Israel’s Security Cabinet approves Turkey reconciliation deal


Israel’s Security Cabinet approved the reconciliation agreement with Turkey restoring diplomatic ties after a six-year freeze.

Following a discussion of more than four hours, the Security Cabinet voted 7-3 to approve the deal, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked dissenting.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded and killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. The votes against the agreement were in part over the payment of reparations to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.

 

The Security Cabinet also said it would take up a discussion on the conditions of incarceration of Hamas prisoners in Israel as long as the issue of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers presumed dead and two Israeli citizens being held in Gaza is unresolved.

As part of the agreement, Turkey has committed to help pressure Hamas to repatriate the soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, and the citizens, Avra Mangisto and Hisham Al-Said, being held there.

Under the deal, Israel will create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims, which would not be released until Turkey passes legislation closing claims against the Israeli military for the deaths. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for the deaths, another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Turkey withdrew its demand that Israel halt its Gaza blockade, but Israel will allow Turkey to establish building projects in Gaza with the building materials entering Gaza through Israel’s Ashdod Port. The building projects reportedly include a hospital, power station and desalinization plant.

Turkey and Israel Spin Normalization Deal in Their Favor


Turkish and Israeli officials announced on Monday a long-awaited rapprochement and reestablishment of formal diplomatic relations after being severed six years ago.

“We are very very happy,” Ivo Molinas, the editor-in-chief of Turkish Jewish newspaper Şalom and an advisor to Turkey’s Jewish community, told the Media Line. “One of the things we love the most is to see Israel and Turkey as friends.” 

The reconciliation deal brings to end the freeze in relations over events on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in a humanitarian flotilla to the Gaza Strip organized in part by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) in May 2010. Israeli forces killed ten Turkish activists in a violent clash when the ship they tried to breach the military blockade around Gaza.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım announced that ambassadors will be exchanged within weeks. But Israel denied one of Ankara’s original conditions, a lifting of the Gaza blockade. The two sides agreed that any aid for Gaza will be subject to Israeli inspection and go through the Israeli port of Ashdod.

However, as part of the deal, which officials from both countries have been quietly working on since last year, all current and future claims against Israeli soldiers involved in the flotilla raid will be dropped. Israel will also create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation for the families of those killed. That provision sparked criticism in Israel with one former politician Gideon Saar calling it a “national humiliation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the deal calling it an agreement of “strategic importance” for the state of Israel, adding that it protects all of the Israeli soldiers involved from “all criminal and civil claims.”

Turkey will provide humanitarian relief to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, with a 10,000-ton aid shipment to be sent to the Israeli port city Ashdod on Friday. Ankara will also build a 200-bed hospital, a power station and a desalination drinking-water plant in Gaza. 

Umut Uzer, a professor at Istanbul Technical University with expertise in Turkish-Israeli relations, says that Turkey can play a very positive role now that it has good relations with both the Palestinians and Israel.

“Let’s hope that Turkey will have a moderating influence on Gaza, by opening hospitals,” and other humanitarian activities, he told the Media Line. “That would be beneficial for Israel as well.”

Uzer said it’s time for Ankara to stop choosing sides.

“A more balanced approach would be beneficial for both peoples, both the Palestinians and Israelis.”

A major complaint from Israel has been Ankara’s hosting of the Islamist Hamas movement, which governs Gaza and which Israel, the United States and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization.

“Israel believes that many of the terrorist attacks performed in the West Bank are planned in Turkey,” Karel Valansi, a columnist with Şalom who writes about Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, told The Media Line. “Following the deal Hamas will stay in Turkey but Ankara will control their activities. It has to be only political. Turkey may become a facilitator between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, and has ruled the Strip until then. Israeli officials say Hamas continues to dig tunnels to attack Israel, and has called on Turkey to stop supporting Hamas.

“It is a sore point,” former Israeli Parliament member for the Yesh Atid party Dov Lipman, recently returned from a trip to Turkey, told the Media Line. “We still view Hamas as a terror organization that seeks our destruction.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal over the weekend, and said the government won’t expel the organization from Turkey. However, Turkish officials pledged to not support terror activities in Israel and to not allow Hamas to fundraise or conduct military operations from Turkish territory against Israel.

Professor Uzer says Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is close with Hamas and can use its influence over the group in a more positive way.

“I think Turkey could and should put more pressure on Hamas as far as military operations are concerned.”

Uzer says Turkey has been working hard for the rapprochement out of necessity for good regional relations.

“The fact that Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy has collapsed […] and also that things got really bad with Russia [after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet last November], doesn’t leave many friendly countries in the region,” he says. 

Despite the collapse of political relations, economic relations have been steadily growing between Turkey and Israel, and further expansion provided another incentive for the normalization of ties.

Former Israeli parliamentarian Lipman says the reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey has economic benefits for both sides. He said that Israel could sell natural gas, past of a very large field recently discovered, to Turkey.

“The economic benefits – especially with regards to gas – are huge,” he says, referring to the massive, recently discovered Leviathan gas field off the coast of Haifa.

The field could be hooked up to Turkey’s existing gas pipelines, selling to the Turkish market and delivering to Europe through Turkey, but no formal agreements are in place.

But Professor Uzer expresses caution at such an early stage.

“Yes, there’s natural gas, no doubt, but can it be transported to Europe, that’s something that needs to be explored economically and politically,” he says. “It sounds very exciting but I’m not so sure if it’s economically and politically feasible.”

Molinas says that the poor relations with Israel magnified anti-Semitism in the Turkish media and political discourse.

“We want to forget these past six years which were not so easy, especially the first years after the Mavi Marmara incident,” he said. “Now we hope that this harsh anti-Semitic climate will soften in a short time,” he says.

Lipman said the anti-Semitism in Turkey also had very negative affects in Israel.

“Some comments made by Turkish leaders have been taken very badly. We are not happy about any hints of extremism or anti-Jewish beliefs and ideologies. These are very concerning and lead to lack of trust.”

However, Lipman says most Israelis are happy that relations have improved.

“Israelis really like the Turkish people and Turkish culture. They would love for there to be a strong relationship with the Turkish people,” he said. “Hopefully, things can calm down and we can see a lot of tourism in both directions.”

How gas could warm relations between Israel and Turkey


On the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington in March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a private meeting with Israel's energy minister, Yuval Steinitz. It was the highest level contact between Israel and Turkey since diplomatic relations broke down six years ago after Israeli forces raided a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, killing 10 Turkish activists.

The meeting, which lasted 20 to 30 minutes and whose details have not been previously disclosed, discussed the war in Syria, Iran's presence there, terrorism – and natural gas. That last item is a key driver of efforts to forge a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey: At stake are reserves of natural gas worth hundreds of billions of dollars under the waters of Israel and Cyprus. To exploit them Israel will likely require the cooperation of Turkey.

In an interview at his office in Jerusalem, Steinitz confirmed the Washington meeting. “It was in a very good atmosphere,” he said. “I don't want to say more than that … I'm a great proponent of this effort to resume diplomatic relations with Turkey.”

Since the Washington meeting, high-level envoys from Turkey and Israel have talked privately in Geneva and London to hammer out a deal on restoring relations between the former allies. Discussions have at times become bogged down: Israel wants Turkey to cut ties with Hamas representatives based in Turkey; Ankara wants reassurances on providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza, among other things.

A senior Turkish official said he was not aware of the meeting and said it would have been outside normal protocol for a president to meet a minister.

Overall, though, Israeli officials believe an agreement can be reached in the coming weeks.

“We have resolved 80 to 90 percent of the difficulties, or gaps, and now with a little bit of goodwill and flexibility on both sides we can reach the remaining items,” Steinitz said. “I think we are pretty close (to normalising relations).”

There have also been positive noises from Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on June 7 that Ankara was “one or two meetings away” from normalising ties with Israel. However, he did not put a timeframe on the process.

 

VAST RESERVES

Israel and Cyprus, which have increasingly close ties, sit on an estimated 3,450 billion cubic metres of gas buried in the Levant Basin, according to a U.S. Geological Survey carried out late last decade. Those reserves are worth around $700 billion and equate to enough gas to supply the entire world for a year. And that's only proven reserves. A recent seismological survey conducted by a French consultancy suggested Israel alone may be sitting on nearly three times as much gas as first thought, according to Steinitz.

The problem is not just the huge costs of drilling for the gas, but finding a route to deliver it to customers. While a portion of the gas would go for domestic consumption, the vast majority is earmarked for export. Unless Israel and Cyprus can lock in long-term export contracts, the costs of developing the deepwater fields will not be covered and the vast assets may never be fully exploited.

Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, may be a long-run buyer of Israeli gas, but is a modest market. Neighbouring Lebanon and Syria – both sworn enemies of Israel – are out of the question. Instead, Turkey and Egypt, with 80 million and 93 million people respectively, would be a far better fit as potential long-term consumers.

An initial plan was to send some of the gas to Egypt, which already has small contracts to buy gas from Israel. But in the past year Egypt has discovered natural gas off its coastline and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said he will push ahead rapidly with developing its own energy resources.

Steinitz says a deal with Egypt remains an option. But Israel is also turning towards exploring a pipeline to Turkey, both for consumers there and as a connection to Europe. A third option is a Cyprus-Greece-Europe route.

As a result, restoring relations with Ankara is now a linchpin in Israel's strategy to unlock its natural gas wealth.

“Turkey would very much like to diversify its energy imports and resources,” said Steinitz, when pressed about the restoration of ties between the countries. “They don't want to be dependent on one source, or two sources of energy.”

 

RUSSIA CONNECTION

Turkey imports the bulk of its gas from Russia. But Ankara's ties with Moscow are strained, particularly over the Syrian conflict after a Turkish fighter plane shot down a Russian jet last November. In 2015, Turkey trimmed its imports of Russian gas by 300 million cubic metres to around 27 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year, to the annoyance of Moscow.

Yet Turkey's rapidly growing economy still consumes 50 bcm of gas a year and demand is set to double over the next seven or eight years, analysts say. Diversifying supply will be important.

“They need other sources, reliable sources, of gas,” said Steinitz. “We have an interest to exportIsraeli gas and to have export options – not to be totally dependent on one country for our exports. So it's a very good opportunity here.”

Turkish energy companies share that view. Both Zorlu Enerji and a consortium of Turcas and Enerjisa have been in talks with Israel over gas prices and potential pipeline routes, a Turkish industry source told Reuters late last year.

“There's a potential of around 30 bcm of gas (a year) there, of which Turkey could buy 8 bcm to 10 bcm (a year),” the source said.

Building a pipeline to Turkey or Egypt is about the same distance, around 540 km (340 miles), and about the same cost, around $3 billion. Turkey is more attractive because of its position as a gateway to Europe.

 

THE CYPRUS PROBLEM

Though Steinitz is hopeful of mending fences with Turkey, regional analysts remain sceptical of a gas bonanza in the East Mediterranean any time soon.

