Under pressure from the right, House Speaker Boehner quits


House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner will step down and leave Congress at the end of October after struggling with repeated rebellions by conservatives during a tumultuous five-year reign as the chamber's top Republican.

The Ohio lawmaker, 65, stunned Republican House members at a meeting on Friday with the announcement he will leave the top job in the 435-seat chamber and resign his seat effective on Oct. 30.

U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, 50, of California, the No. 2 House Republican, quickly became the leading contender to replace Boehner as speaker. McCarthy has been loyal to Boehner during his frequent tussles with conservatives, but is also close to Tea Party conservatives and in recent months has tacked to the right.

Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner) declined to endorse anyone as his successor, but told reporters McCarthy “would make an excellent speaker.”

Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believe he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation.

Obama praised the speaker as “a good man” and said he hoped Boehner would want to get as much done as he can before he leaves.

Boehner told reporters he was stepping aside to avoid another brewing House battle over his leadership. Conservatives had threatened a House revolt and possible government shutdown over spending next week.

“It's become clear to me this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution,” Boehner told a news conference, frequently fighting back tears.

“It's the right time to do it, and frankly I'm entirely comfortable doing it,” he said.

Boehner's move appeared to ease the threat of a government shutdown next week. Many Republicans said it would free him to forge ahead with a “clean” spending bill that does not withhold funding from the women's reproductive health group Planned Parenthood without fear of reprisal from conservatives who object to the group's abortion services.

But the battle over his successor could coincide with fights later this year over government spending and raising the federal debt limit, complicating the political battles and adding more uncertainty for financial markets.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a longtime foe of Boehner's, said his pending departure would be “a distraction” during the spending debate and called his decision “seismic to the House.”

On Thursday, Boehner, a Catholic, realized a longtime goal of hosting Pope Francis for an address to Congress and broke down in tears as he stood with the pope to greet crowds on the Capitol's West front.

'TODAY'S THE DAY'

Boehner said he had come to the conclusion on Friday morning that “today's the day.” He informed staff just before the morning meeting with Republican House members.

“I saw him recently and he looked weary. Understandably, he was tired,” U.S. Senator John McCain, also a Republican, told reporters. “Sometimes we fail to appreciate that these are human beings with human emotions and lives to lead.”

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal opinion poll on Friday found 72 percent of Republican primary voters were dissatisfied with Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Many Republican lawmakers said McCarthy would likely be the next speaker. McCarthy shifted to the right of Boehner this year by abandoning support for renewing the charter of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Conservatives successfully killed renewal of the bank's charter, arguing government should not meddle by picking economic winners and losers. Ex-Im offers financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods.

“Now is the time for our conference to focus on healing and unifying to face the challenges ahead and always do what is best for the American people,” McCarthy said in a statement.

There was no immediate market reaction.

Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors, said: “The near-term news is good in that it suggests that Boehner is going to get a clean bill through as his last act as Speaker, but the question becomes what happens post-Halloween and who the new speaker is going to be.”

The son of a bar owner and one of 12 children, Boehner is the only college graduate in his family. He grew up in Cincinnati and served in the U.S. Navy in 1969, then became a small businessman before launching a political career.

On Thursday evening as Boehner left the Capitol, he told two reporters – one from Politico and another from the Washington Post – that he had nothing left to accomplish after bringing Pope Francis to the Capitol, Politico reported.

Now Boehner can tell us what really happened with Netanyahu’s speech


John Boehner, the Republican from Ohio who is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is quitting politics.

According to reports, Boehner is sick of navigating two irreconcilable forces: the Obama White House and conservatives in his caucus.

Now that he’s going, maybe Boehner will feel free elaborate on his role in the secret that launched the ongoing U.S.-Israel crisis — and perhaps permanently changed the relationship between the two countries.

The question is: Was it a reluctant, barely discernible nod? Or an enthusiastic “Yes!”

That is, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer’s agreement to keep secret Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress — at the speaker’s request.

Boehner and Dermer have confirmed that the ambassador, who had consulted with Netanyahu, agreed to keep the secret, from the Obama administration, congressional Democrats and pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC. Boehner has said he asked for secrecy to keep Obama from nixing the speech.

