Israeli Strategy Under Fire


Beyond the immediate escalation, the recent Palestinian attack on an Israeli army outpost near the Gaza border raises serious questions about Israel’s security and foreign policies.

Right-wing politicians argue that the incident, coupled with months of incessant rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians, shows that the army has lost its deterrent capacity and that it will take a massive, sustained operation in Gaza to restore it.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for a major unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank also is under fire, with some pundits maintaining that the latest turn of events will further erode public confidence in his pullback strategy.

The attack, which left two Israeli soldiers dead and seven wounded, as well as one soldier kidnapped by the terrorists and brought back to Gaza, also highlighted sharp differences on the Palestinian side. It came just days before Palestinian factions were set to reach agreement on a document meant to pave the way for negotiations with Israel and was widely seen as an attempt to torpedo the deal. It also raised questions about the limits of power of both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

With many splinter terrorist factions acting independently or taking orders from Hamas’ more radical leadership abroad, the incident raised another fundamental question: Does any Palestinian leader have enough domestic clout to deliver on a deal with Israel?

Israel’s response was an attempt to address some of these key issues. By sending ground forces into Gaza and making sweeping arrests of Hamas Cabinet ministers and legislators in the West Bank, Israel significantly raised the stakes in its Sisyphean struggle against fundamentalist Palestinian terror. As the military response to the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit unfolded, it became clear that Israel’s war aims went far beyond the return of the abducted soldier. Dubbed “Summer Rains,” the first major military operation since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year was intended to obtain Shalit’s release, stop Qassam rocket fire on Israeli civilians, restore Israel’s deterrent capacity, cripple Hamas politically and create conditions for an effective cease-fire.

Israel’s government was under strong domestic pressure to take tough action. The soldier’s abduction came after months of incessant rocket fire on the border town of Sderot, where residents went on a hunger strike to protest the government’s failure to protect them.

However, that was not the only reason for the government’s new hard line. Olmert also wanted to restore dwindling public confidence in his plan for a large-scale unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. By launching a major military operation, he was testing the government’s thesis that withdrawal from territory gives Israel considerable freedom of action if terror continues from the areas handed back. If that equation is seen to work in Gaza, the prime minister believes the public will be more amenable to a similar pullback from the West Bank.

Though there had been prior intelligence warnings before the Palestinian attack that sparked the crisis, the Palestinian gunmen surprised the Israelis early by attacking from the Israeli side and not the Gaza side of the outpost. Eight Palestinian militiamen infiltrated through a recently dug 300-yard-long tunnel, coming out well inside Israeli territory.

They then turned back toward the border, firing at the Israelis who were facing Gaza. Two attackers were killed, while the others made it back to Gaza, taking Shalit with them.

Israel demanded Shalit’s immediate and unconditional release, but the abductors insisted on the release of all Palestinian prisoners under age 18 and all Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli jails — in return merely for information on Shalit.

The Palestinian leadership was divided. Abbas, who leads the Fatah movement, ordered a search for the soldier to hand him back to Israel. Haniyeh of Hamas also favored a speedy resolution of the crisis. Both realized that they had been presented with a chance to win diplomatic points and alleviate international sanctions against the Hamas led-government.

When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last summer, it evolved a new military doctrine based on deterrence, rather than occupation. The thinking was that with the occupation of Gaza finished, Israel would have international backing to respond with overwhelming force to any attack on sovereign Israeli territory. However, this failed to create a deterrent balance.

For months Palestinians have been firing Qassam rockets at the town of Sderot. When Israeli retaliatory shelling kills Palestinian civilians, the international outcry has been resounding.

Right-wing politicians pressed the government to launch a large-scale attack on Gaza to restore the army’s deterrence. However, it is by no means clear that Israel’s use of force will have the desired effect.

Israeli left-wingers argue that it could simply spawn more violence and terror. For example, they ask, what will happen in Gaza when Israel leaves: Will Palestinian forces loyal to the moderate Abbas impose order and cross-border quiet or will chaos reign, with more terror against Israel? Already Palestinian radicals are threatening megaterror attacks in Israel or on Israeli targets abroad.

