What do Dennis Prager, Jimmy Carter, Mel Gibson and General Motors have in common?


Understanding Prager

Your Dec. 8 edition of The Journal had two prominent headlines regarding recent comments made by Dennis Prager. These headlines stated: “Prager Won’t Apologize After Slamming Quran in Congress” and “Prager Opposition to Quran in Congress Rite Draws Fire.”

Since I previously read Prager’s commentary regarding the new Muslim congressman wanting to use the Quran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony, it was difficult to reconcile both your headlines and the related article. Nowhere did we see Prager “slam” or “oppose” in a practical sense. Rather, his commentary sought to perpetuate American values for this traditional congressional swearing in ceremony. Our courts also use a similar process to swear in witnesses and assure truthful testimony. Will our court system be next in line?

Your paper was quite transparent in editorializing against, not reporting, Prager’s position. Moreover, some of the same Jewish leaders named as Prager’s critics have also been at the forefront of keeping religious and Jewish symbols out of our secular society.

In this latter instance, the constitutional separation of church and state argument is invoked. Interesting how they now cloak their argument against Prager with another constitutional position, i.e., the First Amendment.

You also cite an Islamic advocacy group, which vehemently attacks Prager both personally and via his position on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Instead of overreacting to political correctness, we would be better served by pursuing the real facts and premise here.

Steven Fishbein
Sacramento

Talented Mel

I pay tribute to Mel Gibson … and believe that the word police are alive and well out there. (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto,’ Now,” Dec. 8).

How many of us are innocent of never making a racial or ethnic slur? Because he is who he is, the media goes after him, waiting for him to mess up and nail him. So what — they are only words. I believe he is a most talented actor and director no matter what anyone says … and will probably go back and see [“Apocalypto”] again.

J. Sklair
Via e-mail

General Motors

The series, “Hitler’s Carmaker,” by Edwin Black examines once again the role of Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary, in the period before and during World War II (“Hitler’s Carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine,” Dec. 1).

It has been well documented that, like all German companies, Opel participated in the rebuilding of German industry during the 1930s. As Germany rearmed, Opel sold trucks and other vehicles to the German military, as did all other German vehicle manufacturers.

In independent research supported by GM, historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. concluded that GM executives in charge of Opel strove to evade Nazi demands to convert the firm’s main factory for production of dedicated war material. His book, “General Motors and the Nazis” (Yale University Press, 2005), documents that by mid-1940, soon after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had taken complete control of operations at Opel.

It was during this later period, from 1940 though 1945, that the Nazis turned to forced labor to bolster Germany’s manufacturing industry, and that sanctions against Jews and others grew into the horrors of the Holocaust.

During this period, GM had no role in supporting the Nazi regime. In fact, GM became a key part of the American war effort, without which the Nazis might have remained in power for many years longerGeneral Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era.

While “Hitler’s Carmaker” makes for compelling reading, it is not news. It covers a period of history that has been extensively researched. For example, following in-depth investigations in 1999, Opel made a $15 million contribution to the German multicompany Trust Fund Initiative to compensate forced labor workers and their survivors.

Nor does it reflect the General Motors of today, which is firmly committed to basic human rights. These principles, spelled out in GM’s Human Rights and Labor Standards, the Global Sullivan Principles and related documents, are proudly supported by the men and women of GM around the globe.

Steven J. Harris
Vice President, Communications
General Motors Corp.

Playing With the Facts

Perhaps President Carter’s latest book is not “Mein Kampf” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but give his supporters more time to play with the facts (“With Friends Like These…” Dec. 15). For example: The response to [Theodor] Herzl’s gentle diplomacy was “Protocols of Zion”; the Palestinian response to Jewish immigration of legally purchased land where the Jews did their own labor, at slave level, were pogroms (called riots); Palestinian Nazification erupted with Hitler’s ally in genocide, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and blossomed with Arab Ph.Ds in Holocaust denial; currently there is mass Nazi education for Palestinian youth.

Don’t worry, give Carter’s book time.

Meanwhile, I hereby nominate his book for the “Janjaweed Martyrs of the Year” award.

Charles S. Berdiansky
West Hollywood

Vegan Versions

My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart’s annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast (“Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast,” Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it’s easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.

Michael Croland
Norfolk, Va.

Correction:The Dec. 15 Journal cover illustration should have been credited to Steve Greenberg. The Journal regrets the error.

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Lebanon War: Mission Accomplished


Contrary to what is now the accepted wisdom in the media, Hezbollah, in its recent offensive against Israel, neither badly bloodied the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) nor fought it
to a standstill.

In fact, the opposite is the case.

By any legitimate measure, the IDF handed a resounding military defeat to Hezbollah, and while Israel’s soldiers did not cure the cancer that is Hezbollah, they did send it into remission.

From a military perspective, there can be absolutely no doubt as to the results of Hezbollah and Iran’s offensive against Israel. It was a defeat. Every part of their war plan, except the manipulation of the media, failed.

Hezbollah expected and planned for a massive charge of Israeli armor into Southern Lebanon. The amounts and types of anti-tank weapons they acquired and had operationally deployed in their forward positions, as well as their secondary and tertiary bands of fortresses and strongholds through southern Lebanon, attest to this fact. They intended to do in mountainous terrain what Egypt had so effectively done in the Sinai Desert in the Yom Kippur War.

In that war, Sinai indeed became a graveyard for Israeli armor. Egypt destroyed hundreds of Israeli tanks. Whole brigades were decimated in single battles by the Egyptians’ highly effective anti-tank missile ambushes. In that war, almost 3,000 Israeli soldiers were killed. That was Hezbollah’s plan. It was a good one. And it failed.

Just prior to the cease-fire, Israel suffered 29 tanks hit. Of those, 25 were back in service within 24 hours. Israel suffered 117 soldiers killed in four weeks of combat. As painful as those individual losses were to their families and to the Israeli collective psyche, which views all its soldiers as their biological sons and daughters, those numbers in fact represent the fewest casualties suffered by Israel in any of its major conflicts.

In 1948, Israel suffered 6,000 killed. In 1967, in what was regarded as its most decisive victory, Israel lost almost 700 killed in six days. In 1973, Israel lost 2,700 killed, and in the first week of the first war in Lebanon, Israel suffered 176 soldiers killed.

Why then the impression of massive Israeli casualties in clear contrast to the actual numbers of those killed? It is because the Israeli army is a citizen’s army. It is made up of everyone’s child, everyone’s brother or sister, aunt or uncle. The nation, as a whole, mourned the loss of its children quite literally, as if they were the sons and daughters of each and every family.

Were I, as an Israeli officer in the military spokesperson’s unit, to have made a statement to the Israeli press about the actual lightness of Israel’s casualties, I would, at the least, have been relieved of duties, if not also of rank.

Indeed, members of my unit volunteered to a man to go into Lebanon under fire to help retrieve the bodies of four fallen soldiers and make sure that reporters (who by that time were reported to be simply driving into Lebanon) could not broadcast pictures before the families were notified. We provided an additional covering force, as well, against Hezbollah, while medics and a rabbi safeguarded the sanctity of the remains of four kids, younger than my 22-year-old son. We did so not only not under orders but in violation of orders, because we were all of us fathers, as well as soldiers, and these were not only our comrades in arms but our sons. We were there to bring them home.

That is the emotion. But the numbers are different. They are the lightest casualties suffered by the IDF in all of its wars.

Military historians will spend years deciphering why exactly this was so. Was Israel’s government and its general staff, by its refusal to commit large numbers of forces for the first three weeks of combat, in fact making a highly intelligent strategic choice? Possibly.

Possibly it was dumb luck or divine intervention. Either way it meant three things:

  1. Hezbollah’s ambush never happened, because Israel didn’t take the bait. Instead, it used air power and then a series of probing raids, primarily by infantry, to methodically, slowly identify and root out the enemy positions.
  2. It meant that those small numbers of troops deployed into Lebanon in the first weeks of fighting had to do more with less than perhaps any other Israeli fighters in any other war. Certainly in other wars, there were many individual battles in which so much was expected of and accomplished by so few. But no war comes to mind in which so few soldiers were deployed across an entire front.

    They performed brilliantly and with uncommon courage in the face of withering fire from heavily fortified and prepared positions. These were draft-age soldiers: 18- and nineteen-year-olds, commanded on the platoon and company levels by 20-somethings, none of whom had ever faced anything remotely like the combat against Hezbollah’s terrorist army. In spite of what many see as the logistical and command failures of their superiors, they performed brilliantly and achieved their objectives.

  3. When the vast bulk of Israel’s force was finally deployed, made up primarily of its reservists, these soldiers achieved in 48 hours what many believe they should have been given weeks to accomplish. Despite logistical failures, some times fighting without food or water, Israel’s soldiers, regular army and reserves alike, handed Hezbollah a decisive military defeat.

All of Hezbollah’s Siegfried Line-like system of fortresses and strongholds, their network of command and control bunkers along Israel’s northern border were destroyed, abandoned or under the control of the IDF by the end of the hostilities. Hezbollah’s miniterrorist state within a state south of the Litani had been dismantled.

Its terrorist capital within a capital in Beirut, its command and control center and infrastructure were in ruins. In the end, it sought and accepted a cease-fire resolution in the United Nations that provided the framework for Israel to achieve all of its stated war aims. This last point is of no minor consequence both in terms of what Israel achieved and failed to achieve in the counteroffensive it waged against Hezbollah.

I can speak to this subject with some degree of expertise, since I was one of the people tasked with putting into a simple declarative sentence what the IDF’s mission was as handed down to it by Israel’s democratically elected political leaders. The sentence defining the IDF’s mission read as follows:

NGOs Feel Sting of Hamas Ban


Nearly three months since Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority, Western governments aren’t the only ones trying to figure out how to deliver aid to the increasingly needy Palestinian population without inadvertently supporting its extremist government.

Nongovernmental organizations — which Western governments opposed to ties with Hamas view as the most viable medium for delivering aid to the Palestinians — are themselves running into problems trying to maintain their operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

With the Palestinian Authority in disarray and Western governments still in the process of defining what is permissible vis-?-vis links to the Hamas-run government, many nonprofit groups operating in Palestinian areas are facing serious funding problems, confusion about whom they are allowed to talk to and work with, and the challenge of having to establish ties with a completely new — and far less institutionalized — Palestinian bureaucracy.

The situation is nothing short of a crisis, many officials with these groups, sometimes known as NGOs, here say.

“I have never seen as much policy confusion in government as I have seen when Hamas was elected in the Palestinian Authority,” said John Bell, director of the Jerusalem office of Search for Common Ground in the Middle East.

“Who can we have contact with? Can we be in the same room as a Hamas person? There are many legal issues for us to consider,” Bell said. “Unfortunately, we’re a bit in the realm of the absurd.”

A variety of officials from nonprofits operating in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip discussed the challenges of operating in Hamas-run territory at a conference last week on nonprofits, human rights and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The forum, hosted by NGO Monitor, was held June 14 at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.

Many officials from nonprofit groups complained that American, European and Israeli restrictions on contacts with the Hamas government are too far-reaching, threatening nonpolitical and even pro-peace activities, such as the teaching of coexistence curricula in Palestinian schools. Because those schools are now under the aegis of Hamas, coordination with officials from the Palestinian Education Ministry is now banned by Western governments.

“It’s virtually impossible to fund Palestinian society today in the West Bank without encountering Hamas,” said Daniel Seideman, legal adviser to Ir Amim, an Israeli group that advocates for a binational Jerusalem and promotes services to Palestinian residents of the city.

But many Western observers argue that the funding crisis in the Palestinian Authority — precipitated by Western sanctions — is a necessary part of getting the Hamas-run government to abandon terrorism.

