German Jewish activist voted sexiest female politician


A 25-year-old Jewish woman has been voted Germany's sexiest female politician.

Marina Weisband, 25, a leading member of the “Pirate Party Germany,” took first place in a Playboy online poll with 29 percent of the votes. According to the Bild Zeitung newspaper, 1,000 people took part in the poll.

Coming in second was the Left Party politician Sahra Wagenknecht, with 28 percent of the vote.

Weisband came to Germany with her family from Ukraine in 1994, in the wave of Jewish emigration following the fall of the Berlin Wall and. the collapse of the Soviet Union. She joined the Pirate Party – a progressive liberal party that promotes Internet freedom – in 2009 and served as its executive director from May 2011 to April 2012. During her tenure, she reportedly took on the issue of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism among some party members.

Weisband now is pursuing a PhD in psychology. She has not ruled out a return to political activism but will not run as a candidate for the Bundestag this year.

The Bild newspaper notes that Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, age 58, got only 3 percent of the Playboy vote.

Avigdor Lieberman told he might be indicted


Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been told that he may soon be indicted on charges of fraud, money laundering and break of trust.

The punishment for money laundering alone could be up to a 10-year prison sentence.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed the Kadima Party leader of the possibility on Wednesday, reported Haaretz.

The foreign minister has the right to a hearing in the effort to persuade the attorney general not to move forward with formal charges. If he takes that option, he will not need to resign from the cabinet. If he forsakes the opportunity, his political fate is not clear, according to the newspaper.

About a year-and-a-half ago, the Israeli police’s head of investigations and intelligence division, Yoav Segalovich, recommended that Weinstein charge Lieberman. Conversations on the matter have continued since then between the State Prosecution and the Attorney General offices. Segalovich recommended indicting Lieberman on charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, breach of trust, witness harassment, and obstruction of justice, according to Haaretz.

Police have alleged that Lieberman was given more than 10 million in bribes from businessmen, which was laundered via shell companies and fictitious bank accounts overseas.

The police also have recommended indicting Lieberman for breach of trust in the case of Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, who showed Lieberman secret documents from the investigation against Lieberman, Haaretz reported.

Fred Karger for president


In the course of an election campaign, most presidential candidates talk about what they’ll do if — or, if they’re particularly bullish, when — they’re elected.

But Fred Karger isn’t like other Republicans running for president, and not just because he’s openly gay and Jewish. Karger is also pro-choice, in favor of marriage equality, and a self-described “flaming moderate” running against a pack of candidates who appear to be perpetually vying for the title of “most conservative.” Yet, what most sets Karger apart, when he talks about his campaign, is his focus on what might seem like a more achievable goal than reaching the White House.

“I will be in a debate,” Karger said on a recent trip back to Los Angeles from his part-time home in Manchester, N.H. “The field may have to narrow, but I will be on that stage. I’m not going anywhere.”

Getting on the podium with the Republican challengers to President Barack Obama is no small task, and Karger, 61, hasn’t succeeded yet — not surprising for someone who has never run for office before. Better-known candidates, like Buddy Roemer, a former congressman and Louisiana governor, also are having difficulty getting attention.

But presumably, Karger, who isn’t a stranger to the political arena, knew what he’d be up against. He worked for years as a political consultant to Republican candidates — including running campaigns for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

After he retired, at 53, Karger waged a campaign in 2006 to save the Boom Boom Room, a gay bar in Laguna Beach — a fight that also brought him, for the first time, out as an openly gay man. He later went on to join the unsuccessful fight to defeat the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.

His involvement in the cause of gay rights led him to his decision to run for president, and there are times when Karger’s run for the White House can also seem close to the “It Gets Better” campaign launched by gay writer and activist Dan Savage, which aims to bolster the spirits of embattled gay youth.

“I want to send a message to the LGBT youth that there are no restrictions like I thought I had for so many years,” Karger told a reporter for the Jerusalem Post when he visited Israel in May.

His presidential campaign also has its fair share of jokiness. “Fred Who?” is the slogan on Karger’s promotional Frisbees and other materials. The Karger campaign also produced a couple of chuckle-worthy YouTube videos, splicing the candidate into footage of debates from which he’s been barred entry.

But his presidential bid is equally a campaign against, as Karger sees it, what the Republican Party has become. Born into a family of Jewish Republicans in a suburb north of Chicago, he once worked for one of Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaigns. He says the GOP needs to look back to Reagan as a model for engaging moderate voters.

“You’re seeing right now, the country — California, Iowa — voters leaving the two [major]parties,” Karger said. “Most of new registrants are registering in record numbers as independents and undeclared. The Michael Bloombergs of the world resonate with them. Hopefully the Fred Kargers will.”

Brad Hertz, Karger’s director of Jewish outreach, said he believes that’s happening, despite the unconventional character of Karger’s campaign. “He is having fun, but taking it seriously, and, I think, inspiring people,” Hertz said. “And also probably making some people uncomfortable.”

Among those standing in the way of the Karger campaign are some organizers of debates and forums with Republican presidential candidates — which comes back to Karger’s singular goal. The closest he came to making it onto the stage for a debate was in August, when he scored 2 percent on a Harris Interactive Poll — the same as Jon Huntsman and more than Rick Santorum, who came in at 1 percent in that survey. Karger said it should have qualified him for the Fox News Aug. 11 debate in Iowa. Yet he wasn’t invited and has since filed a formal legal complaint against the network’s parent corporation, News Corp.

Karger couldn’t even snag an invitation to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Presidential Candidates Forum on Dec. 7, where seven candidates — including Huntsman and Santorum — are set to appear.

“Once they send out an invitation that says ‘Presidential Candidates Forum,’ then the light goes off,” Karger said. “They have to invite me.”

But Karger — who was invited to speak to an RJC leadership event earlier this year — hasn’t been invited. Representatives from the RJC declined to comment for this story, nor did they disclose to the Karger campaign the criteria they used to decide which candidates to invite and which to exclude.

“For candidates who spend significant time, money and effort on their campaigns, it’s important for them to be made aware of those criteria,” said Cary Davidson, an election lawyer who is Karger’s campaign treasurer. “Otherwise, how do the candidates know if the sponsors of the debates are following the applicable law?”

