Politicians will never make us happy

According to a 2015 Pew report, just 19 percent of Americans say they can trust their government “always or most of the time,” while only 20 percent would describe government programs as “being well run.”

This is not a shocking statistic — we’ve been hearing about the declining faith in government for a long time.

What is surprising, though, is another finding in the same report: Americans still expect a lot from that same government they don’t trust, with majorities saying they “want the federal government to have a major role in addressing issues.”

This dissonance reflects the dysfunctional nature of the political process: To get elected, politicians feel they must promise the moon, and when that moon never shows up, well, we are disappointed. So, on the one hand we’re conditioned to expect a lot, but on the other we’re resigned to feeling let down.

It’s like ordering one of those miracle workout machines that promise you the perfect body in 30 days and then seeing it end up in your bedroom as a piece of furniture to hang your clothes on. In the advertising business, we call that “antisappointment”— you anticipate, and you’re disappointed.

But promises are intoxicating. We want to believe. We know deep down we’ll get burned, but we’re eternally seduced by the drug of hope.

Politicians never stop feeding us that drug. The more cynical we are, the more hope they promise. It’s a race to the bottom, with antisappointment becoming a permanent American condition.

If you watched the Republican and Democratic conventions, you may have noticed that very few speakers, if any, demanded something back from the voters. In addition to the usual maligning of the other party, it was the same classic playbook: “We promise you the moon, and in return you vote for us.” Never mind that voters will probably get burned again.

A friend of mine used to ask waiters in restaurants, “What’s not good here?” If they answered honestly with an item, he would trust them when they told him something was good.

If Hillary Clinton wants to beat Donald Trump this year, she might want to try that approach. Don’t just tell us that Trump is horrible, and don’t just tell us what you can do. Be straight with us: Tell us what the government cannot do, what the government is not good at.

Here’s a presidential stump speech I’d love to hear:

“Look, I can stand here and promise you that my policies will transform our country and improve your lives, but I’d be lying. That’s not how it works. I can promise you I’ll work really hard to generate more jobs, level the playing field, upgrade our education, care for the downtrodden, make the world safer and cleaner and so forth, but that doesn’t ensure I will succeed or that your lives will improve.

“The truth is, no politician can make you happy. That’s something only you can achieve. You can work harder and smarter. You can take better care of your health. You can control your anger and be more forgiving. You can spend more time with your family. You can get more involved with social and civic causes and your local communities. You can enjoy the arts and the beauty of nature. None of those actions has anything to do with whom you will vote for.

“Of course, I will do my best to make sure the odds are on your side. But, at the end of the day, your well-being is mostly on your shoulders. It’s about what you can do for yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your city, your country, your world.

“My platform is to bring out the best in Americans by reminding you how needed you are and how much potential you have. I will do my share, but I expect you to do yours. My campaign slogan is, ‘Bringing out the best in America,’ because the best of each American is what our great nation deserves.

“If you can handle that truth, I will accept your vote.”

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Trump and Weiner

This week, as the firestorm was building over Donald Trump’s racist comments about the “Mexican” judge presiding over lawsuits against Trump University  — you know, the judge who was born and raised just outside that great Mexican city of South Bend, Ind. — I went to see the new documentary “Weiner.” And I had a feeling I never thought I’d have: Poor Anthony Weiner.

It wasn’t that I felt sympathy for the seven-term congressman. He resigned from Congress in 2011 after pictures he texted of his private parts became public, then made a remarkable second-act comeback, leading by 10 points in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary — until he was caught lying about new texts he’d sent of those same private parts, to a different woman. Weiner’s second round of apologies and promises went nowhere. He got 4 percent of the vote. His political career, for the foreseeable future, was finished.

Make no mistake: The man got what was coming to him, and then some. The superb documentary reveals that not only did he lie to the voters and his wife, Huma Abedin, he also treats her, in several onscreen private and public moments, with withering rudeness and contempt. The creepy underwear pics turn out to be his most forgivable behavior.

But I felt sorry for him nonetheless, because, when the movie ended, I realized that Weiner was simply a victim of bad timing. You see, he was running in 2013 B.T.— Before Trump. In the world of politics before Trump, politicians who got caught doing awful things had to be contrite. They got a second chance to get their act together, but not a third. Before Trump, there was such a thing as shame in the public square.

Trump has shown politicians there is a way to rewrite that old script: Throw it out. 

Here are the rules in 2016 A.T. — After Trump: You make a blunder, you blame others. You say something awful, you attack the people reporting it. You don’t criticize your opponent, you call them names.  Whatever asinine thing you say or do, you never take it back; never apologize. In fact, you double down.

So when Trump demeaned all veterans by calling Sen. John McCain “not a hero” for being captured by the North Vietnamese, he explained, “I like people that weren’t captured.” And his poll numbers went up.

When he called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” he didn’t apologize — he doubled down. He declared he’d build a wall to keep immigrants out. His poll numbers grew.  When the media tried to hold him to his word about his boast that he’d raised $6 million for veteran causes, he blasted the media. After he mocked a disabled reporter, he never apologized.   

When he faced a firestorm of criticism for saying he would ban people from entering the United States because of their religion, he clinched the nomination.  

When U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel ordered that documents revealing the predatory sales tactics of Trump “University” be unsealed, Trump attacked Curiel’s integrity and accused him of being biased because he’s “Mexican,” even though Curiel was born and raised in Indiana. Trump’s response to the backlash: Everyone else “misconstrued.” He went on TV and continued the accusation, simply adding “heritage” to the word “Mexican.”

Even Trump’s most high-profile American-Jewish supporters, such as Sheldon Adelson and Ari Fleischer, have given him a pass on that — unbelievably. What if Trump had said an American-Jewish judge couldn’t be fair on a case involving anti-Semitism, or that a Jewish diplomat couldn’t be fair dealing with Israel?  It is the height of hypocrisy for a Jewish American to pretend he or she wouldn’t be outraged if the same accusation were directed at a fellow Jew. I suppose the silence of these supporters means they think Trump has a good excuse: He’s Trump.     

That’s politics in 2016 A.T. — you say or do something awful, you get caught, you do it more. 

Trump’s supporters not only don’t care, they enjoy the perception of “toughness” all of this gives their man. The media shower him with more free attention. He rides it until the media move on or the next outrage hits. Remember the outcry over Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns? Trump didn’t bend. And then the “Mexican judge” storm came along and seemed to wash away all discussion of those tax returns. 

Anthony Weiner has got to be thinking: If only I were running now.  What Weiner actually did is a flea on the elephant of Trump’s flaws. Weiner didn’t harass or assault a woman. He didn’t even come close to breaking a law. He just made a jackass out of himself. Sure, he misled voters about the extent of his texting, but Trump’s entire candidacy, from his hair weave to his wall, is lie after lie after lie.  

In politics 2016 A.T., Weiner could simply follow Trump’s script: You don’t like my texts? Don’t look at them. You think I’m a jerk? You’re a jerk. You call me a perv? I call you an imbecile.