“This crisis is necessary and overdue,” said Saul Singer, an Israeli newspaper columnist who spoke at the conference. The idea, Singer explained, is to use the crisis to force Hamas to accept the principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We’re talking about a game of chicken here,” Singer said, between the principles of Hamas, a terrorist group that mandates Israel’s destruction, on the one hand, and the principles of the international community — abandonment of terrorism, recognition of Israel and acceptance of existing Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements — on the other.

“I think Hamas should give in,” Singer said.

While this game is played, however, groups funded by Western governments must figure out how to adjust to the new reality of maintaining their activities in a territory where cooperation with the local government is restricted.

There are pitfalls and obstacles everywhere, officials with these groups say.

Other organizations report that donors’ targeted gifts are harder to use because of the new bans. Some say they have been forced to return funds to donors.

Gershon Baskin, co-CEO of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, says his group does not accept funding from the Palestinian or Israeli governments in order to steer clear of restrictions and conflicts of interest. But his reliance on other governments, such as that of the United States, has come at a cost.

According to Bell, the United States is more stringent than Israel when it comes to restrictions on nonprofits’ activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The United States “is putting out extremely stringent demands and conditions,” Bell said. “The Israelis are a lot more practical about it. They know things have to be done, and they’re trying to get them done while at the same time the U.S. government is prohibiting very common-sense activities.”

Many officials with nonprofit groups say Western bans on contacts with Hamas should be more nuanced — both to facilitate easier aid to the Palestinians and to help bring Hamas around to a more moderate point of view.

“I understand the logic behind a government boycotting Hamas,” Baskin said. “I don’t think that has to limit nongovernmental actors in trying to effect change.”

“I would like to see the international community looking for ways that can help us to move the Hamas from where it is to a different place, to a better place, to a reformed political platform, which I believe is inevitable,” Baskin said. “We have to be very careful about both boycotts against Israel and boycotts against Palestine that prevent peaceful NGOs from doing their work.”

 

Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes


When former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine agreed to chair the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), he hoped to infuse it with the passion and purpose of its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In those days, the JCRC — which is one of the major voices and faces of The Federation to the non-Jewish world — was a high-profile entity. It took up the cause of Soviet Jewry and Ethiopia’s Jews. It was assertive locally, too, whether in denouncing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 or reaching out to non-Jewish communities in need.

But something has happened during the John Fishel era at The Federation.

Critics say that starting in the mid-1990s, the JCRC slowly began losing its voice and shirked a core mission: to be as visible and forthrightly active as possible.

As Levine saw it, the community relations committee could once again become a powerful voice by taking principled stands on controversial public policy issues, thereby strengthening coalitions with African American, Latino and other ethnic groups.

Levine’s appointment came at a time when JCRC staff morale was low. The committee had largely abandoned public policy advocacy in favor of its more traditional roles of ardently supporting Israel, reaching out to other religious and ethnic communities and lobbying for government dollars for social programs. Under Fishel, the JCRC has seen its influence, as well as staff and budget, shrink.

“John Fishel doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it,” said Howard Welinsky, a former JCRC chair. He said that Fishel constantly pushed to downsize the JCRC during Welinsky’s two-year term in the late ’90s.

But Fishel’s view is that the political climate simply evolved. The JCRC has “a unique function,” he said, but the community itself no longer always coalesces, through the committee, as one voice. There are no longer such issues of broad agreement, such as support for Soviet Jewry.

“I think it’s become much more difficult for the JCRC to define what becomes an issue of Jewish concern,” Fishel said.

To be sure, JCRCs across the country have seen budgets shrink as federations’ resources dipped. After the successful immigration to Israel of nearly 1 million Soviet Jews — a Herculean undertaking that community relations councils around the nation helped orchestrate — several JCRCs experienced periods of “searching for meaning,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the New York-based parent organization for 125 community relations councils nationwide.

Which is why the appointment of former Rep. Levine was so welcomed. Given his political connections in Sacramento and Washington and his energy and dedication, JCRC supporters believed Levine would restore the committee’s lost luster.

When the Israeli embassy contacted Levine, seeking JCRC public support for Israel’s planned withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza, he set about building consensus. Although Levine eventually succeeded in putting the JCRC on record as favoring the withdrawal — a position shared by the majority of American Jews — he said he felt frustrated that it took so long for The Federation to sign off on the public pronouncement. And by this time, The Federation was following the train of opinion shapers, rather than leading it.

Time was, the local JCRC, with The Federation’s blessing, took controversial stands on issues of the day, said Steven Windmueller, the committee’s director from 1985 to 1995. In those heady times, the JCRC opposed the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and spoke out in support of abortion rights, he said.

Although those positions angered some Jews in the community, Windmueller said the committee’s views reflected those held by the majority of the Southland’s liberal-leaning Jews. The JCRC’s willingness to take those and other positions, Windmueller said, attracted scores of young people to the committee, which served as a gateway to the Jewish community for many. Some later went on to became Federation donors, he added.

About a decade ago, however, the L.A, Federation, like some others around the country, began discouraging the local JCRC from venturing into controversial public policy matters, Windmueller said. With competition for charitable dollars heating up, many federations concluded that the risk of alienating conservative donors outweighed the benefit of taking liberal stands. Increasingly, most JCRCs left political advocacy, whether liberal or conservative, to other groups.

In Southern California, that void was filled by the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, StandWithUs, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), among others. Ironically, the PJA’s willingness to fight against sweatshops and the exploitation of hotel workers along with its boldness in embracing the sort of left-of-center causes once championed by the local JCRC has helped swell its ranks to 3,500. With half its members under 30, the alliance, which just opened a second office in the Bay Area, has succeeded in reaching a demographic coveted by Fishel’s Federation.

“What we find is that pursuing a positive, progressive Jewish response to the issues of the day is profoundly inspiring , especially to young people who one day will be our community leaders and donors,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

Two of the nation’s most robust JCRCs are among the most politically liberal. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has a staff of 24 and a $3 million budget, while the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council employs 20, with a budget of $2.1 million. By contrast, the local JCRC has five full-time and two part-time staffers and an annual budget of $1.2 million. Unlike Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco have taken bold policy stands recently, with San Francisco, for instance, coming out in favor of same-sex civil marriages.

A left-leaning JCRC wouldn’t fly everywhere, but the formula has consonance with liberal Los Angeles.

Levine had expected the L.A. JCRC to take positions on ballot initiatives, legislation and other political issues, provided he could build consensus. But The Federation’s new chairman of the board, Michael Koss, worried about alienating donors. Koss said he also thought the JCRC would benefit if led by someone who was not strongly identified with either liberal or conservative politics. Koss, who had the authority as Federation chair, did not reappoint Levine. The former congressman, for his part, said he had no interest in a second term given the lack of support.

“Losing Mel Levine for the JCRC or anyplace Mel puts his hat is a loss,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair.

Fishel said he respects Levine but added that Federation chairs make their own appointments. Fishel’s critics counter that it’s his job to show leadership.

Koss tapped corporate attorney Ron Leibow as Levine’s successor. Leibow, former chair of The Federation’s Planning and Allocation Committee, said he plans to revitalize the JCRC and has made reaching out to ethnic groups, especially Latinos, a priority.

Those involved with JCRC are determined to make a positive difference. Under new JCRC Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, the committee has added paid staff and seen its budget increase. Several JCRC programs have grown in importance. The Holy Land Democracy Project, for instance, has helped teach thousands of area Catholic high school students about Israel, while, simultaneously, tightening links between Jews and Catholics. The JCRC continues to take elected leaders on trips to Israel — to expose them to the Jewish state and to Jewish issues.

But a recent, tentative step back into the political fray was telling, when the JCRC encountered some Federation resistance and withdrew, for now, a pro-immigrant statement. The scenario unfolded in mid-May, when the JCRC board approved a statement saying that it supported better border security but opposed legislation that would criminalize illegal immigrants. The statement also favored normalizing immigrants’ status, insiders said. JCRC members had hoped the resolution would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community, she said.

The Federation board, however, barely approved the JCRC resolution, so the JCRC has pulled back, while it develops new wording that could attract more support, Schwartz-Getzug said.

That the JCRC still hasn’t come out with a statement weeks after one of the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in U.S. history reflects the committee’s — and, by extension, the Federation’s — cautious approach. Critics might go farther, arguing that this reluctance to take a public stand on immigration illustrate that those institutions no longer speak for the local Jewish community.

“If the Federation isn’t going to take a position on something as important to the Latino community as immigration, even after the huge marches all over the nation, then what in the world do they have to say to the Latino community?” commented Michael Hirschfeld, formerly the top JCRC staff member. Hirschfeld was himself the focus of an earlier JCRC furor: His unexpected 2003 dismissal, after 24 years with the JCRC, generated a firestorm of criticism, and a few calls for Fishel’s resignation.

Levine believes that until Fishel’s Federation either allows the JCRC to become independent or have more autonomy, the committee will serve as little more than an administrator of such programs as KOREH L.A, a well-regarded tutoring program.

“The CRC and Federation are no longer a meaningful political force in the structure of Los Angeles,” said Levine, now a partner in international law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “That’s unfortunate.”

 

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.

 

The View From L.A.: Hoping for the Best


Los Angeles supporters of Israel’s political parties praised or mourned the results of the Knesset election, but even the winners weren’t entirely in a mood to celebrate.

Shimon Erem, a former high-ranking officer in the Israeli army, said he had planned to fly to Israel to cast his ballot for Kadima (Israel has no absentee voting). However, with pre-election predictions that the centrist party would gain around 40 seats, Erem felt his vote wouldn’t be needed.

Instead, Kadima got only 29 seats out of a total of 120, a showing he attributed to “faulty strategy due to overconfidence, to taking its support for granted.”

Dr. Yehuda Handelsman, a veteran leader of the local Israeli community, also backed Kadima, but had been more realistic.

“I think we did pretty well,” he said. “If Ariel Sharon had remained healthy and had led the party, I think we would have gotten 35-40 seats.”

As a new party, Kadima has not yet organized an American support group, but Handelsman predicted the establishment of such an organization in the next two years.

The Labor Party came in second with 19 seats and Bea Chenkin, regional executive director of Ameinu (formerly Labor Zionist Alliance), said she was satisfied.

“Considering that [former Labor Party leader] Shimon Peres jumped ship to join Kadima, we did as well as could be expected,” she said. “A lot of Israelis feel that the social problems of the country have been neglected, but now these issues are coming to the fore again.”

Rabbi Meyer May, president of the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of California, said that the three religious parties had done a good job in mobilizing their base among the generally apathetic electorate.

“Shas, National Union-Religious Party and United Torah Judaism understood that there was a lot at stake for the observant community and managed to retain their strength, May said.

Even among the Orthodox parties, there are strong ethnic and ideological differences, noted Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a Loyola Law School faculty member and an Orthodox leader.

At least one of the religious parties, most likely the less ideological United Torah Judaism, will join a Kadima-led coalition, Adlerstein predicted.

Robert Rechnitz, national vice chairman and Western regional president of American Friends of Likud, said he was “obviously disappointed” by the election results.

Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, had been the largest party in the sitting Knesset, but will have only 12 seats in the next one.

Rechnitz blamed the decline on Sharon’s absence at the top of the ticket and defections by many retired and Orthodox voters, who had been hurt by Netanyahu’s past economic policies, as well as by what he called a “vicious” campaign against Netanyahu in the Israeli media.

The leftist Meretz Party managed only five seats, to the dismay of Dr. Isaac Berman, a national board member of Meretz USA.

“Similar to the Democratic Party here, Meretz didn’t seem to have clear message and didn’t make the right kind of noise,” Berman said.

