When reporters become the targets


On Tuesday, the organization Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) denounced the Turkish government for arresting it’s longtime representative in Turkey, Erol Önderoglu, on charges of “terrorist propaganda” a month after having taken part in a campaign of solidarity with pro-Kurdish media. 

It was only the latest insult against journalists trying to survive and work in the post-Arab Spring era. 

On June 12th. RSF slammed Turkish authorities when a Syrian journalist named Ahmed Abdelqader, 33, the founder and editor of the online journal Aynala al-Watan (“Eye on Homeland) who is a refugee in southeastern Turkey, just barely managed to survive a second assassination attempt. 

Islamic State claimed responsibility the drive-by shooting of Abdelqader in the southeastern city of Urfa on the evening of 12 June. He remains hospitalized. 

According to RSF, over 200 reporters have been killed since the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, and at least 50 remain missing or are held by armed Islamist militias. 

Speaking with The Media Line, Marwan Hisham, a Syrian journalist currently living as a refugee in Turkey and co-author of the upcoming book Brothers of the Gun said that in honor of the moment “I'd like to pay tribute to all brave journalists all around the world who endanger their lives to get the stories they see out, despite all challenges. Targeting journalists and restricting their movements to conceal the truth is not something new, but I believe there hasn't been a time journalists, especially independent ones, were deliberately harassed like they are nowadays. The Syrian war has exposed the unspeakable horror journalists are vulnerable to, not only in war zones but in exile also: a number of journalists were assassinated or arrested not only by violent groups but by governments also. Others had to leave this risky profession fearing persecution.” 

“Now I can't go back to work from there,” he said, about abandoning his work in Syria to save his own life.

Perhaps the Nobel Academy in Stockholm was looking eastward, far eastward, when it awarded the Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015.

Alexievich, who writes massive oral histories of suffering people, neither novels nor poems, is one of the most unusual laureates ever chosen. She refers to her work as “novels of voices, of the life of the sounds around you.” 

Yet, at a time when reporters are the targets of assassinations and oppression not only in Russia but throughout the warring Middle East, at a time when journalists are forced to flee rather than to pursue their stories, her work transcends.

On June 5th, 2016, Irina Bokova, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, decried Organization, (UNESCO) deplored the killing of Osama Jumaa, a Syrian journalist  killed in the battle for Aleppo. “I call on all parties in the conflict to respect the Geneva Conventions on the civilian status of journalists and their right to exercise their profession.”

Jumaa was killed when artillery fire hit an ambulance in which he was being treated for injuries he sustained earlier, while reporting on the bombing of a residential neighborhood for Images Live, a British photo agency.

The official figures to not take into account the dozens, possible hundreds of journalists jailed or killed by authorities in Libya, Egypt and Turkey, where the shuttering of media outlets has become routine. 

International monitoring groups estimate that over a thousand chroniclers– professional or semi-professional journalists and reporters– have fled the country when threatened by targeted persecution and by the conflict’s overwhelming violence which can come from any quarter—the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, the air force bombings of his Russian allies, armed “opposition groups” and various extremist Islamic militias such as the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra front of the Islamic State. 

Many of them face constant difficulties and continue to fear for their safety in the countries in which they seek refuge. Syria’s borders are easily crossed not only by journalists fleeing violence but also by every kind of predator. Syrian journalists must also often cope with hostility from the authorities in these countries and the restrictions that local legislation imposes on them.

Last October, Ibrahim Abdul Qader and Fares Hamadi, both reporters, were found beheaded at the home of a mutual friend. 

“Until the international community and warring sides do something serious to protect journalists,” Hisham says, “they are going to stay at risk. I myself am a refugee now, in a situation where I cannot do my job normally. Inside Syria, I had to work undercover for years.” 

Propaganda film disguised horrors of Terezin


The film is grainy and in black-and-white. It jumps about, slowing down at odd moments and growing dim occasionally. But it’s the people that hold your attention.

They walk about, wearing fashionable clothes, nodding a stiff hello when they spot a friend. They watch a soccer match, sit briefly outside a small cafe, listen to a concert.

It’s all a sham, of course, part of a bogus documentary produced by the Nazis during World War II at Theresienstadt, the concentration camp an hour north of Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia. And it’s one of the reasons you should visit.

The Holocaust continues to sound a melancholy note in the major cities of the region. Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest and Prague are remarkable, warm and charming, filled with cobblestone streets and intimate cafes, grand boulevards and monuments, fine art and fine food.

But in each of these cities is a reminder of the Jews who were murdered during World War II, initially forced into ghettos, eventually transported to death camps across the region.

In Prague, it’s Josefov, the Jewish quarter, where the Holocaust waits. It’s remembered in one of the six synagogues there, the Pinkas shul. Its walls are inscribed with the names of the 77,297 victims of the Nazis from Bohemia and Moravia. Tourists shuffle through the structure in silence, many taken with the artistic merits of the memorial, most horrified by the sheer numbers that fill the space.

But it’s in the nearby city of Terezin that one of the most unique, if bizarre stories of the period can be found. And it’s all captured in the grainy film produced by the Nazis.

The city — created in the 18th century and named for Maria Theresa of Austria — was taken over by the Gestapo in 1940, renamed Theresienstadt, and quickly turned into a ghetto. Jews from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria and Holland were transported to the site and its population soared. The city that had been home for 7,000 residents before the war would at one point hold 60,000 inmates.

Men and women were separated, housed in barracks packed with bunks that were three-tiers high. There was little food, and even less medicine. Sanitation was poor. Rats, lice, flies and fleas were part of daily life. So, too, death.

Nearly 150,000 Jews spent time at Theresienstadt. Only 17,247 survived the war. The large number of dead became such a problem that a crematorium was built in 1942 to deal with the corpses. Yet, the Nazis portrayed the ghetto as a model Jewish settlement.

The charade was tested — and refined — in the summer of 1944 when a commission of Red Cross officials were allowed to visit the camp to make sure that inmates at Theresienstadt were living under humane conditions. The ruse became necessary after Jews from Denmark were sent to the camp the previous winter and Red Cross officials in Denmark and Sweden began making inquiries about their whereabouts and health.

Over the next several months, the camp was gussied-up in certain key areas. Some living space was enlarged and painted. Drapes were hung and furniture added. Grass and flowers were planted. A playground and sports field were built. And a month before the orchestrated visit, 7,500 inmates — mostly orphans and the sick — were sent to Auschwitz and their deaths so Theresienstadt would appear less crowded.

An elaborate script was created that would have groups of inmates strolling along a central street, window-shopping; others would be taking part in a soccer match, while yet others would be chatting and singing as they headed off to work.

On June 23, 1944, the Nazis had everything in place as the commission was escorted through the camp. The inmates played their parts to perfection, knowing they had little choice but to cooperate. Camp officials were so happy with the result, they decided to put it all down on film and use the movie for propaganda purposes.

What remains today is a series of black-and-white vignettes — inmates at a concert; inmates sitting outside a cafe; inmates cheering a soccer match. The actors smile occasionally for the camera, hiding the hideous truth of the Holocaust from view. But look closely enough and you can see the future in their faces.

And it’s bleak.

Only a few months after the commission reported that inmates at Theresienstadt were being treated fairly, transports to Auschwitz picked up speed. Over the last weeks of September and early October, the camp was nearly emptied. Only 400 inmates remained at the beginning of 1945.

By the time the International Red Cross took charge of the camp the following May, the damage had already been done. More than 30,000 inmates had died in the camp of disease, starvation and abuse. Nearly three times that number had been shipped off to the Nazi killing factories in the east.

VIDEO: ‘Don’t Be A Sucker’ — War Dept. tells Americans to fight hatred and fanaticism (1947)


VIDEO: ‘Don’t Be A Sucker’—War Department tells Americans to fight hatred and fanaticism (1947)

From The Prelinger Archives.

Letter from London: ‘An English Tragedy’ is timely on stage


The curtain parts to reveal a stage in the shape of a huge swastika. There is a perceptible gasp from the mostly older matinee audience in the London suburb of Watford.

World War II is still the most vivid memory in most of their lives, and the Nazi symbol to them represents, at the very least, nights spent under German bombardment from the skies — or worse. Watford has a significant number of Jewish residents and there are several synagogues in the area.

In an atmosphere of increasing British anti-Semitism and vitriolic anti-Israel rhetoric in the left-wing press here, the play we’re about to see, “An English Tragedy,” couldn’t be more timely. Written by South African Jewish playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), it is the story of John Amery, son of a Cabinet minister, who along with the infamous Lord Haw Haw made propaganda radio broadcasts for the Nazis that were beamed to England.

Amery’s father, Leo, was educated, along with his friend Winston Churchill, at Harrow, one of the top English public schools, and at Balliol College Oxford. He married Florence “Bryddie” Greenwood, whose brother, Viscount Greenwood, sent the infamous Black and Tans to Ireland. The Amerys were connected to anyone who was anyone in the British establishment.

Following a predictable rise through the ranks of the English Conservative Party, the diminutive Leo, of whom it was said, “If he’d been a foot taller and his speeches a half hour shorter, he could have been prime minister,” became secretary of state for India in Churchill’s wartime Cabinet.

The Amery’s first-born, John, was bright, handsome and charming but a problem from the moment he was born. He followed his father to Harrow but was expelled twice, his housemaster declaring him the most abnormal boy he had ever encountered. He developed a penchant for champagne, grand hotels, fast cars and even faster women, as well as men.