So Karger will have to be patient. Meanwhile, he plans to keep running his idiosyncratic campaign — he hires a bagpiper to walk precincts, which he says reliably gets voters to come to their doors — on its shoestring budget for as long as it takes, even until the Republican Party’s convention in August 2012. Karger estimates he’s spent $400,000 on the campaign so far, most of it his own.

“My campaign is going to close in New Hampshire, and it’s going to be the theme of ‘Fed Up With the Republican Party? Vote for Fred,’ ” Karger said. “As kind of a protest vote.”

But, really, he just wants a chance to stand on that stage, for one reason or another. “All I want to get is one debate,” Karger said. “Just give me that one shot.”

Barney Frank leaves as he served: With a sharp wit


Barney Frank’s talk of retirement was anything but retiring.

The veteran Jewish congressman’s announcement on Monday that he would not seek re-election was replete with the same caliber of verbal bombs—lobbed and received—that characterized much of his career.

Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, attributed his decision not to run in 2012 in part on what he said was the Republican polarization of the legislative process.

The House GOP caucus, he said at his news conference, “consists half of people who think like Michele Bachmann and half of people who are afraid of losing a primary to people who think like Michele Bachmann,” referring to the GOP presidential hopeful and conservative Minnesota congresswoman.

“That leaves very little room to work things out,” said Frank, 71, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1981 and in 1987 became the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out as gay.

Frank also cited the redrawing of his district that made it more conservative as a reason for his decision.

His critics—among them a phalanx of Jewish conservatives—are not necessarily shedding tears over his impending departure from Congress. Some assailed his role amid the financial crisis as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Finance Committee from 2007 until January of this year.

Frank is “a quick wit—all too rare on the left,” Joel Pollak wrote on the conservative website Big Government.

“Yet,” Pollak added, “his most damaging legacies—the housing crisis, the financial ‘reform’ that bears his name, and the hyper-partisanship to which he eagerly contributed—outweigh Frank’s positive contributions. How unfortunate that his constituents did not eject him much sooner.”

Frank at his news conference at the town hall in Newton, Mass., where he lives, pushed back against such claims, saying that much of the groundwork for the economic crisis was in place by January 2007. But answering the reporter who asked him if he regretted his role, Frank expanded his answer to say that he did have regrets about his time in Congress. And they were substantive.

Frank said he rued his vote against the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, as well as approving restrictions on the Internal Revenue Service that he now sees as impeding tax collection.

He was no stranger to public regrets. In 1989, Frank expressed contrition when it was revealed that a man he once paid for sex and later hired to do chores and errands had run a prostitution service from the congressman’s Capitol Hill apartment.

Jewish community professionals who dealt with Frank said that his ability to self-correct—the flip side of his acerbic wit and his unwillingness to suffer fools gladly—made him valuable: He was willing to be swayed by good arguments.

“Barney was willing to admit when he was wrong,” said Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council for Jewish Women, who for years dealt with Frank in her previous job as director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

“If he stepped out too far on an issue, he would call the Jewish community leaders to apologize,” she said. “If he didn’t understand all the ramifications, he would check in.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, recalled a few hair-raising encounters with Frank.

“He could be scathing in his critique of your view,” he said. “It didn’t mean he was always right, but he would push you hard to defend your position. If you didn’t come really prepared, you’d find yourself in deep trouble. When you came prepared, he respected that.”

Frank was one of the few Jewish lawmakers who would push back against what he saw as the excesses of the pro-Israel lobby.

At the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Washington, he attended what the American Israel Public Affairs Committee calls its “breakfast with mishpocha”—a get-together with the unofficial Jewish congressional caucus.

AIPAC’s then president, Bernice Manocherian, pressed Democrats in the room, according to those who attended, on how the lobby could better make its case to the left—a constituency with which Manocherian was concerned that Israel was losing ground.

The lawmakers politely demurred, insisting AIPAC was doing fine—until Frank spoke up and blasted AIPAC for insisting that Jewish lawmakers back bills they might otherwise object to. He cited a Republican funding bill from the late 1990s that slashed funds to Africa; AIPAC had insisted on passage because of its Israel funding components.

Slowly, as the other lawmakers saw Manocherian nodding and taking notes, they joined in, backing up Frank’s complaint. In 2008 and 2010, Frank accepted the endorsement of the dovish J Street’s political action committee.

“On particular Jewish concerns,” like Israel and Soviet Jewry, “he was as front and center as he was on our broad agenda,” Saperstein said. That included gay rights, hate crimes and financial reform.

Frank did not often invoke his Jewishness, although he reveled in pushing back against Israel critics by noting that the Jewish state had been more advanced than the United States for years when it came to gay rights.

More recently he took up the cause of clemency for Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy serving a life sentence since 1985.

“Last year, Congressman Frank played a vital role in spearheading a key Congressional letter to President Obama which called for a commutation of Jonathan’s sentence, and he has been a vocal supporter and an outspoken advocate for Jonathan’s release ever since,” Esther Pollard, Jonathan’s wife, said in a statement to JTA. “We are extremely appreciative of Congressman Frank’s efforts to free Jonathan and we are confident that he will continue playing a leading role in the fight for clemency in the weeks and months ahead.”

When Frank did bring up being Jewish, it was often as a witticism.

When a woman at a town hall meeting in 2009 called President Obama’s health care proposals “Nazi policy,” he famously said, “I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?”

“It’s a loss of a sense of humor” that will be keenly felt, said David A. Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “A rapier wit.”

It was the loss of a reason to enjoy Congress that drove out Frank, the NCJW’s Kaufman said.

“He was depressed, watching what was happening in the Congress of the United States, with Ted Kennedy’s death and the lack of people talking across the aisle,” she said. “It’s not been fun, and it has to be fun.”

Rep. Bachmann links U.S. economic policy to Holocaust


U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) linked the fallout from current U.S. economic policy to the Holocaust in a speech.