However Dermer said it, his “yes” made history.

Netanyahu’s March 3 speech was ultimately pretty good, most Democrats told JTA, precisely because it was sharply critical of the emerging Iran nuclear deal and of Obama’s Iran policies.

But once you keep the secrets of one party in a two-party democracy, you become partisan.

Dermer’s “yes” meant Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, had to enter the trenches in the effort to push back Boehner’s effort to kill the deal — which was ultimately successful.

Going forward, his “yes” means Democrats on Capitol Hill are no longer so eager to return calls from the Israeli embassy.

It means there’s discussion on the Hill about whether the “Israel is GOP territory” tag will die when Netanyahu leaves office, or outlast him.

Given the echoes of Dermer’s “yes” in Washington’s halls of power, many would like to hear what it sounded like. And Boehner is one of the few people who knows.

Yale chaplain quits in wake of letter blaming Israel for rising anti-Semitism


The Rev. Bruce Shipman, an Episcopal chaplain at Yale University, resigned in the wake of his letter to The New York Times that blamed rising anti-Semitism in Europe on Israel.

The Episcopal Church at Yale issued a statement on Sept. 4 announcing that Shipman, “on his own initiative, had resigned as Priest-in-Charge of the Episcopal Church at Yale, effective immediately.”

The statement does not reference the letter to the Times, saying instead, “It is our belief that the dynamics between the Board of Governors and the Priest-in-Charge occasioned the resignation of the Rev. Shipman.”

“The Episcopal Church at Yale, its Board of Governors, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and the Rev. Bruce Shipman are all committed to a civil dialogue on difficult issues that divide peoples of this world and pledge ourselves to the prayerful and humble work of reconciliation and peace in our hurting and divided world,” the statement concludes.

Shipman’s Aug. 25 letter to the Times was in response to an Aug. 20 Op-Ed by Deborah Lipstadt, an author and Jewish history professor at Emory University, detailing the rise in European anti-Semitic incidents.

His letter said the trend “parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.” It also said that “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”

Shipman later apologized to Yale students in a letter to the editor of the Yale Daily.

“Nothing done in Israel or Palestine justifies the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe or elsewhere,” he wrote.

 

Olmert retrial in Talansky Affair begins


Ehud Olmert went on trial for the second time in the the bribery case that led the Israeli prime minister to resign in 2008.

Olmert’s retrial in what became known as the Talansky Affair began with a hearing Tuesday in Jerusalem District Court.

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the new trial last month and said it will allow new testimony from Olmert’s former assistant Shula Zaken, including recordings of conversations between Olmert and Zaken, who provided the information last spring as part of a plea bargain. Zaken and Olmert reportedly will take the stand in the retrial.

In 2012, The Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert on charges of fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and falsifying corporate records in what became known as the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. He was found guilty on a lesser charge of breach of trust in what was known as the Investment Center case.

Olmert was accused of allegedly paying for family vacations by double billing Jewish organizations through the Rishon Tours travel agency; allegedly accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky; and allegedly granting personal favors to attorney Uri Messer when he served as trade minister in the Investment Center case. The charges were filed after he became prime minister in 2006, but covered his time as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a government minister.

He officially resigned as prime minister after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.

Zaken was convicted on two counts of fraudulently obtaining benefits and fraud, and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours case.

In May, Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes in the real estate scam known as the Holyland Affair and ordered to report to prison on Sept. 1. The prison date was suspended pending his appeal.

He could spend more time in prison if convicted in the second Talansky trial.

Canada’s Green Party president quits after defending Israel


The president of Canada’s Green Party resigned his post a week after expressing pro-Israel views.
 
Paul Estrin stirred controversy last week when he posted a blog entry defending Israel on the party’s website. On Tuesday night, Estrin announced his resignation after the party leader, Elizabeth May, said his position was contrary to the Green Party’s position.
 
“I never intended to create confusion or have any of my actions negatively impact the party,” Estrin said wrote on the party website. “Therefore, I tender my resignation, effective immediately.”
 