Later, at a school in Switzerland, he told his tutor he financed his lifestyle by prostituting himself to older men. He took his childhood teddy bear with him to nightclubs and cafes, ordering drinks and food for the stuffed toy.

Evelyn Waugh may have used Amery as a model for the character Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited,” published a decade later. Amery’s contemporaries described him as having no sense of right or wrong or the consequences of his actions.

He married three times, each time to prostitutes. To this point, the story of Amery is not much different from that of a number of aristocratic young British wastrels, who inevitably drink and drug themselves to an early death. What makes Amery different is that in the mid-’30s, he developed an interest in extreme right-wing politics and an obsession with communists and Jews. He believed communism was an international plague carried by the Jews with the aim of bringing down the British Empire and taking over the world.

He fought for Franco in the Spanish Civil War and eventually came under the influence of the French fascist Jacques Doriot. After he wrote violently pro-Nazi letters to the French press, the Germans realized that if they could parade the pro-Nazi son of the British aristocracy, it would be a considerable feather in the Fuhrer’s cap. Soon his parents had the dubious pleasure of listening to their son’s voice beamed from Berlin into their stately British home.

And that’s where the play opens, as the swastika-shaped stage — designed by Ralph Koltai, himself a Kindertransport refugee from Berlin to England — divides to suggest the different locales where the story plays out.

On Nov. 19, 1942, the Amerys listen to their son’s rantings. Under the infamous program opening, “Germany calling, Germany calling,” Amery proclaims, “Your patriotism is being exploited by people who for the most part hardly have any right to be English. Between you and peace lies only the Jew and his puppets.”

His broadcasts were never as popular as those of Lord Haw Haw (the Irish traitor William Joyce) and eventually the Germans dropped them. Amery then visited British prison camps in Germany, where he tried to recruit the prisoners to join his self-styled Legion of St. George to fight with the SS against the Soviets. He managed to recruit a grand total of 57 men.

In the play, which could eventually come to Broadway and the West Coast, the senior Amery is terrified that his son’s treason will ruin his career, but both Churchill and King George VI reassure him.

In 1945 on a visit to his hero Benito Mussolini, John Amery was captured by Italian partisans and sent to England for trial. He remained sanguine throughout: “I don’t suppose for a moment they’ll bring a charge against me,” he boasted to his captors, “but if they did, of course, my father would see to it.”

And indeed, his family tried everything in their power to save him. His mother even petitioned the king. But after the war ended in September 1945, Churchill’s government fell and Leo Amery lost his seat in Parliament.

Nevertheless, the Amery’s second son, Julian, then an officer in British Special Operations and later a member of Parliament, went to Spain and returned with documents purporting to prove that his brother had become a Spanish citizen and therefore immune to prosecution for treason against Britain. At the same time, a psychiatrist hired by the family pronounced him mentally incapable of knowing right from wrong.

Either defense might have worked, but when Amery entered the courtroom on Nov. 28, 1945, he stunned his family and the court by pleading guilty and was sentenced to death. The entire proceeding lasted eight minutes.

It was this part of the story that intrigued playwright Harwood. Why would Amery, who considered himself not only not guilty but a patriot, suddenly plead guilty?

Harwood had originally heard the Amery story from his friend, Dame Rebecca West, whose book, “The Meaning of Treason,” dealt with both Joyce and Amery. But when he asked West for an explanation of the guilty plea, she said Amery had done it to save his parents from embarrassment.

TV: Iran’s ‘Zero Degree Turn’ flips facts on Holocaust



‘Zero Degree Turn’ Part I (Farsi with English subtitles 10:07)
Scroll to bottom of page for more video links

A popular Persian-language drama on Iranian state-run television dealing with the Holocaust contains anti-Semitic and anti-Israel themes, Los Angeles Iranian Jewish activists have revealed.

News publications, including The Wall Street Journal, have hailed the new show, “Zero Degree Turn,” as sympathetic to the plight of Jews during the Shoah, but Jewish experts fluent in Persian have analyzed the program more closely and have come to a different conclusion.

“This TV program lists in its credits a man named Abdollah Shabazi, who was an ideological strategist for the Iranian government, and he gave this idea to make this propaganda film to show that Iranians are ‘good with the Jews,'” said Bijan Khalili, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist and Persian-language book publisher. “But in reality, this man is the author of many anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai [Persian-language] books.”

The show focuses on an Iranian Palestinian Muslim man who, over the course of 22 episodes, helps his French Jewish lover and her family escape Nazi-occupied France by providing them with forged passports. Khalili and other L.A.-area Iranian Jews say the program is laced with blatant historical inaccuracies and messages of hate for Jews and Zionists.

“One of the objectives of this program is to show that Jews are corrupt, because they are shown as both giving bribes and accepting bribes,” Khalili said. The story includes a character called Homayoun Talab, an Iranian diplomat, who accepts bribes in order to provide false papers to Jews.

Talab, Khalili said, is loosely based on Abdol Hossein Sardari, Iranian ambassador to German-controlled France during World War II, who forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris at the time.

Fariborz Mokhtari, a professor of Eastern studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., recently completed a book on Sardari’s life. He said “Zero Degree Turn” egregiously misrepresents Sardari, who never accepted money for giving Jews in France Iranian passports.

“Sardari was duty-bound to look after the interests of Iranians. Whether they were Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish or Muslim was not very important to him,” said Mokhtari, who is Muslim and has been researching Sardari since 2002. “As he was quoted having told his inquiring nephew, ‘It was his duty to his country and to God.'”

In April 2004, Los Angeles Jewish organizations, including the Wiesenthal Center and Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, posthumously honored Sardari for saving several hundred Iranian Jews and European Jews who were living in Paris during World War II. The late Ibrahim Moradi, an Iranian Jewish survivor aided by Sardari, attended the 2004 ceremony at Nessah and told of how Sardari had helped him and the other Jews escape the Nazis without requesting any money.

Western media outlets first learned of “Zero Degree Turn” several months ago, when English-subtitled episodes appeared on YouTube. In those shows, the existence of the Holocaust was not questioned. For this reason, the series has generated substantial attention, in part as a contrast to the repeated Holocaust-denial statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Frank Nikbkaht, an Iranian Jew and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, called “Zero Degree Turn,” with its elaborate sets, expensive foreign location shoots and actresses appearing without the state-mandated Islamic dress code, part of a larger public relations campaign by the Iranian government.

“Powerful forces within Iran have decided to erase or whitewash Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust statements out of fear of losing even more in the propaganda war aimed at European and American audiences,” Nikbkaht said. “They’re probably thinking that if Ahmadinejad won’t correct himself, or if he cannot retreat, then ‘we will do it for him.'”

At the same time, other Iran experts dispute allegations that “Zero Degree Turn” is a publicity stunt, because the program is both fictional and was produced a few years before Ahmadinejad began making his Holocaust-denial statements.

“Criticizing a fictional story for inaccuracy may not be entirely justified, unless the inaccuracies are flagrant,” Mokhtari said. “I would refrain from passing judgment on the program until I see more of it.”

Yet according to online English translations of the series’ second episode, prepared by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, Zionist Jews in the program go so far as to kill an Iranian rabbi in Paris and collaborated with the Gestapo in order to compel Jews to immigrate to Palestine.

One character in the show, an anti-Zionist rabbi named Menuhin, is asked whether fanatic Jews killed an Iranian rabbi. His response is, “It is more likely the work of the Jewish Agency. They don’t mind presenting life here as scary and unsafe in order to convince as many Jews as possible to emigrate to Palestine.”

Khalili also said that other episodes of “Zero Degree Turn” make repeated references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are historically out of place, because the issue was not prevalent in the 1940s. Likewise the Jewish characters in the series are shown in a poor light, because they speak an improper form of the Persian language, as compared to the Muslim characters, Khalili said.

“We have a responsibility as Iranian Jews living outside of Iran to reveal to the rest of the world how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic the Iranian government is through this program and others like it,” Khalili said.

While the show’s writer-director Hassan Fatthi, who is based in Iran, did not return calls from The Jewish Journal for comment, he told The Wall Street Journal last month that his intention is to make a political statement about the Middle East, more than to create an entertainment piece based on some historical facts.

“Iranians have always differentiated between ordinary Jews and a minority of Zionists,” Fatthi said in the interview. “The murder of innocent Jews during World War II is just as despicable, sad and shocking as the killing of innocent Palestinian women and children by racist Zionist soldiers.”

According to reports from within Iran, “Zero Degree Turn” has become one of the country’s most popular and watched television series since it began airing earlier this year.

GOP pro-Israel propaganda: trick to disguise Republican failures


It’s that time of year again — election time — when White House officials trigger homeland security alerts and talk about the threat of Osama bin Laden. It’s also the time of year when Jewish Republicans bring out the bogeyman of the bad, bad Democrats who want to harm the State of Israel.

Bipartisan support for Israel has been a major accomplishment of pro-Israel activists in this country. Therefore, one might think that Republicans would be hesitant to try to undermine this accomplishment. However, from point of view of Republican electoral considerations, this attack strategy might be the best of a bunch of bad options.

After all, this is a Republican Party whose domestic policy accomplishments include its response to Hurricane Katrina and the exploding budget deficit. This is a party’s whose social and science policies are viewed by the vast majority of the Jewish community as closely aligned with the thinking of the Spanish Inquisition. And finally, this is a political party that has brought the country from the unity of Sept. 12 to the quagmire of Iraq.

