectually stimulated enough to do something about it," she said.

Broekman’s philosophy is simple: "To educate others, you first must educate yourself. That’s what I feel right now — that I’m laying the groundwork to inform people on issues of local, national, and international concern."

Come June, Broekman will serve as ambassador of goodwill in the Netherlands. As a Rotary Foundation ambassadorial scholar, Broekman will pursue graduate coursework in international relations and political economy at the University of Amsterdam. She will lecture on American policy to Dutch audiences and, in turn, will report on Holland upon her return to the U.S.

Born in Ramat Gan, Broekman spent her first decade in Israel before she moved to California in 1986. She grew up in the Valley in "a pretty traditional" Yemenite Moroccan family, she said, adding that both sets of grandparents were "very Orthodox."

It was while working on her graduation commencement address that Broekman contemplated the meaning of Jewish leadership. "I take my values, both cultural and traditional, and bring them into the world at large," she said. "I wasn’t necessarily going to be a leader in the Jewish community, but a Jewish leader nevertheless. I cannot divorce the two. It’s so part of who I am."