Illuminating the Jewish chapters of the Los Angeles story

Los Angeles, to the first-time visitor, can seem something of an enigma. Its vast physical spread often spawns negative stereotypes of a city beset by traffic, smog and the absence of a core. And yet, set against this rather dark image, is Los Angeles’ status as a city of global significance, a massive economic and cultural engine whose ethnic mix reflects the way the United States will increasingly look in the 21st century.

It also is a place whose ethos of constant mobility resists the kind of rigid social stratification that many older European and American cities possess. Indeed, what makes Los Angeles such a source of constant appeal to new arrivals is the opportunity to refashion oneself on a constantly evolving, sun-drenched urban landscape.

The Jewish chapter in this story has hardly been a marginal one. As the second-largest Jewish community in North America, the Los Angeles Jewish community boasts a vast range of cultural, religious, ethnic and institutional diversity — evident to the casual observer of the neighborhoods known as Fairfax, Pico-Robertson, North Hollywood, Encino or the neighboring city of Calabasas. But, as important Jews have been a constant and powerful presence in the making and re-making of Los Angeles. The city has invariably made and remade them, as well, enabling Jews to gain prominence in Los Angeles’ economic, cultural and political life.

It is this dynamic relationship that stands at the heart of an ongoing research project undertaken by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and the Autry National Center here that will culminate in a major museum exhibition on the L.A. Jewish experience at the Autry in 2009.

To give a flavor of the way Jews have remade Los Angeles, we recall the role played by three pioneering personalities over the past century and a half of the city’s history. The earliest of the three was Harris Newmark, who came from Prussia to Los Angeles in 1853 as an ambitious 19-year-old in search of opportunity. Soon after his arrival, Newmark learned Spanish and English, the two languages of the city, in order to establish himself as a merchant and wholesaler. As he made his way to economic success, Newmark helped found the Hebrew Benevolent Society and Congregation B’nai B’rith (today Wilshire Boulevard Temple).

But characteristic of his era and of his fellow Jewish pioneers (who hardly counted a minyan in the 1850s), Newmark was not content to remain within the city’s small Jewish circles. He had a deep commitment to civic involvement and served as a founder and trustee of the Los Angeles Public Library, helped to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad to the county and eventually donated a portion of the property where the present City Hall stands. Newmark has particular value to the student of L.A.’s past, because he left behind a richly detailed memoir, “Sixty Years in Southern California , 1853-1913.”

Another Jewish pioneer from a somewhat later period was Rosalind Wiener (later Wyman). In 1953, Wiener was elected to the Los Angeles City Council, the first woman and the first Jew in 50 years to hold a seat on the Council. At 22 years old, she was also the youngest person ever to serve on the council.

Wiener’s election, together with that of her sometime ally Edward Roybal (the first Latino elected to council in nearly 70 years, in 1949), marked the beginning of an important shift in L.A. political life — an opening of the electoral process beyond the hegemony of white conservatives. It was this opening that laid the foundation for the alliance between African Americans and Jews in the 1960s — the vaunted Bradley Coalition — that altogether reshaped the political landscape of Los Angeles by electing Tom Bradley, an African American, as mayor. Rosalind Wiener Wyman’s election also marked the rise of a well-known phenomenon in today’s intersecting worlds of politics and fundraising — the “Westside,” a codeword for wealthy, liberal and often Jewish patrons of Democratic politics.

The third and final Jewish figure to be mentioned who has helped remake Los Angeles is Eli Broad. Born in New York but raised in Michigan, Broad made his substantial fortune in home-building and finance, two related fields with a very significant Jewish presence in Los Angeles. For the past decade, Broad has committed himself chiefly to philanthropy, supporting a wide array of artistic, cultural, and educational causes in town and beyond. But perhaps his boldest plan is his desire to remake downtown Los Angeles. Broad has invested heavily through his own money, his fundraising and his efforts to persuade others to help in transforming Grand Avenue and the area near Frank Gehry’s landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall into an area of bustling activity, marked by great architectural and cultural distinction. Indeed, he has spoken often of the goal of making Grand Avenue a kind of Champs Elysees of Los Angeles. Echoing the visions of both New York’s Robert Moses and Pittsburgh’s Andrew Carnegie, Broad has become the leading civic patron of Los Angeles today.