“A lot of the talk is pie in the sky,” said Michael Leigh, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in the United States and an expert on gas discoveries in the East Mediterranean. He believes there are too many political and commercial obstacles to getting the gas out of the seabed and transporting it to markets.

Perhaps the trickiest issue is Cyprus. Since 1974 the island has been split between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, after the Turks invaded following a military coup on the island backed by Greece. There are no diplomatic ties between the south, which is a member of the European Union, and Turkey.

Large amounts of gas are located in the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus. If it and Israelare intent on coordinating their export strategy – and if Turkey is to be one of the routes – the divisions in Cyprus must be addressed first, analysts say. That's because at least part of the pipeline would have to pass through Cypriot territorial waters into Turkish territorial waters.

British and Cypriot diplomats have talked hopefully about a breakthrough on reunifying Cyprus, but it remains far from certain. “We can see that there is an alignment of the stars and momentum from both sides,” said a senior official directly involved in talks. “The prospects are certainly better than they have been in a very long time. But we cannot say there is a deal until everything is in place.”

Even if a deal can be reached, it still may not mean all hurdles are cleared. Leigh, of the German Marshall Fund, pointed out that Erdogan, whose imprimatur is critical to a resolution, has blown hot and cold on the issue.

In relation to exploiting the gas reserves, Leigh added: “A resolution of the Cyprus problem is necessary but not sufficient – you need commercial viability, too.” He is not convinced the Levant Basin is a reliable investment, given the decline in gas prices and the cost of extracting the gas and piping it to markets.

Steinitz remains optimistic, convinced that Israel's economic stability and energy security depend on developing the country's gas resources in whatever way possible.

“We are going to do it by hook or by crook,” he said. “We have to overcome all the difficulties and do it because it is essential for Israel's future.”

Israel, Japan mark 60 years of relations


Israel and Japan marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The anniversary, which was celebrated Tuesday, is set to be marked in both countries with a series of special events, including cultural events, academic meetings and visits by senior officials, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Bilateral trade between the countries totaled $3.3 billion in 2011.

Japan is promoting various investment programs with the participation of Israel and the Palestinians, including the Peace Corridor project establishing an agro-industrial park near the city of Jericho with the participation of Japan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Japanese military forces are deployed within the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force framework on the Golan Heights, and Japan also provides financial support to the Multinational Force and Observers deployed in the Sinai Desert.

“Israel appreciates the Japanese contribution to stability in our region,” the Foreign Affairs ministry said in a statement.

Egypt’s new politics make Israel ties a target


To mark the day Egypt regained control of the Sinai peninsula from Israel, a group of protesters pledged they would this week cover a memorial to Israelis killed in the war with an Egyptian flag bearing the words: “Sinai – the invaders’ graveyard.”

The gesture will be one of the most public expressions of anger against Israel since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, marking the emergence of a long-repressed hostility among many ordinary Egyptians.

But while some of the new breed of politicians who emerged after the revolution are only too happy to exploit such defiance, there are still powerful reasons why mainstream leaders are not ready to burn their boats with Israel.

Calls for such a public act of protest would have been unthinkable under Mubarak, for whom the 1979 peace treaty with Israel was a cornerstone of regional policy.

Under him, public antipathy towards Israel – a nation with which Egypt has fought four wars – was kept in check, often brutally. It changed when the anti-Mubarak uprising erupted on Jan. 25 last year. Egyptians now openly voice frustrations and are demanding Egypt’s new political class listen.

“After the Jan. 25 revolution, the regime fell and with it everything linked to treaties and protocols,” said Saeed al-Qasas, head of the Revolutionaries of Sinai, which vowed to cover on Wednesday the Dayan Rock memorial, a large stone erected in the desert with names of fallen air force personnel.

Egypt’s transition to democracy from autocratic rule is transforming the political landscape at home but also promises to shift foreign policy of the Arab world’s most populous nation which was the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel.

None of the mainstream politicians emerging in Egypt have said they would abandon the treaty, but the new order promises to make what was often described as a “cold peace” colder still, raising tensions on a sensitive border if mishandled.

Yet, even after handing over power to a new president by July 1, the generals who have ruled since Mubarak’s fall are likely to act as guardians of a deal that brings them $1.3 billion U.S. military aid a year.

Egypt, its economy in tatters, also can’t afford to alienate the United States or other Western states whose governments and investors are likely to be vital in reviving growth and creating jobs, crucial points to any Egyptian political career.

But Israeli politicians are already fretting over the political changes in Egypt and worry about the rise of Islamists, who swept the parliamentary election and are strong contenders in the presidential vote that starts on May 23-24.

One senior Western diplomat said the army, mainstream Islamists and other leading politicians recognised the benefits of maintaining a deal that kept the border peaceful for three decades.

“But there is zero traction in broader society,” the diplomat said, adding that this could encourage Islamists to test how far the boundaries of ties could be pushed.

Islamists and their rivals in Egypt’s presidential race, the final stage of a turbulent political transition, are already using Israel as a political punchbag to chase votes. They are vowing no repeat of Mubarak’s cosy ties with Israel.

“Democracy is about responding to public sentiment and public sentiment has little interest in maintaining a real relationship with Israel,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center.

He suggested Egypt could follow Turkey’s example where once-close ties with Israel had worsened sharply after Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turks in May 2010 in a raid on a ship carrying aid to the Gaza Strip.

“What people should be focusing on is how domestic developments in Egypt will alter its foreign policy. I think the model here is probably something resembling Turkey’s approach to Israel, that you maintain diplomatic cooperation but there is a lot of anti-Israel bluster and symbolic gestures,” he said.

One such gesture may have been a decision this week to scrap a 20-year deal reached in 2005 to export Egyptian gas to Israel. It drew applause among the Egypt public, although both sides said commercial differences not politics were behind the move.

Professor Uzi Rabi at Tel Aviv University said that gas deal decision pointed to a region more “attuned to the street.”

“We are in (the midst of) a continuing deterioration in Israel-Egypt relations. One must hope that the interests will overcome the inflammatory direction,” he added.

The gas deal had long been criticised in Egypt’s opposition media and by the public even when Mubarak was in office. They said the gas was sold too cheaply and benefits were pocketed by Mubarak’s associates. The pipeline was sporadically attacked.

But the number of attacks has soared since the anti-Mubarak uprising. The line has been blown up 14 times in that period, halting the flow for much of the time. Officials and former Mubarak associates behind the deal have also been put on trial for corruption.

Islamists were swift to laud the gas deal’s cancellation and have been among the most critical of Israel, although such criticism crosses the broad spectrum of Egypt’s politicians.

“There is no doubt the peace treaty is unfair to the Egyptian side,” Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman and a senior figure in Egypt’s biggest Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters, although he said all treaties would be “respected”.

He pointed to limitations on troop numbers allowed in Sinai since Israeli completed the pull back in the 1980s from the peninsula it occupied in the 1967 war. He also complained that Israelis were allowed into that area of Egypt with no visa.

The outspokenness of politicians taps a deep vein of anger against Israel but also reflects a desire since Mubarak was ousted to be more assertive and end what many saw as Mubarak’s subservience to policies of the United States and the West. Restoring Egypt’s “dignity” is a common refrain in speeches.

“Egypt’s next president can’t be like his predecessor, he can’t be a follower who executes policies put to him from outside,” Mohamed Mursi told his first news conference as the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate.

The challenge for Egypt’s new politicians, keen to win over the public, will be putting the genie back in the bottle as they respond to the popular mood and test the boundaries of how far they challenge ties with Israel.

A miscalculation risks riling U.S. politicians, quick to rally to Israel’s defence, and alienating a major donor with the might to sway international investment and support.

“It is not about explicit policies or some kind of master plan the Brotherhood has, but how misperception breeds misperception,” said Brookings’ Hamid, adding there was a chance that Egypt, Israel or the United States could misjudge events.

Some Israeli officials have shown increasing signs of worry as they have watched Egypt’s political drama unfold.

Amos Gilad, a top aide to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, said this month he was “concerned” about future relations with Egypt and said he was “not so sure” the Brotherhood was committed to peace, a break with the usually cautiously optimistic line.

An Israeli newspaper cited Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying Egypt was more dangerous to Israel than Iran, a country Israelis accuse of building nuclear weapons. Lieberman would not confirm those comments when asked later.

One of Israel’s biggest worries is the security vacuum in Sinai where Islamic radicals, some blamed for blowing up the gas pipeline, have gained a foothold as policing of the area collapsed after Mubarak’s fall. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as a “kind of Wild West”.

Yet, the Brotherhood, the dominant group in Egypt’s emerging democracy for now, may share Israel’s concern for the rise of extremism on its border. The Brotherhood has long been branded too pragmatic by more radical Salafis.

“So I think there is potential for a kind of understanding in the Sinai,” said Brookings’ Hamid, pointing to Gaza nearby where the Brotherhood-inspired Palestinian group Hamas cracked down on hardline Salafi Islamists.

And even the more hostile voices to Israel in Egypt seem to know the “red lines” that shouldn’t be crossed over a peace deal that won back the Sinai, which is now scattered with popular Red Sea tourist resorts where Israelis mingle with other visitors.

The Revolutionaries of Sinai had originally wanted the Dayan Rock memorial destroyed, but now said covering it in a flag would suffice. “We will make do with this,” said Qasas. “Though we call for its removal.”

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Tom Perry in Cairo; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Giles Elgood

Time to rethink how we relate to Christians


Jews are known for their intellect, and for legitimate reasons. The number of Jewish recipients of Nobel Prizes, for example, is wildly disproportionate to the Jewish proportion of the world’s population. Jews make up about one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population, yet they have received about 20 percent of the Nobel Prizes for chemistry, 41 percent for economics, 26 percent for physics and 27 percent for medicine. In other words, Jews are about 125 times overrepresented among recipients of Nobel Prizes in the natural sciences. Jews likewise make up a disproportionate number of students enrolled in elite American universities.

If as a people Jews were as wise — make that even half as wise — as we are individually intelligent, we would have far fewer problems than we do.

But, alas, we are not.

One glaring example is Jews’ attitudes toward Christianity. Though, as Rambam pointed out almost a thousand years ago, Christianity carried knowledge of God to the world, and though tens of millions of Christians are the Jews’ best friends today, Jews fear Christians and Christianity as if we were living in medieval — that is, anti-Semitic Christian — Europe.

So much so, that fear of, hostility to, Christianity is perhaps the only thing that the Jewish left and the Jewish far right agree on.

An example of this is the fear of Christian missionaries that pervades Jewish life — a fear that is out of all proportion to its reality.

It is one reason some Jews do not attend any of the pro-Jewish and pro-Israel events sponsored by organizations such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI). I have spoken at about a dozen CUFI events around America and have met Christians who can only be described as chasidei umot ha’olam, “righteous Gentiles.” There are many campuses in America on which the Christians are more proactive on behalf of Israel and in fighting anti-Israel leftists and Islamists than are the Jewish groups.