Views on the road ahead in the peace process varied from wait-and-see resignation to cautious optimism among several community leaders interviewed by The Journal.

Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israeli advocacy group, said the situation in Israel is so fluid that it is difficult to make predictions about how events will unfold. Given the internal and external challenges Israel faces, though, she said that now is a time for unity.

“This is a time when Israelis need to pull together and work together,” Rothstein said. “You have the potential polarization of the Israeli society on the left and right on the inside and the Hamas threat from the outside.

A more upbeat assessment came from Mark LeVine, associate professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine. He said that despite Olmert’s vow to draw Israel’s final borders unilaterally, a negotiated settlement could eventually emerge. Hamas, he said, despite its refusal to recognize Israel, is not opposed to cutting a deal. And because of its standing in the Arab street, the group has the credentials to do so.

“Assuming Hamas doesn’t engage in too much violence either against military targets or terrorism against civilians, I would assume that in the next couple years there’s going to be a repeat of the negotiations you had at Camp David in 2000 and in Taba,” said LeVine, who wrote the 2005 book, “Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil” (Oneworld). “They’re probably going to be using pretty much the same maps.”

A local Muslim leader weighed in with similarly cautious optimism.

“There’s a recognition by the bulk of the Israeli population that the Greater Israel Project is over,” said Nayyer Ali, past chair of the Muslim Pubic Affairs Council. “Unlike the mood in Israel in 2000 and before, we now have a consensus among Israelis that the end solution is a Palestinian state.”

Ali added that the rise of the terorrist Hamas group on the Palestinian side also should not be viewed as a fatal impediment to peace. Just as the Israeli left cannot make peace without the support of more conservative Israeli parties, Ali said, Palestinian leaders, absent Hamas, also could not make a binding agreement. Despite its vow never to recognize Israel, “like other ideological parties, I think Hamas will have to deal with reality now that it’s in power,” Ali said.

But Sabiah Khan, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California chapter, said she sees nothing but a stalemate ahead in at least the short term: Israel, on the one side, refuses to negotiate until Hamas renounces terrorism and recognizes its right to exist. The new Palestinian government, on the other hand, won’t engage Israel until the Jewish state ends its “occupation,” recognizes the national rights of the Palestinian people and renounces terror.

“Basically, we have two groups saying the same thing, that they’re not going to talk to each other [until the other side does something that it isn’t willing to do], Khan said. “Outside intervention from the U.S., Europe, the United Nations or Arab governments is needed.”

Some or all of those parties, she said, could break the impasse by encouraging a negotiated settlement based on international law and existing U.N. resolutions.

Regardless of last week’s voting results, the local Israeli consulate was in campaign party mode on Election Day. Consul General Ehud Danoch and his staff festooned the consulate’s Jerusalem Hall with small Israeli flags, and had spread out a generous supply of pita, hummus, techinah and cookies for more than 100 guests who jammed together to watch the results of the first exit polls.

Danoch drew on his own political background for a running commentary on the merging trends and shared the general astonishment at the success of the Pensioners Party, which came out of nowhere to gain seven seats.

 

Out of My Comfort Zone


Each morning at the Anti-Defamation League’s Grosfeld National Youth Leadership Mission in Washington, D.C., which took place in November, about 20 students crowded into a hotel room for student-led Shacharit, or morning prayers.

What was notable was that many of those students weren’t Jewish. Each student was nominated by their school, and then chosen after writing an essay and being interviewed.

Having never been to a Jewish prayer service before, the non-Jewish students wanted to see what it was like. The tradition fascinated many, and everyone could relate to the singing and dancing.

For me, as a student who grew up going to day schools, this conference with 109 other high school juniors was my first opportunity to interact extensively with non-Jewish students.

I was apprehensive at first. My tendency was to mingle with the other Jews. But this conference was about eliminating discrimination and hate in our schools and communities, and I knew it was necessary to leave my comfort zone to appreciate the diverse backgrounds of the people there. I would soon find out the most rewarding conversations I was to have would be with non-Jews.

When the delegates were broken up into small groups, I had the opportunity to discuss diversity, racism and tolerance with Jews and non-Jews alike. I sometimes discuss issues of hate and racism with my friends at Shalhevet, but generally we all derive our beliefs from Jewish understandings discussed at school. However, brainstorming the topics with non-Jews at the conference threw me into contact with points of view I was not used to.

For example, while they have varying stances on Israeli politics, everyone I have spoken with at Shalhevet is pro-Israel. They believe Israel should exist. Some at the ADL conference, however, disagreed with this viewpoint, and in this regard, I sometimes felt uncomfortable.

In one particular instance, a delegate explained that his sister had lived in Israel for a year and had returned with a predominately pro-Palestinian view of the situation. While I believed his claims were insufficiently supported, I lacked the knowledge to refute his remarks. Still, I was comforted in finding that just because he claimed to be pro-Palestinian did not mean he thought Israel shouldn’t exist.

Speakers brought in by the ADL described how they had made a difference by leading the fight against racism and hate in their communities. Between speakers, including civil rights leader and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), students took part in breakout sessions. There, we discussed how hate can manifest itself, and later on, how to fight it by joining school advocacy groups and lobbying politicians. On the last full day of the conference, we visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which helped to drive home the reality of what can happen when discrimination and racism go unchecked.

Although the programming was inspiring, the greatest highlights were not the planned events. Rather, they were the spontaneous ones created by students, such as the Shacharit services, which I organized, along with Alex, another Shalhevet student, and Justin, a public school student from New Orleans.

At our Shacharit services the first morning, Justin led the prayers with great kavanah (faith). His house had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina, forcing him to live temporarily in Georgia. Still, he plans on returning soon and maintains his tremendous faith in God.

I prayed for a better understanding of the people and points of view I was interacting with. The fact that non-Jews were present helped me realize that even if we had varying political and religious beliefs, we had all come to the conference for the same reason. Additionally, the services allowed me to reconnect with the comfort zone I was used to back home.

A constant battle within traditional Judaism is over the extent to which Jews should interact with the secular world. Every Jew has a personal degree of willingness to explore outside the religion. While we don’t want to assimilate, we must communicate with each other to better interact with our surrounding society.

The ever-growing contingent of non-Jews at our prayer services may not have understood the prayers, but they could relate to the singing and dancing, and the fact that they were experiencing something different. Just as they have explored our culture, we should attempt to explore theirs, while still maintaining our Judaism.

Benjamin Steiner is a junior at Shalhevet, where he serves on the Model UN and writes for The Boiling Point, the school newspaper.

IRS Errs on Endorsing Candidate Charge


I am very careful not to officially endorse or oppose candidates for political office from the bima, on temple stationery or temple e-mail. In

26 years as a congregational rabbi, I have only lent my name formally in support of candidates four times (I am disinclined to ever do so again) and never in my capacity as a rabbi of a congregation. I do not believe that partisan political activity belongs in the synagogue setting.

I bring this matter to your attention in the wake of an investigation begun by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) against All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and its emeritus pastor, the Rev. George Regas. The IRS began its query subsequent to a sermon the Rev. Regas delivered two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Possibly prompted by a misleading story in a newspaper, the IRS alleges that the Rev. Regas advocated for the election of Sen. John Kerry and against the re-election of President Bush during church services. The agency says he violated restrictions that bar nonprofits from endorsing political candidates. As a result, the church’s nonprofit status is at risk and the church faces steadily mounting legal fees.

In fact, Pastor Regas did nothing wrong. His was an anti-war sermon. He simply urged his parishioners to take their Christian values on peace into the ballot booth with them and to vote according to their moral and religious principles. He emphasized that he was not telling them for whom to vote and that reasonable people will vote for different candidates.

After news of the IRS investigation of All Saints was reported in the Los Angeles Times this past November, some of our congregants asked me if I had not crossed that line into partisan political advocacy in my sermon on erev Rosh Hashanah. I had spoken about where I believe the current government’s political ideology has led the country — specifically with respect to the social safety net for poor and vulnerable people and where that ideology diverges sharply from Reform Jewish moral values. (The sermon can be found on our temple Web site — www.tioh.org — “Our Hands Have Not Shed This Blood.”)

In my address, I deliberately did not mention any leader’s name. Rather, I appealed to our deepest Jewish values and urged that we apply those values in the public arena and measure them against how public policy affects the working poor and the most vulnerable members of our society.

The IRS places legitimate limits on clergy and religious institutions that wish to qualify for 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt status. The IRS does not permit a religious institution or its clergy formally to take partisan positions on candidates for elected office if the synagogue or church wishes to maintain this status.

The IRS does permit, however, congregations and clergy to take stands on community issues and ballot propositions that touch on our moral, ethical and religious values, including such areas as separation of church and state, bioethics, end-of-life dilemmas, abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research and war, to name a few.

There is a long Jewish tradition of “speaking truth to power” on the great moral and ethical issues of the day and advocating for social change. The biblical prophets and the rabbis of the Talmud always did so.

Our own Reform movement has a particularly distinguished history of advocacy on virtually all the major social justice movements throughout our nation’s history, including the abolition of slavery, unionization of workers, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gender equality, economic justice, judicial appointments, the environment and war and peace.

I became a Reform rabbi, in part, because of our religious tradition’s commitment to social justice. If Judaism is to be true to its mission of effecting tikkun olam (“repairing the world”), then we, as its practitioners, must reach beyond family lifecycle and holiday celebrations, beyond culture and religious rite, beyond heritage and history and effectuate the moral and ethical values that we have received from 3,500 years of Jewish tradition. Understood in this way, political activism based in our moral and ethical values is a calling.

Historically, we Jews have been agitators for decency and goodness wherever we confronted hard-heartedness and evil. Rabbi Jacob Weinstein said it well more than 60 years ago: The Jewish people are “the permanent underground, the eternal yeast, the perennial Elijah spirit, ever willing to plough the cake of custom, to put rollers under thrones and give only a day-to-day lease to authority. Anchored to Torah, rooted to God, Israel feels free to dispense with manmade hierarchies … ” — all in the interest of justice, compassion and peace.

Judaism teaches that we can never settle with the world as it is. To the contrary, we Jews dream about the world that can be and is not yet.

Over the years, the IRS has issued reasonable and legitimate limits on a congregation’s partisan activities. In the case of the Rev. Regas, however, it is the IRS that has crossed the line. The congregants of All Saints Episcopal Church are courageously standing with their pastor against this dangerous government encroachment on his freedom of the pulpit and his advocacy of religious and moral values — as well they should.

John L. Rosove is senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood. A version of this article appears in the current edition of The Observer, the temple’s newsletter.

 

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.

Bias Colors UC Santa Cruz Department


 

On Oct. 21, 2004, the women’s studies department at UC Santa Cruz sponsored a talk by Hedy Epstein about “The Question of Israel/Palestine,” in which she compared Israel to a Nazi state and excused suicide bombings. Epstein’s “credentials” for speaking on the topic included her membership in the International Solidarity Movement, an organization linked to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and whose leaders have openly endorsed an armed struggle to destroy Israel.

In contrast, the Santa Cruz women’s studies department declined to cosponsor a talk on campus about the same topic two weeks later by Nonie Darwish, a journalist and Arabic translator who spent the first 30 years of her life in Egypt and Egypt-occupied Gaza. Instead of demonizing Israel, as Epstein had done, Darwish directed her criticism at the Arab world, which in her estimation is conducting a campaign of death and destruction against Israel for the purpose of turning the world’s attention away from heinous human rights violations taking place within the Arab world, itself.

Whereas Epstein did not touch on any topic directly relevant to the academic discipline of women’s studies, Darwish spent a significant amount of time addressing the oppression of Muslim women and calling for reforms which would raise their status in the Arab world. Why, then, did women’s studies sponsor Epstein but refuse to sponsor Darwish?