This will be Trump’s real contribution to our Republic. Taking accountability out of politics, along with every last shred of honor. 

There’s a scene in “Weiner” in which an outraged constituent tells the congressman, “Shame on you.” That’s a phrase we won’t be hearing any more.  

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

What monkeys can teach us about politics

Whenever I find myself in a contentious academic meeting or I see clips of Congress trying to pass (or kill) a bill, I am reminded of capuchin monkeys.

Don’t get me wrong –I respect my colleagues, and don’t consider politicians to be sub-human. It’s just that the monkeys I have devoted so much of my life to studying exhibit extraordinarily sophisticated political strategies that mirror the social machinations so common in human workplaces where alliances need to be formed and conflicts erupt.

A quarter century ago, when I started my quest to learn about the social and political strategies of capuchins by traveling to Costa Rica (they are native to Central American and South American forests), I had no idea how impressive they’d be. I could barely tell them apart at first. Now, with 25 years of behavioral data collection behind me encompassing five generations and 12 groups of monkeys, I have come to know a great deal about these astonishing animals and the society they have built.

One of the more remarkable aspects of capuchin society is the emphasis on stability and order. Despite the capuchin tendency to “back talk” to authority rather than submit, there are clear rank relationships. In general, all adult males are dominant to all adult females. Among females, there is a straightforward linear ranking. That means, for example, if monkey A is dominant to monkey B, who is dominant to monkey C, then C can never be dominant to A.

Among capuchin males, as in a typical human corporation, there is an “alpha” male who clearly dominates everyone else in the group. However, there is not necessarily a clear ranking among the remaining males. Rank relationships among the youngsters are constantly changing and are somewhat influenced by who is related to whom, as relatives intervene often in fights among younger monkeys. During adolescence, young monkeys become much more assertive, pushing their way as far up the hierarchy as they can go, assisted by their relatives (particularly female ones).

Once adulthood is reached, social mobility becomes more difficult. Capuchins exhibit a firm tendency to reinforce the status quo: when they see a fight between members of the same sex, they support the higher-ranking individual some 85 percent of the time. 

This rule does not apply, however, when males are fighting females. In these situations, both male and female bystanders support the lower-ranking female.

Why? The answer may lie in the overall genetic structure of the group. Capuchin females are intensely loyal to their female kin and remain with them for the duration of their lifetimes. Males are more fickle, typically leaving their birth group to seek their fortunes elsewhere by the time they are adults. Female kin-based alliances form the backbone of these monkeys’ political structure, and females can truly count on one another for political support in a way that males cannot. So, coalitions of females often defeat individual males in squabbles over access to food, despite their inferior weaponry (i.e., smaller canine teeth).

The alpha male is the preferred ally of practically everyone. He receives more grooming and social support than the other males, and he also does almost all of the breeding. New alpha males typically kill nursing infants that were fathered by their predecessors, because this hastens the females’ return to breeding condition, allowing the alpha male to get an earlier start on his reproductive career.  Therefore, political turnover is devastating to females (who lose their infants), as well as to males (who often die in the process of fighting for the rights to become the new breeding male).  

All parties, to an unusual degree in the animal kingdom, thus have a vested interest in stability. An alpha male often remains in power longer than any U.S. president ever has, reigning up to 18 years, or three generations. This is astonishing even by human standards. What gives an alpha male this kind of power?

A capuchin is pretty decrepit by the end of an 18-year tenure as alpha male – clearly no match in physical combat to the many prime-aged males who are roaming the environment looking for an opportunity to rise to power. But in capuchins, as in humans, a good measure of social intellect – of the ability to manage one’s allies – can be an effective substitute for prowess in physical combat. Sons appear to enhance an alpha male’s ability to hang on to his power. Father-son bonds are very strong, and sons are intensely loyal to their fathers, even when they have the physical capacity to defeat them. Sons seem loathe to leave their families as long as their father is still in power and prove tremendously useful in helping Dad ward off immigration attempts by foreign males who express interest in taking over the breeding position. It’s a dynastic dynamic that human monarchs might envy, as capuchin sons’ loyalty often exceeds that of princes eager to inherit the throne as early as possible (like Henry II’s sons).

Here is a scene that would be familiar to anybody who has spent more than an hour with capuchin monkeys. Picture two monkeys stacked on top of one another, heads vertically aligned, teeth bared, as they glower at their mutual enemy a few feet away. The top monkey clutches the chest of the bottom monkey, feet and tail grasping the legs and tail of the monkey below. The monkeys bounce up and down, waggling their tongues as they squeak at their opponent.  They egg one another on, bouncing closer to their enemy and finally boxing the head or pulling the ears of their outraged victim, as their squeaks intensify and their bouncing becomes so vigorous that the top monkey has difficulty staying mounted.

Capuchins are masters of alliances.  They have a rich gestural repertoire of signals for communicating their alliances that are universally understood by capuchins everywhere. Coalitions – two or more monkeys ganging up on a mutual opponent – are a regular part of social play, starting in the first year of life. Coalitions form not only against other monkeys but also against other species. Capuchins are feisty and easily outraged, but they seem to crave the opportunity for teamwork and are easily persuaded to take up another monkey’s cause.

When a monkey is in a fight, it will survey the other monkeys standing around and request assistance from someone who is both higher ranking and a closer friend to it than to its opponent. Capuchins readily grasp these subtleties about relationships, perhaps remembering the patterns of past support they have witnessed, and use this political information strategically. Their cognitive sophistication with regard to political strategizing was one of the surprises that emerged from my research, because New World primates had been assumed to lack such abilities.

Males are not as intensely loyal to their brothers as they are to their fathers, though they do show some preference for co-migrating with them. When males roam the landscape together, seeking a new home, they have relaxed relationships characterized by cuddling and essentially no quarreling. Once they select a group to target for immigration, they collaborate against the males of the new group. However, once the current alpha male has been overthrown, the brothers can have quite ugly confrontations about which of them should get the breeding position. As Cain and Abel knew, some conflicts turn lethal.

In general, capuchins (like humans) are highly xenophobic, viewing members of other social groups as enemies. But there is nothing like a common enemy to solidify relationships within a group. Even when two males are locked in a chronic struggle for the alpha position, wounding one another and viewing one another with the greatest suspicion, they will drop all animosity towards one another as soon as a male from an enemy group shows up. Still bearing the wounds from their recent combat with one another, they will come together in the coalition-stacked posture and enthusiastically menace the new opponent, as if they have forgotten their recent conflicts.

Slumbering anteaters, toads, wasp nests, innocent primatologists like yours truly – any of these targets can be declared an enemy “outgroup” when two monkeys need to work on their relationship. Perhaps it is not so different from the way some human leaders focus attention on foreign threats, real or imagined, to strengthen social cohesion when the going gets tough on the home front.  