Much could depend on the outcome of a complex power struggle on the Palestinian side. For months, Abbas has been stymied by the more radical Hamas-led government under Prime Minister Haniyeh, some of whose more militant members owe allegiance to Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader abroad, who also controls most of the Hamas militias. Israeli leaders believe the escalation in violence is part of an effort by Meshal to embarrass Abbas and Haniyeh and to show who really rules Gaza.

By arresting Hamas government ministers and legislators, Israel was trying to stack the internal Palestinian deck in Abbas’ favor. It was also sending a clear message to Meshal: That Israel will not tolerate a bogus distinction between political and military echelons, and that if Meshal and his allies continue to promote terror, Hamas could lose its hold on power.

Meshal faces a difficult choice: seeking a compromise with Israel and very probably losing face or escalating the violence and risking even harsher Israeli measures against Hamas and becoming a target for assassination.

In describing the Israeli military operation, Defense Minister Amir Peretz called it “one of the most significant moments in setting the rules of the game between Israel and Palestinian terror.” One of the main objectives of Summer Rains was to signal the Palestinians that the rules have changed and that Israel will not hesitate to use overwhelming force if terror from Gaza continues.

Now it remains to be seen whether the Palestinians accept the Israeli rules as a basis for more peaceful co-existence or whether they try to find new ways to create a power balance in their favor.

 

I’m Going to Jail Over Darfur Genocide


(Editor’s note: This article was written and published prior to Rabbi Steve Gutow’s planned arrest.)

I’m going to jail.

Along with interfaith religious leaders, members of Congress and others, I am being arrested in Washington,

D.C., Friday, April 28, outside the Embassy of Sudan in a public protest of the continuing genocide in Darfur.

The aim is to focus attention on Darfur and to add stronger voices to help the Bush administration force the international community to take action to halt the tragedy. Our act is a prelude to the “Save Darfur” mass rally scheduled for Sunday on the National Mall.

Darfur is a remote region of western Sudan bordering Chad. The Arab-dominated Sudanese government has engaged in a genocidal policy in Darfur designed to ethnically cleanse the region of the mainly black African tribal people from whose ranks come rebel groups fighting the central government.

The situation is extraordinarily complicated. Human rights groups say the rebels are also responsible for abuses, including looting humanitarian aid convoys. Chadian bandits encouraged by Sudan’s actions also prey on the tribal population. Still, if the Sudanese government could be taken to task and forced to stop the abuses, most would stop.

It is not the combatants on either side but the unarmed civilians, the dirt-poor families who struggle for survival in the best of times, that suffer most. They are the victims of government-backed Arab militias known as the Janajweed, a group of poor, nomadic tribesman who are guns-for-hire in the conflict. Some 200,000 civilians have died and another 2 million have been forced from their villages and are refugees living their lives in sparely equipped camps beset by starvation and disease.

The situation could get worse in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s purported call for Islamic militants to head to Sudan to confront those involved in African Union and U.N. peace efforts. How ironic, given that both the Sudanese government and Darfur’s tribes are Muslim.

Given the difficulties of the situation, what good can come from my arrest?

In truth, the arrest is a little political theater designed to garner media attention in advance of Sunday’s mass demonstration. Such actions are commonplace in Washington. Law enforcement officials sanction in advance where and when they will take place. Protesters in violation of trespass laws are peaceably arrested and after a few hours in custody pay a small fine and are released.

There is no real sacrifice on my part. So again, what’s the point?

In a moment of exquisite — some would say divine timing, Haftarah Shemini, read in synagogue just last Shabbat, helps make my point.

The reading from II Samuel refers to the death of Uzzah. Uzzah is slain by God after he tries to keep the Ark of the Covenant from toppling from a cart pulled by oxen that lose their balance. The traditional explanation for Uzzah’s death is that despite his good intention, his touching the Ark was an act of irreverence for which he had to pay dearly.

As extreme, even outrageous, as this repercussion seems, I much prefer a more a contemporary explanation — one that sheds a moral light on Darfur: Uzzah’s offense was not that he dared touch the Ark, but that he allowed others, including no less a revered figure than King David, to arrange inappropriate transportation for the Ark, when Uzzah knew, or should have known, that the arrangement was lacking.