According to a report  in the Times of Israel, Estrin said that at an Aug. 5 meeting called to deal with the matter, the party’s board asked him to resign and made it clear he would be fired if he refused. On Tuesday, Julian Morelli, the party’s communications director,  rejected suggestions that Estrin was forced to resign because of his pro-Israel views.
 
“He resigned because of the confusion caused,” Morelli said, according to the National Post.
 
In his post, entitled “Why Gaza makes me sad,” Estrin Palestinians in Gaza were made to be like “sheep to the slaughter.” The post has since been removed from the party website.
 
“Gazan officials tell their people to be killed while they hide in bomb shelters,” Estrin wrote. “This is worse than cowardice. It is vile and ugly and they should be put to shame. Instead, it is Israel who is put to shame.”
 
Writing on Twitter, May said she was unaware of Estrin’s views, which “are contrary to Green Party of Canada position. We support peace. We condemn violence.”
 
Last Friday, Estrin posted another statement on the party website. “Some have mistaken my personal views to be the perspective of the Party and our Leader. Neither is true. I apologize for not including a disclaimer to make it clear that the views expressed are my own and not the official position of the Green Party of Canada.”

British government minister quits over Gaza policy


A British government minister — the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet — has resigned over the government’s policy on the Gaza conflict.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at Britain’s Foreign Office and minister for faith and communities, tendered her letter of resignation on Tuesday morning.

“With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza,” Warsi said Tuesday in a tweet.

Warsi, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, became a member of the House of Lords in 2007. She was named Conservative Party co-chair by David Cameron after the 2010 general election, and her current positions, considered a demotion, were part of a 2012 Cabinet reshuffle.

She said in an interview with the Huffington Post UK published hours after her resignation that the British government had failed to act as an “honest broker” in the Middle East.

“The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker, and at the moment I do not think it is,” Warsi said.

She reportedly is unhappy at the failure of the British prime minister to unequivocally condemn Israel’s Gaza ground operation or the Palestinian death toll.

Warsi said in her resignation letter, which also was published on Twitter, that “our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation.”

She told the Huffington Post that she also resigned because she wants to see those accused of committing war crimes on both sides of the Gaza conflict punished in the international arena.

Jordanian prime minister Khasawneh resigns


Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh resigned on Thursday after barely six months in office, in a surprise move that politicians said followed an extended power struggle with the powerful security services.

King Abdullah, who appointed Khasawneh in October to placate protesters inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, accepted Khasawneh’s resignation, state television said.

He was replaced by Fayez al-Tarawneh, a U.S.-educated economist who served as prime minister for several months from 1998 to 1999, when Abdullah came to the throne following the death of his father, King Hussein.

Khasawneh, 62, was a respected international judge who pledged to restore trust in the government after months of protests over rising living costs and stalled political reform in the resource-poor, pro-Western kingdom of 7 million.

He had been expected to govern until a parliamentary election due by the end of the year. But politicians said his six months in office were marked by a struggle with the intelligence services over the powers of his office.

“The conflict between the centers of power within the Jordanian state has been resolved in favor of the security services,” Islamist politician Zaki Bani Rusheid said after Khasawneh’s sudden resignation.

Khasawneh’s proposed election law drew fire from many sides. Tribal parliamentarians felt it favored Islamists, while some Islamists were unhappy because its proposed party list system might have curbed the number of seats they could win.

SUDDEN RESIGNATION

Khasawneh was a former chief of the royal court and a legal adviser to the Jordanian team that negotiated a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

A minister who declined to be named said he submitted his resignation while outside the country in response to a decision taken in his absence to extend a parliamentary session in which he was likely to face further criticism over the draft law.

“It was a surprise move. The prime minister was unhappy about the decision to extend parliament,” the minister said.

Tarawneh’s appointment makes him Jordan’s fourth prime minister in 14 months. Khasawneh’s brief period in office was preceded by the equally short premiership of Marouf al-Bakhit.

Bakhit was appointed in February last year, but the conservative former army general was sacked eight months later in a move to address calls for faster reforms in the kingdom.

Politicians say King Abdulllah has been forced to take only cautious steps towards democracy, constrained by the tribal power base which sees reforms as a threat to its political and economic benefits.

Some recent protests calling for faster reforms have criticized the royal family, a rare event in a country where the king has long been revered and held above politics.