Speaking to about 200 New Hampshire Republicans April 30 at the We The People First in the Nation Freedom Forum, Bachmann, a self-professed supporter of Israel, recalled learning about the Holocaust and being shocked that only after World War II did most Americans learn about the systematic killing of six million Jews.

She said that the next generation of Americans will ask its elders what they did to prevent the shifting of the tax burden to them, just as her generation asked their parents what they did to prevent the premeditated murder of Europe’s Jews.

“I tell you this story because I think in our day and time, there is no analogy to that horrific action” the Holocaust, she said. “But only to say, we are seeing eclipsed in front of our eyes a similar death and a similar taking away. It is this disenfranchisement that I think we have to answer to.”

Bachmann’s comments were condemned by Holocaust survivors.

“Survivors strongly feel that Representative Bachmann’s comments were ill-conceived and made unfortunate reference to the tragedy of the Holocaust,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement.

“We recognize that Bachmann clearly stated that she was not making an analogy between the horrors of the Holocaust and economic challenges being faced here.  Nevertheless her remarks are the latest in a string of such comments by politicians – of both parties – which instrumentalize and trivialize the terrible years of Nazi persecution.”

“We repeat our plea that all political candidates exhibit proper sensitivity and avoid cavalier references to the mass murder that was the Holocaust,” Steinberg concluded.

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav receives seven-year prison sentence


Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was found guilty of rape and sexual assault, was sentenced to seven years in jail and ordered to pay compensation to two of his victims.

A panel of three Tel Aviv District Court judges handed down the sentence Tuesday, nearly five years after he was first accused.

Katsav, 65, reportedly began sobbing after the verdict was read and then yelled out several times, interrupting the judges, saying “It’s all lies,”  “the sentence is a mistake” and “it’s not true.”

Katsav’s prison sentence is set to begin May 8. He was also ordered to pay more than $28,000 to the rape victim and about $7,000 to the sexual assault victim. He also will serve two years of probation after his release from prison.

“The defendant committed the crime and like every other person, he must bear the consequences. No man is above the law,” the judges wrote in their sentence, which was read out in the courtroom. “The contention that seeing a former president of the country go to jail is too painful to watch is an emotional argument, but it definitely cannot be accepted as an ethical argument.”

The closed-door trial lasted for one year, ending with a guilty verdict on Dec. 30. Two years ago, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain—one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence—saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, became president when the Knesset elected him in 2000, upsetting candidate Shimon Peres. Peres became president in 2007 after Katsav resigned in the wake of the allegations, shortly before the end of his term.

“This is an extraordinary day in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the sentencing. “This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system. The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on a simple principle, that of equality before the law; nobody is above the law, not even a former president, all are subject to the law. This distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”

Netanyahu said the court also ruled on equality between men and women.

“Every woman has the right to her body, the right to respect and freedom, and nobody has the right to take these from her,” the prime minister said. “This also distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”

Katsav has 45 days to appeal the sentence.

The New Jewish Politic


Combative and fiesty, Larry Sternberg relishes the impact of his Libertarian views. When running in a congressional primary for Rep. Robert Badham’s vacated District 47 seat, Sternberg advocated decriminalizing illegal drugs. Despite a lack of campaign resources, he stood out in a crowded field ultimately won by Christopher Cox. “It was fun; it was a crazy fling,” said the semi-retired Tustin accountant.

Among historically liberal American Jews, Sternberg’s conservative views — about abortion, welfare, property rights and regulation — defy conventional wisdom. Sternberg, 75, is convinced Jewish values begat conservative politics, a conclusion he forged during the Reagan presidency at a time of his own renewed interest in Judaism.

He calls on Jews to re-examine their politics in his new book, “Why Jews Should Not Be Liberals” (Ivy House, $20). “The author makes the impassioned and bracing argument that conservatism is the political philosophy most consonant with the value of the Torah,” Michael Potemra wrote in July’s National Review.

Larry Sternberg will speak on Nov. 15 at Temple Isaiah, 2401 Irvine Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 548-6900.

Support for IsraelElementary to Watson


She may not know the word shteibel, but she knows what’s going on.

"I represented [them] before, you know, in the ’80s when I was a state senator," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), referring to the Jews of Hancock Park. "They wanted to pray, to have a temple in a house. I helped them get the permits."

When Watson runs for reelection this November, she’ll face some disadvantages not usually encountered by an incumbent politician. For one, she will have only represented her constituents for 18 months. She had won the House seat in a special election last year to replace the late Julian Dixon.

Another disadvantage is redistricting, which has changed the shape of her congressional district and added new voters groups that she has never represented in Congress before. Those new constituents include the active Jewish community of Hancock Park.

"I’m very pleased to have Hancock Park back," said Watson, whose redrawn 33rd District will retain her base in Culver City, Ladera Heights and South Los Angeles, at the same time adding Hancock Park and parts of the Hollywood and Silverlake areas. Watson represented much of the same area, including part of Hancock Park, when she became the first African American woman elected to state Senate in 1978, serving five terms.

In 1976, she became the first African American woman on the Los Angeles School Board. Before returning to elected office last year to fill Dixon’s congressional seat, Watson served two years as ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia.

As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Watson is aware of the tensions between African American and Jewish leaders that have grown during this election cycle, particularly the primary defeats of African American incumbents Earl Hilliard in Alabama and Cynthia McKinney in Georgia. Both incumbents were defeated with the help of Jewish organizations and individuals, largely from outside their House districts, concerned over their anti-Israel voting records.

In contrast to the two defeated House members, Watson has regularly supported Israel in Congress. She even met with Agudath Israel of America’s 2002 National Leadership Mission to Washington.

Watson, who sits of the House International Relations Committee, was quick to emphasize that the addition of the Jewish community in Hancock Park to her district does not add many Jewish voters to her constituency. The congresswoman explained that she lost Jewish voters in Cheviot Hills, the Pico-Robertson area and other parts of West Los Angeles in the same redistricting.

Her well-documented support for Israel, she said, is the result of her "long relationship with Israel, going back to the ’60s." In that decade, during a teaching stint in France, Watson made a side trip on her own to the Holy Land. "I’m a Catholic by the way, so the Via Dolorosa was an important place to visit."