In short, Uzzah’s greater offense was his failure to act before it was too late, before disaster struck.

As Jews, we are directed to be proactive rather than merely reactive. Our responsibility is to question the actions of those in power and, when necessary, to draw public attention to their failings. We cannot simply sit back and blame outcomes on others. Uzzah’s death can show us that we bear the consequences of our inaction as well as our action.

The West’s reaction to Darfur until now is yet another example of how easy it is to wash our hands of a situation we believe does not affect us directly. We tell ourselves that we have issues closer to home and closer to our heart that must take priority, and we divert our gaze.

This week, we also commemorate Yom HaShoah, our own genocide of the Holocaust, and we say, “Never Again.” Well, it’s happening again.

As 21st century Jews, as citizens of a world made smaller by globalization, we do not have the luxury to look the other way. We are called to speak up and to do what we can. Too little, too late no longer cuts it. In this light, to be arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy is the very least one can do to bring attention to Darfur.

We must demand action on Darfur — from our government and from the world. And we must do all we can to ensure that this demand is heard.

Article provided courtesy of Washington Jewish Week.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a member of the executive committee of the Save Darfur Coalition.

 

Lieberman War View Triggers Backlash


Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has earned the appreciation of a Republican administration he has resolutely defended on the issue of the Iraq War. One prominent Jewish activist described Lieberman’s “powerful sense of mission” in supporting the war.

But that steadfastness also has triggered a political backlash for Lieberman. He got a dose of it in Los Angeles last month and could have a fight on his hands this year to win a third term, a race that was initially expected to be a cakewalk.

At a fundraiser last month in Bel Air that included some top Jewish givers, Lieberman faced a decidedly mixed reception. Some participants applauded his staunch defense of the war as public opposition continues to grow — but many others expressed concern.

At the Bel Air meeting, “some were overwhelmingly supportive of his stance, and some deeply unconvinced and skeptical,” said one participant. “Most interestingly, he was so consumed by his sense of mission that he could not distinguish between the two.”

Lieberman’s defense of the war stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish majority. A recent American Jewish Committee poll indicated that 70 percent of Jews now oppose the administration’s Iraq policies, although that number was considerably lower in Lieberman’s Orthodox community.

Lieberman’s defend-the-war mission has also sent up some storm clouds at home.

Former Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), the man Lieberman unseated in 1988, has told Connecticut newspapers he may run against Lieberman on an anti-war platform if no other strong candidates emerge. Weicker — who later served as Connecticut governor — said he could run as an independent.

Lieberman could also face a Democratic Party challenger running on an anti-war platform.

Some Democrats have been further angered by persistent rumors that Lieberman may be tapped to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said, “It’s hard to believe Lieberman has to worry about holding his seat,” but added that Weicker could be “a perfect protest vehicle” if anti-war sentiment continues to rise.

“And a truly contentious (Democratic) primary could open the way for a GOP challenge in the fall, especially since GOP Gov. Jodi Rell will sweep to victory,” he said.

Sabato said while he would “put solid money on Lieberman’s reelection, whatever the obstacles,” Lieberman’s national ambitions are a thing of the past.

“He crashed and burned in 2004, and now he’s on the ‘wrong’ side of Iraq in the Democratic Party,” he said. “It’s over for him. Ironic, isn’t it? He was almost elected vice president in 2000, which would have made him the logical presidential nominee for the Dems in 2008. But close only counts in horseshoes.”

 

Rosa Parks’ Message for Today


There’s been considerable coverage these last days of Rosa Parks, whose death a full half-century after the brief episode that rendered her an “icon” calls to mind a long-ago time. But there’s been little evocation of the events and circumstances that earned Parks her iconic status, still less to the overriding moral of the story.

The year is 1955, the date is Dec. 1 and the place is Montgomery, Ala. On that day in that place, a 42-year-old black seamstress named Rosa Parks left the Montgomery Fair department store late in the afternoon for her regular bus ride home. There were 36 seats on the bus, and all of them were soon filled. Twenty-two black people took the rear seats and 14 white people sat in the front. When a 15th white passenger got onto the bus, the driver called for the four black people in the row just behind the 14 seated whites to move to the rear, where they would have to stand. That was not merely the custom in Montgomery; that was the law. And when Parks refused to give up her seat, the driver, exercising his emergency powers to enforce the segregation codes, arrested her. She was taken to the police station, where she was booked, fingerprinted and jailed.