There has been unprecedented criticism from tribal areas that have traditionally formed the backbone of support for the Hashemite royal family and provide the bulk of manpower for the army and security forces.

Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Myra MacDonald

Hundreds of Israeli medical residents resign


Hundreds of medical residents in Israel have resigned, leaving many Israeli hospitals shorthanded.

More than 300 residents did not show up for work on Monday, affecting hospitals throughout the country.

The residents resigned over a labor dispute; they are dissatisfied with a nine-year agreement signed between the government and the Israel Medical Association.

The State Prosecutor on Monday asked the national Labor Court to issue an injunction against the resignations, and to order the residents to return to work as they continue to negotiate for a solution.

The resignations were originally scheduled to take effect in September, but were delayed by the court. The residents then agreed to stay on until Sunday in order to get past the Yom Kippur holiday.

Many of the residents have already secured positions in other countries, Ynet reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the residents to delay their resignations by another two weeks to allow him to help find a solution.

Rep. Schwartz is first Dem to call for Weiner’s resignation


U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) became the first Democratic representative to call on Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to resign over inappropriate internet relationships.

“Having the respect of your constituents is fundamental for a member of Congress,” she said in a statement. “In light of Anthony Weiner’s offensive behavior online, he should resign.”

Schwartz is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leadership.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also spoke with Weiner by phone, expressing frustration that Weiner’s political standing was deteriorating as the scandal widened, the New York Times reported.

On Monday, Weiner admitted to having inappropriate Internet relationships and lying about a lewd photo posted to his Twitter account.  During the news conference, Weiner pledged he would not resign. After his admission, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) requested an investigation by the Ethics Panel into whether Weiner violated chamber rules.

Schwartz’s resignation call was followed by several other Democratic lawmakers and leaders including Mike Ross of Arkansas, Michael H. Michaud of Maine, Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, Larry Kissell of North Carolina and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, as well as Tim Kaine, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who is running for the Senate from Virginia.

It was reported Wednesday that Weiner’s wife of nearly one year, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is pregnant. Weiner apologized to his wife and has said they will not separate.

NPR exec heard saying that Jews control print media [VIDEO]


A National Public Radio executive who was set to leave the station has apologized for videotaped comments that include saying that Jews control the print media.

Ron Schiller, president of the NPR Foundation and vice president for development, said his resignation scheduled for May 6 would take effect “immediately” after the video was disclosed Tuesday.

In a videotape made by a right-wing political activist in a sting operation, Schiller was heard making derogatory remarks about the Republican Party, Tea Party activists and the firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams after Williams said on Fox News that he would be concerned if he was on a plane with passengers in Muslim garb.

“I offer my sincere apology to those I offended,” Schiller said Tuesday night, adding that “In an effort to put this unfortunate matter behind us, NPR and I have agreed that my resignation is effective today.”

Story continues after the jump.

Video courtesy of TheProjectVeritas.com.

In the video’s wake, NPR President and Chief Executive Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron Schiller) also resigned.

Slate reported Wednesday that the international nonprofit Aspen Institute, where Schiller was supposed to start next month as director of the Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program, released a statement saying that “Ron Schiller has informed us that, in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements, he does not feel that it’s in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work here.”

In the video, Schiller was meeting with two men posing as wealthy would-be Muslim donors who said they wanted to make a $5 million, no-strings-attached contribution, according to reports. The Muslim donors were discussing Jewish control of the media; Schiller added his sentiments saying that “Zionist influence” doesn’t exist at NPR, but “it’s there in those who own newspapers obviously.”

Schiller also is heard laughing when one of the men jokes that NPR should be known as “National Palestinian Radio.”

The incident has come to light as Republicans in Congress, who have long complained about a liberal bias on public radio, are targeting public broadcasting as an area for budget cuts.

Klain resigns as Biden’s chief of staff


Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, is resigning.

“As my chief of staff in the White House, Ron has done an exceptional job of building my team, implementing my direction on top priorities, and providing invaluable counsel,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday.  “He has also played a key role in establishing the strong, positive relationship that exists between my staff and the President’s team.”

This White House has been notable for the smooth relations between President Obama and Biden.