One way in which capuchin politics differs from the human version becomes apparent in election season. We humans take advantage of our language and capacity for long-distance communication technology to form alliances that include people we have never met. The people we elect as our leaders are people whose reputations we know only by way of gossip from other people we don’t know. And this social and communicative complexity enables layers of deception, particularly regarding promises for the future.

We don’t see such deception or promises in monkey society. In capuchins, decisions about whom to support are based on their accumulated knowledge of each group member’s behavior in past situations. In other words, they choose based on records of behavior, not TV ads. Capuchins are well-informed, skilled social psychologists when it comes to predicting who is likely to help whom.

Monkey politics is, thus, truly local.  And most of it is transparent. In monkey society, the most important social interactions happen out in the open, instead of behind closed doors. 

Susan Perry is a professor of anthropology at UCLA and author of the book Manipulative Monkeys: The Capuchins of Lomas Barbudal. She is founder and director of the Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zócalo Public Square.

Brands like Yelp, Amazon and Uber make lousy lovers

What brand doesn’t belong on this list?  Amazon, Uber, Yelp, Hillary.

It’s a trick question. They all belong. In recent days, they’ve all been making it harder for their fans to love them.

I loved Amazon at first sight. Later, when it killed Borders, I forgave it, and called it creative destruction. I vowed to patronize independent bookstores more. I said I’d be glad to pay a premium for knowledgeable staff. Here’s how that worked out: I’d call to see if they had something, and almost always they didn’t, but said it sounds like a terrific book, they’d be more than happy to order it, shouldn’t take much more than a week. And, meanwhile, there, on my screen, calling to me, was Amazon, one click and one day away. Almost always, I did click. It felt like a secret vice.  

What’s hurting my relationship with Amazon’s brand now is its ” target=”_blank”>reports about Uber’s competition with Lyft have dampened my ardor.  Lyft’s systems have been gummed up by thousands of car requests from Uber minions who either don’t show up or who ride for just a few blocks and try to recruit the Lyft driver to Uber for a $500-a-head bounty. So much for the romance of ” target=”_blank”>threw out a case against Yelp alleging economic extortion. When I heard one of the plaintiffs ” target=”_blank”>But in her ruling, Judge Marsha S. Berzon said the plaintiffs hadn’t proven economic extortion.  Here’s the killer in the ruling: Even if owners who refused to buy ads had actually proven that Yelp withheld positive reviews, it wouldn’t matter, because Yelp “has no obligation” to publish them. “It is ” target=”_blank”>review of Henry Kissinger’s new book, “World Order.”  In it she calls him “a friend,” vouches for his “astute observations” and notes that they share “a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.” 

I have been her fan since she was the first lady of Arkansas. This tribute to Kissinger won’t be the only test of my fidelity, but I’m not ready to write this one off as a one-off.  Actually, I can think of a few different words to describe him than she did.  Gasbag, narcissist and war criminal come to mind.  

We ” target=”_blank”>leaked to Richard Nixon that a truce was imminent.  This enabled Nixon to torpedo the treaty, telling the Thieu government of South Vietnam that Nixon would give him a better deal than Johnson. Thieu pulled out of the talks, and Nixon, running as the peace candidate, arguably won the 1968 presidential election because of Kissinger’s sabotage. Before the war would end, 20,000 more American troops would die, 100,000 would be wounded, and more than a million Vietnamese would be killed. We also now know that the “just and liberal order” that Clinton and Kissinger agree on didn’t prevent him from backing the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected but inconveniently socialist president of Chile, or from making common cause with murderous despots from Argentina to East Timor. 

I get why she calls him a friend. They were both secretaries of state. Members of that club don’t blow the whistle on one another. I also get that the book review is meant to burnish her hawk credentials. It does. Unfortunately, what it also does is remind us that she is, after all, a politician.  

By now we should know better than to believe any politician is driven more by ideals than by interests. Even so, there are plenty of competing interests for a candidate to pick from. I’d like to believe that if Clinton becomes a candidate for president, when she weighs plutocrats’ interests against the human costs of their wealth, the exigencies of fundraising won’t have a thumb on that scale, just as I’d like to believe that her valentine to Kissinger is just an effort to pre-empt whining from John McCain and Lindsay Graham. But if recent years have taught us anything, it’s that loving any brand is a losing proposition, in politics no less than in commerce. Unfortunately, the business that brands are in is persuading us to confuse their power with our love.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

The Siege of Sacramento’s Castle Incumbent

Israel in Wonderland

These days, I feel a little like Alice falling down a deep dark hole and landing in a world turned so upside down that right is wrong and wrong is everywhere.

Just when you think it
can’t be any more topsy-turvy in Israel than it already is, the president addresses the nation with nonsensical shrieks and accusations in a parody of leadership so bizarre that you wonder whether the Jewish state has turned into Wonderland.

Even in a country accustomed to shocking news, a culture permeated with ad hominem attacks, even for us Israelis, this was beyond belief. The man ostensibly safeguarding Israel’s moral authority is defending himself against charges of rape and sexual harassment, and trying to bring down the whole house of cards — the legal, security, political and media establishment — with him.

Transformed before our very eyes from mediocre president to raving megalomaniac, from small town mayor to Mad Hatter, Moshe Katsav tried to thrust the entire nation into an alternate reality.

The first casualty of the Katsav rampage was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose address to the Herzliya Conference was unexpectedly and completely upstaged by the nearly hour-long tirade. Scheduled to conclude a four-day gathering devoted to exploring Israel’s national strength, security and diplomatic horizons, Olmert, himself under investigation for unlawful influence in the sale of Bank Leumi, chose to speak about Iran and thus avoid mention of the more problematic areas related to his performance, namely the war in Lebanon or the peace process.

Olmert’s focus fit in well with the overall tone of the conference — the clanging of alarm bells for our national and Jewish future. From raging anti-Semitism in Europe to the threat of genocide from Iran, speaker after speaker warned that today we Jews are living in a watershed period, one of the most dangerous times in our history. With his declaration, “Anyone who threatens us, who threatens our existence, must know that we have the determination and capability to defend ourselves, to respond with force, with discretion and with all the means at our disposal as necessary,” the prime minister made clear that this time our muscles are flexed.

“I do not suggest anyone err and conclude that the restraint and responsibility that we are displaying will affect our determination and our ability to act when this is required,” he cautioned.

But for the man or woman in the street, Iran is a long-term problem, a strategic horizon, a geopolitical issue. Of greater immediate concern are the scandals at home. Temporarily titillated though they may have been by the president’s surreal performance on live TV, Israelis came away with a new dose of demoralization.

A modest list of some of the other figures currently under investigation includes not only Olmert, but Finance Minister Hirschson, Justice Minister Ramon, head of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi, and top officials of the Israel Tax Authority. And then there’s the hard-working Winograd Committee, which will eventually tell the public which leaders are to blame for last summer’s botched war in Lebanon.