I am happy to report that more and more Jews attend CUFI and other pro-Israel Christian organizations’ events than ever before. Nevertheless, while one increasingly meets Jewish federation heads and Orthodox and Conservative rabbis at these events, one rarely encounters a Reform rabbi at any of them. (One prominent exception is Stephen S. Wise Temple, which invited Pastor John Hagee, the founder of CUFI, to speak.)

The Reform movement has issued statements opposing Jews attending CUFI events because these pro-Israel Christians often hold conservative positions that the Reform movement opposes — a sad example of placing leftist social positions above Israel’s security. Despite the fact that Israel is under existential threats to its very life, and despite the fact that Jews have fewer and fewer allies, the Reform movement opposes helping the most pro-Israel and pro-Jewish parts of the American population because, to cite one example, these Christians think marriage should continue to be defined as between a man and woman.

And on the religious right, there are rabbis and other Jews who refuse to attend such events because they are certain that these groups have a stealth agenda — to convert Jews to Christianity (despite CUFI’s explicit vow that it is non-conversionary).

Many Orthodox rabbis and other Orthodox Jews now attend pro-Israel Christian events. At the last CUFI national convention in Washington, D.C., I saw one of the most revered Orthodox rabbis of this generation, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat. And of particular significance has been Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, Pastor Hagee’s close friend, rabbi of Orthodox Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio, Texas. Ordained by Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Scheinberg has shown great courage and foresight in supporting CUFI.

But many Orthodox Jews still fear anything having to do with Christians including, perhaps even especially, Christians who devote their lives to helping Israel. The reason? Christians want to convert Jews to Christianity and those who work to help Jews are lulling naive Jews into lowering their guard. That is why there are Jews who have devoted their lives to, in their words, combating missionaries.

When I first began speaking in Jewish life 40 years ago, after almost every lecture some member of the audience asked about Jews for Jesus and how to counter their threat.

I have had the same response for 40 years: We should be far more concerned with Jews for Nothing than with Jews for Jesus. The number of Jews who convert to Christianity is infinitesimally small compared to the number of Jews we lose to apathy. Moreover, I am quite certain that there are far more young Jews joining anti-Israel left-wing groups than joining Jews for Jesus or converting to mainstream Christianity.

It’s time to get over Jewish preoccupation with Christianity as the enemy. The real enemy of Jewish identity is secularism. There are many wonderful secular Jews, but the children of most Jews who become irreligious do not retain a Jewish identity. Moreover, Europe is no longer Christian, it is secular, and it is no friend of the Jews. Religious America is the Jews’ best friend.

And, in any event, it is not up to Christians to keep Jews Jewish. It is up to us Jews, and if we can’t keep Jews Jewish (sometimes even in the Jewish state), that, not Christianity, is the problem.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

No end in sight for downward spiral in Turkish-Israeli ties


The bad diplomatic news for Israel just kept getting worse.

First Turkey announced that it was slashing the level of its diplomatic ties with Israel to the second secretary level, giving the senior Israeli embassy staff 48 hours to leave the country. Turkey also said it was suspending all military ties with Israel.

Next the Turkish Embassy in Washington vowed that Turkey would pursue legal action against Israeli soldiers and officials who were involved in the deadly 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara. Then 40 Israeli travelers on a Tel Aviv-to-Istanbul flight were separated from the other passengers upon landing and subjected to humiliating searches.

Turkey’s actions came as the United Nations released the report of its Palmer committee, which investigated Israel’s actions during its May 2010 interception of a flotilla that was trying to break its blockade of Gaza. Israeli troops encountered violent resistance when they tried to board the Mavi Marmara, and the ensuing battle left eight Turkish citizens and one dual Turkish-American citizen dead.

The Palmer report found that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was legal and that Israeli commandos needed to use force as they came under attack on the Mavi Marmara. The report also found, however, that Israel used excessive force when boarding the ship.

Turkey has demanded an apology for the deaths of its citizens, but Israel has refused.

“We need not apologize for the fact that naval commandos defended their lives against an assault by violent IHT activists,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet this week, using the initials of the Turkish charity that sponsored the Mavi Marmara. “We need not apologize for the fact that we acted to stop the smuggling of weapons to Hamas, a terrorist organization that has already fired over 10,000 missiles, rockets and mortar rounds at our civilians. We need not apologize for the fact that we acted to defend our people, our children and our communities.”

Netanyahu then made a last-ditch attempt to head off Turkey’s decision to limit ties with Israel.

“I reiterate that the State of Israel expresses regret over the loss of life. I also hope that a way will be found to overcome the disagreement with Turkey,” he said. “Israel has never wanted a deterioration in its relations with Turkey; neither is Israel interested in such a deterioration now.”

The crisis in ties with Turkey could have far-reaching implications for Israel. Severing trade between Israel and Turkey, which is more than $3 billion annually, would have a negative impact on the Israeli economy.

Diplomatically, the crisis could badly affect Israel’s relationships with Egypt and Jordan. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Egypt this week to discuss deepening that country’s strategic relationship with Turkey.

The trip came amid growing opposition in Egypt to the longstanding peace treaty with Israel. Egypt’s military leaders could come under increasing pressure to follow Turkey and recall their ambassador from Israel.

“Erdogan will say to the Egyptians, ‘What are you doing for the Palestinians?’” Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, told JTA. “Egyptians will say, ‘Turkey is not even Arab, and they expelled the Israeli ambassador.’ It will add to the public pressure.”

Liel believes there is even a chance of a military confrontation between Israel and Turkey if, as expected, Israel signs a deal to export liquid natural gas to Cyprus, an island nation that is tensely divided between Greek and Turkish sectors.

“Those vessels will need to go through the Mediterranean, and Turkey will do whatever it can to stop them,” Liel said, adding that Turkey has 40,000 soldiers in the Turkish part of Cyprus.

Closer to home for Israelis, the crisis with Turkey could strengthen Hamas, which controls Gaza, and which Israel and the United States see as a terrorist state. Erdogan, an Islamist, has vigorously defended Hamas from those who say it is a terrorist group that should be isolated.

Erdogan has said that he wants to visit Gaza. If Egypt agrees to let him enter Gaza from its territory, it would represent a victory for Hamas and a further challenge to Israel.

Beyond the diplomatic fallout, Israel’s relationship with Turkey played an important psychological role. Tens of thousands of Israelis visit Turkey each year with package tours that even including the one-hour flight is cheaper than staying at hotels in Eilat. The relationship with Turkey also made Israelis feel connected to the wider Muslim world. Turkey was the first Muslim country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, in 1949.

“We used to hold up the relationship with Turkey as an example of how Israel can have a relationship with a large Muslim country,” a senior Israeli official told JTA. “We’re certainly concerned about this now.”

In the early days of the state, there were very close ties with Turkey. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, even studied law in Turkey. Those diplomatic ties intensified in the 1980s and 1990s.

The senior Israeli official said there are two schools of thought in Israel surrounding Erdogan. One says that the deterioration in the relationship is specifically because of the flotilla incident and that if Israel apologized, the relationship would return to what it was.

The other school, which seems to be gaining ground, is that Erdogan sees himself as a potential leader of the Islamic world and is leading Turkey to become more religious and more Islam-identified. If that is true, then the flotilla incident is just an excuse to downgrade ties with Israel.

It seems unlikely that the relationship will improve anytime soon. Liel, the former ambassador, says a similar incident happened in 1980 after Israel passed the Jerusalem Law formalizing Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem, which was captured in 1967.

Turkey then reacted exactly as it did this week—downgrading ties to the level of second secretary. Liel, then a second secretary, was sent to Ankara.

“For the five years I was there I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Turkish officials wouldn’t even come to Israel Independence Day celebrations.”

It took 12 years for Turkey to agree to reinstate the Israeli ambassador. After the 1991 Madrid peace conference, Turkey reinstated the Israeli ambassador and accepted the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador. Israeli officials say they hope that this time it won’t take 12 years to get their ambassador back to Turkey.

Greece-Israel relations improving, Israeli envoy says


The historic exchange of visits by the premiers of Israel and Greece is a sign of rapprochement between the two countries, Israeli Ambassador to Greece Arye Mekel said.

Mekel made his statements in an interview Feb. 12 with the Athens News Agency, the official Greek news agency, in its first interview with an Israeli official in 40 years.

“Economic cooperation is at the core of Greek-Israeli relations, which are growing at an unprecedented pace and yielding tangible results that benefit both countries,” Mekel said. “Additionally, a joint cabinet meeting scheduled for the spring—and focusing on the entire spectrum of bilateral relations—is regarded as the next important step in bilateral relations.”

Mekel referred to the growing cooperation in the sectors of tourism and innovative management methods in agriculture and the environment, and underlined that Greece-Israel ties have their own value and are not the result of recent unrest in the Middle East.

The veteran diplomat expressed Israel’s deep appreciation for the Greek government’s contribution to the peace process in the Middle East, adding that cooperation for regional peace and stability will benefit both Greece and Israel.

Referring to the planned joint cabinet meeting, Mekel said “it will convene possibly in the spring—focusing on sectors such as the economy, tourism, defense, culture and energy,” and underlined that it is “indicative of the importance attributed to cooperation by both countries.”

Mekel pointed out that Greek cooperation with Israel on tourism is excellent and that about 250,000 Israeli tourists visited Greece in 2010, a 200 percent rise over the previous year.

Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman delivers mixed review of Obama’s Israel policy


“I know why you’re here, and I want to address it, but I think it’s a tempest in a teapot,” Brad Sherman, the Democratic Congressman from Sherman Oaks said Wednesday evening at a town hall at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. The meeting was called to focus on U.S.-Israel relations.

About 500 people, mostly middle-aged and senior citizen Jews, attended the discussion arranged by resident Rabbi Stewart Vogel, a self-proclaimed personal friend of the Jewish congressman.  In his introduction, the rabbi said, “Tonight is not a political endorsement. He is here to speak to the people.”

Those who came expecting Sherman to emphatically denounce the president’s recent behavior with regard to the building of apartments in East Jerusalem, or to warn of Obama’s ill will toward the Jewish State, were likely disappointed.  “It would be much better if we didn’t have this tiff,” Sherman said, stating nevertheless his belief in a unified Jewish Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that the buildings were not “settlements.”

The congressman spent the first half hour of his talk focusing instead on Iran: “Hashem put the oil in all the wrong places. The real threat to America and Israel is the Iran nuclear program. I’ve served three presidents, and they all did a terrible job with this. I’ve been pushing for sanctions against Iran. This administration is proposing ‘smart sanctions,’ that are dumb sanctions,” Sherman said.

He warned the audience about the potential results of an Israeli strike against Iran. These included the death of many Israelis at the hands of Iran-backed Palestinians. “If Israel bombs Iran, gas prices will be $8 per gallon on Ventura Boulevard. If you think it’s hard to convince Gentiles why to be pro-Israel now…,” he added.

Vogel asked Sherman a series of questions submitted in writing by audience members. One asked why the President seems more interested in chastising Israel than the Palestinians, and why anyone should believe that Obama is on Israel’s side.