In the 1980s, already familiar with the issues of the region and the importance of a strong Israel, Watson made an official trip to the country with a delegation from the state Legislature. During the visit, Watson conceived and later helped bring to Tel Aviv a statue honoring [African-American] Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, who helped negotiate the end of Israel’s War of Independence.

In November 2001, she delivered the keynote address at the "All Eyes on Israel" conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee on Campus (AIPAC), where she said that United States has no greater friend than Israel. "I just think we need to be there for Israel," she told The Journal, "and we certainly are."

Watson’s voting record reflects her visits to Israel and her public statements in support of the country. In December 2001, she voted for a House resolution urging action against Palestinian terrorism. In March of this year, she signed a letter to President Bush urging the addition of the Palestinian groups Tanzim, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Force 417 to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

Watson has also voted in favor of the congressional resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in the fight against terrorism, and in favor of a strong foreign aid package for Israel. Elliot Brandt, AIPAC western regional director, called Watson "stellar in her support of Israel."

Watson is expected to easily win reelection in the heavily Democratic district. The California Public Policy Foundation predicted a "slam dunk" for the Democrat in its California Political Review newsletter.

The prediction, based on Democrats making up 69 percent of registered voters in the district, questioned only whether Republican challenger Andrew Kim will be able to match Bush’s 13 percent showing in the district 2000 election.

In a district which she called "hugely diverse," Watson represents approximately one-third African American voters, one-third Hispanics and one-third "everybody, everybody." The district includes Little Armenia, Thai Town, Koreatown and a Greek community. Luckily, Watson said, in foreign policy and her home district alike, "I’m a negotiator, not a pugilist."

Can Bob Hertzberg Save L.A.?


On a drizzly morning, with the city just opening its eyes, Bob Hertzberg is sitting at Solley’s Delicatessen in Sherman Oaks. Even before having his coffee, he seems animated, even agitated, by his great new project: how to save Los Angeles.

To Hertzberg, speaker emeritus of the state Assembly, saving Los Angeles is not what the new civic patriots opposing Valley secession will be telling us over the next months. It’s not about maintaining a dysfunctional system at all costs — one whose greatest beneficiaries are city bureaucrats, well-connected developers and a political class whose living depends on keeping things just the way they are. It’s not about how, if the Valley secedes, those of us who live there will no longer be able to identify with the Lakers or the Dodgers, enjoy the Hollywood Bowl or have dim sum in Chinatown.

Hertzberg’s vision goes to the heart of politics, to where people live and how they interact with government. As I worked with him on his borough plan, I could see he was looking not only for a "political fix" to a problem, but also a way to re-energize a failing political culture. By dividing the city into nine smaller boroughs, each with considerable powers of self-government, he is trying to bring accountability and accessibility to a city regime that long ago forgot about average citizens, most particularly in the middle-class warrens of the San Fernando Valley.

This is not what the current string-pullers and current Mayor James Hahn, want to see. They like the status quo, it provides for expensive council races — manna for consultants, unions and big developer donors — in huge districts that often have about as much coherence as a George Bush (pick either one) monologue. To preserve the municipal monstrosity, they are willing to use any kind of tactic — from race-mongering to suggesting the lights will go out — to "save" the city that they feed upon.

This is what most weighs on the mind of Hertzberg.

"What is the point of stopping secession by scaring people to death?" Hertzberg asks over his salami and eggs. "It’s good for the campaign consultants, but it is going to leave a city divided. It will be like World War II."

Hertzberg spells out his disaster scenario: Hahn, backed by unions and the insider culture, uses his vastly superior resources to get out a message that secession is, as the mayor says, "a harebrained scheme" that will raise taxes, hurt the poor and create a whole new layer of politicians. The fact that other cities have such systems — such as New York — will be used to raise the specter of "Eastern" corrupt politics.

In Hertzberg’s worst-case scenario, the Valley’s now overwhelming support for secession erodes, but it still passes by 55 percent or more. But the rest of the city — scared that its cash cow is about to wander off the ranch — forces the recalcitrant Valley to stay. A new mayor and council elected by the Valley become, in essence, what Hertzberg calls " a government in exile." Hahn and his consultants get their win, but at a terrible price.

"Secession may not win, but it won’t go away," explains David Abel, a key Hertzberg adviser, civic activist and publisher. "What the Hahn people don’t understand is there’s a city that’s hurting. On what graveyard do they hope to build the new L.A.? Yet, that’s what we face unless Bob saves the day."

Hertzberg’s emergence as the erstwhile architect of Los Angeles’ salvation reflects his unique upbringing, and his decidedly secular, but very much Jewish, roots. His father, Harrison, was the son of rag dealers who fled the pogroms at the turn of the last century. He trained as an engineer at the University of Wisconsin, served in the military and then went to law school at Harvard.

This scholarly bent — accompanied by left-wing politics — shaped Hertzberg. The Constitution, he notes, was, in some sense, "the family business." Religious Judaism was not part of the picture. Hertzberg, for example, was not bar mitzvahed, even though he was raised in "a Jewish culture."

Yet as he grew into a man, went to school at Redlands and then gained a law degree at Hastings, Hertzberg’s latent Jewishness seemed to emerge. Today, his two sons from his previous marriage are at Stephen S. Wise Temple. He now counts Abraham Joshua Heschel, along with his father and the great constitutionalists, as major influences.

"I think in terms of structures that can work," Hertzberg suggests. "My view of the world is it’s good to make things that help people. I want to make an alternative that brings people closer to government and feel more in control of things. To bring back a sense of place."

This highly practical view, however, also masks a kind of messianic passion, something that makes him push proposals, like boroughs, that seem unlikely to make it through the usual political process. Journalists describe the bear-hugging pol as "hyperactive," but Hertzberg is more self-deprecating. "I’m kind of a nut," he says, with a kind of perverse pride. "That’s who I am."