The evidence suggests that the department endorses Epstein’s message but not Darwish’s. For instance:

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• In May 2000, women’s studies sponsored a week of events “in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for human justice.” (From the departmental newsletter, The Wave, Vol. III, No. 1, Summer 2000.)

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• In May 2001, as part of the Women of Color Film and Video Festival, co-sponsored by the women’s studies department, a video was shown detailing the plight of two Palestinian women political prisoners who were, according to the festival program, “detained, tortured, mentally, physically and sexually terrorized by the Israeli occupier for their unquestioned beliefs in the moral, historic and basic human rights to resist the Israeli occupier/colonizer on their land.”

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• Last March, the department sponsored a talk by Dalit Baum, an Israeli lesbian feminist who founded an organization against “the occupation of Palestine” by Israel.

During that same period of time, no talk or event was ever sponsored by women’s studies that condemned Arab violence against Israeli citizens or focused on human rights abuses in the Arab world, particularly of women.

Moreover, a survey of the 11 professors who have appointments in the UC Santa Cruz women’s studies department reveals that more than half have publicly expressed anti-Israel bias: Four faculty members, Angela Davis, the current chair of the women’s studies department; Gina Dent; Carla Freccero, and Jody Green, are signatories of a petition calling on the U.S. government to cut off military aid to Israel and demanding that the University of California divest from Israel and from all U.S. companies that sell military equipment to Israel.

Two faculty members, Bettina Aptheker, previous chair of the women’s studies department, and Helen Moglen, have signed an open letter to the American government calling for the withdrawal of all American aid to Israel. Aptheker wrote an article for The Wave (Vol. V, No. 1, Summer 2002), in which she expressed her personal sympathy for Israeli and Palestinian “anti-occupation activists” and praised the refusal of Israeli reservists to serve in the “occupied territories.”

Whereas all Americans have the right to any political ideology, faculty at a public university do not have the right to abuse their position so as to indoctrinate students. The academic freedom rules of the University of California 1934-2003 state: “The function of the university is to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be known. To convert or make converts is alien and hostile to the dispassionate duty. The university assumes the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda.”

The university’s mission is to be a free marketplace of ideas, a forum for critical analysis and discussion. When the political ideology of faculty members translates into a departmental bias which promotes political propaganda without critical analysis and omits other perspectives, the university is failing in its primary mission.

By exploiting the prestige of the University of California to legitimize their own personal political biases, the faculty of the UC Santa Cruz women’s studies department brings into question its academic integrity and diminishes the prestige of the entire university. But the real losers are the students, who are denied access to a truly diverse and well-rounded education because of departments like Santa Cruz’s women’s studies.

Leila Beckwith is a UCLA pediatrics department professor emeritus and member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

 

Letters to the Editor


 

Jewish-Black Ties

The outrageous assertion that blacks and Jews have “passed through a period of hostility and animosity” and come together for “issues ranging from civil rights legislation to Israel” is absurd (“Jewish-Black Ties Loosen Over Years,” Jan. 14).

If it takes “a common thread to revive the relationship,” such as working to defeat David Duke’s run for political office, why does nothing similar happen against the left? The so-called coalition did not denounce black congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for her anti-Israel, anti-Jewish beliefs. It does not distance itself from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for their questionable attitudes about Jews.

The coalition does not condemn the NAACP for its racially inflammatory statements and divisiveness. When former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis was removed for theft, he blamed the Jews. Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas NAACP, stated his concern with black-Jewish coalitions because of what he called Jews’ preoccupation with money.

The assertion that anti-Semitism is not as strong among blacks as among mutual enemies of blacks and Jews is wrong. A 1996 Gallup survey reported that blacks were more likely than whites to blame liberal Jews for what is wrong with America. The Anti- Defamation League’s own surveys reveal that blacks have higher rates of anti-Semitic beliefs than whites.

A United Nations conference on racism held in South Africa had anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American themes. Hundreds of prominent American blacks, including Jackson, attended to show their support.

Superficial public relations events such as speaking at Black-Jewish forums do not indicate anything beyond political calculation. Jews would be far wiser to form coalitions with the political right, not the intolerant political left.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

Shawn Green

When Shawn Green arrives for spring training with his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, he will be leaving a piece of himself behind while at the same time, he will be taking along large portions of our L.A. Jewish pride. Such is the dilemma that Peter Dreier’s (“Goodbye Shawn Green,” Jan. 21) 8-year-old twin daughters are faced with; who are they to root for now?

To date, there have been 161 men of Jewish heritage to have played major league baseball. The White Sox and the Tigers have listed 17 and 16 respectively, while the Dodgers and Giants have fielded 15 each (those damned Yankees have only had six).

So it looks as if we may have to wait for another Jewish Dodger. But we Jews are good at waiting. Green isn’t the Messiah, but it may take almost as long for the likes of another Shawn Green to wear Dodger Blue. In the meantime … go Diamondbacks!

Jonathan Blank
Calabasas Hills

Birthright Exploitation

I am no supporter of the extreme aspects of Israel Solidarity Movement’s (ISM) agenda, but I am appalled by Gaby Wenig’s implicit suggestion that Jewish love for Israel should come with a political litmus test (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21). Perhaps Wenig does not know that there are many Israelis (Jews and non-Jews alike) who have concerns about “the occupation,” that “pro-Palestinian” is not a synonym for “anti-Israel” and that all of us who “love Israel,” as Wenig understands Birthright’s aim, whether we are on the left or the right, have a wide range of views on how Israel can live up to its full potential for social, economic and political justice.

Despite the fact the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) does not appear among the list of Birthright funders on birthrightisrael.com, Western region associate director Allyson Taylor suggests that Birthright alumni who engage in political activism with which she disagrees should have to repay the cost of their trip. Does Taylor also think Aish HaTorah should send a collection agency after every Discovery alumnus who steps foot in a Reform or Conservative synagogue? Should college kids who flirt with Buddhism or Hinduism repay their parents for their bar and bat mitzvah expenses? Perhaps all the ex-AJCongress members in Los Angeles should simply bill the national office for the return of their pre-1999 contributions.

Shawn Landres
Los Angeles

On behalf of 4,000 Birthright Israel alumni from greater Los Angeles, we are responding to the article (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21).

It would be extremely unfortunate if your article left the impression with your readers that ISM activists taking advantage of free Birthright Israel trips is a significant problem. In fact, Birthright Israel staff has only been able to find evidence of six people out of more than 70,000 participants who have done so.

Birthright Israel, which provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is one of the most powerful and successful Jewish continuity programs ever devised. As program alumni ourselves, we can confirm the findings of a recent Brandeis University study, Bbirthright Israel participants have a stronger and more sustained connection to Israel and the Jewish people than do their peers.

Thanks to the foresight and funding of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, our groundbreaking birthright Israel alumni association provides local alumni with opportunities to connect with each other and with the L.A. Jewish community. Information is available at www.socal.birthrightisrael.com.

We know Birthright Israel and its alumni association has been instrumental in our connection to Israel and the Jewish community. We would hate for the success of this important organization to be tarnished by a story that creates a controversy where there really isn’t one.

Kimberly Gordon, Joshua Kessler, Abtin Missaghi, Ben Schwartzman,
Members of the Leadership Board
Birthright Israel Alumni Association

 

Tensions Rise Over U.N. Hamas Support


A month after a U.N. official suggested that some Hamas members are on his payroll, the issue is still reverberating in Washington, D.C.

So far some two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed a letter calling on Secretary of State Colin Powell “to suspend immediately all U.S. assistance to UNRWA until you can confirm that the agency no longer employs members of Hamas or other terrorist organizations and to work toward a new UNRWA leadership that is verifiably committed to countering terrorism and incitement to violence.”

The letter, which refers to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, an agency serving 59 Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the Middle East, is to be delivered to Powell this week or next.

UNRWA chief Peter Hansen drew Israeli ire on Oct. 3 when he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that there were Hamas members on the agency’s payroll.

“Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant, and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another,” the Danish official said.

Israeli media long have reported that the UNRWA teacher’s union, for example, is dominated by members of Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews.

The United States and Canada — which together contribute 40 percent of UNRWA’s budget — brand Hamas a terrorist group. The U.S. government is bound by law to ensure that no U.S. taxpayer dollars go to groups involved with terrorist activity.

Critics say the controversy is the latest example of Hansen turning a blind eye to terrorism and demonstrating anti-Israel bias.

The greater damage, they say, is to the effort by Hansen’s boss, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to work with Israel as an “honest broker” in any peace negotiations. Together with the United States, European Union and Russia, the United Nations forms part of the diplomatic “Quartet” that devised the “road map” peace plan.

An UNRWA spokesman later sought to clarify to JTA that Hansen meant to say “Hamas sympathizers.” Hansen contended in a Nov. 3 interview with JTA that he meant “Hamas people.”

Hansen works in Gaza together with 12,000 UNRWA employees, nearly all of whom reportedly are Palestinian refugees.

“Don’t judge people by what you think they may or may not believe; judge them by what they do, in their actions and in their behavior,” Hansen said in an interview at U.N. headquarters in New York. “And there we get back to the very strict behavior code we have in the agency for what staff members are to do and not to do in their behavior.”

All U.N. employees, including its leaders, are required to be neutral and impartial. But Hansen’s explanation has not swayed signatories of the Powell letter.

“The U.N. has a track record of anti-Israeli bias, and the continued employment of a man like Hansen is no exception,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). “As long as Hansen is Annan’s point man, Annan will have zero credibility in the peace process. You can’t knowingly include members of Hamas on your payroll and reasonably expect Israelis to treat you as an honest broker.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) echoed the sentiment.

“I think Kofi Annan, unless he takes a very strong stand on any organization within the U.N. that supports terrorists, is certainly diminished as a leader who can bring about an end to terrorism or have credibility to promote Middle East peace,” Waxman said.

A U.N. spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, rejected the charge.

“The U.N. expects all its employees to check their political affiliations or feelings at the door. When they come to the U.N., they are expected to come to work in a way that reflects the U.N. charter,” Dujarric said.

Israel has pushed to reform UNRWA and moderate its public statements, but not to dismantle its operations. As the formal “occupying power” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel would be legally obligated to care for the refugee and civilian population if UNRWA weren’t there.

The congressional letter comes amid a dispute between Israel and Hansen about his annual report to the world body, which some pro-Israel advocates have assailed as one-sided.

It’s not the first time Hansen has riled Israel’s supporters or that there have been threats to suspend UNRWA’s funding.

President Reagan cut off UNRWA’s funding for a spell in 1982 after weapons reportedly were found in an UNRWA camp in Lebanon.

Two years ago, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) and others accused UNRWA of being “complicit” as its camps in Gaza allegedly were turned into terrorist bases.

That came on the heels of the April 2002 battle in Jenin, the culmination of several months in which Palestinian terrorism during the intifada reached its apogee.

“I had hoped that the horror stories of Jenin were exaggerated,” Hansen was quoted as saying on April 18, 2002, as he surveyed the destruction in the refugee camp. “Jenin camp residents lived through a human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history.”

Hansen suggested that Israel’s attack in Jenin had killed “hundreds” of Palestinians. However, a U.N. report later rejected Palestinian propaganda of a massacre, corroborating Israeli reports that about 50 Palestinians were killed, half of them combatants. Israel lost 23 soldiers in the battle.

The latest dust-up began a month ago with Israel’s claim — which it later retracted — that it had video footage of an UNRWA staffer loading a Kassam rocket into the back of an UNRWA ambulance.

Hansen demanded a public apology from Israel, and UNRWA published an Oct. 4 letter sent to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

“Given the technical means and military expertise at the disposal of the IDF,” Hansen wrote, “it is inconceivable that the IDF could have made this egregiously erroneous allegation in good faith.