The three figures mentioned here, two transplants and a native daughter, share a vision of an civic commitment to a vibrant Los Angeles. Their extensive involvement in the making of Los Angeles attests less to their Jewish practices and beliefs than to their ability to play a pivotal role in expanding the city’s political, cultural and economic horizons. Without question, Los Angeles has risen as a result of the many diverse ethnic groups who make up its cultural fabric — including Latinos, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Persians and Armenians. And yet, it is impossible to conceive of this city without the Jews — the captains of industry, studio moguls, political activists, cultural creators and hundreds of thousands of others from all corners of the globe who have ceaselessly remade its image.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and directs the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA. Karen S. Wilson is a doctoral student in U. S. history at UCLA.

Critics Pound Paper Panning Israel Lobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharon Feels Heat From Home, Abroad

The diplomatic reprieve that followed Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip appears to be over, with Ariel Sharon feeling political pressure both at home and from abroad.

The surprise ouster last week of the prime minister’s coalition partner, Labor Party chief, Shimon Peres, has thrown Israeli politics into disarray. Peres’ successor, trade union leader Amir Peretz, has made clear that he’ll take Labor out of the government — either by agreement or by backing a Knesset no-confidence motion on Sharon.

“The question is not if but when the coalition will fall apart,” a Sharon confidant said Sunday. “Peretz is most definitely not Peres.”

Sharon long had hinted that his Likud Party’s alliance with Labor was a marriage of convenience to facilitate the summer pullout from Gaza, but a split this early is more than inconvenient when it comes to peacemaking with the Palestinians. According to the confidant, Sharon had intended to wait for the outcome of January parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority to assess the prospects of new negotiations.

The question is whether Hamas will take part in the Palestinian vote, and whether its electoral gains will be so great as to rule out any long-term Israeli-Palestinian accord.

A senior U.S. State Department official, speaking before a visit to Israel this week by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said there was concern that diplomacy would be hamstrung if Sharon’s government is toppled and Israel goes to early elections.

“What we don’t want here is to be kept in a holding pattern,” the official told reporters.

Impatience was showing in Gaza, where James Wolfensohn, special envoy for the “Quartet” of foreign peace mediators, was quoted as saying he could end his mission in protest this week, unless there is progress in talks on Palestinian border crossings from Gaza to the outside world.

“I do believe that Secretary Rice is very keen to make sure that the deal is done,” he said.

For her part, Rice praised Sharon’s steadfastness and endorsed his demand that the Palestinian Authority meet its obligations under the “road map” peace plan to crack down on terrorism.

But she added, “The Israelis have very important road map obligations, and we will talk about that, too.”

“Israel should do nothing to prejudge final status or the outlines of a final settlement,” Rice said, an apparent allusion to Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements and, perhaps, its construction of a security fence that dips into West Bank land that the Palestinians claim.

The security fence won praise from a different corner of U.S. politics. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who was visiting Israel with her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea. They were there to attend memorial events marking the 10th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

“I have to support the Israeli government decision to use this as a means to try and prevent terrorists from coming across,” she said. “The Palestinian people have to help prevent terrorism. They have to change attitudes. It has to start with the Palestinian Authority and go throughout the entire society.”

Former President Clinton also had words of support for Sharon and his “astonishingly courageous withdrawal from Gaza.”

He warned Israel not to continue with unilateral measures such as the Gaza withdrawal, saying, “As a strategy for the long term, the idea that Israel can proceed unilaterally forever, without a cooperative relationship with a successful Palestinian state, it seems to me highly premature to make that concession.”


Entrapment, Surrender and Silence

If recent press reports regarding the government case against two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) employees are to be believed, then I am increasingly outraged at the government’s case, AIPAC’s response and the silence of the American Jewish community.

A word of caution is in order: Because grand jury testimony is secret — or at least should be — we do not know the full nature of the government’s case against these individuals, and will not know it unless an indictment is delivered and they are charged with a specific crime or crimes. But press reports, if they are accurate, point to an outrageous setup of the two and a muteness on the part of our community.