Yet Hertzberg also is very much a postmodern Angeleno, who understands that coping with the diversity of the city is part of making the place work. He cut his teeth politically not in the Berman-Waxman machine, but working for the United Farm Workers and for Eastside firebrand Gloria Molina. His second wife, Cynthia Telles, is a Mexican American who teaches at the UCLA School of Medicine. Her son, also from a previous marriage, is being raised Catholic.

He is also a good politician, in the sense of getting other politicians to back him. His personal talents helped him become speaker in 2000. He worked assiduously to craft legislation. Some complain, however, that Hertzberg was less than effective as a speaker; certainly in term-limits time, no one has come close to the legislative power of the late Jesse Unruh or Willie Brown. But Hertzberg used the system well, and to the benefit of the Valley constituents who elected him — something that few Valley councilmen have done in recent years.

Compromise, he reminds me over and over, is what politics is about; something you need as a legislator and even more as speaker. Weighing the interests of various groups and individuals, like the Constitution does on a broader scale, the boroughs proposal reflects that notion completely. It allows for even small sections of the city — borough districts would be as small as 80,000 — to express themselves and elect genuine, part-time "citizen politicians." Koreatown, Pico-Robertson-Fairfax, Watts, San Pedro, all the wondrous neighborhoods of this city, get a chance to elect someone from around the neighborhood.

But key issues of citywide interest, the airport, the Department of Water and Power and the like, would be controlled by a council of borough presidents. The mayor would retain his expanded powers granted by the slightly reformed new City Charter.

If Hertzberg is to be faulted, it is in coming out too late with the program. With $1 million in campaign funds in his kitty, Hertzberg could have financed a signature-gathering campaign that would have allowed him to place the measure on the ballot without council approval. Working on a short timetable, he did a brilliant job of marshaling support from academics like state Librarian Kevin Starr, New York urban expert Fred Siegel and political scientist Eric Schockman. He also rallied sympathy from the top media — from the fervently anti-secession Los Angeles Times to the pro-breakup Daily News, and even a mild endorsement from LA Weekly’s Harold Meyerson, the social democratic rabbi of the rational left in Los Angeles.

But, unfortunately, prestige and rationality don’t often count for much in politics. Hertzberg’s real struggle is against his own caste, the city’s political animals. It’s an uphill fight to convince a bunch of committed pols –the best paid city council in the nation and due for yet another raise — to change the way it, and its backers, do business. There are reasons for them to be, as the Roman author Seneca put it, "resolute in their madness."

Hertzberg knows that the reasons to kill boroughs, from the perverse values of petty politics, are understandable. Alex Padilla, the council president from the Northeast Valley, does not want to abandon a system that serves his political controllers, even if it does precious little for his hard-pressed district. Jack Weiss, who perhaps should know better, doesn’t feel the oppression of the city since his largely Westside 5th District does relatively well under the current system. In addition, the loss of the Valley would leave the posh Westside virtually the only large affluent pocket in the city. With the Valley no longer available for ransacking, the Westside may find itself more a target for downtown’s redistributionist urges.

The others, for the most part, will do as their masters — powerful developers, union bosses, political consultants — tell them. They will concoct "patriotic" reasons, or find fault in some detail of the plan, but basically it’s against their narrow interests. A better, more responsive city is not on the agenda for most of the council, anymore than it is for the small group of insiders who animate the otherwise-lifeless mayor.

For these reasons, it seems the die against boroughs seems already cast, although Hertzberg is likely to press on until the end of July, when the plan must be put on the ballot by the council. If it fails the feared scenario — the anti-secessionists "winning ugly" as he puts it — will then unfold, with the attendant tragic consequences of even greater alienation and internecine conflict.

But even under this likely scenario, Hertzberg is not likely to let go of the borough plan. Even as he takes a hiatus for two or three years from elective office, he is likely to bring the idea up again, perhaps as a grass-roots ballot initiative. As he sees it, the divided outcome of a secession vote makes even more critical the launch of another, new Valley-led effort to restructure the city.

"I am not about to give up," he says. "Ideas never die. I think this is the future whether it’s today or tomorrow."


Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow with the Davenport
Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University and at the Milken
Institute. He is the author of “The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is
Reshaping the American Landscape” (Random House, $12.95) and can be reached at
joelkotkin@newgeography.com .

Campaign Kippah


The red-and-white lettering that reads GORE-LIEBERMAN 2000 is already on signs, bumper stickers and buttons. But thanks to Marsha Greenberg of Stamford, Conn., vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman has it stitched on his kippah.

Greenberg crocheted the blue campaign kippah for Lieberman when the news broke that Vice President Al Gore asked Lieberman to be his running mate.

Greenberg got the kippah to Lieberman through her friend, Harold Bernstein, who is a cousin of Lieberman. Bernstein gave it to one of Lieberman’s aides when the candidates were in Stamford recently.
It was an instant hit with both Lieberman and Gore, but Gore immediately claimed it for himself. So Greenberg, who has crocheted kippot since she was a high school student, made another one for Lieberman.

The vice-presidential candidate isn’t the first high-profile politician to wear one of her creations. The late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin also had one. The kippah design she made for the race for the White House has been getting a lot of attention. The Associated Press circulated the story of the kippah and The New Republic wrote about it.

“Five thousand years of Jewish history and never has one yarmulke caused so much commotion!” said Greenberg. She has received offers upward of $75 for it.

Whether or not the Democratic ticket wins in November, Greenberg knows there is historical value to the kippah. The National Museum of American Jewish
History in Philadelphia wants one. She also plans to donate one to the Smithsonian Institution for its exhibition on Presidential campaign memorabilia.

This story appears courtesy of The Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

A Modern Orthodox
Top Ten

Within hours of the official announcement of Sen. Joe Lieberman as a contender for the vice presidency, people started sending their “Top Ten” lists about a Jewish veep over the Internet. Early on, Marsha Greenberg composed a distinctly Modern Orthodox version: “Top Ten List of Ways the White House Would Change Under Lieberman.”

10) The State of the Union address would end with an appeal.

9) Air Force One grounded on Shabbat and yom tovim, and seats reconfigured to allow space for minyanim.

8) Young Israel of Pennsylvania Avenue due to open across the street.

7) Supreme Court Justices’ robes to be routinely checked for shatnes.