“It is regrettable that Israel is held to a much higher standard than appropriate,” Sherman responded.

He said the $2.8 billion America gives in aid annually to Israel is a reason to believe in the president.  “There is no stronger statement and the aid is not going to be reduced by any of this,” he assured the audience. When Vogel asked why the president has not visited Israel yet, the audience broke into applause. “I don’t know, he should,” Sherman said.

The question of whether more Jews will vote Republican in the next election received the loudest applause. Vogel asked for a show of hands of how many voted for Obama and how many against. The vote appeared to be split 50-50.

Sherman reminded the group that Israel is not the central issue on the minds of non-Jewish Americans.  “If we had a town hall in Lincoln, Neb., what Obama said to Netanyahu would not come up. You’ve got to remember, this is not the whole country. Omaha, Neb. Exists, and most of you don’t have relatives there,” Sherman said.

Toward the end of the evening, Vogel accused his friend of “skirting the issues.” Sherman responded that he was not doing so and encouraged repeat questions. At one point when asked about the future, Sherman turned toward the rabbi and said, “I think this is in your realm. I think we need divine intervention.”

Rude Israeli Olympic medalist ticks off Chinese, Peres apologizes


BEIJING (JTA)—Israel’s biggest source of pride at the Beijing 2008 Olympics became its biggest blight this past week, after ” title=”interview published September 5th”>interview published September 5th in Israel’s Yediot Aharanot.

That was his answer when the reporter asked him to describe his hosts in one word.

Zubari also said he didn’t feel very comfortable during the month and a half he spent in China, and was happy he wouldn’t have to see any more Chinese people.

“They are difficult,” he said. “They don’t speak the language, their rituals are strange and even their pronunciation is weird.”
He added he didn’t like Chinese food and missed his usual food. “I can live off hummus.”

His comments could be especially damaging considering China is about to send its ” title=”Chinese citizen living in Israel”>Chinese citizen living in Israel who takes issue with comments by Israeli telecasters during the Games.

Since Zubari’s story broke in the Chinese online press, articles and posts on the web in Mandarin are numerous. They range from outrage to observations that Zubari is just an ignorant youth.

The Shanghaiist in an ” title=”Talkback”>Talkback” section on the Ha’aertz website also has international comments including some Chinese readers.

Zubari clearly offended beyond the online message boards, however, as the Chinese embassy in Tel Aviv canceled a reception for Israeli Olympians set to be held last Wednesday.

President Shimon Peres even apologized to the Chinese ambassador on Wednesday, and Ghaleb Majadle, Israeli Minister of Sport, Science and Culture made an ” title=”op-ed”>op-ed suggesting that better PR training for athletes (especially young ones like 22-year-old Zubari) could have prevented the gaffe.

Lessons From Abramoff’s Case


Lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s recent indictment and arrest on charges of wire fraud involve an already notorious individual. The U.S.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and federal grand jury have already investigated him about his unscrupulous dealings with Indian tribes.

Because Abramoff’s public persona trades on a glossy presentation of himself as an exemplar of Jewish values, his case calls for careful attention — not only from the general public but specifically the Jewish community. As Jews who have worked with Native American communities, we feel that the Abramoff case can open a long-overdue conversation among American Jews about Native Americans today and some areas of common interest.

To start with, there are Abramoff’s dealings with tribal governments that were his clients. Marketing his influence with key members of Congress, Abramoff allegedly secured fees from one tribe to help it obtain legal rights to conduct gaming, then took fees from another tribe to help it squelch the other client’s tribal gaming prospects. If true, this stunning disregard of basic fiduciary responsibility would be but one example of his business practices with Native Americans. According to the New York Times, Abramoff wrote e-mails to his business partner, Michael Scanlon, referring to his Native American clients as “idiots,” “troglodytes” and “monkeys.”

According to a June 23, 2005 report in the Los Angeles Times, Abramoff used funds gained by allegedly defrauding Indian tribes to finance “a Jewish religious school that he founded” and “paramilitary operations mounted by Jewish settlers in the West Bank.” Because of the public association of Abramoff’s activities with support for Jewish causes, an affirmation is needed that he does not represent Jewish religious values regarding the ethical treatment of non-Jews and respect for the divine image of all human beings. Abramoff’s actions and words also depart from the important American Jewish traditions of respect for democracy and activism to achieve social justice.

Then there is Abramoff’s alleged conduct toward his Native American clients from a perspective grounded in Jewish sources. According to the Torah, cheating, lying, expropriation of other people’s property, misuse of funds and condescending attitudes toward non-Jews are not Jewish values, and are expressly forbidden. The idea of establishing a school to teach Torah using misappropriated funds would be total nonsense from a Jewish point of view — the worst example of faulty ethical and moral thinking.

If they prove authentic, Abramoff’s racist and demeaning references to his Native American clients would suggest that he has not been thinking and behaving according to the Jewish teachings that, as the founder of a Jewish school, he claims to espouse. The Jewish tradition teaches us that all human beings — not just Jews — are made in the image of God. Abramoff’s proffered excuse, that he was just indulging in “locker-room talk,” runs aground on the most basic Jewish teachings that you must “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people” (Leviticus 19:16).

Abramoff’s conduct should prompt more from American Jews than a repudiation. It should serve as an occasion for forging better relations and understanding between Native and Jewish communities. If anything, Abramoff’s experience as a Jew should have made him more, not less, sensitive to the humanity and concerns of Indian people. Like Jews, American Indians know what it means to be historically dispossessed. They are struggling to assert sovereignty over what remains. Like Jews, American Indians wrestle with the meaning of their remembered past and how to accommodate to the powerful society that surrounds them.

Because of reservation poverty and forced relocation programs mounted by the federal government in the 1950s to move tribal members off reservations and into cities, Indian nations also share with Jews the experience of Diaspora. Like Jews, they have been subjected to coercive programs of conversion and assimilation, their cultures and sacred practices outlawed, their numbers diminished by genocide and their identity made more complex by intermarriage. Desecration of cemeteries and burial sites, long a problem for European Jews, remains a current horror for Indian people.

Jews should seek a higher level of understanding and better relations with Indian peoples. We are egregiously misrepresented by the likes of Abramoff. We feel pride and a sense of affinity with distinguished legal scholar Felix S. Cohen, whose “Handbook of Federal Indian Law” (1942) and other writings have been crucial to restoring federal recognition of tribal sovereignty. A secular Jew committed to democratic principles, Cohen wrote passionately about Native American self-government from a perspective informed by Jewish history:

“Our interest in Native American self-government today is not the interest of sentimentalists or antiquarians,” Cohen wrote in 1949. “We have a vital concern with Indian self-government because the Native American is to America what the Jew was to the Russian Czars and Hitler’s Germany. For us, the Indian tribe is the miner’s canary, and when it flutters and droops we know that the poison gasses of intolerance threaten all other minorities in our land.”

Haim Dov Beliak is rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom of Whittier and is co-director of Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem. Gelya Frank is a USC professor and director of Tule River Tribal History Project. UCLA law school professor Carole Goldberg directs the Joint Degree Program in Law and American Indian Studies.

 

U.S. Mistakes Worsen Iran Situation


The recent runoff election in Iran catapulted the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, onto the international stage and set off a blaze of speculation. But while the face of the presidency may have changed, the soul of the regime has not.

From the vantage point of the United States and Israel, the Iranian government remains a repressive autocracy at home and a sponsor of terrorism abroad. It’s also a regime they view as close to developing nuclear weapons. With Ahmadinejad as president, Iran’s government is now dominated by hard-liners, with the reformists marginalized. This development certainly does not augur well for the future of relations between Iran and the United States and Iran and Israel, or for the cause of freedom within Iran. However, the added problem is that the regime now asserts that the election (with its high turnout) affirms the regime’s legitimacy and validates its system of government.

In truth, the election can hardly be called democratic. To begin with, the Council of Guardians, a nonelected body dominated by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, disqualified 1,000 candidates (including all women candidates), narrowing the field to seven selected participants. The general election, marred by charges of intimidation and vote-rigging, then triggered the runoff between Ahmadinejad and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

This became a contest between uninspiring alternatives. Rafsanjani is a cleric ex-president, who endorsed some social reforms and talks with the West, but who also was seen as representing an endemic culture of corruption. Ahmadinejad promised economic reforms and the eradication of corruption, but also espoused adherence to rigid Islamic tenets.

In the end, economic security trumped social freedom. Now, many fear that Ahmadinejad will “Talibanize” the country. One voter described the election as a choice between “bad and worse,” hardly an encouraging democratic outcome.

Ahmadinejad has the record of a zealot. As mayor, he closed fast-food restaurants and ordered city workers to grow beards. He was a founder of the student group that occupied the U.S. Embassy. Some have alleged that Ahmadinejad participated in the hostage taking, a charge he denies.

Regardless of his role in the hostage crisis, there is no mystery about his views on Israel, the United States and Iran’s nuclear program, as expressed in recent interviews.

As to Israel, Ahmadinejad spews a familiar putrid rhetoric: “Israel is the biggest threat to peace and security in the Middle East [and] is the reason behind the unstable situation, due to its brutal crimes and daily killings against Palestinians.” Regarding the United States, Ahmadinejad seems hardly able to contain his contempt. Vowing to press ahead with Iran’s nuclear program, he states: “The Iranian nation is taking the path of progress based on self-reliance. It doesn’t need the United States.”

Ahmadinejad’s dismissive attitude is, sadly, understandable. The Bush administration’s credibility has been severely undermined by its false claims that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction. Bush’s assertions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons will, as a result, face a higher burden of proof before the United Nations. Further, the morass in Iraq, as well as other factors, limit military options for the United States.

Of overriding concern is that the Bush administration appears to have no coherent policy toward Iran, which has left the United States in the position of barking from the sidelines, while the fundamentalists grow stronger. Even Bush’s criticism of the election process may have misfired and actually bolstered voter turnout, another misstep in a long list we could call the Bush “reign of error.”

The Bush administration has vacillated between tough talk, veiled military threats and backing European negotiations. At the end of the day, however, the hard-liners are in control, and may have delivered yet another stinging slap to the United States by electing an alleged former hostage-taker as president.

If the Bush administration has had a policy, it has clearly failed. Its only remaining feasible alternative at this point may be the path of concessions and compromise, a course that could strengthen the regime.

As for the people of Iran, the Bush administration offers an empty platitude: “We continue to stand with those who call for greater freedom for the Iranian people.”

But what does this mean?

The tragic fact is that during Bush’s tenure, the movement for reform and liberty in Iran has waned. If the Bush administration truly wishes to advance freedom, it must actively support elements within Iran that seek change in a democratic and bloodless manner.

While there is proposed legislation in Congress to this end, the money that would be allocated for the effort is paltry, at best. Until there is adequate funding to support U.S. policies that are thoughtful, realistic and consistent, we can expect matters to continue going from bad to worse.