“It is appalling that, with the serious conflict now raging in the Northern Gaza Strip,” he continued, “the Government of Israel would put out such deliberately inciteful, false and malicious propaganda, encouraging IDF soldiers on the ground [or in the air] to think that UNRWA ambulances and other humanitarian vehicles are transporting terrorists and weapons.”

Hansen also hinted that charges against UNRWA provide cover for Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas, and subsequent casualties.

The United Nations investigated, agreed with Hansen’s early assessment and accepted Israel’s retraction. But the United Nations won’t release its report on the incident, leading some critics to speculate that the conclusions may not be as clear-cut as portrayed.

Nevertheless, in an Oct. 27 statement about the report, Annan reiterated his “full confidence in the integrity and impartiality of Mr. Peter Hansen.”

Just four days later, on Nov. 1, Hansen spoke to a U.N. Correspondents Association breakfast. He suggested there was a smear campaign against him, and demanded an apology from Israel.

Later that day, Hansen presented his annual report of UNRWA activities to the United Nation’s Special Political and Decolonization Committee. In a nine-page statement, he detailed Israeli actions and Palestinian hardships.

There was only a single reference to Palestinian-initiated violence: The largest Israeli incursion yet in the Gaza Strip followed Palestinian rocket attacks, some of which killed a number of Israeli civilians, including three children, he noted.

But the mention came with a footnote: “These rocket attacks came after earlier Israeli targeted killings of Palestinian militants, which were themselves attributed to earlier Palestinian actions, etc. etc.”

A few sentences later, Hansen wrote, “The dead include nine UNRWA pupils and two teachers. In the last two years, three young girls have been killed by IDF gunfire while actually sitting at their school desks. I doubt anyone would argue that such indiscriminate and disproportionate destruction, and disregard for life, do not constitute grave violations of humanitarian law.”

Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights, said Hansen distorted reality by leaving out context.

“If you were a man from Mars and you were to read his report, you would think that one fine day, the Israeli army woke up and decided to shoot Palestinian schoolchildren,” Gaer said. “There is one reference to Kassam rockets, which is totally bland. This misrepresentation of the situation is both inappropriate for a senior U.N. officer and it’s counterproductive.”

Two days after his U.N. presentation, Hansen called Israeli charges against UNRWA “beyond the pale” and “way over the top.”

Israel since has handed over a second videotape to the United Nations and said it has 29 new charges.

Israel has convicted a handful of UNRWA staffers over the years for terror-related activities but has refused to reveal evidence, citing national security.

Some Israeli officials criticize this position, saying it undercuts the credibility of Israeli claims. UNRWA officials, for their part, express skepticism about Israeli intelligence and justice.

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.

Patriot Paranoia?


By chance, Bet Tzedek Legal Services sponsored a program on the American Patriot Act just about the

same time readers were beginning to get their copies of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America.”

It was a perfect combination. The Patriot Act, hurriedly passed by Congress and signed by President Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, gives the federal government new power to find out about our private, business and academic lives. Roth’s book projects what happens when government runs wild with such power.

Both the book and some of the implications of the Patriot Act touch the insecurity that hides deep in the hearts of many Jews — that our nation’s constitutional protections could vanish, and with them the safety and opportunity that brought Jews to America.

Nicholas Lemann, Washington correspondent for The New Yorker and dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, made the connection between Bush and Roth quite nicely when, in writing about the book, he described the perpetual wariness of the Jewish soul: “Emotionally, it could happen here. It could happen anywhere, any time. It has happened practically everywhere. It’s also the case that President Bush activates in many Jews the same emotions that Roth activates in ‘The Plot Against America.’ He may have activated them in Roth himself.”

Perhaps that explains the interest of a substantial audience at Sinai Temple on Oct. 4 for the symposium “Pursuing Justice and the War on Terrorism.” For the past 30 years, the event’s sponsor, Bet Tzedek has enlisted the constitutional guarantees of a fair justice system on behalf of Los Angeles’ poor.

The Patriot Act erodes these guarantees by greatly increasing the power of federal law enforcement agencies to wiretap, monitor Internet use and e-mail communications, obtain records of library borrowing and bookstore purchases and gather information on customers from financial institutions and other businesses. The government has new power to investigate foreigners, meaning immigrants can come under heavy scrutiny. In the past, the constitutional guarantees weakened by the Patriot Act have often — but not always — protected political, religious and ethnic minorities from the tyranny of state oppression that has periodically taken hold of federal, state and local governments in the United States.

Roth’s “The Plot Against America” takes place in 1940. The new president is Charles Lindbergh, Hitler admirer and anti-Semite, who begins exporting Jews from Jewish neighborhoods in the Northeast to areas where they would be a minority — the beginning of an American Holocaust.

Most Jews undoubtedly consider such fears far-fetched. I do. But a lot of Muslims don’t, particularly immigrants and children of immigrants who came here from the Middle East. They have rational and justified fears about the government’s growing ability to snoop and to arrest. Even the most assimilated Jew might, consider that, historically, Jews have been in the same boat as Muslims — and could be there again.

Such catastrophic thoughts were not expressed by the panelists, Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 Commission; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a member of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards; and Viet D. Dinh, the main author of the Patriot Act.

Dinh, who was an assistant attorney general when he wrote the Patriot Act and now is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, is an upbeat, articulate man who, while fleeing as a boat child from Vietnam, survived harrowing experiences and poverty. To Patriot Act supporters, his life story counters charges that the law is a threat to immigrants.

His personal story is inspiring, but the implications of his words at the symposium were troubling. The Sept. 11 attacks, he said, were an assault on “the essential order” of a nation. And the cops who preserve such order are not the enemy.

“The single greatest threat is from Al Qaeda, not law enforcement,” he said. At another point, he said, Americans might have to give up some liberties in the face of danger.

Is that necessary? No, said Gorelick. She, like Dinh, served in the Justice Department where she was deputy attorney general before her appointment to the 9/11 Commission. Speaking from those two perspectives, she said there were “laws and procedures in place” that could have caught the Sept. 11 terrorists.

And Dorff said, “If we protect ourselves at the expense of our national character, what have we protected?”

A few days after the seminar, I bought Roth’s book. His 1940 Newark was foreign to me.

I never had to fight my way through anti-Semitic gangs on my way to school or be deprived of a good assignment by an anti-Semitic boss.

But as a reporter, I have covered cops, courts, the civil rights movement, urban riots and student rebellions. I have seen the fragility of constitutional guarantees of due process when society feels threatened by protestors, rioters, by crime and, now, by terrorists.

They can bend and break, as Roth, writing from the depths of Jewish paranoia, envisioned. Gorelick and Dorff hinted at the same thing in their much more reasoned manner. The words were different but the message was the same.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

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.

Copyright Featurewell.com.

Pro-Life, Pro Choice, Pro-Healing


I was a teenage pro-choice fanatic.

My car’s license plate read CHOICE 8. Apparently, I shared my enthusiasm with at least seven other people in Illinois. But life’s wisdom comes slowly. Once, when a neighbor three times my age told me she agreed that abortion should be legal, I didn’t miss a beat: "I can’t believe those pro-lifers. It’s not even a baby! It’s a blob of tissue that is totally dependent on the woman’s body."

I will never forget the pain in her eyes when she responded quietly, "Lamelle, I was pregnant once and I had a miscarriage. And let me tell you, it was a baby."

I knew immediately that I had made a dreadful mistake, but it took me 10 years to figure out what it was: I had confused being pro-choice with being hostile toward pregnancy. The kind of woman that I was busy fighting for did not want to be pregnant. I wanted to protect her right to make decisions about her body. I hadn’t yet realized that caring about women in this way and caring about unborn babies were not mutually exclusive.

My understanding began to evolve in college, when I chose abortion as the topic for my senior thesis. As I compared the ways in which pro-choice and pro-life advocates approach the issue, I was troubled. Pro-life "crisis pregnancy centers" appeal to women facing unplanned pregnancies, offering help and support (often masking their pro-life stance). But clinics offering abortion services as part of a gamut of reproductive health care fail to market their help and support as aggressively as their pro-life counterparts. Why? I began to realize that the political climate had backed pro-choicers against a wall: They were so busy defending the right to choose, protecting clinics besieged by protesters and the occasional murderous pro-lifer, that little space was left on the agenda for responding to the trauma of unplanned pregnancy.

I began to feel alienated from the mainstream pro-choice movement, as much as I endorsed its political goals. I began to wonder whether I needed a new framework for understanding the issue.

That framework came a few years later, after I experienced my own early pregnancy loss.

At six weeks, the embryo that left my body was a tiny "blob of tissue," the phrase I had once used when debating pro-lifers. But this little one was so much more — I had talked to it, imagined it growing, developing, moving, being born. I had loved it as someone separate from and yet a part of me. Its untimely exit flooded me with shock, disbelief, bitterness and anger. I was angry with my body, angry with God and had never felt so alone. I’d barely had time to revel in being pregnant. How could it be over? Was this all a bad dream?

Slowly, the numbness receded. I immersed myself in the outpouring of love I received from my husband and close friends. A few friends created a healing circle; we sat in candlelight one evening as I shared my pain and received their blessings and prayers for healing. The anger I had directed at my body melted away, and I was left with gratitude — my body had been taking care of me, after all; the embryo I had briefly hosted would never have developed into a healthy baby. The anger I had directed at God gave way to an understanding that God shared my grief.

The bitter edge softened each day. My mother-in-law cried with me on the phone. Precious friends left flowers and a comforting note, while others brought food. I went to the mikvah. I noticed that talking about the miscarriage was therapeutic. As I talked with more women, a theme emerged: Many, many women have early miscarriages, but very few choose to talk about it. When it happens, we feel alone and afraid, despite the fact that early miscarriage is often a totally normal part of reproduction.

I realized that my own initial reluctance to talk about my experience stemmed from my discomfort with the words I was choosing to describe it. I found myself reclaiming words that I had previously labeled as part of the pro-life lexicon. Was the "life" that had been growing inside me a "baby?" Could I have really become so attached so quickly? Now in her 70s, my aunt was one who shared her own miscarriage story with me. At the end of our phone call, her parting words were, "I’m so sorry about the baby."

Those simple words resonated, and I felt my heart beginning to mend. Of course, there are still moments of pain — I’m told that getting pregnant again is the only remedy for that, and I hope to find out.

Perhaps the pro-choice movement is reluctant to break the language barrier and use pro-life words out of fear that the opposition will turn their words against them. Perhaps they struggle with simplifying a complex issue into soundbites and slogans. But I am tired of slogans, and I am tired of ceding the language of life to those who want to outlaw abortion. Pro-life slogans fall flat in the face of a 20-year-old California woman who recently bled to death from a botched abortion because she was too ashamed to ask for help. Pro-choice slogans feel hollow at the bedside of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit where I volunteer. Many of the babies are but a few days older than fetuses that are routinely aborted. Moving beyond slogans, I am searching for alternative ways to think about abortion that encompass both my experiences as an activist and as a mom-to-be.

Where do we turn in order to make sense of this miserably complex issue? For me, any moral question — and abortion surely is a moral question — is by its very nature a religious question. So I have turned to Judaism for an answer.

When delving into the abortion issue in a Jewish context, many of us first examine traditional halachic (legal) sources. We may note that within the framework of Jewish law, abortion to save the life of a woman is not only permissible, but required. While anything but monolithic (this is Judaism, after all!), modern rabbinic decisions emphasize the psychological as well as the physical aspects of the decision.