According to recent reports in the Washington Post and Ha’aretz, Keith Weissman, an AIPAC staff member, was told by Lawrence Franklin, a midlevel Pentagon official working in the office of Assistant Secretary of Defense Doug Feith, secret information that the Iranian government had targeted Israeli agents working with the Kurds for death in Iraq. According to the newspapers, he then took that information to his superior in AIPAC, Steven Rosen, who made three calls: two to check out the story and a third to warn the Israelis of risks to their agents in the field.

Given what Weissman was told — the information turns out to have been false, deliberately so because Franklin had set him up — Rosen could assume that Israel, an ally of the United States in the region, was working with the full knowledge and consent — active or tacit — of the United States. One may presume that the Israeli government or Israeli intelligence would not operate in such a sensitive area of American activity during wartime without finding a way of informing their ally.

Secondly, an American government official working in an office so friendly to Israel would not casually leak such sensitive information. There was a purpose; the information was to be conveyed elsewhere. In short, the Israelis were to be warned.

This is not the Jonathan Pollard case.

Neither Rosen nor Weissman were American government officials who had broken the laws of secrecy, the commitments that come with any level of security clearance, let alone top-secret clearance. They were not agents of a foreign government (although it seems that this is the goal of the U.S. government investigators and prosecutors — to require Americans Jews working in the U.S.-Israel foreign policy arena to declare themselves foreign agents of Israel). The Israeli government did not pay them for their services. They did not transmit documents.

If press reports are correct, they had acted as conduits for information leaked to them that was designed to save the lives of Israelis working with the consent and knowledge of the United States — at purposes agreed upon by the United States — to support American policy and the interests of both the United States and Israel.

Little did they know and less could they imagine that the information given to them was a sting operation by government investigators who already knew Franklin, the American government official, would be charged with criminal misconduct for allegedly mishandling classified documents by removing them from his office and taking them to his home.

Rosen and Weissman were attempting to save lives, not compromise lives or engage in a political vendetta. They had every reason to believe that they were operating with the active consent of the Pentagon, which had given them the information in the first place. According to press reports, they did not solicit the information; they merely listened to what was told them.

AIPAC initially gave these two officials administrative leave, continued them on salary and agreed to pay for their defense. They were working for AIPAC and trying to save Israeli lives, trying to further the alliance of the United States and Israel.

It seems that over the past month — in advance of its much-heralded and highly successful conference that featured U.S. government officials from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on down — AIPAC caved and fired these officials. It has told its key supporters that it will continue to fund their defense, but it has left them to fend for themselves economically at a time when both men will be preoccupied with their own defense and virtually unemployable.

Both of these men have made important contributions to the U.S.-Israel relationship — Weissman, an expert on Iran, and Rosen, a principal architect of the U.S.-Israel strategic cooperative relationship for more than 20 years.

And why the silence of the American Jewish leadership, which should be outraged by government entrapment on civil liberties grounds, and which should be furious that the bait the government chose to use was Israeli lives?

I lived in Washington when Pollard was arrested, and was the editor of a Jewish newspaper who joined the chorus of condemnation of both Pollard and the Israeli government for their ineptitude and stupidity in using an American Jew as an agent. It sent a chill throughout Washington officialdom, especially among a new generation of committed Jews, supporters of Israel, who were working throughout the government in every level of government service and in every agency.

This is different.

Weissman did what any person in his position is supposed to do. He went to his superior with important, albeit secret, information that purported to tell him that Israeli lives were at risk — immediate, tangible risk, information given to him in a quasi-official fashion, but what he presumed to be a most reliable source. And Rosen acted on such information to save the lives of agents working in direct alliance and with the presumed consent of the United States.

This was not a question of dual loyalty or conflicting loyalty, but of saving lives. From the perspective of Jewish tradition, if press reports are to be believed, they acted honorably in a manner prescribed by tradition, and Jews should not be adverse to defending those traditions, affirming those values and to supporting these men.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism.


Love-Bombing of Jews Hitting Mark

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania could hardly contain his delight as he addressed a packed ballroom at the Plaza Hotel while he was in New York for the Republican National Convention.

"Just know I love you!" the GOP senator, a Catholic, shouted to the largely Jewish crowd at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) Salute to the Republican Congress.