H. David Nahai is a real estate attorney and former chairman of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

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Milestones in Pope’s Relations With Jews


During his papacy, Pope John Paul II repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism and met frequently with Jewish religious and lay leaders. He also took certain steps that Jews criticized. Following are some of the milestones in his relations with Jews and Israel:

1920s-1930s — Karol Jozef Wojtyla is born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920. As he grows up, he has Jewish friends, neighbors and classmates.

1940s — He works in a Nazi slave labor camp, studies secretly for the priesthood in Nazi-occupied Poland and witnesses Nazi persecution of Jews.

1950s-1970s — He witnesses anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic policy by the Communist regime in Poland, including the forced exodus of approximately 20,000 Jews in 1968.

Oct. 16, 1978 — He is elected the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.

June 1979 — During his first return trip to Communist Poland, he prays at Auschwitz and pays homage to Holocaust victims.

April 13, 1986 — John Paul crosses the Tiber River to visit the main synagogue in Rome. He embraces Rome’s chief rabbi, describes an “irrevocable covenant” between God and the Jews and declares that Jews are Christians’ older brothers.

June 25, 1987 — The pope angers Jews by granting an audience to Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, sparking a crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations.

Dec. 28, 1993 — The Vatican and Israel establish full diplomatic ties.

Oct. 31, 1997 — In a major speech, the pope says Christians failed during the Holocaust.

March 16, 1998 — The Vatican issues “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” a major document on the Holocaust. Its aim was to promote “an awareness of past injustices by Christians to the Jewish people” among “Catholics in those countries that were far removed by geography and history from the scene of the Shoah, and encourage their participation in the present efforts of the Holy See to promote throughout the church a new spirit in Catholic-Jewish relations.”

However, it disappointed many Jews by defending the wartime behavior of Pope Pius XII, and for failing to “make the linkage between 1,000 years of the Christian teaching of contempt of Jews and Judaism with the anti-Jewish climate in Christian Europe, where the Shoah took place.”

1999 — A six-member team of Catholic and Jewish historians is appointed to review published Vatican documentation on the role of the Holy See and Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust.

March 12, 2000 — On what he declares a “day of request for forgiveness” for Catholics, John Paul asks forgiveness for the past sins of the church, including its treatment of Jews.

March 20-26, 2000 — Marking the Christian millennium, the pope makes a pilgrimage to Israel. He visits holy sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories, visits Yad Vashem and prays at the Western Wall, where he slips a note into the cracks.

Sept. 3, 2000 — The pope beatifies Pope Pius IX, the 19th century pontiff who was the last pope to keep Jews in the ghetto and who was behind the 1858 kidnapping of a young Jewish boy who had been secretly baptized as a baby. On the same day, however, he beatified Pope John XXIII, the much-beloved pontiff who died in 1963 and whose five-year reign marked a turning point in church history and in Jewish-Catholic relations.

July 2001 — The commission formed to review published Vatican documentation on the role of the Holy See and Pope Pius XII during the Shoah suspends work. It has been denied the full access to the Holy See’s wartime archives, and it needs that access to answer questions raised during its research. Jews are unhappy at moves to beatify Pius XII.

February 2003 — The Vatican opens a number of documents relating to the Vatican’s relations with prewar Nazi Germany to the public. These include diplomatic documents from 1922 to 1939, held in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, when Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII, served as Vatican ambassador in Berlin and Vatican secretary of state.

Jan. 18, 2005 — John Paul holds an audience with more than 100 rabbis and cantors from the United States and other countries, who thank him for his efforts in bettering relations between Catholics and Jews.

Related Stories


John Paul II and the Jews

L.A. Rabbis Voice Praise for John Paul II

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Pope’s Jewish Legacy

Fly the Mitzvah Skies


 

El Al, Israel’s national airline, is the only airline that keeps kosher, observes Shabbat and even gives out doughnuts on Chanukah, but recently it has been doing other mitzvot as well.

On Nov. 3 Edith Krygier boarded an El Al flight to Los Angeles in Tel Aviv because she wanted to visit her children and grandchildren who live here. The plane stopped in Toronto, and as Krygier was standing on the jetway waiting to board again, she suffered a stroke and collapsed just a few feet from the aircraft door.

El Al immediately called an ambulance and got Krygier to the hospital, and in the meantime it also called David, Irit and Karen Krygier — Edith’s children in Los Angeles, and helped them get on a plane to Toronto. In Toronto, the El Al staff sat by Edith’s bed until her children got there, while other staff helped shuttle the children to the hospital. Stanley Morais, El Al’s general manager in Toronto, even visited Edith in hospital just to see how she was doing.

“Even the doctor and the medical staff commented that they had never seen anything like it,” David Krygier said.

Thanks to El Al’s quick action, Edith was able to recover from her stroke quickly and without side effects.

But that’s not all. In early December, some rabbis from the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) boarded an El Al plane in New York carrying some bulky but holy hand luggage — Sefer Torahs. They were six torahs in all, the final installment of 100 torahs that NCYI brought to Israel over the past three years to donate to IDF soldiers. Not only did El Al not charge freight costs for the Torahs, but they allowed those carrying the Torahs to board first so that they could put them into closets, or on free seats if there were any available.

“From the beginning, El Al was unlike any other airline,” said Sheryl Stein, El Al’s U.S. manager of advertising and public relations. “It’s an extension of the spirit of Israel.”

 

Israeli Tourists ‘Ugly’ No More


Leafing through travel books on Turkey at Tel Aviv’s L’Metayel (For the Traveler), veteran sojourner Ronen Lazar suggests how to curb the phenomenon of the "ugly Israeli" — the obnoxious Israeli tourist.

"There should be a law forbidding Israelis from going overseas for at least six months after they get out of the army," Lazar says.

He’s not altogether serious, of course, but as a veteran traveler at 31, he’s been pretty much all over the world, and has learned to stay away from young, wild Israelis traveling with, and in, packs.

Says Irit Gekler, 23, a clerk at L’Metayel who’s toured the Far East and Europe: "You see them swaggering around like they’re dealing with inferiors in some Third World country. They even treat adults like slaves. Older Israeli travelers don’t act like that all."

In recent years there have been horror stories coming out of the Greek Islands about bands of young Israeli tourists getting into fire extinguisher fights in hotel corridors, throwing watermelon rinds over the balcony, burning a bed — and defiantly cursing hotel employees who tried to get them to stop.

A sign at the entrance to a hotel on a Thai island reads: "ISRAELI NATIONALITY (sic) is not welcome to stay in this hotel, because they are problem makers. We cannot accept their behavior."

This is also the unwritten policy of several other hotels in the Far East and on the Greek Islands.

The signature of the "ugly Israeli" used to be the missing faucets in the sink of their hotel rooms. Now it’s literally the signatures of Israelis who’ve spray-painted their names on mountain ranges in the Rockies, in Thailand — even, according to the Yediot Aharonot newspaper — on a prison wall at Auschwitz.

Clearly, things have gotten out of hand. No other nationality is known for the kind of intolerable behavior associated with young Israelis. So L’Metayel has started a program called "Israel’s Good Will Ambassadors." Posters reminding travelers that they represent Israel abroad can be seen at Ben-Gurion Airport, travel agencies and other stopping-off spots en route overseas. Israelis at these places can pick up free packets of cheery postcards with "thank you" written in several languages — including, of course, Hebrew.

"Leave a thank you … because when you go overseas, you are Israel’s image," reads the recommendation.

The public service program, which is backed by numerous public and private bodies including the Foreign Ministry, tourism companies and public relations agencies, has begun teaching good traveling manners to youth groups going on Holocaust study visits to Poland. Reports are that these groups are much less rowdy than others.

The obvious question is whether the campaign might impress only Israeli travelers who already are appreciative, respective, neat and generally civilized overseas, while the "ugly Israelis" will shine it on. "That’s always a possibility," says Lazar, "but even if only the good travelers pass out the postcards, the people overseas will know that there are at least some good Israelis."

Will Jesus Film Poison Christian-Jewish Ties?


Jesus will appear on the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday — thanks to Mel Gibson.

The Hollywood star directed and financed the $25 million epic "The Passion of the Christ," which is emerging from a nearly yearlong media storm and is due to hit 2,000 screens nationwide Feb. 25.

That Gibson’s "The Passion" will premiere is certain. The big question is how a reportedly gory film about the last 12 hours in Jesus’ life, in Aramaic and Latin with subtitles, will play at the local multiplex.

Many Jewish organizational leaders also are waiting to see if a movie they say scapegoats the Jews for the crucifixion will produce legions of Jew-hating moviegoers and poison Christian-Jewish relations for years to come.

"It makes the Romans look like lambs who are being forced [to punish Jesus], and it shows the Jews as bloodthirsty and vengeful and unending in their desire to see him crucified," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said after emerging from a preview last week.

The movie debuts at a sensitive period in Catholic-Jewish relations. It also reflects a larger struggle within the Catholic Church over whether to continue promoting 40-year-old reforms that include renouncing the notion of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus’ crucifixion, an issue Gibson apparently brings to the silver screen.

"Tied loosely to the film, there is enormous concern on both sides" of the Catholic-Jewish divide "about which direction the church will be going in the post-John Paul II era," said Rabbi Eugene Korn, a Seton Hall adjunct professor and longtime interfaith advocate. "There is contradictory data out there."

Last week, some signs of hope about those ties surfaced in New York, where the World Jewish Congress (WJC) hosted a two-day gathering that brought together 12 cardinals and six chief rabbis from nations as diverse as Angola and Ukraine with a group of Catholic and Jewish scholars.

But even as the interfaith talks took place, the Gibson movie continued to inflame new tensions.

David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, also saw the Jesus movie last week at one of the nation’s largest evangelical churches, in a Chicago suburb.

The movie shows the Jews as a "mob spitting, scratching, yelling, pummeling [at Jesus], their faces contorted," Elcott said. "This movie is an assault on our commitment to interreligious dialogue and respect."

Such bitter reviews echoed earlier warnings by a few rabbis who had seen earlier film drafts. They saw them at previews Gibson’s associates staged, which largely preached to the converted — that is, evangelicals and political conservatives.

Running the carefully orchestrated public-relations campaign surrounding the film is a Christian group called Outreach, which runs a Web site promoting the movie and points to rave reviews from Christian clerics and Michael Medved, who is identified as a "Jewish film critic."

Meanwhile, even as the bishops met with rabbis in New York, and the pope met with two top Israeli rabbis last week, another dispute erupted over whether the pope himself endorsed the movie.

A Wall Street Journal columnist was the first to report that an Icon producer succeeded in getting a copy of the movie to the pontiff, who viewed it and, according to an unnamed Vatican source, said, "It is as it was."

Other reports echoed that account, but a senior Vatican aide to the pontiff later dismissed the report, saying the pope "does not give judgments on art."

Ironically, Gibson is a member of a Catholic fundamentalist sect that rejects Vatican authority and opposes its reforms, though Gibson has insisted he is not anti-Semitic.