So in the wake of Israel’s traumatic war with Hezbollah, it just might make electoral sense to try and scare American Jews into believing that the “lefty” Democrats are a threat to Israel’s survival. Yet, common sense and objectivity tell us that this is just a Republican con — and a destructive one at that.

In 2006, America’s two major political parties are at opposite ends of almost all issues but not on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations. Almost all observers, from Israeli officials to anti-Israel activists, agree that both the Republican and the Democratic parties are pro-Israel.

This bipartisan consensus, in a time of extreme partisan bickering, is no accident of history. For over 50 years, pro-Israel activists in this country have labored mightily to forge this bipartisan support for Israel. This is important because Democratic control of government and Republican control of government is never permanent.

However, with the rise of politicians like former Reps. Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay and presidential adviser Karl Rove, even the most sacred bipartisan issues became fair game for partisan gamesmanship. For these Republicans, it was just not good enough that they sought, in their own manner, to support strong U.S.-Israel relations. They had to do everything in their power to tear down Democratic leaders as friends of Israel. Thus, great friends of Israel, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco), Sen. Harry Reid (Nevada) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, are denigrated as insufficiently friendly.

There are exceptions to this bipartisan consensus. But the exceptions are relatively few, and they come from both parties. Moreover, there are lots of right-wing or left-wing fringe elements that are not associated with either of the political parties. One good example that Republican Jews love to use is Cindy Sheehan, who they wrongfully label as a Democratic activist. If Sheehan is a “Democratic activist,” then we might as well label Mel Gibson a “Republican activist.”

Rather than looking under every rock to find a “bad” Democrat, these GOP operatives could play a constructive role in fostering the U.S.-Israel relationship. They could start by quietly talking to some of their own problems. For example: California Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who has accused Israel of “apartheid” and referred to Israel’s borders as “artificial lines”; GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has called the Israeli government the most “evil” lobby in Washington, D.C.; and the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, who held up consideration of an Israel solidarity resolution because he objected to a line in the resolution urging the president “to continue fully supporting Israel as Israel exercises its right of self-defense in Lebanon and Gaza” — just to name a few.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Republican spokesmen each election year predicted that Jewish Americans were turning Republican. Unfortunately for these spokesmen, these predictions never came true.

In fact, in the last 15 years, the GOP declined from its pre-1990s levels of 30-40 percent. After the last election, the exit poll of record, the Edison/Mitofsky exit survey, found that only 22 percent of American Jews had voted Republican.

In other words, Jews were the most loyal Democratic constituency in the country after African Americans. Tom Edsall, the national journalist who followed this story closest in recent years, wrote this past winter that after all the ballyhoo, there was no real evidence that either Jewish votes or Jewish donors were moving to the GOP.

The facts never got in the way of a good Republican operative, and here we are in the fall of 2006 as these same people are cranking up the propaganda machine once more. They are ruthlessly feeding the same story to the press about how the “anti-Israel Democrats” are turning the Jewish community to the GOP. The sad part of this story is that the press often cooperates.

Ultimately, however, the tragedy of this propaganda campaign is not that some in the Jewish community might be convinced that there are Democratic bogeymen out there. Instead, the tragedy is that for a few extra votes, these demagogues are undermining the historic bipartisan support for Israel that will be so needed in the dangerous years to come.

Ira Forman is executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

At-risk youth; Much more Mathout; Donkeys vs. Elephants — the beef goes on


Custody Battle
 
Wendy Jaffe’s cover story on divorce focused primarily on the custody battles while neglecting alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, which can lead to far more peaceful results (“Who Gets the Shul?” Oct. 6).
 
In my role as a divorce mediator, I have worked over the years with scores of Jewish couples who are separating or divorcing to help them negotiate issues concerning their Jewish life and the Jewish life of their children. Couples in mediation are able to reach agreement on synagogue membership, synagogue dues and religious school fees, b’nai mitzvah costs, the wording on b’nai mitzvah or wedding invitations, as well as how they will share time with their children for holy days and festivals.
 
Not only is mediation less expensive than litigation, but the process results in far less acrimony and battle. Divorce, while maintaining shalom bayit, is indeed possible.

Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx
Sha’arei Am — The Santa Monica Synagogue

 
Maher Hathout
 
It would have been irresponsible to stand by when a man is honored, even though he uses anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda and participates in rallies that support terrorist groups, as he did at the Federal Building on Aug 12, where he was a keynote speaker and participants chanted, “Long Live Hezbollah” (“Controversial Muslim Leader Gets Award,” Sept. 22).
 
Hathout never distanced himself from them, nor, after his nomination, did he try to reach out and allay our understandable concerns. Instead, he lashed out, labeling us “un-American” fringe groups that oppose free speech or dislike Muslims. Hathout is free to say whatever he likes, but this extremist, divisive rhetoric and behavior should not be any city’s model for human relations.
 
We were not alone. Only four out of 14 commissioners voted for Hathout, with five abstaining and four absent. Steven Windmueller, dean of Hebrew Union College and a 1995 Buggs [Award] honoree, returned his award, stating that the [County Human Relations] Commission’s selection of Hathout stained the legacy of the award’s namesake.
 
There has been no “pressure” on us from “Jews in high places,” and we have not backed down. As rhetoric about the Middle East continues to escalate, the endgame of our protests is to send a strong message about desirable standards of discourse for Los Angeles, to educate the public about extremist rhetoric and to raise questions about who is a “moderate Muslim.”
 
We succeeded. We hope that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders everywhere were paying attention and will strive for balanced, informed discourse as the standard for people singled out for special recognition.
 
Roz Rothstein
Director, StandWithUs

 
At-Risk Youth
 
I would like to applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for courageously highlighting Aish Tamid and other programs in Los Angeles that offer “troubled teenage boys a way to curb self-destructive behavior” (“Orthodox Youth Not Immune to High-Risk Lifestyles,” Sept. 29). The topic of troubled teens is one of the most pressing and concerning issues facing our city, and it is important to supplement the article with a few additional facts and comments.
 
Firstly, while the core services and programs provided by Aish Tamid are tailored for troubled teens, we have also witnessed that not only troubled teens regularly attend and participate, but that there is a craving for our services by many different types of students. It is correct that our programs have been designed and appeal to troubled teens and/or students who have tried or are using drugs, but most Aish Tamid students are not druggies, and it is important to clarify this important distinction for the sake of all of our student participants.
 
It is also significant to note that the issue of at-risk youths is not restricted to only the Orthodox community, but that it affects all teens and young adults in our city, irrespective of their religious upbringing.
 
The article began with the mention of an Orthodox boy who overdosed on drugs, but many of us recall reading a little more than a year ago about the unfortunate death of a Los Angeles boy who was raised in the local Conservative schools and synagogues of our city who also died from a drug overdose.
 
In fact, after being mentioned and quoted in your 2005 article, Aish Tamid received a flood of phone calls from parents and school principals within the Conservative and Reform movements who confirmed that their children and/or students where facing the exact same challenges that was attributed to only Orthodox students in your recent article.
 
It would be naive of us to conclude that only Orthodox students are challenged with religious expectations, community and family pressures, academic and educational obstacles, questions on personal relationships, uncertainties on professional career options and, of course, the immense social influences of sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and other self-destructive habits.
 
These are the challenges of all teens and young adults, not just Orthodox, and the Aish Tamid programs and services, especially the Pardes/Plan B alternative high school program, have been designed to provide resources and support to all Los Angeles teens, young adults and their parents, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
 
Rabbi Avi Leibovic
Founder and Executive Director
Aish Tamid of Los Angeles

 
Politicized Reports
 
Joseph M. Lipner makes several interesting points in his op-ed (“Israel Should Probe Accusations of War Crimes,” Sept. 29), particularly on the subjective nature of terms such as “war crimes.”
 
Unfortunately, his piece is marred by incredible naiveté regarding human rights NGOs. Claims that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International “appear to be acting with good motives” toward Israel, or that they can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict are not grounded in reality. They reflect the halo effect these groups cultivate to escape accountability.
 
Research carried out by NGO Monitor shows a different story. Amnesty and HRW released highly politicized reports and statements throughout the war. Amnesty published a scathing 50-page report focusing entirely on Israel’s actions, while hundreds of rockets fell on Israeli civilians daily. HRW even denied Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields.

Beware the Finkelstein Syndrome


In May of 2006, I witnessed the bizarre rantings of the author and Holocaust revisionist Norman Finkelstein at UC Irvine. This was the second time that I had the misfortune of sitting through his lecture, the first time was at Cal State Fullerton.

Finkelstein uses his identity as the child of Holocaust survivors to gain credibility, distorting history by omitting context and defaming well-respected figures for the purpose of promoting hatred against the State of Israel and minimizing the horrors of the Holocaust.

His lectures include predictable rants against Israel, promotion of conspiracy theories regarding the reason his own new book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” (University of California Press, 2005), was not reviewed and a strange continuous bashing of Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz for writing “The Case for Israel.” He spends an inordinate amount of time lecturing about Joan Peters’ book, “From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine,” and calls survivor Elie Wiesel the “clown in the Holocaust circus.”

How twisted is Finkelstein’s sense of human decency?

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I find Finkelstein beyond despicable. I believe he openly and methodically lies in order to promote his own anti-Israel agenda.

It is well known that some children of Holocaust survivors carry severe scars and wounds that actually manifest in peculiar psychological behavior. For two decades, I worked as a licensed family therapist, and I believe that some day soon there will be a formal psychological syndrome that would account for self-hating Jews like Norman Finkelstein. Perhaps the syndrome will even be named after him: The Finkelstein Syndrome.