Small wonder, then, that a new survey on patriotism presented to the Herzliya conference by professor Ephraim Yaar of Tel Aviv University indicated a significant erosion of public confidence. While patriotism is an abstract category, Yaar’s reasonable assumption was that “the strength of the state cannot be assessed without addressing the patriotic component of its citizens.”

The good news in his report was that despite the difficult events of the past year and a half, including both the war in Lebanon and disengagement, “not only did the degree of patriotism of the Jewish public not weaken, the emotional affinity to the state even strengthened.”

But, he continued, “the bad message is that an unprecedented decline was measured in regard to the public’s confidence in the government and the Knesset. Moreover, there is a steep decline in the confidence in the defense forces, which have always enjoyed a high level of support.”

Noting that there is a contradiction between the high assessment of the steadfastness of the civilian population and the low estimation of the leadership, Yaar explained: “The public draws a line between the society and the state, especially the leadership. The public says — we are patriotic, we love our country, don’t get us involved in your failures, and we need to rectify the situation.”

Indeed, more than 80 percent of the Jewish public is proud to be Israeli and more than 90 percent of Israelis are ready to fight for their country. The IDF, traditionally a chief source of pride, is now in third place in the public’s estimation, following Israel’s scientific and technological accomplishments, and artistic and cultural achievements. In 2005, 88 percent of the population was proud of the IDF; in 2006 it dropped to 64 percent. In last place, in the public’s view, are government institutions and the Knesset.

There are practical consequences to these shifts in opinion. Following the resignations of Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch and Major Gen. Udi Adam, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz resigned two weeks ago, and Major Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former head of the Northern Command and deputy chief of staff, was confirmed this week as his replacement. President Katsav was temporarily relieved of his duties and the race to succeed him is well underway. Tax Authority officials were placed under house arrest, banned from re-entering their offices. And, finally, there is a petition to the Supreme Court to publicize the Winograd hearings so that this entire sorry mess can be made public, play-by-play.

Meanwhile, the country is at a standstill. With everybody fighting indictments and facing commissions of inquiry, we have a right to ask who is worrying about the vital matters of state. The suicide bomber that killed three people in an Eilat bakery this week reminds us that even when quiet abounds for nine months, we cannot begin to pretend that the conflict has been resolved. Peace requires courageous leadership and vision, focus and dedication. In this time of deep national crisis, when the external threats are indeed enormous and when terror has once again burst into our reality, we are suffering what Yaar calls a critical “breach in confidence.”

It may well be that the corruption from within is more terrifying than the enemy from without. The time has certainly come for the country to regain its balance, rehabilitate moral and legal boundaries, and set a new political table, tea cups and all.

Roberta Fahn Schoffman heads Mindset Media and Strategic Consulting. This essay originally appeared at Whitefire Theatre

Spirit Up, Tally Down on Super Sunday

Leon Weinstin has spent much of his life fighting on behalf of the Jewish people.

In his late 20s, he participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis and somehow managed to escape a near-certain death. Later, he immigrated to the United States, opened a successful clothing manufacturing business and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to mostly Jewish charities, especially yeshivas.

The 95-year-old Weinstin volunteered his time Feb. 26 to call prospective donors on Super Sunday, the annual mega-fundraiser of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. In just two hours at Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Weinstin, resplendent in a blue blazer, red tie and wool slacks, raised $15,000.

“I believe in tzedekeh. I believe in helping people,” said Weinstin, who has participated in 26 Super Sundays. “As long as I’m alive, I’m going to come to Super Sunday.”

Seated next to Weinstin, Beverly Hills resident Esther Brenner could hardly contain her excitement whenever she landed a contribution, big or small. The retired Hebrew school teacher seemed to become especially animated when lapsed donors ponied up.

“Hey,” she announced to nearby volunteers, a smile crossing her face. “I just got somebody to give $10 who hadn’t given since 1990.”

An estimated 1,700 volunteers working at three locations obtained pledges for about $4.4 million this Super Sunday, about $200,000 less than last year. Participants included young and old, the religious and non-religious, Israelis, Persians and Russians — a veritable rainbow of Southland Jews. Given the diversity of and interaction among the volunteers, Super Sunday seemed as much about building community as raising money.

“This gives everybody a chance to come out and make this community a better place,” Federation President John Fishel said. “Super Sunday’s a unifying event.”

It’s also an opportunity for politicians to show solidarity with Jewish voters. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss each dropped by the midtown Federation headquarters and the phone banks in West Hills. L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl both volunteered at headquarters. The third fundraising hub was the Torrance Marriott.

“I want to make some calls. Let’s do it!” said Weiss as he made his way to the phones at 6505 early Sunday morning.

The stakes were especially high this Super Sunday, because many of the Federation’s 22 beneficiary agencies have seen their government funding shrink. At a time when demand for its services have surged, Jewish Family Service, for example, has been unable to keep pace because of government cutbacks, said Jewish Family Service (JFS) Executive Director Paul Castro in an interview. The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit for the 57-bed homeless shelter.

Nationally, Super Sundays have proven so successful that, in recent years, many federations have added Super Mondays and Super Tuesdays to attract more volunteers and to increase the likelihood of reaching donors at home. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington even has a Super Week.

Participants caught up with one another at 6505 between calls, noshing on bagels and cream cheese, pastries and ice blended coffee drinks. Clusters of purple, red and white balloons decorated the main call center. Gummy bears and bottled water seemed within arm’s reach of most callers.

Anne Blank worked the morning shift. The Beverly Hills psychotherapist said she attended her first Super Sunday to pay homage to her late father, an active philanthropist in Jewish causes who passed away nearly two years ago at age 82. “He’d be thrilled I was here,” she said.

At the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, mothers and fathers came with young children to enjoy the family-friendly amenities, including a daycare center, a bounce house and inflatable slide. Teenagers dropped by with buddies to make calls and gossip.

Twelve-year-old Shani Mesica staffed the phones from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. By early afternoon, she had landed a $75 donation. Although she said the majority of callers reacted positively to her pitch, a couple told her they weren’t Jewish and demanded that she place them on a do-not-call list. Still, the seventh-grader at Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills said she planned to participate in Super Sunday again next year, even if her school waves its community-service requirement.

“It’s nice to help people who can’t afford to get flu shots or buy food for themselves,” said Mesica, amid the cacophony of voices that filled the gymnasium where volunteers seated at long tables made calls.

A contingent of 20 well-heeled members from El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana were among those staffing the phones at Milken. Many of them pitched fellow club members, who are expected by El Caballero to give 3 percent to 5 percent of their income to charity, said Donald Marks, a club member who personally raised $150,000 from fellow club goers. His pitch?

“I tell them that if Jews don’t give to Jews, who’s going to give?” said Marks, a 61-year-old industrial real estate developer. “We’re not talking about cancer or other catastrophic diseases. We’re talking about helping our Jewish brothers.”