Gibson "is as mensch as they get," said Icon spokesman Alan Nierob. "He’s a wonderful person who’s just trying to make a good film."

Nierob also dismissed any apparent contradiction between Gibson’s opposition to the Vatican and Icon’s apparent quest for the church’s imprimatur.

"It’s just a matter of building support," he said.

In fact, the past year’s worth of media scrutiny has only helped "in terms of interest awareness" for the movie, Nierob said, and the Outreach Web site is even taking advance ticket orders.

Some think the Jewish attention to the film has only aggravated the situation.

Some Jewish groups "blundered" by helping generate such buzz for a movie that would likely have found few fans, said Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the WJC.

"I don’t remember the last blockbuster in Aramaic," Steinberg said.

Some signs of goodwill have cropped up in the past year related to the movie.

A group of Catholic and Jewish scholars who specialize in the study of the historical Jesus, and whose views Gibson rejects, criticized the movie as retrograde.

While the furor over the movie is likely to continue, interfaith activists remain confident that it won’t adversely affect progress in Catholic-Jewish relations.

Catholic-Jewish ties "will continue," Korn said. "There are partners on both sides who want it to."

Complicated Branches


"The Syringa Tree," which won the 2001 Obie Award for best play and premieres in Los Angeles this week, might be the first theatrical work to deal with the complicated and ambiguous relations between Jews and blacks in South Africa. A solo performance written and acted by Pamela Gien, it is a partly fictionalized — though mostly factual — account of a half-Jewish, half-English child in Johannesburg during apartheid. Created by Gien in a Santa Monica acting class in 1996, the play was inspired by the brutal murder of Gien’s grandfather when she was a child.

Using little in the way of stage effects outside of a swing and a cyclorama (a two-layered semicircular backdrop), Gien creates an uncommonly moving, even wrenching, study of race relations as seen through the eyes of a little girl, Elizabeth, aka Lizzy. I was reminded of James Agee’s tone-poem "Knoxville: Summer of 1915," where the daily events of adults are experienced through the imagination, and expressed through the luminous images, of a child.

Yet "The Syringa Tree" — Gien’s debut writing effort — is about a lot more than the nostalgia of a lazy day in Tennessee. It is concerned with the suffering of black people under apartheid and the various ways whites dealt with their responsibility for it.

In a speech given to the Harvard Jewish faculty by my wife, Doreen Beinart, a Jewish South African, she noted that while organized Jewry (including the Jewish Board of Deputies and most Orthodox rabbis) did not protest apartheid for fear of being subjected to Afrikaner bigotry, individual Jews — such as Joe Slovo, chief of staff of the military wing of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress — were often among the most active white people fighting racism.

That divided attitude permeates Gien’s play. From the moment the black maid, Sellamina, refers to her little charge as "my pickaninny missus," we are in a nest of nurturing warmth and color-blind affection built on a foundation of hierarchy and subjugation — somewhat like that of the antebellum American South.

In order to depict such a world, Gien has single-handedly created a theatrical album of 24 characters. She was once an actress in my company, the American Repertory Theatre, but nothing in her previous work prepared me for what she is delivering here — a series of character transformations so instantaneous and intense that the stage seems peopled with multitudes.

Still, it is not just the technical achievement that startles one into attention. It is the way she manages to delineate, physically and vocally, a whole world of whites, blacks, Jews and Afrikaners — a world of divided identities where the very fact that a black baby (Sellamina’s daughter, Moliseng) has been born without "papers" can destroy her and uproot everyone around her.

Gien has perfect pitch in the way she depicts characters, such as the harassed father dispensing precious medicines; the slightly hysterical, vaguely depressed mother; the rigid Afrikaner farmers praying for rain, and particularly the stoical Faulknerian maid and her own child whom Lizzy’s parents help to birth.

Lizzy’s Jewish father is a doctor and her English mother manages the black staff with sympathy, yet both mother and father are regarded as outlanders, by blacks and whites alike.

When Sellamina takes Moliseng to her family in Soweto, the little girl gets sick and is lost in a hospital where people are dying of dehydration. In her terror and grief, Sellamina rocks under the syringa tree, mindless of the berries falling on her body. Lizzy’s parents help to find the little girl and return her safely to her mother.

It is that sort of thing that leads the hard-nosed Afrikaner farmers to believe that the Jews and English are making trouble with the blacks who will come and kill them in their beds.

Sadly, the Afrikaner prophecy comes true. Lizzy’s father discovers that his wife’s parents have been murdered on their Natal farm in the course of a petty theft. Sellamina is so ashamed of the violence that she can no longer look the family in the eye, and soon she leaves. Not long thereafter, the terrible events of Soweto erupt.

Eventually, the grown-up Elizabeth departs for America, vowing never to come back because "we don’t change things." Nonetheless, she returns to Johannesburg after the fall of apartheid, is reunited with Sellamina and finds her past again. This reunion constitutes a poem of inconsolable loss and nostalgia ("Oh God, how I miss it!") that leaves the audience grieving as much as the central character for the beloved country. At the end of the play, she is back where she began, on a swing, ecstatic with a vision of lost paradise.

The performance is impeccable. Gien has a meticulous eye for detail and the capacity to render each moment with truth and illumination. Don’t miss this transcendent dramatic experience.

Mixed Messages


With U.S.-Israel relations facing an explosive new crisis, a number of Israel representatives were in Washington this week, offering mixed messages about the intentions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government.

Some Jewish leaders here said the conradictions could increase the likelihood of serious misunderstandings between the two allies as the U.S.-led war against terrorism intensifies and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsens.

But the messages from the Bush administration were just as contradictory, touching off ripples of anger and concern across the Jewish world.

In private conversations with Jewish leaders and several public appearances, administration officials sought to counter fears that relentless diplomatic pressure by Arab and Muslim nations enlisted in the anti-terror fight was undercutting U.S.-Israel relations.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, speaking to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) national convention Sunday, said that despite the coalition-building effort, America would not abandon Israel.

“We cannot have a victory if we make a coalition that sacrifices the interests of some for the interests of others,” he said.

But administration actions seemed to tell a different story.

On Monday, the administration used its harshest language yet when it condemned Israel’s incursion into six Palestinian towns in response to last week’s assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.

State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said, “Israeli Defense Forces should be withdrawn immediately from all Palestinian-controlled areas, and no further such incursions should be made. We deeply regret and deplore Israeli Defense Force actions that have killed numerous Palestinian civilians over the weekend.”

That infuriated leading pro-Israel lawmakers.

“It’s obvious they are caving in to Arab pressure,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the Jewish delegation in the House. “It’s so transparent, it’s obscene.”

Engel accused the administration of “rank hypocrisy” in criticizing Israel for doing the same thing U.S. forces are trying to do in Afghanistan: root out terrorists.

Jewish organizations were no happier with the new U.S. squeeze.

The State Department comments were “inappropriate, intemperate; and [they] defy logic in the face of current U.S. efforts in the war against terrorism,” said leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Sharon, citing Israel’s defense needs, rejected the U.S. demand for an immediate pullout; the administration then cranked up the pressure.

On Tuesday, Bush “dropped by” on a meeting between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Even before the supposedly spontaneous meeting, the White House made it clear Bush would repeat his demand that Israeli troops be withdrawn immediately.

Bush reportedly told Peres that escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence is impeding U.S. coalition efforts in the war against terrorism.

The administration is also sending out conflicting messages about the ultimate scope of the U.S. war.

Wolfowitz, in his AJCongress speech, promised that Washington would expand the anti-terror effort, once Osama bin Laden and his network are destroyed. “We are not going just to pluck off individual snakes; we intend to drain the entire swamp,” he said.

That could mean an eventual focus on Iraq, he told the group. But the State Department continues to emphasize the bin Laden fight and downplay concern about Saddam Hussein.

“They want to have it both ways,” said an official with a major Jewish group here. “The result is a message that is very garbled.” – J.D. Besser

Senate Shocker


The stunning change in the U.S. Senate triggered by Sen. James Jeffords’ switch from GOP to independent status means a seismic shift in the war over a host of domestic issues, including the church-state skirmishes that have preoccupied Jewish groups.

The change is less likely to impact U.S.-Israel relations, although several strongly pro-Israel lawmakers will ascend to chairmanships — and one, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has been consistently hostile, is slated to become chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which plays a major role in Israel’s foreign aid allotment.

But the mid-session shakeup does not change some of the fundamentals underlying the 107th Congress, including the harsh reality of gridlock.

The newly Democratic Senate will have to fight a Republican House whose leaders are likely to dig in their heels to avoid any retreat from their conservative social agenda.

Still, “you can’t minimize the importance of controlling the calendar, running committees and setting the day-to-day agenda in the Senate,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Committee.

Conservative Republican leaders have used that power to bury Democratic proposals for six years; Democrats, now that they are in the saddle, will try to do the same with many GOP proposals.

For liberal Jewish groups, the shift is more important for what it may prevent than what lawmakers may pass.

“The result is likely to be more gridlock,” said an official with a major Jewish group here. “Split government may be even less likely to deal seriously with long-term problems like Social Security and health care. But it also makes it less likely Congress and the administration will ram through dangerous legislation like school vouchers and other threats to church-state separation.”

In fact, vouchers and another administration priority, charitable choice — which cuts back restrictions on religious groups seeking government money to provide vital services — were on life support even before Jeffords switched parties on Thursday. Vouchers were stripped from the main education bill in both Houses; the chief Senate sponsors of charitable choice legislation had already decided to delay their proposal in the face of opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.

Jeffords’ switch represents a huge blow to the religious right, which had hoped to use the GOP’s control of both Congress and the White House to advance its social agenda. But it will make it only marginally easier to pass legislation Jewish groups want, such as a long-stalled hate crimes bill.

But in one area, the change will have an immediate and dramatic impact: nominations, and especially the judicial nominations that have the potential to affect the nation for years to come.

“Looking ahead, this is the Senate that could advise and consent on one or two Supreme Court nominations,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women — which was celebrating this week because the Democratic takeover could thwart administration plans to appoint more conservative judges and justices who oppose abortion rights.

President George W. Bush recently began making nominations to the federal bench; the specter of a Judiciary Committee headed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) instead of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) may force the administration to veer toward the center in its choices, she said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is poised to play a major role in that process as the likely head of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on administrative oversight and the courts.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a longtime leader on immigration and refugee policy, is expected to take over the Judiciary Immigration subcommittee from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Brownback has been supportive of Jewish immigration and refugee concerns, but he has not had much support from his party. Kennedy “may give the issue considerably more traction,” said an official with a Jewish group here.

Kennedy, one of the last old-time liberals in Congress, will also retake the chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Several Jewish groups hope the shift will boost a stalled hate crimes bill that survived votes in both houses in the last Congress only to be blocked by the GOP leadership. The new Senate leaders will work for its enactment; Leahy, the presumed new chair of the Judiciary Committee, has been a strong supporter.

“Until this happened there was a real question about whether this would ever come to the floor as a separate bill,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, a leading backer of the bill. “Now we will press to have it taken up as a separate bill; this is one of the issues that could be significant affected.”