It’s inconceivable to me that Finkelstein might achieve tenure at De Paul University in Chicago, where he presently teaches his bizarre theories. That he is an assistant professor there is, in my view, a badge of shame for De Paul.

His true occupation is as a member of a traveling circus, a freak show of anti-Semites who promote anti-Israel propaganda from campus to campus. He openly admits to having high regard for Hezbollah on his Web site, and he promotes the false notion that “scholars widely agree that Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinian people in 1948.”

Even the historians that he quotes disagree with him. He denies the evidence that Arab leaders told Palestinian Arabs to leave Israel in 1948 so that the combined forces coming from Arab countries could exterminate the Jews, after which the Arabs who had lived in the region could return.

He denies the overwhelming evidence that this was the case, contained within periodicals and confirmed radio announcements at the time — among them The Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station, The New York Herald, London Economist, Time Magazine and Jordanian Daily Newspaper — that clearly reflected the push by Arab leaders to encourage the flight of their brethren for the purpose of the annihilation of the Jews and their reborn state. (A compiled list of critical quotes from reputable sources regarding this issue is available at standwithus.com/campus/pdfs/flyers/ArableaderstellPalestinianstoFleein1948.pdf).

I cannot help but wonder why Finkelstein fails to mention that approximately 150,000 Palestinian Arabs chose to remain in Israel in 1948, becoming Arab Israelis with descendants and friends that now number over 1 million. Growing numbers of Arab Israeli citizens, with representation in Israel’s Knesset, do not match with his accusation of ethnic cleansing.

I once wrote a letter to Finkelstein, because I was frustrated after attending one of his deeply disturbing lectures. I asked him why he lied to well-meaning students during his lecture. I showed him the evidence that the flight of the Palestinian Arabs from Israel in 1948 was, in part, due to the war, and, in part, due to the clear calls from Arab countries.

I showed him evidence from credible sources. I asked him to refute them, but he did not in his reply. Instead, he told me to read his book, and he told me that our conversation was at an end.

As I sat watching Finkelstein this second time, I looked around the room at the eager 300 to 400 students who came to hear him speak. Many of them were already anti-Israel and enjoyed his presentation, because it supported and expanded their own prejudices. Others, however, had heard that a controversial speaker was coming and came in good faith with open minds.

I watched for three straight hours at UC Irvine as students were poisoned by the Finkelstein Syndrome. I walked away feeling saddened by the notion that young hearts and minds were affected by a man of such dubious scholarship and malicious intent.

What remedy do we have when a hateful propagandist and academic fraud like Finkelstein comes to town? As the national director of an organization that believes in free speech, the only power we have is to expose him as a failed scholar who lacks balance, as a man with an obsessive agenda and as a man who respects the likes of Hezbollah.

Maybe if these things about him become more widely known, the people who may have the misfortune of attending his future lectures will come for entertainment, rather than for education.

Roz Rothstein is national director of StandWithUs.

 

Suicide Voters


All those people who say “Munich” reaffirms the universal truth that “violence begets violence” should think hard about the

Palestinian elections, where violence begat an electoral sweep.

So much for universal truths.

Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind,” and in the long run, who knows, he may be proven right.

But in the near term, Hamas, an organization whose existence is rooted in hatred and terror, has proven one of my personal universal truths: The craziest guy in the room usually gets his way.

The analysts say Hamas won because it had better schools, better clinics, better community centers than the corrupt-to-its-core Palestinian Authority under the late thug Yasser Arafat’s ruling Fatah Party. That’s half true.

Perhaps Hamas administered aspirin without a message, but its schools taught a poisonous hatred of Jews and Israel, and its community centers lionized suicide bombers. Just before the elections it launched a new television station, Al Aqsa TV, which broadcast the same anti-Semitic propaganda as Hezbollah’s station al-Manar.

Whether the medium is a textbook, an after-school club or a TV station, the message is the same: Hamas wants Jews dead.

To say Palestinians didn’t realize this when they voted last week is to look truth in the eye and blink.

“Palestinians voted for a movement for whom means and ends are identical,” Yossi Klein HaLevy wrote in The New Republic. “The suicide bombings are mini-pre-enactments of Hamas’s genocidal impulse.”

Remember Ariel Sharon? The dying Israeli prime minister gave an exit interview, as it were, to Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, who turned it into a sterling profile in the Jan. 23 New Yorker. The piece is shot through with melancholy. That’s due to the lion-in-winter nature of the subject, as well as to Sharon’s abiding sense that, at the end of the day, the conflict between Arab and Jew in the Middle East is intractable.

“‘The conflict isn’t between us and the Palestinians,’ he said, ‘The conflict is between us and the Arab world…. The problem is the profound nonrecognition by the Arab world of Israel’s birthright.'”

Sharon said talking was better than war, withdrawal better than an unsustainable occupation — but no one should have any delusions.

If the conflict is ever resolved, he said, “It will be a very long process.”

The Hamas election results, coming just a week after the Sharon article appeared, only buttress Sharon’s point.

It is doubtful even he could have predicted the results, in which Hamas won 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. The day of the election, before the ballots were tallied, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon happened to be in Los Angeles. At a meeting with members of the Pacific Council on International Policy, he downplayed the chance of a Hamas victory, but he underscored the threat it would pose.

“This is a group that gets millions of dollars from Iran,” he said.

So do the math: Iran on the verge of a nuclear weapon, bent on destroying Israel, plus a new government in the Palestinian Authority, bent on destroying Israel. Combine that with an ideology of suicide bombing, and it’s no wonder even Ayalon didn’t want to contemplate what a few short hours later would be a fait accompli.

Some people are blaming President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for encouraging the democratic elections that brought Hamas to power. Some blame Israel for not interfering — something Ayalon said was the subject of intense Cabinet debate. And yes, it’s true Israel had a hand in strengthening Hamas years ago as a counterweight to Arafat, and that the cruelties and injustices of Israeli occupation have led people to defer to the craziest guys in the room.

But it is the Palestinians who voted child-killers into office, and it is Palestinians who will live with the consequences, as the dream of a free, safe land in which to raise their children fades even more quickly from view.

 

Marlborough Defuses Anti-Israel Claim


A private girls’ school in Hancock Park has defused accusations of anti-Israel bias in the wake of an English teacher’s speech on the Mideast at an all-school assembly.

The controversy arose at Marlborough School after Laura Rochette, who teaches English and Arabic literature at the 117-year-old academy, presented “Postcards from Abroad” at a monthly all-school assembly, offering snippets of impressions she gleaned from conversations with people in Egypt, Israel and Jordan, while on a Fulbright Scholarship last summer in Egypt. The talk was meant to be poetic and experiential, not a political manifesto from the teacher or from the school, administrators said.

But some students came away feeling that her talk skewed toward those who believe Israel is an oppressive and racist state and had crossed the line from personal observations to political propaganda. One parent complained as did two students separately. And a pro-Zionist organization, StandWithUs, briefly considered holding a demonstration at the school. At the same time, some Jewish students said they found nothing objectionable in her remarks.

After an e-mail exchange and a meeting with a parent, the administration decided to meet with concerned students, the possible results of which could include a teach-in, a guest speaker or a panel presentation that would allow the 530 girls in seventh through 12th grade to glimpse a more positive view of Israel. The school hopes the students will take a leadership role in crafting the response.

“Teachers and students are meeting together to address and give expression to any and all concerns that have been voiced,” said Barbara Wagner, Marlborough head of school. “As an educational institution, we embrace every opportunity for dialogue among our students and teachers, especially on topics as sensitive as this.”

“My faith in the school is renewed,” said Steve Goldberg, a parent who is active in right-wing Zionist organizations such as American Friends of Likud and the Zionist Organization of America. Goldberg, an attorney, had gone to the administration after his daughter Joanna, an 11th-grader, told him about the Jan. 10 presentation.

Rochette, who was not available for an interview, spent about a month in Egypt and took short side trips to Jordan and Israel, where she spent a week on kibbutz and in Jerusalem. Her presentation quoted different people she met and painted pictures of moments that stayed with her. One of those moments included seeing a mother and two children sneak under the barrier separating the West Bank from Israel. She said the family looked like rats scurrying through the small opening, and she marveled at the young age of the soldiers who forced the family back.

She also quoted a Palestinian who said the wall was racist, and another who said the violence would stop when the occupation stopped.

Her Israeli vignettes included her moving experience at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and watching the teen life bubble in Zion Square.

“The assembly was supposed to be her account of her trip the Middle East, but it ended up that she gave her political opinion by only interviewing Arabs about issues like defense,” said Joanna Goldberg. “She made it seem like Israel was a bad, racist place.”

But other Jewish students said her talk was moving and did not stray from personal impressions.

“I think of myself as someone who has a radar for these sort of things. I’m not oblivious to this. But I was not offended by it at all,” said senior Elizabeth Green, who said she came home with renewed conviction to visit Israel. “It was very much [Rochette’s] cultural experience, her personal interaction with people. I did not get a sense of a political agenda at all.”

 

Calendars Remove Anti-Israel Day


A campaign by Berlin-based activists has resulted in the erasure of “Al Quds Day” from some interfaith calendars in the United States and United Kingdom.

As Iran’s president was calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, members of Together Against Political Islam and Anti-Semitism were busy calling for “Al Quds Day” to be wiped off calendars — and the campaign is paying off.

Institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, from Harvard University to Northumbria University in England, have announced that they are deleting Al Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day — a holiday that focuses on the destruction of Israel — from calendars where it had been listed as a religious holiday. Al Quds Day fell on Oct. 28 this year.

The point is not just to clean up calendars, said political scientist Arne Behrensen, a co-founder of the activist group, but “to engage the political left in confronting Islamism and Islamist anti-Semitism.”

Members of the pro-democracy group include people of Iranian, Kurdish and Turkish background. Many of the Iranian and Kurdish members are refugees from their homelands.

The annihilation of Israel is the raison d’etre of the “holiday” that the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is marked with anti-Israel demonstrations in some Islamic countries, as well as in cities with large Muslim populations outside the Islamic world.

Berlin police have taken increasing interest in defusing the event in recent years, since an incident in which an Al Quds Day demonstrator proudly displayed his small children wrapped in mock suicide bomb belts. All posters and banners at the event now must be submitted for approval, including those in Arabic, and statements calling for Israel’s destruction are banned.

That may be why Berlin’s Al Quds Day demonstrations have declined in numbers, Behrensen said. His group has held counter-demonstrations for three years running.

That trend held true this year as well. Only some 400 marchers attended this year’s event on Saturday, down from 1,500 in 2004 and 3,000 in 2003, said Anetta Kahane, a co-organizer of a counterdemonstration and a member of the Berlin Jewish community.

The group also succeeded in getting a German organization to remove Al Quds Day from its calendar in 2003. This year, Behrensen focused on British and American institutions that he found on the Internet.

One recipient of the campaign’s recent e-mail, Debra Dawson of Harvard United Ministries in Cambridge, Mass., said she had checked with her group’s Islamic chaplain “and he assured me that this day is not an Islamic holiday, so I am removing it from the site.”

Spike Ried, president of the Northumbria University Students’ Union in Newcastle, England, said his group had removed the event from its online calendar and issued a written apology. It reads in part, “We now understand that this day is considered offensive to Israeli and Jewish people worldwide.”

Students submit dates to the calendar, and Al Quds Day “was included on the understanding that it was a religious day,” Ried said. After discussions with both Islamic and Jewish student groups, he added, “we understand now that it is a political day, and have therefore removed it.”

The union also has “drawn up measures to ensure that this does not happen in future,” he said.

Del Krueger, creator of an online interfaith calendar (www.interfaithcalendar.org) that is a source for many others, said he also had removed Al Quds Day from future calendars.

However, the event remains on the calendar for 2006, where it is defined as a “somewhat controversial Islamic observance.”

George Fraser, a city council spokesman in Dundee, Scotland, said the “entire calendar is being removed” because of the issue. The University of North Carolina in Asheville said it had removed the Al Quds Day listing from its calendar of holy days.

Terry Allen, administrator at the Charnwood Arts Center in Leicestershire, England, said he added Al Quds Day after finding it on Krueger’s site, believing it “was a Muslim religious festival.” The activists’ letter pressed him to look deeper.

“I would like to apologize for any offense which has unintentionally been caused by this mistake,” he wrote to the group.

A spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America said the issue was under discussion there as well.

Behrensen chose to focus on the calendars after reading a lecture by Mansoor Limba, an Iranian, in Malaysia in December 2004. Limba spoke with pride of how Al Quds Day was becoming accepted as an Islamic holiday around the world, recognized by a long list of organizations, including some Jewish ones.

“This is their strategy, to spread their propaganda worldwide,” Behrensen said. “We thought, if we want to counter them, let’s see what they’re doing, and we’ll try to prevent their success.”

 

Wal-Mart Stops Selling Hate


Bowing to mounting pressure from Jewish groups, Wal-Mart has decided to stop selling “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” at its Web site.
The Sept. 21 announcement by the world’s largest retailers came just days after the Simon Wiesenthal Center began publicizing that Wal-Mart recently began selling the anti-Semitic tract that has fomented hatred toward Jews for more than a century.

In a Sept. 8 letter, Wiesenthal Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said he found it difficult to believe that Wal-Mart would market such anti-Jewish propaganda in the post Sept. 11 world. Cooper asked Wal-Mart to immediately cease selling the forged document, penned by members of the Russian czar’s secret police claiming that Jews want to take over the world
Wal-Mart initially seemed defiant, releasing a Sept. 21 statement saying it responded to consumers’ preferences by providing a large selection of books at low prices. Wal-Mart’s Website also suggested the Protocols might be genuine.
If valid, “it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world affairs,” the site said. “We neither support nor deny its message, we simply make it available for those who wish a copy.”

Later that day, Wal-Mart reversed itself after receiving calls from Jewish organizations and Jewish journalists penning stories on the controversy.
“Based on significant feedback … we made a business decision to remove this book,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Colella said in a release.

Prior to Wal-Mart’s decision, several local nonprofit executives criticized the retailer’s judgment. Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney of the ACLU of Southern California, said he found it odd that Wal-Mart refused to carry Maxim, Stuff and other “racy” magazines but sold “Protocols.”

“Wal-Mart is basically saying that a disproved anti-Semitic tract is more consistent with the image it wants to convey to the public than magazines with scantily clad celebrities in bikinis,” he said.

Several booksellers carry “Protocols,” including online retailers amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Borders.com and buy.com. The Barnes & Noble site carries a statement by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) debunking the tract. Amazon, which also features the ADL position, goes further, calling the book “one of the most infamous, and tragically influential examples of racist propaganda ever written.”

Helnwein ‘Epiphany’ Afflicts Comfortable


In contemporary artist Gottfried Helnwein’s painting, “Epiphany I,” an Aryan Madonna-like figure sits holding a naked, uncircumcised new born boy, while some SS officers stand around her, critically sizing up mother and child. The painting is a reproduction of a Nazi propaganda photograph in which Hitler was the central figure; here in the painting, the mother is.

“Epiphany I: Adoration of the Magi,” one of five works by Helnwein currently on exhibit at the Schmeidler-Goetz gallery in West Hollywood, is not the first work of art to explore an uncomfortable subject like the Holocaust.

Depictions of tragedy and violence are often so powerful we may wish to avoid them entirely. Holocaust images and those of other persecutions tend to be rendered manageable by being circumscribed to memorials and museums, places that by their very design prepare us to receive them in hushed tones of historical concern. But confront these images in an unexpected context and one’s reaction may be less predictable, especially if the content is not the vaguely safe images of Nazi horror, but the very symbols and propaganda that fed the rallying call of Hitler’s death machine.

What is in fact the capacity of these symbols to move people? Artists can seem to teeter on the line of propriety in exploring this question. Helnwein, in particular, has been exploring this throughout his career. In one of his early exhibitions, in Germany in 1971, audience reaction encompassed the gamut of emotional reactions, from adulation and Führer worship at the sight of an oversized portrait of Hitler to violent rejection in the form of vandalism to sympathetic watercolor images of deformed and crippled children.

Helnwein was born in Austria in 1948 in a post-WWII culture unwilling to confront its wartime past. Humanist themes pervade Helnwein’s work, but his approach is not one of pandering or niceties. From his earliest moments as an artist, Helnwein has sought to provoke and elicit “unexpected reactions that reveal the innermost held feelings and beliefs [of the viewer],” according to Alexander Borovsky, curator at the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Some of the most powerful images that deal with Nazism and Holocaust themes are by Anselm Kiefer and Helnwein, although, Kiefer’s work differs considerably from Helnwein’s in his concern with the effect of German aggression on the national psyche and the complexities of German cultural heritage. Kiefer is known for evocative and soulful images of barren German landscapes. But Kiefer’s and Helnwein’s works are both informed by the personal experience of growing up in postwar German-speaking countries.

For some artists, like Annette Lemieux, an artist and professor at Harvard University, historical images, even those of the Holocaust, provide a framework for more current concerns: “I would have to say, that I was not thinking about re-contextualizing past ‘found’ images. My ‘found’ images have always been visual substitutes for the present.”

One of Helnwein’s other works is “Selection: Ninth of November Night,” a Kristallnacht commemoration originally shown at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, in 1988. For the large-scale exhibit set in a public plaza opposite the museum, Helnwein photographed contemporary children and whitewashed their faces to appear as Holocaust survivors. Simon Wiesenthal noted, “Helnwein’s most convincing idea [was] to present this … in such an unconventional manner. He made no use of photos of heaped corpses; children’s portraits force the observer to stop and consider this idea.”

Many of the images were slashed across the neck and one was stolen. Rachel Schmeidler, one of the founders of gallery, contacted Helnwein after hearing him speak about the exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance last year.

Since then, Helnwein has exhibited the works damaged, demonstrating the continued need to speak out against the horrors of the Holocaust and persecution everywhere. This commitment has been lauded by Wiesenthal: “….His images are a constant silent appeal against collective denial and repression.”

Some of Helnwein’s images have joined the pantheon of pop culture. Many would instantly recognize images from his “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” series: the painting, “Nighthawks,” his appropriation of Edward Hopper’s 1942 work of the same name, of lonely diner patrons, in which Helnwein substitutes James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Humphrey Bogart as the patrons.

William Burroughs said that the American revolution begins in books and music, and political operatives implement the changes after the fact. To this maybe we can add art. And Helnwein’s art might have the capacity to instigate change by piercing the veil of political correctness to recapture the primitive gesture inherent in art.