After kvelling about how thrilled he was to have been introduced before Republican Sen. Arlen Specter — his Jewish colleague from the Keystone state — Santorum commanded the crowd to go back home and sing the gospel of President Bush. After all, it could help in swing states like his.

"I will not be satisfied with 20 percent of the Jewish vote, I will not be satisfied with 30 percent, I will not be satisfied with 40 percent," he said as the crowd cheered. "George Bush deserves a majority!"

At that, the crowd began to chant, "Four more years! Four more years!"

Santorum was part of a round-robin of Republican lawmakers who are love-bombing Jewish audiences with testimonials about the courage of freedom-loving Jewish people. It’s a far cry from the "some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jews" tone struck by some Republicans of yesteryear and even from the tepid meet-and-greets with Jewish groups at the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia.

This year, Republicans went all out to welcome their Jewish brethren into the GOP fold in a city with a large Jewish population. It’s not just about votes. American Jews find themselves at the center of a new culture war, the one between secular and religious America, between the blue states and the red ones and the hawks and the doves. And the Republicans want them on their side.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) stated it most clearly.

"There is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there is only the global war on terrorism," DeLay said at the Plaza Hotel recently. "On one side stands the United States, Israel and dozens of [other] countries. On the other side stand Yasser Arafat, Al Qaeda and an Axis of Evil bent on the destruction of Israel. All the rest is a question of commentary."

DeLay had thrown down the gauntlet, and the crowd of 1,500 began to cheer. John Kerry, DeLay continued, thinks the war on terror "depends on France and Germany. George W. Bush thinks the war on terror depends on fearless American leadership. That’s the difference that defines them."

A day earlier, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman struck a similar note at an event sponsored by three Jewish groups. Their message was that a vote for Bush is a vote for moral clarity; multilateralism is just a fancy word for appeasement.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), like Giuliani a possible presidential candidate in 2008, also spoke at the event.

At every step, the Republicans message was clear: New York and Jerusalem are closer than you think. When Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center, America became even more inextricably linked with Israel. The Bush campaign has given the Jews a leading role in the central narrative of the 2004 campaign.

It’s a unique position for a traditionally Democratic constituency. But there’s some logic to it. Since Sept. 11, beleaguered Israel has become a symbol for the U.S. war on terrorism, with the Israelis standing in proxy for the Americans and the Palestinians wearing the face of the whole Arab world.

As such, Israel has become a kind of GOP mascot, one that also plays into Bush’s own religiosity. Israel resonates both in the Bible Belt and the Big Apple.

The Republican efforts may be working. Susan Canter, a registered Democrat who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, explained why she was backing Bush after having voted for Al Gore in 2000.

"He’s just so pro-Israel," said Canter, a lawyer. "There’s been no American president who’s ever come with such strong support for Israel…. I can’t think of not voting for him."

And of course there’s former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who has emerged as one of the most vocal pro-Bush Democrats.

"He knows that Israel faces international terrorism every day, and so do we, and that they are not willing to submit as other countries are, and he’s not going to run out on them," Koch said. "And it happens that international terrorism is threatening to both the United States and Israel. I mean, what they want to do is kill us!"

Koch seems to speak for those who are voting for a commander in chief as much as a president. Indeed, the Bush campaign seems to be taking pains to draw a direct line from Ronald Reagan, the man who toppled the Soviet Union, to Bush, leader in the war on terror.

The narrative conveniently skips Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, who was seen as no friend of Israel during his term from 1988 to 1992. In his failed re-election bid, the elder Bush received only 11 percent of the Jewish vote in 1992.

"Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan spoke with moral clarity of the nature of the Soviet Union, and it had big-time political consequences," Mehlman said at the Jewish community event on Aug. 29. In a five-minute speech, Mehlman used the term "moral clarity" at least four times.

But even if they’re backing Bush on foreign policy, some Jews are concerned about the evangelical Christian right’s sway with the Bush administration. They did not take kindly to the display at Madison Square Garden during the convention’s first night, when the light and dark wood paneling on the speakers’ lectern took on the unmistakable form of a cross.

The National Jewish Democratic Coalition issued a press release the following day, calling it "the very height of insensitivity" for the Republicans to feature a cross at the center of the podium.