‘Show & Tel’ Dials the Right Artwork

"Show & Tel: Art of Connection," the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s exhibition of 179 telephones decorated and deconstructed by painters, sculptors, politicians, athletes and others, features an array of artworks ranging from the whimsical to the confrontational.

Grouped by such themes as sports and color schemes, the often funky and always surprising phones fill several rooms at the Zimmer. Taken together, they show that a little imagination can go a long way toward transforming a prosaic object into something compelling and original.

All the phones are up for sale. Proceeds will go to youTHink, a Zimmer program for students that uses art to discuss important social issues.

Curator Kate Stern, a former talent coordinator for "Rock the Vote" and ex-casting director, leveraged her contacts to land some big-name celebrities for the show.

Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor submitted a purple flower pot sprouting a pink phone covered with violets. Basketball star Jason Kidd’s phone has a large 5, his number, plastered across his phone’s keypad and his last name spelled out in big letters across the receiver. Venice artist Aaron Kramer’s "It’s Fore You" features a phone encased in metal that is supported by four wood drivers. A wood barbell hangs from the base of the phone.

But it’s the lesser-known creators who, in many instances, have produced the most affecting pieces. Beth Livingston, an artist and U.S. Paralympics Ski Team member, created a massive piece titled, "Follow Your Heart," which features a 5-foot-long mermaid holding a phone receiver in her left hand. A colorful mosaic of jewels, plastic flowers, antique buttons and bottle caps decorate her belly.

New York firefighter Hugh Giffords’ "Never Give Up" has a backdrop of the charred remains of World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the foreground, a red phone peeks through the rubble of smashed cinder blocks.

Giffords, who plans to attend the Zimmer’s June 6 preview opening, lost 14 of the 16 members of his fire company in the terrorist attack.

"The greatest virtues that mankind possesses, marched straight into those buildings, [and] they did it for love," he wrote in text accompanying his work.

Curator Stern said she was happy with the diverse talent she assembled for the exhibit. Some participants responded quickly. R&B musician Alicia Keys turned in her phone only two days after receiving it in the mail. Others needed a little more prodding.

Artist Charles Arnoldi reluctantly agreed to participate but kept putting Stern off. Undeterred, she dropped by his studio when he was out and left one pound of homemade toffee, along with Post-It notes with messages such as "Chuck for president" and "You’re the man." Arnoldi sent in his painted phone soon thereafter.

Stern said she wasn’t able to get everybody she wanted. David Hockney said he was too busy. Madonna, a practitioner of Kaballah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, never responded. Poet Maya Angelou initially said she would participate and then vanished on a three-month book tour, ("I literally begged her," Stern lamented).

Esther Netter, the Zimmer’s executive director, borrowed the idea for the phone exhibit from a similar show that ran in Haifa two and a half years ago. She took more than a good idea — 29 of the Zimmer’s phone artworks come from the original Israeli exhibit.

"This is the biggest exhibit in Zimmer’s history," Netter said. "We’re preparing for a big party, so we’re putting our best, most shiny face first."

The "Show & Tel" preview will take place June 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $100. The show opens to the public June 8 and runs until Sept. 10. For more information, call Carrie Jacoves at (323) 761-8992.–MB

Rites Launch Israel Tolerance Museum

Amid a gaggle of Israeli security guards, bustling volunteers and California Highway Patrol officers wired up to communicate with who knows whom, Rabbi Abraham Cooper runs around the first two of about 50 rows of plastic seats temporarily set up in Jerusalem’s Cats Square.

"Bring me chairs over here," says Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as he tries to move some seats to make room for one more.

"[Israeli Defense Minister] Shaul Mofaz is not going to be a happy man," he says aloud to no one in particular. "See this guy over here?" he tells his helpers, pointing to a flimsy seat that doesn’t look big enough to hold the name on the sign: "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger," "this guy doesn’t move."

It’s Sunday, May 2, two hours until the official groundbreaking ceremony for the new $200 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance, and this game of musical chairs Cooper is finessing is the final touch to prepare for all the dignitaries, politicians, donors and supporters who all, it seems, will get to say a few words before about 1,200 people at a ceremony that will last about 2 hours.

So of course, Cooper wants to arrange the seats just right — does architect Frank Gehry sit to the left or right of the governor, and where do donors Merv Adelson and Gary Winnick sit? — because while the event signifies the culmination of seven years of planning that have been put into this ambitious project, it is also just the beginning.

T hese are heady days for the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC). Two months before the Jerusalem groundbreaking, the New York Tolerance Center, another SWC offshoot, opened its doors in Manhattan.

The Jerusalem and New York projects are outgrowths of the original Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Other cities are asking SWC founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier for his help and know-how in creating their own tolerance museums, but they will have to wait in line.

Quite a success story for the Wiesenthal Center, which opened in 1977 — on the wrong coast — as a one-man institution, operating with one phone and a very long extension chord. Since then, the SWC has evolved from a center for Holocaust remembrance to what its literature describes as an international human rights organization, which claims more than 400,000 family memberships.

From its Los Angeles headquarters, SWC maintains offices in eight U.S. and foreign cities. Its purview now includes Middle East affairs, fighting anti-Semitism anywhere it is a problem, tolerance education, producing documentaries and tracking hate sites on the Internet.

The SWC’s fundraising prowess, boldness, modus operandi and media savviness, which has made it arguably the most visible and vocal Jewish organization here, have understandably drawn criticisms and apprehension.

In an implicit tribute to the SWC’s clout and feistiness, critics generally prefer to remain unnamed or are highly circumspect in their language. Criticisms fall into a number of categories: Hier’s dual role as dean of both the SWC and of separate yeshivas for boys and girls; SWC’s adroit lobbying and ability to obtain funds from state government; high salaries for top executives; turning Holocaust remembrance into a high-tech, multimedia attraction; reportedly exaggerating the dangers of anti-Semitism, and its appetite for moving into territory claimed by established defense and communal organizations.

The outspoken Hier is willing to rebut his detractors point by point, but, overall, he tends to attribute their objections to "envy and jealousy." During a lengthy interview in his office, tied to the 10th anniversary of the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, Hier, hyperenergetic at 65, commented on his motivating philosophy and the museum’s wide-ranging impact.

From the beginning, Hier said, the SWC based itself on two guidelines: "We were not going to be an abstract research institute but an activist organization, and we wouldn’t run the museum as a particularistic Jewish exercise."

True to this activist credo, in one of SWC’s first public actions, Hier and his longtime associate, Cooper, traveled to Germany and persuaded Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and parliament to lift the statute of limitations on the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. The story and photo made a splash in The New York Times, setting the pattern for constant and overwhelmingly favorable media exposure from then on.

In going beyond the Jewish experience, the SWC and its museum have expanded from the initial modest Holocaust exhibit to include past and present genocides around the world and have vastly expanded their outreach to the broader community. Liebe Geft, Museum of Tolerance director, said that about 4 million people, mostly non-Jews, have visited the museum in the past 10 years, while 110,000 public school students annually tour the exhibits as part of their studies.