The exhibit runs through July 24 at Schmeidler-Goetz/Los Angeles Rectangle Gallery, 9013 1/2 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. The gallery is open 6-9 p.m. (Friday), noon-5 p.m. (Sat. and Sun.) and by appointment. For more information, call (310) 273-0135. To see Helnwin’s art online visit

Israeli History the Dershowitz Way


“The Case For Israel,” by Alan Dershowitz (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95).

Alan Dershowitz’s new book describes an Israel no Israeli would recognize, an impossibly virtuous country whose intentions are always pure, whose conduct is forever above reproach, and whose rare misdeeds can be explained away as accidental. Conversely, the Palestinian Arabs (and for that matter, all Arabs) are depicted as malevolent terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction; every one of their deeds is attributed to the basest of motives, every decision a result of unremitting hostility, trickery, foolishness, or a combination of all three. No reader of Israeli historical scholarship or journalism would recognize the simple tale of good and evil, of angels and devils, described in the pages of Dershowitz’s book.

Though equipped with the tools of historical scholarship (footnotes, primary and secondary textual documentation, etc.) and presenting itself as an exploration of the historical roots of the conflict between Arabs and Jews in pre-State Palestine and Israel, his book is not a serious work of scholarship on the enormously complex struggle of two national movements over the same small piece of land. Instead, it is the latest in a long tradition of hasbarah, propaganda, that is not unlike the material produced by the Israeli Office of Hasbarah in years past, or pamphlets issues today by various pro-Israel advocacy groups in the United States.

In seeking to “make the case for Israel,” Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard and prominent defense attorney, has abandoned any pretense of balance, nuance or objectivity, all of which are guiding values for professional historians. That he is more interested in a one-sided polemic than a sober historical exploration is evident in the title of the book (would anyone interested in the political history of the United States rely on a book titled “The Case for America?”). It is also evident in its structure — each chapter title is framed as a question (Did Israel Start the Six-Day War? Were the Jews Unwilling to Share Palestine?) whose answer is predetermined from the outset, and then divided into sections on “the accusation,” “the accusers,” “the reality” and “the proof.”

Dershowitz is not to be criticized for writing a polemic, for that is what he set out to do, and he presents his case with passion. But the question is: Is such an approach helpful at this critical time?

Most important, it is evident in the book’s many factual errors, misinterpretations of evidence and selective quotations. To take but one example: Dershowitz resurrects the old, discredited canard that the Arabs themselves are primarily responsible for the departure of approximately 750,000 Palestinians during and immediately after the 1947-1948 war, and therefore bear most of the blame for the creation of the refugee problem. To bolster his case, he quotes the prominent Israeli historian and author Benny Morris: “In some areas, Arab commanders ordered the villagers to evacuate, to clear the ground for military purposes or to prevent military surrender.”

Dershowitz also uses evidence from Morris to argue that the Arab leaders of Haifa encouraged their community to leave. What emerges from Dershowitz’s selective use of Morris’ book is an account of the refugee problem that places responsibility for the problem squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians themselves.

However, Dershowitz neglects to mention Morris’ conclusion, based on detailed research and stated quite clearly in several of his books (including those cited by Dershowitz), that the majority of Palestinian refugees were in some cases expelled by Jewish forces and in others fled out of fear of expulsion or massacre by those forces. On the very same pages Dershowitz cites to make his argument for Palestinian culpability, Morris writes the following:

“During the second stage, while there was clearly no policy of expulsion, the Haganah’s Plan D clearly resulted in mass flight. Commanders were authorized to clear the populace out of villages and certain urban districts, and to raze the villages if they felt a military need. Many commanders identified with the aim of ending up with a Jewish State with as small an Arab minority as possible. Some generals, such as [Yigal] Allon, clearly acted as if driven by such a goal…. Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain in the Jewish State. But there was still no systematic expulsion policy…. Yet Israeli troops … were far more inclined to expel Palestinians than they had been during the first half of the war. In Operation Yoav, Allon took care to leave almost no Arab communities along his lines of advance.”

Clearly, Morris’ argument is considerably more complicated and morally ambiguous than the simplistic version Dershowitz presents. The latter has violated a cardinal rule of historical scholarship: an author is responsible for weighing all evidence at his or her disposal before making a conclusion, even if some of that evidence contradicts one’s own argument or bias.

I suspect that Dershowitz will not be troubled by objections raised by scholars. His account of Israeli saints and Palestinian villains is not aimed at historians or academic specialists. It is also not intended for Israelis, for whom firsthand experience of their country provides a degree of skepticism and nuanced understanding utterly lacking in the book. Rather, it is aimed at American Jews who are deeply attached to Israel and seek intellectual ammunition and moral reassurance at a time of crisis. Given the brutal terrorist attacks on buses, in restaurants and cafes, an economy on the brink of collapse, fierce and unrelenting criticism of the country and an unmistakable increase in anti-Semitism throughout much of the world, it is perfectly understandable to seek solace and solidarity in Dershowitz’s impassioned plea on behalf of the Jewish State. And yet, despite the many problems confronting Israel, the author’s embrace of simplistic, black-and-white explanations should be resisted. It may be noble to raise a stirring defense of Israel, but not under the guise of serious scholarship. Like a long marriage in which each partner comes to know and love the other for who they really are, warts and all, concern for Israel should be based on an honest, balanced assessment of the country’s strengths and weaknesses, achievements as well as shortcomings. To their great credit, Israeli scholars, journalists and intellectuals have been providing such assessments to their fellow citizens for at least two decades. It is unfortunate that professor Dershowitz has sought refuge in the soothing pieties of a previous era.

Alan Dershowitz will speak on Oct. 22 at the Nessah Educational Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. $15-50. 5:30 p.m. (reception), 7 p.m. (discussion). For tickets, call (310) 246-7200.


Adam Rubin is assistant professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Good Old Days


On a sleepy, spring-like Sunday in Orange, California, it is easy to forget about it.

We parked near the historic district and went for lunch at Watson Drugs & Soda Fountain (founded 1899). The jukebox played Patsy Cline and the Shirettes, and the placards of the wall urged us to buy Nehi and war bonds. This is where Tom Hanks filmed scenes for his 1950’s-era movie, "That Thing You Do," and it was all too easy to sit back, order a malted and pretend these are the good old days.

Later that same day in Orange, we popped in to some of the antique shops that radiate from the central plaza. In a world of eBay, even antique stores seem antique. In one store, I thumbed through a stack of old advertising posters, and out fell a red-white-and-blue sheet, the size of a movie theater lobby card, depicting a silhouette of a soldier against an American flag, printed with the words "Operation Desert Storm 1990-1991." It was $7.50.

The fact that relics of the last war are already collecting dust alongside World War II-era Japanese ammo belts ($60) and war bonds calendars ($24) made me wonder how, 10 years hence, we’ll regard Gulf War II. Will it resonate with world-shifting portent that World War II mementos do? Or will it seem by comparison to today’s war somehow small, eclipsed in our mind by more immediate threats and darker developments?

As soon as we returned to the car and turned on the radio, the answer seemed clear. U.S. soldiers had encountered some fierce resistance — several had been killed, many others taken prisoner. By Monday, there were reports of more missing, of Iraqi troops using guerilla tactics to inflict casualties. Areas that the Army initially announced in coalition control were now in the midst of firefights — I know, because I’ve watched several unfold on TV with surreal intimacy.

By Monday afternoon, the government’s announcements about the war had shifted in order to lower our expectations. There is no question that part of the American public’s initial approval of the war rose from the sense that it would be a cakewalk. Gulf War I, after all, exacted a relatively small price, and this time around we heard expert commentator after expert commentator describe the Iraqi army as even more demoralized and ill-equipped, and Saddam’s hold on power as even more tenuous. But as the initial shock and awe gave way to shock and awfulness, our doubts increased about how quickly the coalition would come, see and conquer.

Israelis, it’s revealing to note, were less shocked than Americans by the ferocious response of Iraqi fighters and many in the Iraqi population. For many years now they have been at war with desperate people who are fed one-sided propaganda by cynical leaders. The American people, wrote Avraham Tirosh in Israel’s daily, Ma’ariv, "got several awful examples of what awaits it. Not a deluxe war, which it was perhaps mistakenly led to expect, not an easy drive to Baghdad, with the main adversary being the dust and the sand. But dead, wounded, missing, helpless captives and victims of murder."

Writing in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s biggest-selling Hebrew daily, Alex Fishman contended that to win this war, President George W. Bush would have to conduct a much more bloody campaign. "The Americans want to show humanitarian warfare that is careful about human life," he wrote. "But they have no intention of losing the war either. To win it, from now on, they are going to need to destroy en masse the members of the Republican Guard and anyone near them."

If indeed we are in for a long, drawn-out war, followed by a long, drawn-out occupation, there is every indication that this conflict will prove to be as momentous a turning point in modern history as we will witness. Friendly Arab regimes will be in danger of collapse as their already restive populations become enraged by the war. Israel, which many have assumed would benefit from the disposal of Saddam, may find that anti-West feelings strengthen the fanaticism of the regime in Iran, which has long posed Israel’s gravest threat. And here at home, bitter feelings about a bloodier war will lead to more violent dissent, along with homeland terror.

We can hope and pray for a quick and successful resolution of this war. Because if not, what happened this week will indeed seem like the good old days.