Klain, who had served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore from 1995 to 1999, will become president of Case Holdings, an investment company, The New York Times reported.

Klain led the Gore team during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida.

Israel comment spurs calls for lawmaker’s resignation


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has joined a growing list of politicians calling for the resignation of a senior member of Parliament who questioned Israel’s right to exist.

Harper said Libby Davies, deputy leader and house leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, should step aside following her comments at an anti-Israel rally earlier this month in Vancouver.

Asked in a video interview whether the “occupation of Israel” began in 1948 or 1967, Davies replied, ” ‘48 … It’s the longest occupation in the world.”

In the House of Commons, Harper called Davies’ remark “a fundamental denial of Israel’s right to exist. It repeats the kinds of comments that were made by [veteran White House journalist] Helen Thomas on which she was forced to resign, and the member of the NDP who said that should be forced to resign as well.”

Liberal Party foreign affairs critic Bob Rae also called on Davies to resign her leadership roles, calling her comment “an appalling statement for a member of Parliament to make.”

On her website, a contrite Davies wrote that her comment “was a serious and completely inadvertent error; I apologize for this and regret any confusion it has caused.

“I have always supported a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have never questioned Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinian’s right to a viable state. I reject the allegation that I hate Israel, and I reject the assertion that I said that Israel is illegitimate or an abomination. Neither are true.”

NDP leader Jack Layton said Davies’ views are “not party policy,” and he showed no sign of stripping Davies from leadership positions—a move that B’nai Brith of Canada had sought.

Olmert submits resignation, promises to help Livni


JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has submitted his letter of resignation to President Shimon Peres

Olmert visited the president’s official residence in Jerusalem Sunday evening to deliver the letter.

“This is not an easy decision, and I am convinced that this is a difficult evening for him,” Peres said following the meeting. “I wish to take this opportunity to thank the prime minister for his service to the people and the state over the course of many years of public activities: as the mayor of Jerusalem, as a minister in the government and as the prime minister of Israel.”

Peres will meet with the heads of the party factions and give one of them, most likely Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, up to 42 days to form a new coalition government. He was scheduled to meet Sunday night with the Kadima Party, which is led by Livni after her narrow primary victory last week.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Olmert told his Cabinet that he would resign.

“I must say that this was not an easy or simple decision,” he told the Cabinet. “I think that I have acted properly and responsibly, as I promised the Israeli public from the beginning.”

Olmert congratulated Livni and said he would help her to form a coalition government. Livni has said she plans to form a new government by the start of the winter session on Oct. 27.

Olmert will remain the head of a caretaker government until a new coalition is formed or until after new general elections if agreement on a coalition government cannot be reached.

ALTTEXT

Livni and Olmert at Cabinet meeting Sunday (screen grab from Israel Channel 2 News)

Israel political outlook uncertain as Olmert announces plan to resign


JERUSALEM (JTA) – Ehud Olmert’s announcement Wednesday that he will not seek re-election plunged Israel into deep political uncertainty at a time when the country faces several crucial diplomatic tests.

Confronted with police investigations into possible illegal fund-raising activities and a climate of intense political hostility, including from leading members of his own party, the Israeli prime minister held a hastily assembled news conference Wednesday evening to announce he will resign the premiership.

The change will take effect once Olmert’s party, Kadima, chooses a new leader in primary elections scheduled for mid-September. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz are the leading contenders for that spot.



Olmert announcement video from JerusalemOnline/Israel Channel 2 News



“Things got out of all reasonable proportion,” Olmert said in his speech, referring to what he called “ceaseless attacks” against him. “The prime minister is not above the law, but he is not by any means under it.”

Maintaining his innocence, Olmert said he would step aside for the public good.

“The time has come for me to take a decision,” Olmert said. “What is more important than what: my own personal justice or the public good?”

In the short term, Olmert’s announcement means he will stay in office as a lame duck until Kadima elects a new leader – either Sept. 17, when the party’s primary will be held, or Sept. 24, when a runoff, if necessary, will take place.

After that, Kadima’s new leader will become the acting prime minister and be charged with assembling a coalition government.

Failure to muster a majority of at least 61 Knesset members in the coalition would trigger new general elections.