The museum’s Tools for Tolerance program has sensitized thousands of law enforcement officers, educators, judges and other professionals in the United States and abroad, Geft said. Many more have been reached through Internet programs, documentaries, teaching guides, conferences and collaboration with ethnic community organizations.

One of the SWC’s major strengths is its instant reaction to world events — anytime and anywhere — touching on Jewish concerns. Though responsive to their board of trustees for long-range policy and spending projects, on the ground, Hier and Cooper largely dispense with committee meetings and bureaucratic processes that hobble more traditional organizations.

John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, attributed part of SWC’s speed in responding to the media and in implementing decisions to avoiding "communal processes, as compared to consensus-driven organizations."

Hier makes no apologies for his executive style, citing Dr. Samuel Belkin, a former president of Yeshiva University, as deploring too much democracy in an organization. "You can’t take a committee vote on every item," Hier said. "That paralyzes the system."

One of his more daring acts has been the decision to go ahead with the new museum in Jerusalem, despite huge costs, unsettled conditions in Israel and opposition by some Israeli voices.

Planned to be three times as large as the mother museum in Los Angeles and designed by architectural superstar Gehry, the Jerusalem center is expected to open in 2007. More than 40 percent of its $200 million objective has been raised from eight donors.

Its mission statement calls for "the promotion of civility and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths and creeds." The museum will include interactive exhibits tracing the history of the Jewish people and the key events that shaped their development.

"This is a project that will focus on today," Hier tells the crowd sitting in the open tent, whose black net tarp is shielding them from the stinging Jerusalem sun. "This a project that will expose the people of the world to the pillars of our faith: tolerance, unity and solidarity," he says, using Hebrew words like derech eretz.

Standing on the expansive black makeshift stage, Hier is dwarfed by the colossal photo tapestry dramatically unfurled moments before, which shows the chimerical structure: The seven-building, 232,500-square-foot project integrates salmony-beige Jerusalem stone, titanium and glass, and with its shimmery blue-and-white effect, open half-moon atrium and Louvre-like triangular glass wall, leaves an awesome impression of endless fluidity, like an ocean.

"The idea of building a building for people who have a lot bad feelings for each other was daunting," Gehry says. "It shouldn’t be one building. I thought it should be a complex … and I wanted from the beginning to have this accessible from all directions."

Breaking it down into small parts symbolizes pluralism, Gehry says, and "it stands for issues that he wanted," referring to Hier, who brainstormed with the architect on the building. Gehry, overcome with emotion, tells the crowd, "I was taught by my parents and grandparents about the people of Israel, and I thought when I was an architect, I would be able to build something for Israel … it is a dream come true."

For Gehry, Hier and the others at the ceremony, this is indeed a dream come true. And while it has been supported by two former Jerusalem’s mayors, Teddy Kolleck and Ehud Olmert, and the current one, Uri Lupolianski, their enthusiasm has not been shared by all.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial authority, let it be known early on that the Jerusalem did not need another Holocaust museum. After lengthy discussions between Yad Vashem and the Wiesenthal Center, both sides agreed that the new museum will not deal with the Holocaust.

Asked for comment, Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem directorate chairman, congratulated the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance on its 10th anniversary, adding diplomatically, "We acknowledge the importance of all organizations that promote Holocaust awareness — even when there are occasional differences of opinion between them on professional issues."

A persistent critic has been Esther Zandberg, architectural critic for the influential Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, who wrote on the day of the groundbreaking: "Jerusalem will get a spectacularly expensive showcase project whose content is not clear, even after the explanations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in California, which initiated and financed the project through fundraising, and whose name could not be more ironic in Jerusalem, a city where tolerance is zero."

"The outrageous cost of the structure — NIS 1 billion — is a mockery of the city’s large number of poor," she continued. "With that amount of money, it would be possible to make Cats Square [the museum’s site] shine for all time, and there would still be enough left over for other worthy causes."

Zandberg’s continual attacks demanding justification for the project raised the as-yet unanswerable question of whether Jerusalem actually needs a museum to teach tolerance (no one denies that it needs tolerance itself) but it also reflects a prevalent Israeli attitude of resentment toward American interlopers.

Cooper said they will "create an organic relationship" with existing Israeli tolerance-promoting organizations to develop programs specifically for the Israeli culture, and that the center’s creation in Jerusalem will not only infuse much needed cash and jobs into the capital, but will jump-start tourism, attracting the type of tourist who would travel to Jerusalem to see a Gehry marvel.

Hier is unfazed. "Are we prepared for skeptics? Absolutely. We’re prepared for an army of skeptics casting doubt on us," he told an Israeli reporter. "But I’ll tell you when that army will quiet down and go home. On the day the museum opens, and the first group of Israeli students walks in."

On the home front, one line of criticism has dogged the SWC from its beginning. When New York-born Hier, then the rabbi of an Orthodox congregation in Vancouver, Canada, decided to come to Los Angeles, it was to establish a yeshiva. Only after founding the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) did Hier move on to the second institution, then named the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.

Hier is the head and Rabbi Meyer May is the executive director for both institutions, and they receive separate salaries from the corporate entities for YULA and SWC. The overlapping leadership and close ties between a religious and secular-oriented institution have frequently raised questions about state support for the SWC, now totaling more than $50 million.

A number of critics have viewed the flow of government funds as a breach in the separation of church and state. Hier has consistently rejected such objections, arguing that state appropriations are earmarked for the extensive program of tolerance and diversity training for professionals.

A current criticism centers on charges by a YULA staff member that while huge sums are going to the tolerance museums in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, YULA is subsisting on a barebones diet. "We are treated as the poor stepchild," said Joel Fisher, YULA’s athletic director and a former math teacher at the boy’s school.

In a long list of alleged shortcomings, Fisher cited inadequate facilities, such as lack of a library, computer lab, cafeteria or gym; penny-pinching on such basic supplies as toilet paper and stationery; opposition to unionization of teachers; poor security, and excessive salaries and perks for the top leaders, who he said paid little attention to the yeshiva’s needs.

Fisher said that salaries for both rabbinical and secular teachers are good, but that pension and health benefits lag. Other YULA faculty members contacted declined comment or did not return phone calls.

May acknowledged that YULA suffered from a cash-flow problem and has had "to make some painful decisions." These have included consolidation of classes, elimination of two rabbinical faculty positions and some attrition of the secular teaching staff.

But May and Hier rejected all other complaints regarding inadequate facilities and benefits. "We’ve just put in $12 million for construction at the boys school and $6.5 million at the girls school," Hier said. May noted that "in 26 years, we have never missed a payroll for our faculty members," suggesting that a reporter check out whether other Jewish schools could make the same claim. He also asserted that during the past few years, he had brought down the school deficit from $500,000 to $150,000.

Hier, who has raised "hundreds of millions, maybe close to a billion dollars" for SWC and other Jewish causes, makes no apologies for drawing a very sizable salary. He rejects "the mentality of Europe, when the villages brought a nourishing meal to the rabbi on Shabbos, because he didn’t have any food in his pantry."