World Briefs


Variety Comes Down on Egyptian
Television

Variety, the daily newspaper covering the entertainment industry, admonished Egyptian television in a Nov. 13 editorial for running its 41-part series called “Horseman Without a Horse,” a series which is based on the anti-Semitic tract

“Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The series has not only come under fire from Jewish groups, but the U.S. government as well. Last week, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to condemn an anti-Semitic television program; the Bush administration also has urged Egypt to review the miniseries. This week the entertainment industry weekly jumped into the fray. “Leaders of the U.S. entertainment industry must come up with some sort of suitable admonition to Egyptian state television for running its 41-part series,” Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart wrote. “The U.S. pumps some $2 billion a year in aid to Egypt and Hollywood dispatches a flow of movies and TV shows to that nation, which pretends to be one of the more enlightened centers of the Arab world,” he noted. “But if state-run television in Egypt effectively transforms itself into a prime time propaganda organ, it should hear about it from Hollywood. Loud and Clear.”

Israeli Army Moves Into Nablus

The Israeli army took control of the West Bank city of Nablus. Soldiers, heavy armor and helicopter gunships moved on Nablus early Wednesday morning after the army took control of Tulkarm and an adjacent refugee camp a day earlier. Operation Wheels in Motion is the biggest Israeli military operation in months, according to The Jerusalem Post. Israeli officials said the operation is focusing on Tulkarm and Nablus because the two cities have been linked to Sunday’s attack on a kibbutz in which five Israelis were killed. After taking control of Nablus, soldiers imposed a curfew and began house-to-house searches for terrorists. In a statement, the army said its operation also involves a crackdown on Bir Zeit north of Ramallah.

In another incident early Wednesday, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a suspected weapons-making workshop in downtown Gaza City. It was the second such strike on the site in two days. There were no reports of casualties.

Report: U.S. Puts Peacemaking On
Hold

The United States reportedly agreed to an Israeli request to put U.S. peacemaking efforts on hold until after Israel’s January elections. Agreement was reached Monday in Washington during a meeting between the head of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, Dov Weisglass, and the U.S. national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Netanyahu Pledge Angers Arafat

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat responded angrily to Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge that, if elected prime minister, he would expel Arafat. “Netanyahu has to remember that I am Yasser Arafat and that this is my land and the land of my great-great-grandfathers,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dismantled 23 settlement outposts in the past month, according to Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Speaking before the Knesset on Wednesday, Mofaz also said three outposts are currently being evacuated and that the High Court of Justice will soon decide the fate of six others, Israel Radio reported. The IDF is currently investigating the status of 35 other settlement outposts.

Harvard Uninvites Controversial Poet

Harvard’s English department retracted an invitation to a poet who once said West Bank settlers should be “shot dead.” Following student complaints, the department chair, Lawrence Buell, issued a statement saying the reading had been canceled “by mutual consent of the poet and the English Department.” Buell also said he “sincerely regretted the widespread consternation that has arisen as a result” of the invitation to Tom Paulin, who lectures at Oxford University.

The invitation “had been originally decided on last winter solely on the basis of Mr. Paulin’s lifetime accomplishments as a poet,” the statement added. Paulin told an Egyptian newspaper earlier this year that “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers should be “shot dead,” according to National Review Online. These settlers are “Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them,” he also was quoted as saying. “I can understand how suicide bombers feel.”

Former Bank Guard to be Naval Reservist

A former Swiss bank guard who rescued sensitive Holocaust-era documents from the shredder decided to become a reservist in the U.S. Navy. Christoph Meili moved to the United States after his actions at the bank in January 1997 brought him adulation from the U.S. Jewish community, but prompted death threats in his native Switzerland. Now living in California, Meili recently signed up to be a naval reservist a move that can again get him in hot water back in Switzerland.

A Swiss Foreign Ministry official said it is against the law for a Swiss citizen to serve in a foreign army without the government’s approval. As a result of his actions, Meili could face arrest upon his return to Switzerland. But this is apparently not a concern for Meili. “I will apply for U.S. citizenship very shortly, and therefore I am not afraid,” he told the Swiss daily Blick.

Six Egyptians Charged as Spies

Six people were arrested in Egypt on charges of spying for Israel. Egyptian officials said Wednesday that the six, operating under the cover of a travel agency, had spied for Israel in exchange for money, according to The Associated Press. Earlier this year, two other Egyptian nationals were found guilty of spying for Israel and sentenced to 10 years and 15 years in prison with hard labor. Israel has denied such allegations in the past.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

From Peace to Hate


It was straight out of central casting; a Fellini B movie, if ever there was one. Only it wasn’t a movie. It was ugly, and it wasn’t supposed to be entertainment. It was the way people behaved toward us — the L.A. Pro Israel Rally Committee (LAPIRC) — at the Not in Our Name anti-war demonstration on Sunday, Oct. 6, across from the Federal Building in Westwood. Our group of 25 people, many over 80 years old, experienced baiting, namecalling and general histrionics from those attending the demonstration.

For the last 15 months, LAPIRC has shown up every other Sunday at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue to show support for Israel by carrying banners, signs and Israeli and American flags. Little did I understand what I was getting myself in to when I decided to go ahead with our usual rally on Oct. 6.

A week earlier, LAPIRC co-organizer Greg Deych e-mailed me that a group, Not in our Name, was planning a demonstration against President Bush going into Iraq. Theirs was to be in front of the Federal Building. "Should we cancel our usual rally?" Greg asked me.

I was stupid enough to say, "No it will be fine. We have security and the anti-war group will be across the street." I added that even though the group probably sees Israel as an aggressive bully, I think it will be all right. But it wasn’t.

It was a very, very hot day. Our group couldn’t drink enough water and Gatorade. We stood and held American and Israeli flags and our pro-Israel banners. People began gathering at the crosswalk signal in order to get to the Federal Building. When they saw us they started cursing. Without first saying hello, or anything, a young Latino man told us to "f— off."

He began yelling at one of our older Russian Jewish supporters, Isaac, "You are Zionist Nazi pigs. You are Nazis!" It was surreal. People on the corner were all yelling at us in such a fevered pitch I couldn’t hear myself talk.

I stepped between the Hispanic man and Isaac and said — or rather, yelled — "That’s enough. It’s enough already."

A woman in the crowd told me to mind my own business and that it wasn’t enough.

Eventually, between 2,000-3,000 people were assembled across the street from us. LAPIRC was only 25 people. We continued to hold signs that read, "We send shalom and greetings of concern to Israel."

Around 2 p.m., a group of African Americans marched across the street into our rally, beating on drums and chanting, "Free the Palestinians, Free the Palestinians." I thought this was supposed to be about President Bush and Iraq. The group kept marching up and down, forcing our people to move from their positions.

Some brought cameras and video equipment, and ignored our requests to refrain from photographing us. They chanted, "First Amendment rights" and "This is a public place." One man photographed one of our small signs that read "Israeli flags-$6." We sell flags to pay for the security. I could only imagine this photo being used in some anti-Semitic book similar to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

One woman who videotaped me yelled that she could do what she wanted to because she had First Amendment rights. I told her that she lacked grace. She turned around and said, "Well you lacked grace when you slaughtered my people." She was referring to Native Americans. Again, I thought this was about President Bush and Iraq. Was everyone with a personal beef here at this demonstration?

For two hours, people kept coming to our side of the street to either try to convince us we were wrong or to tell us that what we were doing looked bad. To them we looked like a pro-war group. I kept explaining that we were here to support Israel. This fell on deaf ears. Several news people interviewed us but they only wanted our views on the anti-war demonstration, not on our support of Israel.

And then the coup de grâce: As the 1,500 or so demonstrators began to march west down Wilshire Boulevard (the police sectioned off the street) toward Sepulveda Boulevard, they somehow managed to form a long line in front of us. At this point, our security guy put eight L.A.P.D. officers in front of us for protection. The name-calling continued full force, interspersed with occasional cries of "shame on you."

As proud of Americans as I was during Sept. 11, that’s how ashamed I was of all these Americans. We were just 25 people standing on the sidewalk. It was as if Yasser Arafat’s propaganda over the last 10 years had reached most of these people. They saw Israeli flags and went wild with hate.

I shudder to think what would have happened had the police not been there.

This may have been advertised as an anti-war rally, but I could hear in the distance, as I looked at the hate-filled faces, military boots marching on broken glass.


Suzanne Davidson is the founder of the L.A. Pro Israel
Rally Committee. She can be reached at suzannedavidson18@hotmail.com

Together for Israel


When Sarah Tolkoff returned to UC Irvine to begin a new school year, she found that the Muslim student newspaper Al Kalima’s cover featured a picture of Sharon and Hitler’s faces digitally merged together. The headline read: “History repeats.”

History was also repeating itself for Tolkoff, who had hoped that by this semester the anti-Israel propaganda would have been toned down.

“This is what is going to set the tone for the school year,” said Tolkoff, founder of the UCI activist group Anteaters for Israel.

But the tone was set long before September. Since violence began escalating in the Middle East more than two years ago, the Israeli-Palestinian situation has dominated the political conversation on campuses nationwide, and Orange County is no exception. Caught up in a highly emotional battle that is as passionate as the source of the conflict, college students on each side of the issue are taking every opportunity to state their case.

While pro-Palestinian campaigns last year were well-organized and emotionally appealing, Israel supporters had often lacked the factual and rhetorical preparation to effectively connect with their peers. Unprepared for what they were up against last year, student groups and Jewish organizations are now working together to address this disadvantage. Hasbara (“advocacy” in Hebrew) for Israel is being organized on campuses in Orange County and nationwide as Jewish organizations begin campaigns to reach students this school year.