"This wooden cross must be at least 3 feet tall, and it sends a signal of exclusivity loudly and clearly," said Ira Forman, the organization’s executive director.

Others see no threat. "They still think I’m going to hell, because I have not accepted Jeeesus Chrast as mah per-son-al sa-vior," Jonathan Paull from Houston said, adopting a Texas drawl not otherwise evident in his speech as he mingled at the Jewish community event. "I don’t care."

The young attorney said he was voting for Bush because of "a political reality."

Still in New York, where progressive passions have long run high in the Jewish community, there is a core of Jewish voters that remains steadfastly anti-Bush. These Jews don’t cheer when Republicans invoke the mantra of Jewish persecution, and they don’t clap when Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said at the Plaza that "there is nothing they [the terrorists] want but your death and entire elimination from the planet."

Instead, they’ve been protesting. Standing outside the Plaza, a group called Jews for Racial and Economic Justice waved signs reading "elephants are not kosher" and chanted angry slogans peppered with Yiddishisms. "No war in our name, it’s a shanda, it’s a shame," they recited over and over.

As the election nears, Democratic Jewish leaders know they’re in a bind about foreign policy and have been trying to shift the debate away from Israel to trigger issues like abortion, education and the separation of church and state.

"I think it is a mistake to go after George Bush on Israel, because the Jewish community thinks he has been very good on Israel," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "So here’s what I tell Jewish voters: George Bush is good on Israel, but why vote for someone who you disagree with on everything else? Why let your loyalties to Israel be split from your loyalties on other issues?"

Schumer’s message could help stem some Jewish drift toward the GOP, but it’s hard not to see it as a concession of sorts, an admission by the Democrats that the Republicans have defined the terms of the debate so effectively that it’s not even worth competing on the same rhetorical battlefield.

This shift would have seemed improbable, almost farcical, four years ago, when Al Gore tapped Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as his Democratic running mate. Lieberman became the first Jew to run on a major party’s national ticket.

For some Jewish Democrats, Lieberman’s nomination was the culmination of its long relationship with the party — particularly since the Republicans had chosen as their candidate the son of a president who was unpopular with the Jews, and who also happened to be a cowboy and an evangelical Christian, who they feared would blur the boundaries between church and state.

It may just be a kind of provincial ignorance, but in the Jewish heartland of New York City, let’s face it, neither of these images played terribly well.

But in the intervening years, some of these same Jews have changed their minds. While few Jewish voters feel much passion for Kerry — even if they are planning on voting for him — Jews for Bush speak about their candidate with an almost religious fervor. It’s the kind of passion that gets them chanting, "Four more years, four more years!" at rallies, and makes this strange new marriage between New York sophisticates and a Texas cowboy seem almost beshert (ordained).

All this may seem like an awful lot of work to win just 4 percent of the voting public. But in today’s frozen political landscape, in which the electorate has hardened into blocks of stubborn Republicans and stubborn Democrats, the support of a well-placed fraction of the Jewish community can ripple and multiply into influence. In states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the election will be close, every vote counts.

"If you look at the states that are close, the change in the Jewish vote could actually throw the election into Republican hands," said Fred Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and a prominent Texas fundraiser who has been working with the Bush campaign on Jewish outreach. "So obviously, we are focusing on the Jewish vote in states that could change the election."

Since 2000, the RJC has opened branches in Florida, Southern California, Philadelphia and New York and is looking to start a Midwest regional office. Its membership has swelled to 12,000 from 2,500.

It’s also focusing on younger Jewish voters who may be less tied to party affiliations than their New Deal Democrat grandparents and civil rights era parents, said Greg Menken, 31, who directs the year-old New York RJC chapter.

Yet even as Republican Jewish events celebrated Jewish strength in the face of adversity, a strange kind of energy also coursed through the crowd. Whenever a speaker says words to the effect that "the very existence of the State of Israel is now under siege," the audience applauds. Of course, they’re applauding, because they agree with the speaker, not because they’re happy about the current state of affairs.

Yet at the same time, these Jews seem to show a certain pride, a sense of vindication that the Republicans are beginning to see how ugly things can get. Who knows how it’ll play. What’s bad for the Jews might turn out to be good for Bush.