But there is more to the abortion question than whether it is legal according to Jewish law or the laws of the United States. The abortion issue rests at the fulcrum of the balance between life and death, situated deep within the sacred space of the womb. Looking at abortion through a Jewish lens requires that we probe our tradition’s fundamental orientation toward matters of life and death. As we probe, our guiding principle is compassion, rachamim, linguistically linked to the word for womb, rechem.

In the broadest sense, it is clear that Judaism is a life-loving religion. We are virtually obsessed with affirming the sanctity of life. Our sages were passionate about saving lives: The Talmud says in tractate Sanhedrin that saving one life is the equivalent of saving the entire world. Our holiday calendar celebrates the life’s renewal, from the opportunity for repentance and rebirth during the Days of Awe to the lights of Chanukah in the dark of winter to the redemptive narrative of Pesach. Our historical narrative, from the Exodus from Egypt to the Shoah to the challenges faced by the State of Israel today, is a story of our love for life and our grief and outrage at the destruction of the innocent.

As Jews, then, we have cause for ambivalence when it comes to elective abortion. We who celebrate pregnancy and the beginning of life with so much joy cannot hold that it is trivial to end a pregnancy. In a 1995 article in the New Republic, Naomi Wolf (who is both Jewish and pro-choice) wrote that we often fail to acknowledge "the death of the fetus" during an abortion. Many women who choose abortion are not given support to grieve. It is assumed that there is no loss to mourn. Wolf says: "Abortion should be legal; it is sometimes even necessary. Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die. But it is never right or necessary to minimize the value of the lives involved or the sacrifice incurred in letting them go."

In other words, by steering clear of the meaning of the act itself and focusing exclusively on concepts like the "freedom to choose," the mainstream pro-choice movement falls short of the Jewish ideal. Our life-loving religious tradition understands that the cycle of life is punctuated by joys and sorrows, by exhilaration and grief. We care as much about comforting the mourner as we do about celebrating with the bride and groom. Judaism recognizes the wholeness of life and gives us the tools to embrace it while accepting its challenging moments. To envision abortion in a Jewish context is to understand abortion as a heartbreaking choice.

Our next step is to figure out how to respond to heartbreak with rachamim. No one wants to experience an unwanted pregnancy. No one delights in ending fetal life. Acknowledging that many women (though perhaps not all) experience abortion as a heartbreaking choice spurs us to validate the complexity of a woman’s experience and implores us to aid in her healing. Most important, Judaism offers a loving God, HaRachaman, to console her.

A number of resources have emerged for women and men who want to explore Jewish perspectives on fetal death, including abortion and miscarriage. "Seeds of Sorrow, Tears of Hope" by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is an invaluable resource for anyone struggling with miscarriage and infertility. Many of its suggested new rituals for healing can be adapted for abortion, as well. Fortunately, "Talking to God" by Rabbi Naomi Levy provides a model of a tender prayer to be said following an abortion.

Perhaps the most powerful (and underutilized) source of healing for Jewish women is the mikvah. Those of us who visit the mikvah on a monthly basis can attest to its healing nature. The laws of niddah require abstinence from sexual relations during one’s period and for seven days after, followed by immersion in the mikvah. Observant feminists have long theorized that the origin of this mitzvah may be connected with the loss of potential life that occurs with each menstrual cycle. If so, this practice, in which we are commanded to ritually enact rebirth and renewal, may be Judaism’s most overt commentary on pregnancy loss or termination. For those who have chosen abortion — as well as for those who have experienced childbirth, miscarriage or, simply, the loss of the chance to create a new life this month — the living waters of the mikvah, symbolizing the womb of God, are ready and waiting.

Dr. Rachel Remen writes that each person’s healing process is as different as a fingerprint. An embryo that has been in a womb for three weeks can be the bearer of infinite promise and possibility or it can be just another heavy period. One woman’s mind-numbing loss is the answer to another woman’s prayers. Because the realm of reproductive health is so intensely personal and case specific, we must protect the legality of abortion while striving to prevent unwanted pregnancies. (Judaism’s emphasis on sexual relations in the context of marriage provides some guidance on the latter point!)

The future of access to safe and legal abortion in the United States is far from certain. Who wants to return to the bad old days when abortion was a crime and women died from back-alley and self-induced abortions? On April 25, thousands will converge on Washington, D.C., for the March for Women’s Lives. They will call for protecting the legality of abortion here in the United States and decry U.S. policies that inhibit women’s access to basic reproductive care (including prenatal care) in countries receiving U.S. foreign aid. Hopefully, the March will raise awareness of the direness of the current political climate surrounding women’s reproductive rights.

As Jews, many of us find ourselves straddling the line: We believe that abortion should be legal, but we also know it to be a complex moral issue that belies simple answers. But all of us — even those Jews who may self-define as emphatically pro-choice or pro-life — should strive to accept the ambiguity and the uncertainty inherent in the abortion issue. Most important, as we raise our voices about the legality of abortion, we must reach out to those who make this heartbreaking choice, offering our rachamim and prayers for healing.


Lamelle Ryman is completing post-baccalaureate studies in science with the goal of one day becoming an ob/gyn-midwife.

My Culture War


Freedom of the press is, strictly speaking, the freedom to own a press. Within wonderfully broad limits, The New York Times can say anything it wants, but you can’t say anything you want in The New York Times.

Radio entertainer Howard Stern, as successful and wealthy as he is, doesn’t own the stations or networks that broadcast his show. So when one of those networks, Clear Channel Communications, dumped him last week from six of its stations on extremely suspicious indecency charges, all he could hope for was that outraged citizens or loyal listeners would speak out.

Howard, here I am.

I discovered Stern’s morning show driving to work 11 years ago, and I’ve been listening since. Day in and out, it has guaranteed me at least one good smile before work begins. To the working commuter that is a gift. When it’s good, which is often, Stern’s show offers a kind of ongoing, un-PC satire of political, pop and celebrity culture that — at least until Jon Stewart’s "The Daily Show" appeared — had all but vanished from TV and radio. I turn it on after I drop the kids off at school. When it bores or offends me, I switch stations for a while.

Now people want to take my show away. After Clear Channel dropped his program, Stern said that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving to bring fines for indecency against the show, which will eventually force Infinity Broadcasting to drop it as well.

Make no mistake: the FCC, composed of five presidential appointees, levies fines, grants licenses and approves station expansion. It holds all the best cards here.

I understand that by many peoples’ standards, Stern is indecent, but he has been so for a long, long time. The incident that prompted Clear Channel to dump him, and for which the FCC may levy fines, has been so commonplace on his program that it could have been mistaken for a promo spot.

Ever since Janet Jackson exposed herself during the Super Bowl’s halftime show, the FCC and some members of Congress have been pushing for tougher decency standards and higher fines. Conservative religious-oriented citizens groups, like Focus on the Family, have urged them along with coordinated e-mail campaigns.

The media have picked up on this latest battlefront in the Culture War because the media loves a good Culture War. The issues are easier to understand than arguments over health care or the tax code, and they usually involve sex (Howard Stern, gay marriage) and violence (Mel Gibson, gun control).

Stern is saying that what has put the FCC on his trail this time is not dirty words, but his sudden and outspoken opposition to the re-election of President Bush. Stern supported Bush following Sept. 11 and throughout the second Gulf War, praising him as a tough leader. But he began speaking out against Bush over issues at the heart of the Culture War — stem-cell research, gay rights — and began urging his listeners to vote for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, a centrist Republican, has credited Stern’s on-air support with making the difference that got her elected. Clear Channel, a corporation with a long history of support for Bush, might not have pulled Stern from such swing-state markets in Florida and Pennsylvania for political reasons, but doing so certainly won’t hurt Bush there.

I’ve never really understood where the Culture War ends in this country and the Political War begins. My sense is that each needs and uses the other, and an election year kicks them both into high gear. Each side wants you to believe that it is on the brink of losing the war, but the evidence is murky.

Sure, Stern may get canceled, but books by leftists like Michael Moore and Al Franken are at the top of national bestseller lists. Yes, many in the media trashed "The Passion of the Christ," but that didn’t stop it from earning close to $200 million so far. There may be vast conspiracies of the left- or right-wing, but Americans themselves vacillate.

It isn’t surprising that Stern is caught up in the kind of cultural and political battle in which Jewish comedians and commentators like Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce once found themselves.

He is heir to the Jewish tradition of the badchen, or shtetl entertainer. "They were scandalous, filled with gossip," comedian and frequent Stern guest Richard Belzer has said. "Their essence was to expose and make fun of things in their society. The badchen’s society was the shtetl. We expand it to include the whole society."

"Stern’s is an unleashed id unrepressed by socially approved feelings," writes Lawrence Epstein in his seminal study of Jewish comedy, "The Haunted Smile." "He is an attack on society’s right to censor the honest feels of the individual. He is a safety valve, a release." In as free and democratic medium that exists, 18 million Americans vote for Stern each morning.

The badchen is what Thomas Cahill might call a "Gift of the Jews," an outsider who exposes society’s foibles, pokes fun at its hypocrisies, makes people laugh and makes people think. The FCC has no right to look this gift horse in the mouth.

Gaza Withdrawal Rewards Terrorism


Should Israel withdraw from Gaza, as some are proposing?

First, consider the impact of a Gaza withdrawal on the international war against terrorism. After three years of nonstop Palestinian Arab terrorism, in which nearly 1,000 Israelis — and 41 Americans — have been murdered, to unconditionally give Gaza to the Palestinian Arabs and expel the 8,000 Jewish residents would be to reward the terrorists.

It would also encourage more terrorism by demonstrating that additional violence may bring about additional Israeli concessions. An Israeli withdrawal would whet the appetites of terrorists everywhere. Correctly viewing an Israeli retreat as surrender and appeasement, terrorists in the Middle East and beyond would be strengthened and emboldened by their feeling of victory.

Second, consider the implications for Israeli security. After the Six-Day War, the U.S. joint chiefs of staff prepared an analysis — without regard for political considerations — of which territories Israel needed to keep to defend itself. The joint chiefs strongly recommended that Israel keep Gaza: “By occupying the Gaza Strip, Israel would trade approximately 45 miles of hostile border for eight. Configured as it is, the strip serves as a salient for introduction of Arab subversion and terrorism, and its retention would be to Israel’s military advantage.”

No wonder. Throughout history, foreign armies have used Gaza as a springboard for invading the Land of Israel, from Pharoah Sethos I in the 13th century B.C.E. to Napoleon in 1799. In 1948, Egypt used Gaza as its route to invade the newborn State of Israel.

Third, consider what would happen in Gaza if Israel withdraws. The Palestinian Authority regime currently administers parts of Gaza but does not have sovereignty, because of the presence of Israeli soldiers and citizens. The Palestinian Authority does not have a full-fledged army and does not control the borders or sea access to Gaza.

If Israel withdraws from the area, the PA will be able to establish a sovereign state. It will become much, much harder for Israel to prevent the continual smuggling of weapons from Egypt to Gaza or the arrival of boatloads of weapons via the Mediterranean Sea.

No wonder Israeli military experts are warning about these dangers. Israel Radio reported that army officials want a withdrawal to be “conditional on the Palestinians not being able to operate a seaport or airport from Gaza.”

Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, chief of Israeli military intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Feb. 10 that a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza “will be seen as surrender to terrorism” and “might motivate further terrorism.”

And Shlomo Gazit, former chief of Israeli military intelligence, recently wrote: “Our exit from Gaza will transform it into a big armed camp, into which weapons of all kinds will stream via land, sea and maybe even air. It will also become an arsenal for independent development and production of arms. Moreover, this capitulation will be rightly viewed as an unambivalent victory for the Palestinian armed struggle.”