Martin Luther King Jr. later would describe what Parks did that day in these words:

Mrs. Parks’ refusal to move back was her intrepid affirmation that she had had enough. It was an individual expression of a timeless longing for human dignity and freedom. She was not planted there by the NAACP, or any other organization; she was planted there by her personal sense of dignity and self-respect. She was anchored to that [bus] seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone by and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn.

When Parks’ mother learned of her daughter’s arrest, she immediately contacted E.D. Nixon, the long-time president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and perhaps the most politically potent black man in Montgomery. Nixon knew well that Parks was in immediate physical danger, because there was real risk to those who dared to violate the race laws. Nixon, in turn, called Clifford Durr, a white southern patrician lawyer, a Rhodes scholar and co-sponsor of the legendary Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Together they went to the jail and posted bond for Parks. And together they proposed to Parks that here, at last, were the makings of a case that could shatter the laws of segregation throughout the South. Soft-spoken but plainly not timid, Parks, then secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP, consulted with her mother and with her husband, a barber who was terrified at the prospect of converting this isolated incident into a political cause. But Parks nonetheless decided to go forward, and late that Thursday evening, a black woman named Ann Robinson, a professor of English at Alabama State, the youngest of 12 siblings and the first to have gone to college, learned of what had happened and convened the Women’s Political Council, most of whose members were active in King’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. That very night they mimeographed a leaflet that said, “The next time it may be you, or you or you. This woman’s case will come up Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses on Monday in protest of the arrest and trial.”

And that is what happened on Monday, from the early morning buses that were normally full of black maids on their way to work through the day — throughout the whole day.

That same afternoon, the Montgomery Improvement Association was founded, and King was elected its president. That Monday evening, a crowd of perhaps 10,000 blacks gathered at the Holt Street Baptist Church, and King, 26, delivered his very first political address.

“There comes a time,” he said, “when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression…. We are here because we are tired now.”

And his tired congregation, swollen to nearly 40,000 former bus riders, walked to work or stayed home or rode in one of the 150 cars whose owners lent them to the boycott. Through the cold months of winter, they persisted. When the police harassed them, they persisted; when King was arrested, they persisted; when his house was bombed, they persisted — and they did not stop even when the entire leadership of the boycott was arrested.

Through the winter, through that spring and summer, through the fall and on into a second winter, for 381 days, the blacks of Montgomery prayed with their feet, miles each way, each day. And finally, on Dec. 20, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the judgment of the U.S. District Court declaring the laws requiring segregation of the buses unconstitutional.

The moral — these many years later — is not immediately obvious. Yes, it’s about what one person can do, but it is about much more than that. It’s about leadership and about community organization. King without Parks might not have become who he became, but Parks without Nixon and Durr and Robinson would not have become an “icon,” and none of these would have so powerfully entered the American story were it not for 40,000 tired blacks, ordinary heroes who conquered their fear and ignored their fatigue and did not break.

So, what shall we do about the persistent, grinding poverty that still exists in our country, that came into view so emphatically in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? What in the world does Rosa Parks lying in the Capitol Rotunda mean unless we organize to address that question?

Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights, 2001).

 

Political Journal


 

This month’s Political Journal is a tale of two labor disputes. One is dragging on and on; the other has come to a peaceful conclusion just when it seemed there might be a strike ahead.

Hotels Battle Continues

A protracted 11-month debacle continues between UNITE HERE, Local 11, representing workers at eight (formerly nine) upscale Los Angeles hotels and the L.A. Hotel Employer’s Council, representing hotel management.

The crux of the battle is the workers’ demand for a short-term contract that would expire in 2006, which is also when contracts would expire at hotels in cities across the nation. The unions would then be able to cooperate, strengthen their common positions and have more clout in dealing with the international hotel conglomerates (like Starwood) that own some of the hotels.