“Over the last year, quite a few students have really come to the conclusion that they have no choice other than to stand up for Israel; they’re feeling really besieged on campus,” said Dr. Lauren Foster, director of academic affairs for the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. “Anti-Semitism and hatred has been a big problem at UCI in particular.”

After several incidents last year at UCI in which Jewish students were followed and threatened, the consulate is on high alert. At the student’s request, the consulate is working closely with the Anteaters for Israel, Hillel’s Jewish Student Union and individual students to provide them with everything from speakers to literature and various materials. Foster said their challenge is to appeal to a wide range of students. “The other side has been trained thoroughly … there’s no dissent, no nuance. We have students from the religious and political spectrums and we try to work with them where they’re comfortable at.”

One of the greatest challenge for pro-Israel organizations at UCI is appeal to the Jewish students who have little attachment to religion or Israel. “I think there are a lot of Jewish students who latch on to the ultra-liberal,” Tolkoff said. “They are sort of closet Jews and not really involved. How can you ask them to take a political stance that seems so affiliated with a religious one?”

Tolkoff tries to personlize the conflict, presenting as a human rights issue rather than a religious one. “One thing that college kids latch onto first are human-rights issues … People are dying on both sides and this is something that we need to fight against.”

Many pro-Israel organizations on campus have joined forces to plan, strategize and take action to support pro-Israel activities on local campuses. Orange County recently formed the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), a network of representatives from the Bendat Hillel Center, Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, StandWithUs, MERIT and student representatives from UCI.

Organization leaders hope the various groups can pool resources and expertise to tailor campaigns for individual Orange County campuses.

The first focus of the coalition is UC Irvine, which has seen the greatest proportion anti-Israel activity. “UCI is a more suburban kind of campus … it doesn’t have the large population of Jewish kids like UCLA,” ADL Regional Director Joyce Greenspan said. “We were unprepared last year and we’re not going to let that happen to our students again,” she said.

ICC last month sent a delegation of seven students to the Action Israel Weekend, a program preparing West Coast college students to counteract anti-Israel sentiment on campus. The Oct. 18-20 getaway at Camp Ramah in Ojai was the second one of its kind, sponsored this year by the Consulate General of Israel, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Betar on Campus, AIPAC, Hillel and ADL.

“The weekend was geared toward students who are already activists,” said Steven Mercer, director of the College Campus Initiative Jewish Community Relations Council, but it was also open to “young activists looking to play a larger role in the pro-Israel community.”

This year many organizations are reinventing their tactics as a result of their experiences from the previous year. For Orange County Hillel, the approach is pro-active. “In the past it has always been reactionary,” Orange County Hillel Executive Director Jeffrey Ripps said.

They are planning a four-week, biweekly seminar designed to arm students with information to fight the war of words. “Most Jewish students don’t know enough information to argue back,” Ripps said.

Through education, Ripps said, the students will be able to find their own truths and to understand the opposition. “Our primary goal is to make them feel comfortable and confident … not necessarily to give them their opinion,” Ripps said.

Although Hillel’s main target is UCI, Ripps hopes to promote Israel on smaller campuses by exposing students to Jewish life, such as Israeli food and music. “We want to promote Israel for what it is and not always have to talk about the conflict,” Ripps said.

For those wanting to talk about the conflict, the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC presented a six-part lecture series, “Middle East Fact & Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed.” The series, which took place July 14-Oct. 24 at various locations throughout Orange County, featured Avi Davis, senior fellow at the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies. The mission statement of the series was to provide “a comprehensive understanding of the politics, people, and history of Israel and the Middle East. Ideal for everyone who cares about Israel.”

Now that the students are better prepared this year, Jewish organizations hope that students will actively engage in dialogue with their opponents. For example, there is an ongoing forum at UCI between members of Hillel, the Muslim Student Union, the Society for Arab Students, the Jewish Student Union, and Anteaters for Israel, coordinated through the Dean of Students Office.

“The goal is to come and talk … to bring issues from the past that have offended the students on campus and to come up with ways they hope to create dialogue and educate each other,” said Ripps, noting that students on both sides are skeptical.

Considering the recent history of such forums on college campuses throughout the country, a certain level of skepticism is not surprising: Almost any effort to promote discussion between the two sides, no matter how well intentioned, has backfired.

For example, a symposium at Colorado College in September with keynote speakers, former Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, an advocate of the Palestinian cause, and Gideon Doron, president of the Israeli Political Science Association, caused demonstrations and counter-protests, not peaceful dialogue.

The topic of Israel is so sensitive on college campuses that it has become almost impossible to agree on what is neutral and what is propaganda. MERIT, a Fullerton-based organization that monitors local media for bias in reporting about Israel, asked local public officials to investigate an Oct. 9 UCI workshop closed to the public that the groups labels as “propaganda” and “pro-violence” (see page 10).

The situation is perhaps too heated to lend itself to civilized debate at this point in time, but at the very least, organizations hope to improve the quality of life for Jewish students on campus. Tolkoff and Anteaters for Israel consistently meet with the UCI administration in hopes of coming to a consensus about the limitations of appropriate speech on college campuses. “We’ve been meeting with them all summer to agree upon what is appropriate and what isn’t, but it’s hard to do that without trampling on First Amendment rights,” Tolkoff said. “How do you explain why a political statement is also an anti-Semitic one?”

The distinction between free speech and anti-Semitism is a difficult one, especially in an environment that is supposed to encourage individual expression. But for Tolkoff, there is an important difference: “My opinion is that it’s a university, it’s not a battleground.”

UCI Forum MERITs Response


A UC Irvine forum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last month exposed a rare rift over academic freedom within the normally collaborative Orange County Jewish community.

The four selected panelists at the Oct. 9 program were critiqued as a “pro-violence platform” by the Fullerton-based Middle East Reporting in Truth (MERIT), a grass-roots group organized to counter media bias. MERIT urged its members to press public officials for an investigation of the forum’s sponsors and funding, describing the participants, who at that time had not yet been identified, as “Palestinians who justify suicide bombers” and calling the event “propaganda” for lacking mainstream speakers.

The accusations incensed Mark LeVine, an associate professor of Middle East history and Islamic studies, who convened the scholars for a separate three-day academic workshop and also asked some to speak at the public forum. “I don’t deal with people who support violence,” he said of the academics invited to participate. He called MERIT’s remedy “McCarthyesque.”

In a clarification posted online after LeVine complained, MERIT retracted the description but not its concern over the panelists, who “do not represent the current consensus of Israeli public opinion.”

An audience of more than 200 people listened intently to the two-hour UCI discussion by two Israelis and two Palestinians. At the outset, UCI’s director of international studies made a disclaimer about the panelists’ “alternative view.”

“These are the views you don’t hear,” LeVine told the audience.

Oren Yiftachel, chair of the geography department at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, Israel, defined the conflict as an ethnic land grab and “creeping apartheid.” He said peace efforts are undermined by the spread of Israeli settlements, what he called “the Judaization of Palestine.” Expansion also means people live separately and unequally, he said.

Palestinian Rema Hammami, director of women’s studies at Bir Zeit University, located on the West Bank, said the conflict is bred by festering frustration over political agreements that fail to see fruition. She said both sides share blame for the second intifada, which she claims was ignited by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000. Excessive military force to quell Temple Mount demonstrators led to inevitable escalation, she said. Her harshest words were for Palestinian leadership. Their lack of response to the intifada “borders on criminal responsibility,” she said.

Another panelist, Yoav Peled, a political science professor from Tel Aviv University, sees the conflict through an economic lens. The first intifada in 1987 resulted in a withdrawal of Palestinian resources that benefited Israel: cheap labor, a captive market and tax revenue. “That led Israel to Oslo,” Peled said. A foreign-investment boom during the 1990s, though, did not bring full employment as factories closed. “The people whose economic fortune deteriorated because of the peace process came to resent the idea,” he said.

Walid Shomaly, Palestinian Center of Public Opinion’s public relations director, reported results of a recent poll of Palestinians. About half now say they support the intifada and suicide bombing, which represents a decline compared to a year ago, when support stood at 72 and 80 percent, respectively, he said. Shomaly did not describe how the poll was conducted.

LeVine ended the panel with a plea. “All of the community needs to step back from inflammatory rhetoric,” he said, such as equating [Ariel] Sharon or Yasser Arafat to Hitler. “We need to stop making ludicrous analogies.”

The forum lacked balance, said Roz Rothstein, an organizer of StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based Israel advocacy group, who was one of a many audience members that had questions for the panelists. “I wanted an even playing field,” Rothstein said, adding that students lacked the sophistication to discern that the presentation had a pro-Palestinian bias. In a later statement, she called on the UCI administration “to stop allowing the university to be used as a forum to demonize Israel.”

Other Jewish organizations that have previously allied with MERIT over campus issues refrained, in this instance, from backing the group’s effort to derail the forum. “We think that it’s important the Jewish community support open dialogue,” said Gary Levin, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Costa Mesa chapter.

Both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate are stalking college campuses this fall for different ends. The pro-Israel side seeks to delegitimize speakers antagonistic to Israel. The pro-Palestinian side seeks sympathizers in a student population willing to demonstrate for news cameras. Two of the UCI panelists are on campus tours for Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a group circulating a petition calling on Israel to respect academic freedom in Palestinian universities. About 500 mostly U.S. professors have signed.

Paula Garb, associate director of international studies for UCI, who also served as a moderator, said five other Middle East forums of varying perspectives are planned in the fall quarter.

“We hope as the year proceeds, all perspectives will be presented,” Garb said. “It’s not possible at one event, but over time.”