A cover story on Hier in the Los Angeles Times Magazine some years ago was headlined "The Unorthodox Rabbi," and the ecumenical style of the Orthodox rabbi has not endeared him to the Orthodox community.

Nor was The Jewish Federation among his early fans. However, time seems to have healed some old wounds, at least for the record. Fishel of The Jewish Federation said that "the Wiesenthal Center is an extraordinary resource in reaching many people, even if we do not agree on everything…. The center has not impacted on Federation activities, and I believe it respects the role of The Federation as spokesman for the organized Jewish community."

Betty Ehrenberg, director of international and communal affairs for the national Orthodox Union, lauded SWC’s activities as "extremely helpful to the entire American Jewish community," singling out the new New York Tolerance Center for special praise. "We have worked closely with Rabbi Cooper on many advocacy issues."

One veteran community observer, who requested anonymity, was not quite as enthusiastic. He questioned SWC’s constant "hyperbolic … the sky-is-falling" warnings about anti-Semitic threats and its expertise as a "human relations" agency.

However, he had admiring words for Cooper and praised Hier’s courage in rallying local Orthodox leaders to join in the community’s grief, following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an early rebel against the local Jewish establishment as a fire-breathing Soviet Jewry activist, observed that "as long as we understand that there is a role for both The Federation and the Wiesenthal Center, we can minimize the rivalries that naturally exist."

Yaroslavsky jokingly observed that the fiercest politics of all took place in three communities — religious, academic and Jewish. Taking the long view, he added, "The Wiesenthal Center’s establishment definitely filled a vacuum in the community. When people look back 50 years from now, they’ll say, ‘That was a good thing.’"

Amy Klein contributed to this story from Israel.

A Few Jews Focus on Props, Too

With a few notable exceptions, Jewish politicians, activists and community leaders are getting into the controversies over Propositions 53 and 54 late and lackadaisically, having focused most of their attention and fundraising efforts on the recall election.

Proposition 54, The Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), backed by University of California regent Ward Connerly, bans the state from classifying people according to race, ethnicity, color, or national origin.

Supporters maintain it would move society closer to a color-blind society, while opponents maintain it would impede the collection of data needed to redress discrimination.

Though opponents claim it would also block collection of data that could be helpful in addressing genetically transmitted diseases such as Tay Sachs, which affects Ashkenzic Jews, supporters say the measure would not affect health-related issues. The state’s independent legislative analyst said the matter is unclear.

Among Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the Progressive Jewish Alliance oppose Proposition 54.

Jewish politicians including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Con. Howard Berman (D-26th) and Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss oppose it as well.

The statewide Jewish Public Affairs Committee, a coalition of mostly Federation-based groups, has not taken a stand on RPI, though the San Jose/Silicon Valley Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) unanimously passed a resolution opposing it.

"There’s been a trend among JCRCs of not wanting to get involved in controversial measures," JPAC Director Coby King said. "Federations don’t see how taking a position benefits them."

For many groups, RPI brings dangerous echoes of the highly controversial Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative designed to dismantle state affirmative action programs based on sex or race. That ballot measure caused considerable division between liberal and more conservative Jews. "A lot of people feel [Proposition 54] is not worth the risk," King said.

Democrats for Israel’s Howard Welinsky said his organization follows the Democratic party position on such measures, and the party opposes it. Welinsky, who sits on the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, said Proposition 54, "will make it impossible to determine if there are civil rights violations or equal opportunity violations."

The Southern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition has not taken a position on RPI, said the chapter Chair Bruce Bialosky, because members have been so focused on the recall. But Bialosky, speaking for himself, said he would support it. "As long as we continue to classify people by race," he said, "we are going to continue to think of them by race."

If Proposition 54 is getting relatively attention, Proposition 53 is going positively unnoticed. If it passes in Tuesday’s recall election, Proposition 53 will set aside up to 3 percent of the annual state budget for repairs of California’s infrastructure of highways, hospitals and libraries.

"One of the tenets of the Jewish religion is to improve our community, to leave our community a better place than we found it," said State Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge). Richman, who is Jewish, helped create the legislation that later led to Proposition 53. "If California is going to be successful in the future, then we need to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place," he said.

The measure’s supporters include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and Caprice Young, former Los Angeles Unified School District president. Opponents include the California Tax Reform Association and the Congress of California Seniors.

State Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) said he finds himself, "smack dab in the middle," about supporting Proposition 53, formerly known as the "Funds Dedicated for State and Local Infrastructure" state constitutional amendment.

"The basic concept is that we have not done enough and are not doing enough … to pay for the infrastructure needs of the state," Koretz said. "When you have a surplus, this would trigger some of that surplus money to go to infrastructure. It’s one of many initiatives that can strain a state budget left with fewer and fewer options. I see its pluses and its minuses."

On the left, Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) director Daniel Sokatch called Proposition 53, "another conservative, far-right fake fix-all. It’s not going to solve any problems, just shift the problems around."

Despite no formal endorsement, RJC of Southern California Executive Director Michael Wissot spoke supportively of Proposition 53.

Richman said Proposition 53 protects against pulling funds out of the state education budget and transferring that money to rebuild roads, hospitals, libraries and state buildings.

The assemblyman added that from the 1960s through the 1970s, California politicians regularly poured 15 percent to 20 percent of annual state budgets into building the state’s extensive freeway system — plus hospitals and libraries and other public entities to be covered by Proposition 53.

But since 1990, Richman said, "our state has spent two-tenths of 1 percent of the General Fund annually on infrastructure. There’s no question why our roads are congested why they’re crumbling. This money is specifically going to infrastructure projects and capital outlay, not for operations."

Koretz also noted that, "There are Jewish values, I would say, on both sides of this issue. It’s really a compelling case of what do you do right? We can never do everything right. It’s a question of are you more concerned about social services or are you more concern about the long-term effects of the state crumbling?"

"I’m actually leaning in favor of it," the assemblyman said. "I think the pluses and minuses are about equal. People need to think this through themselves."

Intifada Gains Palestinians Nothing

Israeli society has been bruised and brutalized by two years of Palestinian terror and violence, but as the intifada enters its third year, it has brought the Palestinians no political gain whatsoever.

On the contrary, there is far less on the table for the Palestinians than when they launched their campaign of terror in late September 2000. Now, with the Palestinians’ cities in ruin, their leader isolated and Palestinian public figures increasingly admitting that the intifada has been disastrous for their cause, Israeli politicians are beginning to believe that the end of the onslaught is in sight.

Some of that optimism, however, was quashed Wednesday, when a Palestinian suicide bomber carried out the first such attack in six weeks.

An Israeli policeman was killed and at least two people injured in Wednesday’s attack near a bus stop in northern Israel. The blast went off during afternoon rush hour on a highway outside the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, which is several miles from Afula. It was the first suicide attack since Aug. 4, when a bomber blew himself up on a bus traveling from Haifa to Safed, killing himself and nine Israelis.