The L.A.-area hotels (Hyatt Regency, Hyatt West Hollywood, Westin Century, Sheraton Universal, Wilshire Grand, Millennium Biltmore, Regent Beverly Wilshire and Westin Bonaventure) have insisted on a longer contract that would extend past 2006, saying that national union concerns are not relevant locally.

At this point, there are no scheduled negotiations.

On the upside for workers, the hotels have stopped charging a $10-a-week health care co-payment, which was instituted last July, after management declared an impasse.

“We didn’t ask the union for anything in return, but we hoped that it would help bring them back to the table,” said management spokesman Fred Muir.

Not surprisingly, the union doesn’t think management canceled the fee out of inherent goodness. It points to a pending complaint by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in January, which is expected to allege that management broke NLRB rules when it declared an impasse and imposed the co-pay.

“They have not refunded any of the [health care] money they collected,” said union spokesman David Koff. “Should the NLRB ultimately prevail in its complaint, the hotels could be liable to repay this money with interest.”

Taking the issue to trial and through the appeals process could take years. The hotels contend Local 11 is using a delaying strategy to get 2006 as the date for its next contract by default.

“Every time we meet, they don’t want to meet again for a month or six weeks,” Muir said. “They basically want to keep this thing going until 2006.”

Koff responded that five independently owned hotels around the city (including the Hotel Bel-Air and the Radisson Wilshire Plaza), which usually follow the hotel council’s lead on these issues, have already signed contracts with the union that expire in 2006.

“If the Bel Air and these other properties can live with the deal Local 11 has proposed to them, there is little question that these other hotels could live with it as well,” he said.

In the meantime, portions of the L.A. Jewish community have become deeply involved in the dispute, consistently siding with the workers.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Workmen’s Circle have organized the Adar Hotel Workers Campaign, collecting $40 supermarket gift certificates for the workers during the month of Adar (Feb. 10- April 9).

“They’re not being charged [the co-pay] anymore, but regardless, they’re facing extreme economic hardship, and they’re still owed the $40 per month from before,” said PJA’s Jaime Rappaport.

The certificates are being collected at a variety of congregations around the city, including Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood and IKAR, to name a few.

Teachers Get a Happy Ending — For Now

Meanwhile, a second labor dispute, this one brewing for an amazing 18 months, has been settled peacably, which almost counts as a surprise ending. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) reached a tentative agreement with the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) Tuesday.

For the past year and a half, teachers had been fighting for higher pay and more involvement and flexibility in the design of their own training.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, where what’s working in the Westside will work in South Central. The teachers in the classroom know what they’re dealing with; they should be included in the dialogue with the district, and that hasn’t been the case,” UTLA spokesperson Angelica Urquijo said the day before the agreement was reached.

In the preceeding week, a work-to-rule protest spread from West Valley schools to the rest of the district. Work-to-rule means teachers stop all the uncompensated work usually necessary to improve students’ education, such as spending unpaid hours after school tutoring children.

Urquijo said work-to-rule was meant to demonstrate how hard teachers really work, how the community of parents would stand behind them and how frustrating the interminable contract negotiations had become.

UTLA members reserved some frustration for their own president, John Perez, who was voted out earlier this month. He’ll be replaced July 1 by A.J. Duffy, a teacher who pledged to take a harder line against the district, especially on pay raises. That turn of events made the prospect of a strike seem more likely.

But just the day after work-to-rule went districtwide, the union and district reached an agreement running through June 2006. It includes a 2 percent retroactive pay raise from last July 1. The union also made gains on other contested issues, achieving a greater role for teachers in evaluating their own training programs and in providing more input on student assessmens.

Negotiators will go back to the table to discuss health benefits, which are funded through December.

Los Angeles in the past two years has trudged through a series of lengthy and painful labor disputes, running the gamut from supermarkets and buses to hotels and schools. At least LAUSD students, already working against the odds, won’t also have to overcome the fallout from a teachers strike.

 

Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza


Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers — using both carrots and sticks.

Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.

Despite police objections — "no budget, no manpower" — the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.

So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.

Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers — about $400 million — the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.

The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it’s not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.

It’s assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.

Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.

The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.

Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.

An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.

Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.

The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can’t be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.

The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months’ salary to find alternative employment.