But the GOP House leadership remains largely opposed, as is the President.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is likely to chair the Judiciary subcommittee dealing with terrorism — taking over from the conservative Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is due to get the Armed Services Committee. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is expected to get the nod as chair of the Government Operations Committee — which several observers pointed out could help boost his 2004 presidential ambitions by keeping him in the limelight.

Gridlock, a major problem in the last few sessions of Congress, could reach epic proportions in the newly split 107th.

House-Senate conferences to resolve differences in legislation will be major battlegrounds as the Democrats now have a fighting chance to kill legislation they dislike.

Bush, facing a dramatic change in prospects for his domestic agenda, “will have to show he can govern from the center, as he promised to do,” said Gilbert Kahn, a Kean University political scientist. “On the domestic side, it will force more centrist policy — which will benefit the Jewish community.”

But Kahn warned that the GOP House leadership “will not roll over; that’s not the personality of the leaders there.”

On the foreign policy front, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) is slated to be replaced by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Helms, a recent convert to the pro-Israel cause, has become a strong supporter of Likud policies, but he remains hostile to foreign aid and dislikes U.S. involvement around the world — a position many pro-Israel activists see as worrisome.

Biden has been a supporter of the peace process, but his top foreign policy interests are Europe and Asia, not the troubled Middle East.

The Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs could go to Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who is Jewish. Wellstone may be the most liberal member of the Senate, and he is considered dovish on Mideast matters; he will replace Brownback, who has generally supported Israeli hardliners.

And Leahy, in addition to the Judiciary Committee chair, is likely to resume his old role as chair of the Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee — which he used in 1990 to demand punitive cuts in Israeli loan guarantees because of the government’s settlements policies.

But with strong, bipartisan support on the committee, pro-Israel lobbyists do not expect Leahy or Byrd, the incoming Appropriations chair, to do much more than huff and puff periodically.

UCLA Hillel Hosts Muslim-Jewish Series


On April 2, UCLA Hillel opened a spring forum titled “Muslim-Jewish Relations: Harmony and Discord Throughout History” examining relations between Muslims and Jews from the founding of Islam to the contemporary era.

Co-sponsored by a variety of organizations, including Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, ACCESS, Muslim Public Affairs Council and Americans for Peace Now, the five-week series features discussions between academics from UCLA and other local and national universities.

The four remaining sessions are:

Mon., April 16
The Arab-Jewish Symbiosis: Myth & Reality
Dr. David Nirenberg, professor of history, John
Hopkins University
Dr. Teofilo Ruiz, professor of history, UCLA.

Mon., April 30
Under the Hijab and Behind the Mechitzah:
Women in Islam and Judaism
Dr. Doreen Seidler-Feller, clinical psychologist
Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, assistant professor of women’s studies, CSUN

Mon., May 7
Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism: A Tale of
Two Narratives
Dr. Adam Rubin, assistant professor, Hebrew
Union College
Dr. Najwa Al-Qattan, assistant professor, Loyola
Marymount University

Mon., May 21
The Current Conflict and the Future of the
Children of Abraham
Dr. Rashid Khalidi, professor of Middle East
history, University of Chicago
Dr. Steven Spiegel, professor of political science,
UCLA

All lectures will take place at UCLA Hillel, 900 Hilgard Avenue, first floor, beginning at 7:30 p.m. $12 per lecture; $50 series. Free for full-time students with current ID. For more information, please call (310) 208-3081, extension 240.

Open Discussions


Los Angeles, as always, attracted a variety of interesting visitors in recent days. The Jewish Journal couldn’t meet all of them, but we made contact with a group of German journalists and government officials, the former executive editor of The New York Times, and the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

The 18 Germans — journalists, parliamentarians and heads of the Jewish communities in Berlin and Hanover — were in town, at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee, for a two-day conference on “Politics, Media and Memory: The Future of German- Jewish Relations.”

The durability and complexity of the topic was indicated by the statements of two participants.

Klaus Weigelt of Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which underwrote the high-class event, said, “The relationship between Germans and Jews will preoccupy us for the next 100 years.”

American Fred Kempe, editor of the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, noted that “no German can have a truly normal relationship with Jews.”

The abnormality, added Kempe, is often expressed in an exaggerated philo-Semitism, on one hand, and “an incredible amount of shame and guilt,” even unto the third generation, on the other hand, said young filmmaker Katja von Garnier.

Hollywood’s view of Germans was driven home to the guests in a film montage on German and Jewish screen images over the last 50 years.

Jay Sanderson, who produced the 29-minute-long film, said that as hard as he searched, he couldn’t find a single frame of a smiling German, but there was an almost unrelieved procession of snarling, sadistic, whining and murderous Germans — read Nazis.

The experience shook up the visitors. “You’d think that after 50 years of penance, we’d be allowed at least one decent German, besides Oskar Schindler,” one German mumbled privately.

Germany was also the topic, in part, of Max Frankel’s talk before several hundred supporters of the Anti-Defamation League.

Frankel reminisced about his years as a Jewish kid in Nazi Germany, as he does in greater detail and impact in his newly published autobiography, “The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times.”

Frankel spent the entire 50 years of his professional life with The New York Times, covering the world’s hot spots and rising to perhaps the most influential journalistic post in the world as The Times’ executive editor.

“I often felt like Woody Allen’s Zelig, who somehow popped up at every historic event,” said Frankel.

He acknowledged a bias by the Jewish-owned Times against promoting Jewish journalists for many years, and scored his paper’s well-documented failure to report adequately on the Holocaust.

Dore Gold, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, spoke to The Journal of his country’s upcoming election, which last Monday ousted his party and prime minister. So the interview was likely his swan song in his present post.

However, the American-born envoy focused on one point that is likely to occupy his successor as well.

“The major challenge Israel faces now at the U.N. is the Palestinian attempt to resurrect Resolution 181,” he told an Israel Bonds conference.

The resolution incorporated the boundaries set in 1947 to delineate the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. The partition was accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs, who followed up by invading the nascent Jewish state.

It should be noted, said Gold, that 181, which would dissect the Jewish state, is advocated “not only by Palestinian extremists, but by Yasser Arafat and the ‘moderate’ Palestinian architects of the Oslo agreement.”

Although Israel is still frequently besieged in the United Nations, Gold has been buoyed by the sympathetic attitude of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan. On the occasion of Israel’s 50th anniversary, Anan convened a celebratory ceremony attended by ambassadors from 180 nations.

Dialogue in Distress


There’s good news and bad news in Catholic-Jewish relations. The good news is, relations between Catholics and Jews have never been better. The bad news is, relations between the Vatican and world Jewry have gotten so bad that the Vatican has severed its formal diplomatic link to the Jewish people.

What’s worse, most Jews don’t even know there is a formal diplomatic link between the Vatican and the Jewish people. That’s one reason the Vatican is so upset.

To see how far we’ve come, consider ABC News’ “Nightline” from last Dec. 25. The subject was Steven Dubner, the Catholic-born author whose book “Turbulent Souls” chronicles his spiritual quest for his parents’ Jewish roots.

The program’s most arresting moment came when New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor described Dubner coming to him for guidance in his quest. O’Connor recalled counseling Dubner to follow his instincts and embrace Judaism.

Coming from a prince of the church, this is a bombshell. It wasn’t that long ago that the Catholic Church was burning Jews alive for that very offense: returning to their Jewish roots. They called it the Inquisition.

Now we’ve got cardinals acting like Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street,” advising restless parishioners to try Judaism. The pope encourages this. He reversed 2,000 years of church teaching by formally declaring in 1986 that Judaism was a legitimate pathway to heaven.

The change is part of an ongoing Catholic process of looking inward and reaching out, begun at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Right now, it’s in trouble. Last February, the Vatican’s chief liaison to the Jewish community declared that worldwide Catholic-Jewish relations were in a state of emergency, verging on rupture.

“I am becoming concerned that some of the good work that has been done is under threat,” said the cleric, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

The problem is that Catholics are fed up. For all the progress in Catholic attitudes, Jewish attitudes toward Catholicism remain hostile and suspicious. “Jewish responses to what we seek to do to improve our relationship are often so negative that some now hesitate to do anything at all for fear of making the situation worse,” Cassidy said.

Things are so bad, Cassidy said, that the Vatican’s three-decade dialogue with an international coalition of Jewish organizations, the heart of its ongoing re-examination, is at a dead end. He said the coalition, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC, is “no longer in existence.”

And he charged that one of IJCIC’s largest members “is involved in a systematic campaign to denigrate the Catholic Church.” He meant the World Jewish Congress, aides said.

From a Catholic point of view, this is a watershed. Cassidy’s commission, an outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council, exists solely to maintain a dialogue with the Jewish people. The Jewish partner has always been IJCIC. Breaking that link — that’s what Cassidy meant when he called IJCIC “no longer in existence,” aides say — amounts to severing the Vatican’s official channel to world Jewry.

The step follows a decade of mounting frustration. Catholics involved in Catholic-Jewish reconciliation have long complained that, despite all their work to change church teachings on Judaism, Jewish teaching about Catholicism mostly ends with the Spanish Inquisition.

“That’s not the whole story of Catholic-Jewish relations,” says Eugene Fisher, of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Church leaders say their Jewish dialogue partners, instead of telling their fellow Jews the good news about Catholic progress, have spent the last decade in endless Holocaust-related recriminations: a convent at Auschwitz, a papal audience for ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim, a disappointing Vatican statement on the Holocaust, the canonization of Jewish-born nun Edith Stein, debates over Pope Pius XII, the opening of the Vatican’s wartime archives, more crosses at Auschwitz.

The Vatican was prepared to wait until the winds shifted, officials say. But last fall, their patience ran out. The reason: a series of research papers published by the Jerusalem office of the World Jewish Congress that linked the various Holocaust disputes into a single theory which sees the church trying to “Christianize” the memory of the Holocaust.

Catholics are furious. “This conspiracy theory is utter nonsense,” says Father John Pawlikowski, a University of Chicago theologian and member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. “The publications have greatly distressed the Vatican, and have raised serious questions about the Vatican’s ability to work constructively with the World Jewish Congress.”

That’s why Cassidy went public, aides agree. He might have merely targeted the WJC and ignored IJCIC. But the WJC runs IJCIC. Breaking with the WJC, therefore, meant dumping IJCIC.

It was a long time coming. IJCIC was originally run by the Synagogue Council of America, a coalition of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox groups. But the Synagogue Council collapsed in 1995, a victim of interdenominational feuding. The secretariat of IJCIC was then transferred to the World Jewish Congress. In Vatican eyes, it’s been downhill ever since.

Blaming the World Jewish Congress is a mistake, though. It has flaws, but inability to manage a religious dialogue isn’t one of them. It wasn’t set up for that. It was created to pick fights with anti-Semites. That’s what it does.

No, the problem is with all the other Jewish organizations under the IJCIC umbrella — religious movements, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League — that saw the train wreck coming and didn’t bother to act.