A Gaza state would certainly be a terrorist state, to judge by how the Palestinian Authority has promoted and glorified terrorists until now. It has not disarmed or outlawed terrorist groups. It has not shut down their bomb factories. It has not closed down the terrorists’ training camps. It has rewarded terrorists with jobs in the P.A. police force.

In short, the Palestinian Authority has actively collaborated with and sheltered the terrorists. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority has sponsored thousands of terrorist attacks against Israel.

The Palestinian Authority has also created an entire culture of glorification of terrorism and anti-Jewish hatred in its official media, schools, summer camps, sermons by PA-appointed clergy and speeches by PA representatives.

Establishing a state in Gaza would not satisfy the Palestinian Arabs’ goals. It would be a springboard for terrorism and invasions aimed at destroying the Jewish state.

The Palestinian Authority makes no secret of its goal. The official maps on PA letterheads, in PA school books and atlases and even on the patch worn on the uniforms of PA policemen show all of Israel — not just the disputed territories — labeled “Palestine.”

But the issue is not just security. It’s also a matter of Jewish rights to the Land of Israel. It is not well-known, but Gaza has been a part of the Land of Israel since biblical times and is described as such in, for example, Genesis 15, Joshua 15:47 and Judges 1:18. In Kings, it is included in the areas ruled by King Solomon.

The area came under foreign occupation during some periods, but the Jewish king Yochanan, brother of Judah the Maccabee, recaptured Gaza in 145 C.E. and sent Jews to rebuild the community there. Throughout the centuries, there was a large Jewish presence in Gaza — in fact, it was the largest Jewish community in the country at the time of the Muslim invasion in the seventh century C.E.

The Jews of Gaza were forced to leave the area when Napoleon’s army marched through in 1799, but they later returned. The Jewish community in Gaza was destroyed during the British bombardment in 1917 but again was rebuilt.

When Palestinian Arabs threatened to slaughter the Jews of Gaza during the 1929 pogroms, the British ruling authorities forced the Jews to leave. But in 1946, the Jews returned, establishing the town of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip, which lasted until 1948, when Egypt occupied the area. After the 1967 war, Jews were finally able to return to Gaza and rebuild communities there.

The Palestinian Authority’s demand that all Jews be expelled from Gaza is an ugly demand for ethnic cleansing. And ethnic cleansing in Gaza is just as bad as the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans that the international community, and world Jewry, so strongly and appropriately protested. It is a racist and immoral notion to say that while 1 million Arabs live within Israel, not one Jew can live in Gaza.

An Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will reward terrorism, thereby undermining America’s war against terrorism. It will pave the way the for creation of a dangerous Palestinian Arab state that will further endanger Israel, and it will establish a precedent for the mass expulsion of Jews from their homes for no other reason than that they are Jews.

This is a mistaken policy that will not make things better but will only make things worse.


Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

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

.

Leaders Stay Silent as Israel Collapses


The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer.

The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep.

There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish State here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.

There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it.

Nor is this merely an internal Israeli affair. Diaspora Jews, for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity, must pay heed and speak out. If the pillar collapses, the upper floors will come crashing down.

The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Ariel Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there’s nothing left to say.

We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq.

But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or antimissile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive.

More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit to their parents’ shock that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation.

Traveling on the fast highway that takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem’s northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab, who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him — one road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself.

Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don’t hear the cries of the abused woman living next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don’t even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands.

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.

We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below — from the wells of hatred and anger, from the infrastructures of injustice and moral corruption.

If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.

Here is what the prime minister should say to the people:

The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers, and in some other time, we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price.

We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time, think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world’s only Jewish State — not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the Greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages — Qalqilya Ghetto and Gulag Jenin.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse, or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks.

There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements — all of them — and draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish Law of Return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the Greater Land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

That’s what the prime minister should say to the people. He should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racialism or democracy. Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire, roadblocks and suicide bombers or a recognized international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

But there is no prime minister in Jerusalem. The disease eating away at the body of Zionism has already attacked the head. David Ben-Gurion sometimes erred, but he remained straight as an arrow. When Menachem Begin was wrong, nobody impugned his motives.

No longer. Polls published recently showed that a majority of Israelis do not believe in the personal integrity of the prime minister — yet they trust his political leadership. In other words, Israel’s current prime minister personally embodies both halves of the curse: suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law — combined with the brutality of occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace. This is our nation; these its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is that the Zionist revolution is dead.

Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because it’s summer, or because they are tired, or because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.

This is the time for clear alternatives. Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position — black or white — is in effect collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labor vs. Likud or right vs. left, but of right vs. wrong, acceptable vs. unacceptable, the law-abiding vs. the lawbreakers.

What’s needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

Israel’s friends abroad — Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people — should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.

This essay originally appeared in Sept. 12 Jewish Journal, but a production error rendered it difficult to read.


Avraham Burg was speaker of Israel’s Knesset from 1999 to 2003 and is a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is currently a Labor Party Knesset member. This essay, adapted by the author from an article that appeared in Yediot Aharonot, originally appeared in The Forward (www.forward.com). Translated by J.J. Goldberg.

Leaders Stay Silent as Israel Collapses


The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer.

The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep.

There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish State here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.

There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it.

Nor is this merely an internal Israeli affair. Diaspora Jews, for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity, must pay heed and speak out. If the pillar collapses, the upper floors will come crashing down.

The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Ariel Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there’s nothing left to say.

We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq.

But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or antimissile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive.

More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit to their parents’ shock that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation.

Traveling on the fast highway that takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem’s northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab, who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him — one road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself.

Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don’t hear the cries of the abused woman living next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don’t even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands.

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.

We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below — from the wells of hatred and anger, from the infrastructures of injustice and moral corruption.

If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.

Here is what the prime minister should say to the people:

The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers, and in some other time, we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price.

We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time, think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world’s only Jewish State — not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the Greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages — Qalqilya Ghetto and Gulag Jenin.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse, or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks.

There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements — all of them — and draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish Law of Return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the Greater Land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

That’s what the prime minister should say to the people. He should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racialism or democracy. Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire, roadblocks and suicide bombers or a recognized international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

But there is no prime minister in Jerusalem. The disease eating away at the body of Zionism has already attacked the head. David Ben-Gurion sometimes erred, but he remained straight as an arrow. When Menachem Begin was wrong, nobody impugned his motives.

No longer. Polls published recently showed that a majority of Israelis do not believe in the personal integrity of the prime minister — yet they trust his political leadership. In other words, Israel’s current prime minister personally embodies both halves of the curse: suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law — combined with the brutality of occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace. This is our nation; these its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is that the Zionist revolution is dead.

Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because it’s summer, or because they are tired, or because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.

This is the time for clear alternatives. Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position — black or white — is in effect collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labor vs. Likud or right vs. left, but of right vs. wrong, acceptable vs. unacceptable, the law-abiding vs. the lawbreakers.

What’s needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

Israel’s friends abroad — Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people — should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.


Avraham Burg was speaker of Israel’s Knesset from 1999 to 2003 and is a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is currently a Labor Party Knesset member. This essay, adapted by the author from an article that appeared in Yediot Aharonot, originally appeared in The Forward (www.forward.com). Translated by J.J. Goldberg.

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.

The Right of Return Goes Both Ways


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

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

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

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

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

The Palestinian refugees were treated differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Shot Fired in Media Bias War


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Explosion of Love in Encino Defeats Hatred


The response to the attacks in early May against four houses for worship in Encino — two synagogues, a Baha’i Community Center and a Protestant Church — shows that the way Americans handle what seemed to be an explosion of hatred defeats that hatred and reinforces our sense of community solidarity and diversity. It makes the United States that very special place where freedom of religion supports the freedom for religion.

Images of synagogues set aflame are never taken lightly by Jews. Our history conjures up pogroms and desecrations.

Within living memory of Holocaust survivors, there are the blazing images of the November 1938 pogroms in Germany, more commonly known as Kristallnacht, when more than 1,000 synagogues were burned and desecrated, 7,000 Jewish businesses looted and destroyed, and approximately 30,000 Jewish men, ages 16-60, were arrested and sent to newly expanded concentration camps.

The attacks were coordinated and centralized. Police were instructed to let the crowds have their way. Firemen stood by with explicit instructions only to douse the flames if the adjacent buildings were likely to catch fire.

In the aftermath, Germany systematically decided to end the last of Jewish civil participation — by then all rights had been eroded — and to intensify the persecution. An emergency meeting was called not to protect the victims but to furnish a fig leaf for insurance companies — and for the German consumer — because the property that was destroyed was insured, and if the Jews were permitted to file claims, then the insurance companies and their patrons would end up footing the bill.

So as the insurance companies stood by ready to honor all claims, Jews were forbidden to file a claim, and thereby, the Jewish community was fined collectively 1 billion marks for the destruction.

One must pay attention to what has happened over the past two and a half years in France, where synagogues were set upon, rabbis were stabbed, school buses carrying Jewish children were attacked and the French government treated each instance in isolation. A cartoon in the French newspaper, Le Monde, which depicted six such attacks on manifestly Jewish targets, had two policemen asking each other: "When can we say the word anti-Semitism?"

A political demonstration protesting the attacks drew 120,000 Jews but no French politicians, no serious interfaith support, and the media barely covered the story of anti-Semitism or the story of the rally against anti-Semitism. The media let it pass.

There are no "hate crimes" in France. French law has no such category; French police collect no such statistics. There is no coordinated work by the police and municipal or national officials against such actions.

Contrast this with what happened in Los Angeles. Mayor James Hahn was on the scene at Valley Beth Shalom immediately. Visibly moved by the fire, he spoke out loudly and strongly against the hatred.

"We cannot tolerate this, and we will do everything in our power to stop it," the mayor said, and no one doubts that he meant it. Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton put the mayor’s words into action. A task force was formed and 65 detectives were assigned to catch the perpetrator. In addition, the City Council offered a reward. Of equal importance, there were immediate expressions of solidarity.

Hispanic employees of Valley Beth Shalom protected the sacred Torah scrolls. With tears in their eyes, they brought them to safety.

Christians reached out to Jews, Jews and Christians reached out to Baha’i and Baha’i reached out to Christians and Jews. The solidarity was wall-to-wall, cutting across all religious faiths and all denominations within the mosaic of Los Angeles. The evening of the Valley Beth Shalom attack, an interfaith service was held at a Roman Catholic Church.

Within days the suspected perpetrator was caught.

Persecution is something that these religious groups have known elsewhere. Religious freedom has allowed them to flourish in the United States — religious freedom and tolerance.

Because we have the category of hate crimes in our statistics and understand that an attack against a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple is an attack against the very fabric of our society, against the things that are important to all Americans, all the resources of society are drawn together to combat such attacks. The haters draw us together rather than drive us apart. The deeds are offensive, odious, but the response to these horrific acts is a manifestation of all that is right in this city, in this state and this country.

So while Valley Beth Shalom, the First Presbyterian Church, the Baha’i Faith Community Center and the Iranian Synagogue, Da’at Torah Educational Center, were attacked, hatred was defeated; tolerance was triumphant. We should condemn the circumstances that led to such a triumph but cherish the triumph itself.


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

Lieberman Candidacy Spotlights Fear Factor


Sen. Joseph Lieberman was in town the other day, raising money and support for his presidential quest. Since his stint as vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in the oh-so-close contest of 2000, Lieberman has become a national fixture in the political world.

Throwing his hat into the presidential ring was a natural outgrowth of the 2000 experience and has been met with welcoming applause in all but the Jewish community. While many Jews have expressed support for the Connecticut senator, still many are troubled by either his level of religious observance, his political stands and/or the perception that his candidacy, dare I say presidency, might act as a conductor of anti-Semitism.