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.

"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."

The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."

When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party’s Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."

He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:

\n

• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.

\n

• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.

\n

• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.

\n

• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill — "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" — will be brought to the Knesset.

It’s assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.

After Likud voters rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.

"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I’m sure we will all be there to open the next school year."

Your Letters


Women Suffer Blow

I write to express my hurt and outrage at your recent article, “Women Suffer Blow on Praying at the Wall,” (April 11). To which women, exactly, are you referring? Surely not the thousands of women, secular as well as religious, who come year round to pour their hearts out to the Almighty at all hours of the day and night.

I have never been to the Kotel without being overcome by emotion — partly because I am praying in a spot so drenched in sanctity, but also, invariably, because of the sight of my fellow daveners. No matter what time of day or what season of the year at the Kotel, any Jewish woman can experience a sublime connection to our foremothers — we watch all around us the devotion of living embodiments of our Mother Rachel, weeping for her children. These are the real Women of the Wall, and they come to worship and beseech God’s mercy every day, not once a month with fanfare and advance press releases.

Nowhere in your article do I sense any concern for the sensitivities of these women who are hurt and offended by the strident, politically based activities of Women of the Wall, which disturb their prayers and marginalize their devotion to the peace and holiness of the site. Please, the next time you choose to address this issue, take into consideration the feelings of the real Women of the Wall.

Shana Kramer, Director Creative Learning Pavilion of Torah Umesorah Los Angeles

Rome and Baghdad

Reuven Firestone’s article on Islam modernization through defeat oversimplifies the issue. Islam did lose many wars, and its confidence was shaken (“Rome and Baghdad,” April 11). The losses to the Turks and Mongols were the greatest of such disasters. These did not just fade the caliphate away, but brutally overwhelmed it in worse ways than the American victory over Baghdad. That which Firestone claims did not happen happened.

The reason why a “softer Islam” did not emerge after such debacles is because the invading hordes took up the religion and even infused it with new fervor. Islam did soften somewhat during various periods in history, and often when its confidence had been high for centuries.

It was the defeats, upheavals and ease of interpreting the Koran in belligerent ways that seems to have always led to a new wave of fundamentalist Islam. Professor Firestone generously praises the value of humble pie to Islam, but his historical analysis of cause and effect in this case entitle him to a slice.

Andrei L. Doran, El Segundo

A Letter of Thanks

This is a note of a sincere, warm “Thank you.”

We are residents in a retirement facility, which has a number of Jewish residents. Receiving The Jewish Journal each week keeps us in touch with what’s happening locally and internationally within the Jewish communities. While physical conditions don’t permit being active anymore, as we once were, just reading and seeing photos as to what is going on helps keep our interest “upbeat.”

To enjoy all of this and not say, “Thank you,” would be remiss on my part. My wife and I wish you and your entire, so capable staff a very happy Passover holiday.

Jack and Cecily Flamer, Chatsworth

The War at Home

Just wanted to let Rob Eshman know that he wrote a great article on “The War at Home” (April 18). Three-hundred and fifty people killed in one year in Los Angeles alone? It is amazing how many problems go unreported by the major news media.

Thanks for reporting on the extremely high murder rate here in Los Angeles, which has been invisible by the major news media. Your article helps create the first step — awareness. Hopefully, enough people read it.

What’s the next step? Your suggestion for individuals — community leaders and anyone who is willing to make contact with L.A. leaders — was that speaking out is key. I hope your message is heard.

Mike Cohen , Sherman Oaks

Between 1997 and 2001, a total of 5,960 Los Angeles County residents were killed by guns. Where is the outrage? “The War at Home” echoes a message we at Women Against Gun Violence try hard to share.

Those who protest the war in Iraq need also to turn their energies to protesting this war at home. Support Sheriff Baca and Chief Bratton’s request for resources.

Ask them, and all law enforcement, to focus their attention on where the guns are coming from. How do they so easily get into the hands of young people and those with criminal records? Are there enough resources in programs which trace confiscated guns to help identify gun dealers who sell out the back door? Do legal gun owners lock up their guns so that they cannot be stolen?