Why didn’t they? Mainly because of American Jews’ congenital inability to understand what a representative Jewish body is. Blessed with dozens of independent Jewish agencies, each claiming to speak for Jews, American Jews simply can’t grasp the notion of a central agency speaking for all of them. IJCIC seemed foreign. They were happy to leave it to the WJC.

In fact, most Jewish interfaith affairs experts say they’re not worried by the Cassidy blowup. Vatican-IJCIC dialogue, they say, is just one of many Catholic-Jewish encounters that go on all the time, worldwide. “When the American Jewish Committee has a conference with the pope at the Vatican, I consider that a dialogue,” said the AJC’s interfaith affairs director, Rabbi A. James Rudin.

Rudin says that he’s called a meeting of Jewish interfaith specialists for April 15 to consider Cassidy’s complaint, but it’s not clear what they’ll be discussing. “IJCIC is not going to be on trial,” he says.

As for the Vatican, it’s waiting for the Jews to get it. They’d like a functioning dialogue partner. “It’s not up to us to construct Jewish partners,” says Father Remi Hoeckman, secretary of Cassidy’s commission, but they’d like it to be “representative of world Jewry,” and “ready to share with us in a common religious agenda.”

And, he says, “it will not be with IJCIC. We don’t consider that a valid partner anymore.”


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.

Forging a Common Future


Allies or adversaries? That is the question confronting Jewish and Latino political leaders as they assess the current and future relations of their communities.

Some legislators, such as Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, disagree that Jews and Latinos are at cross purposes politically. Hertzberg points to elected officials such as Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, a Latino who drew substantial support from the Jewish community.

“The issues that mean so much to Jews, such as education, resonate with Latinos,” Hertzberg said. “I think they see we have a common heritage as immigrants and in places like Boyle Heights, although we don’t live and work and socialize together as much as we have in the past.”

According to statistics from the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council, Latinos make up more than one-third of the population of the San Fernando Valley, versus 20 percent of the Westside area (including Santa Monica and West Los Angeles). Most Valley Latinos reside in the area’s northeastern region, including San Fernando and Pacoima, while the Valley Jewish population continues its shift westward.

On the economic front, statistics from the recent Jewish Federation demographic study show a median household income of $52,000 for Jewish families, while the median household income for Latinos as of 1990 was just more than $27,000 (according to a county profile). The county profile also shows 53.5 percent of Latinos employed either in sales/clerical positions or as operators or laborers, with about 11 percent employed in the professions; more than half of Los Angeles Jews hold professional occupations.

Then there is the language disparity. For many Latino immigrants, such as Mary Ballesteros of La Opinion newspaper (who moved to the Southland just eight years ago), Spanish remains their primary language. Thus, Jews — at least those who cannot speak Spanish — and Latinos find themselves communicating at a basic level, if at all.

A few organizations, such as VOICE (an immigration assistance and citizen education group) and the Valley Interfaith Council (VIC), have long worked at bridging the communication gap between Jews, Latinos and other minorities.

“Jews have successfully transitioned from being outsiders to being leaders in government and business,” said Scott Svonkin, a member of the VIC and chair of the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). “We have a wealth of experience to share, and it is in our best interest as a minority to help the Latino community succeed by forging a genuine partnership with them.”

“The relationship [between Jews and Latinos] is relatively new, and it doesn’t come from the same place, historically, as black-Jewish relations,” said Barbara Creme, director of the Valley JCRC. “We need to approach this from a different perspective and realize it takes time. The black-Jewish relationship took time to evolve, too, and I think the biggest problem we face is people’s lack of patience.”

To help develop and nurture the Jewish-Latino relationship, Creme last year created the Hispanic Jewish Women’s Task Force with the assistance of Margaret Pontius, community services coordinator of the Guadalupe Center in Canoga Park; Virginia Rafelson of Los Angeles BASE (Basic Adult Spanish Education); and Rayna Gabin, field deputy for City Councilwoman Laura Chick.

Pontius, who supervises a wide range of social-service programs at the Guadalupe Center, said that she found it interesting to compare the different perceptions each group has of the other.

“In the Hispanic community, everything depends on class; they tend to see everyone who is not black or Hispanic as rich and, therefore, don’t want to have anything to do with us,” she said. “I don’t think Jews have an accurate picture, either; they think all Latinos are like their cleaning lady, that they don’t have degrees or are professionals, they don’t care about their kids going to good schools or about art or travel. Both sides tend to lump people together unfairly.

“This group [the task force] has been a real eye-opener for all of us. After a time, each side sees we have the same problems with teen-agers or aging parents or even domestic violence. At that point, it begins to be about women sharing, not Jewish women or Hispanic women or Asian women, but just women.”

The Torah of Our Lives


Left to right, panelist Rabbi Elliott Dorff of University ofJudaism, Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim, moderator MarkLevine, panelist Rabbi Leila Gal Berner and lawyer and AIDS activistDavid Rephun, the panelist from an Orthodox background. Below,panelist Rabbi Allen Freehling.

In Leviticus, male sexual relations are considered an abomination,punishable by death. “A man shall not be with another man as if witha woman. It is an abomination,” reads one passage. But, as with allthings biblical and Jewish, the Torah passages are open tointerpretation. And interpret they did last week at UniversitySynagogue at a panel discussion on Orthodox, Conservative, Reform andReconstructionist views on homosexuality and bisexuality.

The event, which attracted about 150 people, was sponsored by BethChayim Chadashim (BCC) and was the second in a six-part seriescelebrating BCC’s 25th anniversary as the world’s oldest synagogueserving the gay, lesbian and bisexual Jewish community.

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, University of Judaism rector, representing theConservative movement, characterized his position on homosexuality asmore liberal than his movement’s. He looked visibly pained at momentsas he described dilemmas he faced in applying Conservative laws thatgo against his personal beliefs. The movement has passed resolutionsthat prohibit discrimination against homosexuals, but hasn’tsanctioned commitment ceremonies and doesn’t permit openly gay menand lesbians to enter rabbinical school or to be ordained. When hewas dean of the UJ rabbinical school, Dorff said that he didn’t wantto know if someone was gay or lesbian, “because I didn’t want toenforce the policy.”

Still, there is hope for change in the future, the rabbi said. TheTorah only spoke of homosexual relations that were oppressive,cult-based or licentious, not about long-term, committedrelationships between people of the same sex. “We in the 20th centuryare free to legislate in favor of lesbian and gay relations,” hesaid, as the audience clapped in appreciation.

Personally, Dorff said, he supports long, monogamous relationshipsand believes that the Jewish community has practical reasons tosupport marriage between same-sex couples, as well as those of theopposite gender, since marriage encourages monogamy. He estimatedthat about 14 or 15 of the 1,400 U.S. Conservative rabbis haveperformed commitment ceremonies, which aren’t recognized by civillaw. Asked by an audience member whether he would perform suchceremonies, Dorff looked surprised. “I haven’t been asked,” he said.”But I don’t see why not.” Still, he added in a later conversation,he has some hesitation about performing them without the backing ofhis community.

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner offered the Reconstructionist viewpoint. Aformer BCC member, she is the spiritual leader of Congregation BetHaverim in Atlanta, which describes itself as a Reconstructionistsynagogue formed for lesbians and gay men, and “embracing all Jewsand loved ones,” and is now about 30 percent heterosexual. “I thinkwe’re one of the few temples where bisexuals, lesbians and gays arewelcoming the straight folks,” she said.

The Reconstructionist movement has been in the forefront of changeon the issue of homosexuality. In 1983, it was the first to admitlesbians and gay men into its rabbinical college. In 1992, itaffirmed its support for full acceptance of gays and lesbians asrabbis, lay leaders and parents, and sanctioned same-sex marriage.

“As we look at the Torah, it isn’t a book of instruction but abook of interpretation,” said Allen Freehling, senior rabbi ofUniversity Synagogue, who represented the Reform point of view. LikeReconstructionism, the Reform movement has accepted homosexuals intothe rabbinical and cantorial schools, and, last year, the CentralConference of American Rabbis, the Reform rabbinical association,endorsed the civil right to be married of same-gender couples, butthey didn’t vote on rabbis officiating at such ceremonies, accordingto BCC’s Rabbi Lisa Edwards. Many Reform rabbis do officiate,including Freehling and Edwards.

Freehling sparked a buzz of surprise when he expressed the hopethat he would live long enough that congregations such as BCC mightnot need to exist, because gays and lesbians would find a home inmainstream synagogues such as his own. Many people joined BCC becausethey had the experience of being mistreated at other shuls, he said.

But Berner politely disagreed, saying that there is a specificgay, lesbian and bisexual culture that the straight community doesn’trecognize, but which is worth preserving. “We have a lot in commonwith the heterosexual Jewish American community, but there arespecific elements of gay and lesbian culture, music, liturgy andpoetry that are distinct,” she said, as other panelists and membersof the audience nodded their agreement.

Although there are many different streams of Orthodoxy, frommodern to haredi, the movement is united on the issue ofhomosexuality, said David Rephun, a San Diego lawyer and AIDSactivist who was raised Orthodox, but, as a gay man, no longerconsiders himself to be part of the movement. (Moderator Mark Levinesaid that Orthodox rabbis he approached declined to appear on thepanel.) The Orthodox view, despite the fact that there are individualOrthodox rabbis who are sympathetic to the plight of gay and lesbianOrthodox Jews, is that it’s wrong to be or act homosexual, Rephunsaid. But what does the Leviticus prohibition really mean in themodern world? The 11th-century scholar Rashi interprets the passageas saying “anal intercourse is wrong,” Rephun said. “It says nothingabout being homosexual. Homosexuality didn’t exist as a concept untilthe 19th century,” he said, so those who say that the Torah forbidsit “must have some other agenda.”

Several panelists and others were optimistic that the future wouldbring change to the Conservative movement’s stance. “I really thinkit’s only a matter of time before the Jewish Theological Seminaryordains gay and lesbian rabbis,” Rephun said. Even in Orthodoxcommunities, there is change, he said. There are organizations forOrthodox gay Jews in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, New York and here in LosAngeles, he said. Such developments spell progress, he said — slow,to be sure, but progress nonetheless.

In Support of Family

While liberal Jews may be supportive of gays and lesbians comingout of the closet, they often don’t give a lot of thought to theeffect that this open-door policy may have on straight familymembers, particularly spouses and children. With this in mind, TempleIsrael of Hollywood is sponsoring a panel discussion on the issue onTuesday, Jan. 20, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

The panel will include Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth ChayimChadashim; Onnolee Sullivan of the Straight Spouse Support Network;Tara Rose of Just For Us; Marcia Spike, LCSW, a clinical consultantto the Straight Spouse Support Network; and Gail Rolf, Impactcoordinator at Hamilton High School.

The event, which is free to the public, takes place at TempleIsrael of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., at the corner of MartelAvenue. For more information, call Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh at (213)876-8330 or Phyllis Sewall at (213) 936-9526. — R.S.