6) Mohel appointed surgeon general.

5) Traditional Easter Egg Hunt on White House lawn replaced by bedikat chometz.

4) Israeli diplomats visiting White House for state dinners will have to preorder treif meals or risk having to eat glatt kosher with everyone else.

3)First lady’s inaugural gown to be ordered with matching snood.

2)National prayer breakfast to conclude with ecumenical learning of “Daf Yomi.”

1)Secret Service to confer with local Orthodox rabbis to discuss feasibility of enclosing the White House and Capitol in an eruv.

Sherry Shameer, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Embracing Diaspora


The old-time Zionist religion had it that the only good Diaspora Jew was the one who made aliyah and settled in the ancestral land.

Now, after decades of inner-focused effort to build up the new land and survive, the Jewish state is rediscovering its distant relatives and, what’s more, is ready to accept them, on their own terms, as equals.

Stretching out a hand to the brethren abroad has become a sudden Israeli cottage industry. For the first time, a cabinet minister for “World Jewish Affairs” has been appointed. Senior politicians and think tanks vie to come up with imaginative plans to redefine relations between the world’s two largest Jewish communities in Israel and the United States.

In a reversal of fortunes, Israel is putting up $100 million to support an educational program for Diaspora youth through the “Birthright Israel” program.

Not least, Israel’s foreign ministry has made a major commitment in staff and money for new outreach programs, most notably the Young Jewish Leadership Diplomatic Seminar.

The inaugural run of the 25-day summer seminar has concluded and the newly coined “diplomats,” most in their twenties and hailing from 18 countries, have returned from Israel to their hometowns.

Among the 34 participants were two young professional women from Los Angeles, who came home with a new appreciation and knowledge of Israel — both its strengths and its unresolved problems.

Neither Lauren Rutkin, 29, or Marjan Keypour, 28, arrived at the seminar as novices. Both had visited Israel twice before, and their jobs — Rutkin as associate director of the local AIPAC office, and Keypour as a staff member of the Anti-Defamation League’s community services department — inevitably have a Zionist component.

In that sense, they differ from most of their American peers, to whom the Jewish state is “not central, not terribly important,” said Rutkin.

Even for vacation trips, noted Keypour, most American twentysomethings “want a paradise atmosphere, not the war zone depicted on their television.”

But even for the relatively knowledgeable participants from Los Angeles, the daily dawn-to-dusk sessions were intensive learning experiences.

They heard, and questioned, an array of experts on Israel’s foreign relations, the peace process, the country’s Arabs, Hebrew poetry, movies, theater, economics, media, jurisprudence, academic life, environment, urban sprawl, religion and more.

“There was no sugar coating of existing problems,” said Rutkin, and Keypour agreed that “they presented the facts and allowed us to draw our own conclusions.”

The two women did encounter the old-line Zionist perspective in the person of the formidable President Ezer Weizman, and felt some resentment at his insistence that Jewish life in the Diaspora was meaningless.

As often happens in such settings, the two Angelenas learned as much about differing Jewish viewpoints from their fellow participants from different countries as from the lecturers.

“I found out that such terms as ‘Conservative’ or ‘Reform’ Judaism mean different things in different countries,” said Keypour. “Religious pluralism was the number one topic of debate.”

What both women missed were personal contacts with Israelis of their own age, and Keypour added that the program was a mite too cerebral.

Future participants, particularly if first-time visitors to Israel, “should experience the country also on a more spiritual and emotional level… to smell the flowers and touch the stones of the Western Wall,” Keypour said.

But overall, Rutkin said, she returned feeling “more connected with Israel and the Jewish people, and energized in my commitment.”

She will apply her experiences to encourage the next generation of young leaders to spend time in Israel, starting with her three sisters. On a personal note, she has decided to celebrate a belated bat mitzvah in November.

Keypour, who arrived in this country 11 years ago from Iran, said she would focus her efforts on the young people in her own community, whose indifferent attitudes toward Israel mirrors those of other young Jews in Los Angeles. She also plans to talk to the Sinai Temple New Leadership, on whose board she serves.

Arthur Lenk, consul for communications and public affairs at the local Israel consulate-general, sees the seminar as a partial antidote to young American Jews, who view Israel as “just another country. “

“On our side, it has become clear that Israel does not solely exist for its own citizens, but has no less a responsibility for Jews everywhere,” said Lenk, who himself made aliyah from the United States.

“It’s part of Israel’s maturation process that we can say, sure we want you to settle here, but if you don’t come, that doesn’t make you any less of a Jew,” he observed.

Lenk, who interviewed 15 applicants for this year’s pilot program said that the feedback had been positive enough to plan for a similar seminar next summer.

Breakfast with Mr. Security


Arik Sharon,the last of the great Israeli war heroes/politicians.

Photo by Peter Halmagyi

Last Saturday morning, as the Middle East peaceprocess careened toward yet another crisis point, Ariel Sharon washolding court at a back table in the Peninsula Hotel in BeverlyHills.

Sharon’s ample presence was further magnified by astony security detail and a handful of well-heeled local supporters.”This is a real hero!” proclaimed Uri Harkham, the Israeli-immigrantowner of the Jonathan Martin clothing company.

Sharon is indeed the last of the great Israeli warheroes/politicians. Credited with defeating the Egyptian army inSinai, he also carries the stigma of failure for the 1982 LebanonWar. But this morning, he seems to be luxuriating in his ability toexert a powerful hard-right pull on Binyamin Netanyahu, in whosegovernment he serves as minister of infrastructure. “I’ve been incontact with the prime minister four or five times in the last 48hours,” he tells The Journal. Indeed, one Israeli analyst speculatedin the morning press that Netanyahu dared not accede to Washington’srequest for a 13-percent pullout from the West Bank so long as Sharonwas out of the country.

But, The Journal asks the general, what’s the bigdeal over a couple of percentage points? “This isn’t the stockmarket,” he says. “Every percent is meaningful.” There arefresh-water sources, crucial security emplacements, holy sites, notto mention Jewish settlements. American Jews, Sharon says, just don’tunderstand this. That explains why, in a recent Israel Policy Forumpoll, 80 perecent of them said they support President Clinton’sefforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “Who knowsfrom here what our security requirements are?” asks Sharon. “Whoknows here what happens in another state, even?”