Who’s to Blame for Palestinian Despair?

Like many hothead progressives around the world, I preach
antiracism, teach multiculturalism and recognize the United States to
be a politically and culturally imperialistic society.

Proper revolutionary that I am, I have no problem with
guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, and I fully recognize that
“terrorism” can be a political term used to invalidate the violent behavior of
one group and justify that of another.

One might say I’m an all-around, groovy radical. And yet,
I’ve got a major problem with compassion for Palestinian suicide bombers
blowing up Israeli citizens.

Sure, progressive folk cluck in sympathy when the leg of an
Israeli girl flies clear across a pizzeria or when the spine of an Israeli boy
gets sliced by shrapnel. This sound of distress, however, often is accompanied
by an undertone of accusation: It is Israel’s fault, the narrative goes, that
these tragedies happen; by creating Palestinian desperation, Israel has created
Palestinian terrorism.

Clearly, Palestinians are suffering, and their situation
must be remedied — the sooner the better. The question is, who was responsible
for creating their situation and who is accountable for remedying it?

The Arab world is called just that for a reason: Beginning
in the Arabian Peninsula about 1,300 years ago, Arab Muslims launched a brutal
campaign of invasion and conquest, taking over lands across the Middle East and
North Africa. Throughout the region, Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Copts and Jews
were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death and in the name of

Jews were one of the few indigenous Middle Eastern peoples
to resist conversion to Islam, the result being they were given the status of
dhimmi — legally second-class, inferior people. In the best of circumstances,
Jews were spared death but forced to endure an onslaught of humiliating legal
restrictions — forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from
entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically
or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims.

When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to
participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would
flourish, both socially and economically. On numerous occasions, however, the
response to that success was a wave of harassment or massacre of Jews
instigated by the government or the masses.

This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of
subservience: They could participate in the society around them, they could
enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab
Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.

The Arab-Israel relationship and the current crisis occur in
the greater context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for
1,300 years. Most recently, anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world
in the 1930s and 1940s.

Jews were assaulted, tortured, murdered and forced to flee
from their homes of thousands of years. Throughout the region, Jewish property
was confiscated and nationalized, collectively worth hundreds of millions of
dollars at the time.

Yet the world has never witnessed Middle Eastern and North
African Jews blowing themselves up and taking scores of Arab innocents with
them out of anger or desperation for what Arab states did to the Jewish people.

Despite the fact that there were 900,000 Jewish refugees
from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we do not even hear about a
Middle Eastern/North African Jewish refugee problem today, because Israel
absorbed most of the refugees. For decades, they and their children have been
the majority of Israel’s Jewish population, with numbers as high as 70 percent.

To the contrary, Arab states did not absorb refugees from
the war against Israel in 1948. Instead, they built squalid camps in the West
Bank and Gaza — at the time controlled by Jordan and Egypt — and dumped the
refugees in them, Arabs doomed to become pawns in a political war against

Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and
Lebanon funded assaults against Israeli citizens instead of funding basic
medical, educational and housing needs of Palestinian refugee families.

In 1967, Israel inherited the Palestinian refugee problem
through a defensive war. When Israel tried to build housing for the refugees in
Gaza, Arab states led votes against it in U.N. resolutions, because absorption
would change the status of the refugees. But wasn’t that the moral objective?

Israel went on to give more money to the Palestinian
refugees than all but three of the Arab states combined, prior to transferring
responsibility of the territories to the Palestinian Authority in the
mid-1990s. Israel built hospitals and educational institutions for Palestinians
in the territories. Israel trained the Palestinian police force.

And yet, the 22 Arab states dominate both the land and the
wealth of the region. So who is responsible for creating Palestinian

Tragically, the Arab propaganda war against Israel has been
a brilliant success, laying on Israel all the blame for the Palestinian refugee
problem. By refusing to hold Arab states accountable for their own actions, by
feeling sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers instead of outrage at the Arab
propaganda creating this phenomenon, the “progressive” movement continues to
feed the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East. Â

Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of
“The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle
Eastern Jewish Heritage” (Seal Press), and she is an Israel correspondent for
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. You can find her on the web at

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.