By all means send support to the sheriff, and for moreinformation and ways to get involved, contact us at info@wagv.org, or phone (310) 204-2348 and checkout our memorial Web site, with pictures and tributes to victims of gunviolence, at www.wagv.org . Those stories should be enough to help you feel the outrage.

Ann Reiss Lane, Women Against Gun Violence

The Challenge of Pluralism

In Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s piece, “The Challenge of Pluralism in Israel” (April 11), Ehud Bandel is quoted as saying, “The sad reality about religious life in Israel is this unholy alliance between the Orthodox and the secular that says that Judaism is a matter of everything or nothing at all.”

While I agree entirely that Jews are best searching for spirituality “at home,” I find it difficult to understand how Bandel sees Orthodoxy as monolithic or “everything or nothing.” It is clear that no Jew, no matter how righteous or pious, is “all”; no one has reached perfection. Even Moses was denied entry to the Holy Land for his lack of perfection.

Judaism teaches that each and every adherent should strive to the best of his or her ability and to make the greatest possible use of the unique gifts that God has bestowed upon him or her. An Israeli Jew can go to a Sephardi, Azhkenazi, Charedi or Mizrachi community to find like-minded strivers and together create a better Israel, and a better Jewish people.

Manny Saltiel, Los Angeles

Birthright Continues BirthrightIsrael

I was excited to read the features on Birthright Israel in your April 4 issue (“Birthright Continues Despite Setbacks”). As an alumna of the winter 2000-2001 trip, the articles brought back wonderful memories. Birthright Israel provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Israel (free of charge) with people my age, all experiencing the same wonder and excitement together.

I went on my trip with peers from all over the United States, but when I returned, I was anxious to meet people locally that had shared in my experience. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is helping to make this possible. The Federation is currently planning ways for Birthright Israel alums to stay involved and connected through social gatherings, and give back to the community through tzedakah and tikkun olam.

When you hear about the generous financial support The Federation provides for these trips and others like them, you think “Dayenu.” But it’s when you really begin to take advantage of these programs that give you an opportunity to be part of a community, you realize The Federation is doing much, much more.

I hope people will call The Federation’s Israel connections/experiences department at (323) 761-8342 to learn more and get involved.

Kimberly Gordon , Birthright Israel alumna

Helluva Ball Club

I had no idea that baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg was also an outstanding executive in his chosen sport until I read Richard A. Macales’ informative and entertaining article, “Helluva Ball Club.” (April 4). Greenberg’s work in the front office was sadly omitted from the acclaimed documentary film on his life The Journal reviewed some time back.

After I read Macales’s article, I checked the record of Greenberg’s Cleveland and Chicago teams. In 10 years as general manager and/or part owner, his clubs finished first three times and second five times. They never had a losing season and won a then-league record 111 games in 1954.

His son, Steve Greenberg, was deputy commissioner of baseball. It is too bad, as Macales correctly writes, that Greenberg didn’t get the Angels franchise. The Dodgers should have never moved out of Brooklyn. Shame on you for what you did to Brooklyn’s loyal fans and to the Angels team, Walter O’Malley!

Dr. Melvin Myers, Chatsworth

Defining Moment

Your cover story referring to “The American Empire” (“War Marks Defining Moment for Jews,” April 4) was highly inappropriate. An empire as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.”

Has The Jewish Journal now joined the Arab propaganda machine (along with some naive members of the political left wing) in suggesting that the United States plans permanent sovereign rule over the Iraqi people?

I could not have imagined a more inflammatory cover page feeding into the misplaced rage of those who really wish to hurt us all. What’s next? Perhaps a cover story with an expose detailing the Zionist conspiracy behind the empire?

Edith Ellenhorn , Beverly Hills

Your choice of headlines, “Will the American Empire Be Good for the Jews,” on the April 4 issue disturbs me. Without question, I want what is best for the Jews throughout the world, but to put it on the front cover in reference to this war and show concern only for the Jews is wrong. What about Christians and Muslims, will it be good for them? I am fearful that this type of headline will only bring out more anti-Semitism.

Phoebe Reff , Tarzana

Correction

In the Friday listing for the April 4, “7 Days in the Arts,” the “Strange Fruit” songwriter adopted the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.