I made a number of calls on the senator’s behalf for a fundraiser here and was surprised by the number of Jews who told me that they didn’t feel comfortable with Lieberman’s candidacy. One person said that they were concerned that Lieberman might be unnecessarily hard on Israel, while attempting to silence his skeptics that his being Jewish would lead him to be easy on Israel.

Another said to me that while they had voted for the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000, they were extremely glad Bush was president post-Sept. 11. The person reasoned that a Jew couldn’t be as hard on Iraq and Osama bin Laden as Bush had for fear that it would be seen as currying favor to Israel.

At first, I was amused at this discomfort people were expressing, until I heard from a Lieberman staffer that concerns about Lieberman’s being Jewish have been seen consistently nationwide — expressed only by Jews. Non-Jews have expressed no such reservations about Lieberman the presidential candidate, who happens to be Jewish. Indeed, at this point, Lieberman has jumped into an early lead in the polls.

This was bound to happen. The glass ceiling that has for so long hovered over the heads of the Jewish community now has Jews questioning whether completing this ascension to the full array of rights afforded all peoples in the Constitution is really worth the risk — the risk of arousing the anti-Semites.

It is instructive to look at two prominent Jewish columnists for The New York Times, William Safire and Tom Friedman, to realize that one can be Jewish and of two different minds. Here are two very Jewishly committed men with two very different views of the world and of the Middle East. Neither one represents a monolith that some of the "Lieberman-scared" Jews fear exists.

This all tells me that there is no one unique Jewish way of thinking or looking at the world, and this is good. This should tell us that Lieberman will only be Lieberman, and if elected, he will govern as he sees fit. Certainly his being Jewish will inform and mold his behavior, but it won’t be Jewish, because there is no such thing.

A President Lieberman may pressure Israel to dismantle settlements or he may even encourage such Israeli behavior, but he will ultimately do what is consistent with his campaign platform and what is true to his political philosophy.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, who is currently serving as president of the Jewish Life Network, is troubled by this Jewish ambivalence to power. Greenberg said, "It expresses a fear that at a time of heightened anti-Semitism, Jews should not be too visible."

Greenberg’s point challenges the notion that if we are fearful, then we should be quiet. Greenberg continued, "For me, the Lieberman candidacy is proof that Jews have come of age, that we are capable of taking our fate into our own hands."

Alan Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley professor of political science at Emory University, contends that there is one element of the Jewish community that seems to be looking at the presidential candidates on the sole basis of where they stand on the issues. Abramowitz stated that "the fact that Jews do not automatically support a candidate because he happens to be Jewish is a reflection of the political maturity and self-confidence of American Jews."

How about that? Political maturity. What a great concept. It suggests that we American Jews have arrived at the place within American society where we feel equal to all Americans on all counts. We can now compete as individuals economically, socially and politically.

While Abramowitz is correct in pointing out this political maturity, there is still a segment of the Jewish community that appears to be afraid of this inalienable right. Greenberg claims "those Jews who are running scared in time will only hand a victory to anti-Semitism. One cannot hide or evade responsibility at this point of history. On the other hand, if we act — like everyone else — like we are entitled to compete for power and to be visible, then we will truly overcome the last residues of anti-Semitism."

If one doesn’t like Joe Lieberman’s stand on any of the issues and feels that there is another candidate who better reflects their views, then that would be a very mature way to look at the candidates. However, to reject Lieberman’s presidential bid because he is Jewish and that makes you feel uncomfortable as a Jew, that would be, well, immature.


Steve Berman serves on the board of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce. He is a columnist for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

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.

Making Marriage Work


Like marijuana?

Believe in men’s rights?

Want a secular state?

If you happen to have an offbeat or nonmainstream platform
for Israel, now is the time to run in the Jan. 28 parliamentary elections. One
lesson to be learned from the list of the 30 parties vying for Knesset is that
Israelis are disenfranchised, and looking for alternatives to the major
National Security issue. 

And while Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf) — the party promoting
marijuana legalization — always seems to hit the headlines a week or two before
elections (despite publicity before the last elections in 1999, the party
mustered 34,029 votes, representing slightly more than 1 percent of the
electorate — 15,000 votes short of the 1.5 percent threshold for Knesset
membership), other parties with less headline-grabbing platforms are really set
to win big.

Take Tommy Lapid’s Shinui (change) Party. Their two-page
campaign booklet doesn’t get to their political leanings until the second page.
The self-described “democratic, secular, liberal, Zionist, peace-seeking party”
platform includes creating “a secular state, a free-market economy,
[obligatory] military service.”

Does 2 percent of the country really believe legalizing pot
is the most important issue? Are 12 percent really going to vote for Lapid, a
former in-your-face talk-show host whose primary goal is to secularize the
country? (Incidentally, Shinui is attempting to do for the secular what the
religious parties — and in particular, Shas — have done for years: exchange its
vote on security for social benefits such as money for schools.)

“I’ve covered a lot of Israeli elections, but I have never
seen one like this. I’ve never seen the Israeli public less interested in the
two major parties — indeed, in the whole event,” Thomas Friedman wrote in The
New York Times on Jan. 19.

What this means for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is an even
bigger headache on Jan. 29 than he had on Nov. 5, 2002, when he called for new
elections (can anyone actually remember why?). But it also means that the major
parties had better start looking at secondary campaign positions if they want
to be relevant to the Israeli people.

Israelis, in answer to the question, “How is everything?”
might reply: “Hakol B’seder, chutz mimah she’lo b’seder” (Everything is all
right, except for what isn’t all right). The situation with the Palestinians is
so not all right, and the Israelis feel so powerless, that everything else just
seems so much more important.

 

Meanwhile, in Orange County and Los Angeles, the tide seems
to be turning the other way vis-à-vis involvement. Last month, the Israel Merchant
Faire at Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine attracted some 4,000 people and took in
$10,000 — enough to make a sizeable donation to the Israel Emergency Fund,
according to Charlene Zuckerman of Laguna Niguel, who chaired the event; one
vendor reportedly made $40,000 on the day.

And on Feb. 9, MERIT and the JCC will present a public
lecture, “An Update from the Front” with Mark Paredes, press attache of the
Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and Dr. Yaron Brook, executive
director of the Ayn Rand Institute.

In Los Angeles, this month saw the University of Judaism’s
lecture series featuring Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger, attended by almost 6,000 people. Peres also gave an
informal talk to some 100 of Hollywood’s glitterati (including Barbra
Streisand, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Annette Benning and Warren Beatty),
hosted by fellow countryman and producer Arnon Milchen (“L.A. Confidential”).

A similar group of impressive Hollywood stars turned up at
the home of DeVito and Perlman to hear out another set of visitors, Mohammed
Darawshe and Daniel Lubetsky, of One Voice: Silent No Longer, a grassroots
petition effort seeking more than 1 million Arab and Israeli signatures urging
an end to the violence and a commitment to peace.

And finally, on Sunday, Jan. 19, some 400 people from
throughout Southern California attended a full-day workshop at Temple Beth Am
in Los Angeles, “Learning How to Defend Israel: On Campus, In the Media, To the
White House, At your Office.” The StandWithUs Advocacy Conference actually had
to turn away more than 100 people from the intense and practical seminar.

Among those who turned out were students from UC Irvine and
other local universities. These students, said StandWithUs organizers, often
face virulent anti-Israel speakers and protests on their campuses.

What does all the activity on this side of the Atlantic mean? While the Israelis are deciding between indifference and apathy, the
American Jews are finally beginning to wake up from their 30-year slumber. When I lived in Israel I remember screaming at my friends in America how
important some issue was, and how can they not know about it, and why do they
want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie?

Now, I find it’s the reverse: from Los Angeles, I’m calling
them for their opinions on the upcoming elections, the latest diplomatic effort
and no, I don’t want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie.

It might take two to make a marriage work — but usually it’s
one party’s commitment that balances a lack of it on the disinterested one’s
part. American Jews’ increasing involvement in a process that Israelis are
ready to throw the towel at — well, that’s just what the marriage counselor
ordered. That, maybe, instead of a toke of the green stuff.

Justice for Jonathan Pollard


Imagine that it is 1940, and Great Britain is fighting Hitler’s Nazi Germany almost alone. Imagine, further, that an American who loves both America and England and hates the Nazis works in American intelligence and has access to secret files concerning Germany that, for whatever reason, the United States has not shared with Great Britain. This American gives the secrets to England and is caught.

This spy has, of course, violated both American law and the trust that its intelligence agencies had placed in him. Now, the question is what should be done to him? Specifically, should we regard him morally or legally as the same as an American who spied for Germany?

The answer is so obvious that only in a morally confused age such as ours would the question even be entertained. Yet this is precisely the question to be asked with regard to Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel.

Let us review the parallels to the imaginary situation outlined earlier. Israel has been at perpetual war for its survival (a threat England never faced against Germany, which wanted to vanquish, not end, its existence). An American who loved both America and Israel used his access to American intelligence on those Arab regimes and passed it on to Israel. He spied on behalf of America’s most loyal allies, not on behalf of any of America’s enemies, and he gave away secrets about Arab regimes devoted to Israel’s destruction not, to the best of our knowledge, about America. And, unlike spies whose espionage cost the lives of American and pro-American foreign agents, we know of no American and pro-American foreigner who lost his life because of Pollard.

Yet Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence in prison — more punishment than some Americans who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and certainly more punishment than nearly all the murderers in America; and he has now languished in prison, often in solitary confinement, for 12 years.

The argument that Pollard was a spy, and that is all that matters, may be legally valid, but it is not morally valid. The argument that “spying is spying” is no more moral than “killing is killing.” Circumstances always determine the morality of an act. Just as most of us distinguish morally between terrorists killing innocents and anti-terrorists killing terrorists, most of us morally distinguish between spying on a democratic ally, especially one fighting for its existence, and spying for an anti-democratic enemy such as the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the United States spies on Israel and probably on most of its other allies. Last year, for example, Germany expelled an American for spying on Germany.

None of this is meant to defend what Jonathan Pollard did. Unless he actually saved Israel from something as awful as an Iraqi biological or nuclear attack, what he did is unjustifiable. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg recently wrote, “Pollard’s good intentions paved the way to political hell.” I am writing only to morally evaluate what he did in light of the suffering he has endured, and to compare his punishments with those given to other American spies and to violent criminals.

He is largely a broken man who suffers alone and who, for reasons that are not our business but that compel our compassion, has also suffered family crises. His continued suffering serves no good purpose. Again, as Rabbi Greenberg, one of the most credible voices in American Jewry and someone who, in his own words, “was not one of those who expressed sympathy for him when the case first broke,” wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that enough is enough…. It is time to extend mercy to Jonathan Pollard…. [There has been a] relentless parade of parallel cases in which far more damaging and dangerous spies received milder sentences.”

We quickly learn of the damage done to America by those who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and no damage has been revealed in Jonathan Pollard’s case. It makes one wonder why former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger so vociferously sought to keep Pollard in prison. Two reasons suggest themselves. One is that, for whatever reason, Weinberger has a particular loathing for Pollard; the other is that he may fear that if Pollard is released, Pollard will reveal how much sensitive data about Israel’s enemies the Weinberger Defense Department kept from Israel. I have no proof for either claim — I hope they are untrue. But neither Weinberger nor anyone else, including the entire American media, has offered any data that argue for the treatment Pollard has received.

Enough is enough. As I watch America release thousands of murderers and child molesters after a few years in prison, and give a spy for Saudi Arabia no prison term at all, I get progressively more disturbed as to why Jonathan Pollard is still in prison.

To contact Justice for Jonathan Pollard, call (416) 781-3571; fax (416) 781-3166; or e-mail pollard@cpol.com. The web site is http://www.interlog.com/.