As a combat hero and builder of numerous West Banksettlements, Sharon’s credentials as Mr. Security are impeccable. Hissupporters will tell you that only Arik can be trusted not to giveaway the store, and Sharon boasts to a reporter that even thePalestinians prefer dealing with him. “They know exactly where Istand.”

This gives Sharon, who is 70, the veto on the nextphase of Oslo. If Mr. Security says 13 percent is fine, so will mostIsraelis. If not, not. That arrangement brings a slim smile toSharon’s lips. In The New York Times last month, Thomas Friedmansuggested that Sharon now has a chance to enter the history bookslike that other war hero/ peacemaker, Yitzhak Rabin. “I am familiarwith that article,” Sharon says. “Of course, I would like to see thenext step [of Oslo] and to contribute to it, but I feel I have beencontributing to peace.”

The Journal brings up Dan Kurzman’s new biographyof Rabin. In it, Kurzman writes that Rabin had warm personal feelingsfor his fellow officer, though they had sharp politicaldisagreements. Sharon says the fondness was mutual, the disputes notso sharp. “You know, Rabin told me, ‘If I would have been able, Iwould have dragged it [Israeli withdrawal] out for 20 years.'”

Sharon says he thought Rabin himself had beendragged into signing the Oslo accords. He doesn’t allow for thepossibility that Rabin, who also was a Six-Day War hero and Mr.Security during the intifada, might have actuallyseen no better deal for Israel’s security than Oslo. For Sharon, onthe other hand, waiting 20 years may be just about right.

 

The Horse Whisperer


Sixty one and still full of surprises, that’sWarren Beatty. This weekend, Beatty goes head to head at the boxoffice with “The Horse Whisperer,” starring that other senior iconRobert Redford. Redford, like his contemporary Beatty, not only starsbut also directs and produces his movie. May the best man win.

However, Beatty, never one to leave things tochance when he can micromanage every inch of his collected opus, isout there, looking for an edge — and selling his savage politicalfarce with the kind of intensity that would be exhausting if itweren’t so charming. In an era when movies poke bitter fun atpoliticos (most recently “Primary Colors” and “Wag the Dog,” bothcritically praised but not exactly box office dynamite), Beatty hasput his head on the line in the genre.

He playsincumbent U.S. Sen. Jay Bulworth of California, just days away froman election and in the throes of a nervous breakdown. With the racerazor’s-edge close, he’s become a blubbering mess, a disenchanted,burnt-out case, with a philandering wife (Christine Baranski) andlittle to hang on to. So he comes up with a unique solution to hisproblems: He hires a hit man to kill him for a fat life insurancepolicy that benefits his daughter.

But along the way to being 6 feet under, Bulworthmeets the gorgeous Nina (Halle Berry), a bright woman, 30-plus yearshis junior, raised by 1960s activists living in South Central LosAngeles. Bulworth, understandably, decides to cancel the hit. It’stoo late.

What follows is a “Warren in the Hood” politicaltragicomedy-cum-farce, which gives the savvy Beatty a chance tosavage not only the hometown Hollywood industry, but to fire deadlyarrows at assorted sacred cows, from politics to racism. Beatty asthe demented candidate turns into a hip-hopping, rap-spoutingpolitico who decides the only way to salvation is to tell it like itis: about Jews, blacks, Hispanics and the entire U.S. politicalhierarchy.

Why should politicians follow through on theircampaign promises to blacks, he asks his audience at a South Centralchurch, when blacks don’t make financial contributions? Whateverhappened to federal funding? asks a congregant. “They told you whatyou wanted to hear,” he snaps back. “Half your kids are out of workand half in jail, so what are you gonna do, vote Republican?”

Then whisked to a fund-raiser at a Beverly Hillsmansion, he scans his speech. Gazing out at the fat-cat donors, hemuses, “Oh, mostly Jews here — I’m sure they put something in aboutFarrakahn.”

As for Israel, he tells the astounded group thatpoliticians say they will support it just to take your money.

The $32 million movie is Beatty’s baby. Heproduced, wrote, directed and, of course, is the on-screen linchpinof this outrageous caper — made, ironically, for theultra-conservative Rupert Murdoch, who owns 20th Century Fox.

Political movies, especially since they’re upagainst some fairly stiff competition from the real thing these days,are not an easy sell. So Beatty is hitting the campaign trail asnever before to peddle “Bulworth” to the widest possibleaudience.

At the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills,Beatty, who turned 61 in March, looks in pretty good shape: There area few silver flecks in his full head of hair, a few wrinkles, but thewhole thing is pretty well preserved and immaculately attiredcompletely in dark-green cords, suede jacket and matching tie.

Throughout his long career, he has had a love-haterelationship with the media, but this time out, he’s making nice.Like a politician on the stump, he walks into the suite anddeliberately shakes everyone’s hand, paying particular attention toblack journalists. He knows there’s an audience out there thatnormally wouldn’t be seen dead at a Warren Beatty film, and he’sanxious to grab them. (When he’s finished, he even sits patiently,signing photos and posing for pictures with some of the morestar-struck journalists.) This is uncharacteristic behavior, to saythe least, from a man who has shunned the media all his life.

“This,” he declares, as if to convince himself,”is the best film I’ve ever made. It has a certain energy and makesme laugh when I look at it.”

And it’s pretty lifelike stuff, its creatorinsists. “In order for the film to work,” he says, “it has to beviolent, sexy and funny — or else it turns into C-Span.”

This desire to get attention has sent Beatty intosome strange territory. There’s enough rap music in his movie to keepthe most ardent fan happy. And Beatty compares the rappers of the1990s to Russian protest poets of Moscow, circa the 1960s.