In another terror attack earlier Wednesday, one Israeli was killed and another wounded when Palestinian gunmen ambushed their car in the West Bank. The gunmen opened fire near the settlement of Mevo Dotan, causing the car to overturn.

In yet another incident Wednesday, the scorched body of an Israeli apparently slain by terrorists was found in eastern Jerusalem.

The body of David Buhbut, a 67-year-old resident of Ma’aleh Adumim, was found near the village of Azariya. Family members identified the charred victim by his clothing and other personal belongings. According to the victim’s family, Buhbut had been missing since Tuesday. He was believed to have gone to the village to purchase building materials.

Given the history of the past two years, however, it is unlikely that such attacks will shake the Israeli resolve to overcome the Palestinian onslaught. When the intifada began during Rosh Hashanah two years ago, Israel had just made an unprecedentedly generous offer at the Camp David summit. It offered to withdraw from virtually all the territories conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War, share Jerusalem with a Palestinian state and seek creative solutions for control of the Temple Mount.

Though the Camp David offer granted the Palestinians almost all their ostensible demands, Palestinian leaders believed that violence would quickly pry from Israel a few last crumbs, without the Palestinians being forced to make any concessions of their own or declare an end to their conflict with Israel.

According to Israeli military officials, the Palestinians’ model was Lebanon. The ragged Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 led many Arabs to conclude that sustained violence, and even moderate casualties, would lead Israel to beat a similarly chaotic retreat from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah had compared Israeli society to a spider web, brittle and easily destroyed. True, he argued, Israel had a strong army and a sophisticated industrial base, but Israelis over the years had become weak and pampered.

In Lebanon, the killing of some two dozen Israeli soldiers each year, far from the home front, had provoked a popular movement that forced Israel to withdraw unilaterally from its security zone. That experience, according to Nasrallah’s theory, proved that Israeli society could no longer stomach civilian or battlefield losses, and that Israelis had lost their will to fight.

Palestinian leaders, from Yasser Arafat down to militia commanders in the field, eagerly adopted the spider-web theory and tried to apply it to the intifada — except that events on the ground disproved it. What they hadn’t counted on is that Israelis would react differently when the battle was not on some distant border, but in the heart of their capital or in the cities of their densely populated coastal plain.

Israelis grieved over their losses and changed their lifestyles, but even after two years of unremitting violence, they show no signs of folding. On the contrary, Israel has proven it can not just take a hit, but can hit back hard.

As for their will to fight, more Israeli reservists turned up for this spring’s Operation Protective Wall — the Israel Defense Force’s first major counteroffensive into Palestinian territory after 18 months of fighting — than had been summoned.

The army’s new chief of staff, Lt. Gen Moshe Ya’alon, said the staying power of Israeli society will determine the outcome of the conflict. Unlike the Palestinians, who Ya’alon believes wish to annihilate Israel, Israel does not seek to destroy the Palestinians.

Victory for Israel, therefore, means forcing the Palestinians to realize that terror will get them nowhere, Ya’alon said in a recent interview with the Ha’aretz newspaper. Israeli society must show no signs of cracking, and Israeli politicians must offer no concessions under threat of violence, he said, or there will be no end to Palestinian terror designed to force Israeli concessions.

As the intifada enters its third year, 612 Israelis have been killed, including 427 civilians. Of those, 250 were killed in suicide bombings, including 227 civilians. More than 4,500 have been wounded, over 3,200 of them civilians.

While the Palestinians have suffered more casualties, the percentage of civilian victims on the Israeli side is far higher, a reflection of the fact that Israel has striven to avoid harming Palestinian civilians, while the Palestinians have made civilians their primary targets.

But despite the Israeli resolve, the intifada has had a devastating impact on the Israeli psyche and on Israeli public opinion. It even has affected core notions of the meaning and purpose of the Jewish State.

One central strand of Zionism, associated mainly with the right-of-center Likud Party, stresses the prevalence of anti-Semitism and the resulting need for a place of Jewish refuge and self-defense. Another, associated mainly with the left-of-center Labor Party, focuses on Zionism’s role in normalizing the Jewish people and integrating them into the Middle East.

The ruthlessness of the intifada has strengthened the more pessimistic Likud view. If elections were held today, opinion polls show Likud would crush Labor by a ratio of almost 2-1.

The indiscriminate murder of innocents also has led to a hardening of Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians, and a readiness to accept countermeasures that may impinge on Palestinian civil rights. The measures include destroying the houses of terrorists’ relatives or deporting relatives who aid terrorists from their homes to other Palestinian-ruled areas.

The impact of the violence on Israeli opinion has been enormous. According to a recent poll in the Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, 79 percent of Israelis say the Oslo peace agreements are no longer valid, and that Israel should adopt a different path to accommodation with the Palestinians.

Most Israelis see Arafat as the evil force behind the intifada, and 81 percent are convinced that he does not want peace with Israel under any circumstances. Yet 45 percent of Israelis still believe that the Palestinian people as a whole, under different leadership, would be ready for a peace agreement with Israel. That is a far cry from the heady days of Oslo, when more than 80 percent of Israelis believed in peace with the Palestinians.

In addition, the terror has changed the way Israelis go about their daily lives. During waves of violence, people don’t travel unless they have to, so places of entertainment, restaurants and shopping malls suffer, even though more than 100,000 Israelis work as security guards in public places. Such lifestyle changes, and the fact that the violence has driven away tourists and investors, have hurt the Israeli economy, creating unprecedentedly high unemployment and wreaking havoc among small businesses.

Yet with Israeli military and administrative responses to the terror — closing borders to Palestinian workers, imposing curfews on Palestinian areas and mounting counterterrorism operations in all the West Bank cities — it is the Palestinians who are suffering most from their offensive. Their economy, their cities, their government and their daily lives all lie in ruins. Since Operation Protective Wall this spring, the IDF has devastated the terrorist organizations.

Voices on the Palestinian side increasingly are calling the intifada a disaster and urging their leaders to turn to nonviolent means of opposing Israel.

Though they have succeeded in dominating such international forums as last year’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism, the Palestinians have failed to mobilize the international community to intercede and force Israeli concessions.

As for Arafat, while still the toast of anti-globalization activists and a few other idealists, he finds himself shunned as a terrorist by the world’s lone superpower, can’t convince his own legislative body to approve his Cabinet and scarcely ventures forth from his ruined compound.

Both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer say a new Palestinian leadership would be willing to strike a deal quickly. If and when Arafat goes, they seem to think, the intifada will go with him. Yet the intifada, Ya’alon noted, is like judo: you think you are about to throw your opponent, and suddenly find it is you who are being thrown.

Even if it does succeed in decisively beating back the Palestinian onslaught, Israel may find the world demanding that it quickly give the Palestinians at the bargaining table what they failed to win on the battlefield.