It is also the first time that moviegoers get achance to see Beatty unvarnished, unairbrushed, filmed without thelayers of gauze he has lately employed when he takes to the bigscreen. In most of his movies, including the most recent, “LoveAffair,” “Bugsy” and “Dick Tracy,” Beatty has been filmed with thekind of devotion that only a Barbra Streisand can top. In “Bulworth,”he is unkempt, unshaven and crazed — upon orders from Beattyhimself.

“I told [cinematographer] Vittorio Storaro, ‘Iwant to be ugly in this movie,'” says Beatty. “I wanted to do thething that was the most opposite to me.”

And, so, the man who says with some justification,although not as much as he thinks, “I’ve been famous longer thananybody alive,” is preparing to sabotage his legend.”

And how does it feel to go out there symbolicallynaked in front of the multitudes? Don’t expect a straight answer fromthe man who perfected the responseoblique.

“This is the kind of language you hear processedthrough the press,” he says sharply. “It’s so ephemeral and goofy. Ifyou were to get caught up in this whole image thing, you’d go down aroad of unrewarding narcissism. And that is something I have neverwanted to get involved with.”

He then goes on to give the lie to himself inspades. “To tell you the truth, I’ve dealt with this legend thinglonger than most people…longer than Robert Redford and JackNicholson. My first film [“Splendor in the Grass,” l961] was a hugehit. Those people had to wait decades longer before hittingit.”

Failing to quit while he’s ahead, he gilds thelily further: “If I put my career into perspective, this is what Isee: I’ve done some good work and got awards, got critical acclaimand made enough money to live happily. I have built up a body ofmovies to make it impossible to forget me.”

Wonder what Bulworth would say about that one?

Ventura writer Ivor Davis writes a weeklycolumn for The New York Times Syndicate.

A No-Win Position


Labor Party leader Ehud Barak said that unless the opposition waited a decent interval before attacking Netanyahu politically, “it could be interpreted as if we were defending Arafat, even though this is not true — we are defending the State of Israel.”

Barak went out of his way to remind the public that neither he nor other opposition politicians were using the Mahane Yehuda attack to bash the government’s policies — which Netanyahu and the right wing had done with the bus bombings when Labor was in power.

But this was no magnanimous gesture on the part of the left; it was simple political common sense. After Mahane Yehuda, the Israeli public was not in the mood to hear that its prime minister had been too tough on the Palestinians. The Israeli public was hostile to Arafat. It blamed him entirely for the 15 deaths and 170 injuries in the marketplace, and it only wanted to hear about getting tougher on him.

So there have been no peace demonstrations in Israel. There is no anger at Netanyahu, as there was at Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres after the mass killings that took place on their watch. When terror seemed to be in remission, Netanyahu reaped the credit. When it resurfaced at Mahane Yehuda, he escaped the blame.

Israel’s leading columnist, Nachum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot, gave this description of the political attitude among vendors at Mahane Yehuda: “When the left is in power, the left is to blame for terror…. Even when the right is in power, the left is to blame for terror. At Mahane Yehuda, the left is always to blame.” Barnea quoted one vendor as saying: “Where is [Meretz leader] Yossi Sarid? I’ll tear him apart.” Mahane Yehuda is a stronghold of right-wing, anti-Arab sentiment, and after the bombing, the Israeli public as a whole was identifying more and more with this mentality.

The hawkish mood was reflected in the television news coverage. Veteran anchorman Haim Yavin, regularly derided as a closet dove by right-wingers, hardly tried to hide his antipathy toward Arafat. After broadcasting the Palestinian leader’s promise to “fight terror as I always have in the past,” Yavin huffed and said, “as he always has in the past,” before going on to the next item.

Before the suicide attack, some U.S. officials, despairing at not being able to get Netanyahu to stop the construction at Har Homa and West Bank settlements, said that they were afraid Israel was going to have to learn the hard way that it couldn’t strong-arm its way to peace. They expected that Palestinian violence would have a sobering, moderating effect on Israeli policy.

The Israeli opposition also believed that once terror returned, Israelis would see the error of Netanyahu’s ways and demand that he change and become more conciliatory toward the Palestinians.

But the Mahane Yehuda bombing has had the opposite effect. It has goaded Israelis into a punitive mood, and Netanyahu’s closure of the territories, his pledge to jam the Voice of Palestine radio station, his refusal to transfer Palestinian tax money to Arafat, and his stipulation that negotiations will not restart until Arafat lowers the boom on Hamas have all won wide support — and not just from Netanyahu’s supporters.

Former Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, head of the Council for Peace and Security, an organization of dovish ex-military and intelligence officers, wrote to Arafat: “We will support all actions by our government aimed at preventing terror — even if this means stopping the peace process for a certain period of time.” Lahat also said that if Arafat didn’t put down terror, Israeli doves would no longer view him as a partner for peace.

Through all this, Meretz has remained consistent, demanding an end to settlement building and blaming such activity, in part, for the terror attack. The left-wing party sent a delegation to visit Arafat and blasted Netanyahu’s post-Mahane Yehuda measures as a recipe for bringing down the Palestinian Authority and putting Hamas in its place. However, Meretz Knesset Member Amnon Rubinstein told Arafat, “A government led by Meretz also will not compromise in the slightest on the issue of terror and the war against it.”

Yet while the public is in a militant mood toward the Palestinians, the Mahane Yehuda bombing has made it clear that Netanyahu’s way is not a guarantee against terror. The Labor-led opposition made this point convincingly, criticizing the prime minister for boasting two days before the attack that he had turned the tide against Palestinian terror.

Barak’s decision not to blame government policies for the attack appears to be politically wise. “It must be admitted that it has certainly been received with admiration by wide sectors of the public. A “responsible” opposition and “unity among the people” have always been close to the nationalistic heart,” wrote Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy.

Yet the opposition is in a bind, and for reasons other than the current Israeli mood. Its criticism of Netanyahu can easily be met by the countercharge that during the Rabin-Peres regime, there were a number of bombings as bad and worse than the one that struck Mahane Yehuda.

There are fewer Israelis than ever who believe that the prime minister will make good on his campaign promise to bring peace with security. But the opposition does not have the credibility to make such a promise today either. If the Israeli public is looking for an alternative that can end the bloodshed, the left is not offering one — perhaps because it has none to offer.