Aside from casting a cloud of uncertainty over political succession, the development raised questions about how Israel’s major diplomatic initiatives will fare during this period of political transition – including peace tracks with the Palestinians and with Syria, and the effort to halt Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

At the time of the announcement, Livni was meeting in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss those issues. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the Labor Party,  also was out of the country, on a plane on his way home from meetings in Washington.

Israeli pundits speculated that the absence from the country of Livni and Barak, two of Olmert’s main political adversaries, was a factor in the timing of the prime minister’s announcement.

Barak could trigger new general elections by pulling his Labor Party out of the governing coalition, but he lags behind Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in polls showing Netanyahu would handily win a general election if held today.

The method of Olmert’s departure from the political stage ensures that his successor from Kadima will be able to run for the next general election as an incumbent prime minister, possibly giving that candidate a boost.

Olmert said Wednesday that he would not mettle in the Kadima Party primary and that he sought to engender a respectful and fair political transition.

The prime minister had been under a cloud of investigations almost since his first day in office. He assumed the position of acting prime minister in January 2006 after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon became disabled from a coma. Olmert won elections to retain the premiership in March of that year.

But the latest scandal, in which an American Jewish businessman named Morris Talansky testified that he gave Olmert $150,000 in cash over the course of the decade and a half before Olmert became prime minister, crippled Olmert’s ability to govern.

Even Olmert’s decision to re-launch Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria and sign a cease-fire deal with Hamas in Gaza were viewed with suspicion by some who derided the moves as ploys to ensure Olmert’s political survival.

Since the Talansky scandal broke, a growing chorus of Israeli pundits, Knesset members and public intellectuals had called on Olmert to step aside, if only to allow the government to focus on the urgent threat of a nuclear Iran.

It’s not immediately clear how Olmert’s resignation will affect Israel’s campaign to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

Analysis: Olmert’s journey from right-wing idealogue to unsuccessful pragmatist


WASHINGTON (JTA)—The day after Ehud Olmert buried his own political career, he announced plans to commemorate Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the ideological proponent of Greater Israel whose vision Olmert has done much to bury.

It was an odd closing of a circle: Olmert’s signature achievement may be how he guided his nation away from Jabotinsky’s vision of an Israel spanning the “river to the sea,” the Jordan to the Mediterranean.

His signature failure may be how the allegations of personal corruption that ended his career exemplified the Jewish state’s departure from the lean, ethical Zionism espoused by Jabotinsky.

Left unanswered is how Olmert’s departure affects the prospects for peace with Syria and the Palestinians, his signature projects, or his efforts to isolate Iran.

Olmert’s career at first typefied those of many other scions of the families who believed Jabotinsky’s grand vision one day would be vindicated, waiting patiently for the implosion of a Labor Party bloated with patronage.

In the 1950s Olmert’s father, Mordechai, had been a Knesset member for Herut, Likud’s predecessor, during the party’s lonely decades as a struggling opposition party. Ehud Olmert won election to the Knesset at the tender age of 28, in 1973, when the Likud won enough seats to form a viable opposition. Four years later it won the government outright.

Olmert during his first years in government was a strident advocate of Jewish settlement expansion. As a member of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee from 1981, he helped push through budgeting for new settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and was an uncompromising spokesman for the government’s policy at the time of not countenancing any outreach to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The first sign of change came after the 1988 elections, when Olmert became a minister without portfolio in charge of minority affairs. In interviews immediately after the elections, he said his first priority would be to crush the nascent Islamist movement winning municipal elections across Israel’s Arab sector.

Within months, however, Olmert was delivering that rarest of political pronouncements: an apology. The Islamists, he said, were principally interested in bettering the lives of their constituents and he was ready to work with them.

It was around then that the other strand of Olmert’s career also emerged, as he found himself the subject of criminal allegations.

As Likud campaign manager in the 1988 elections, he was accused of authorizing the wiretapping of Labor Party headquarters. Though the accuser was the private detective who had carried out the wiretapping, Olmert managed to emerge unscathed.

Olmert began entertaining party leadership ambitions, sowing an intra-party enmity with Benjamin Netanyahu, another Likud scion. Olmert always seemed the less likely candidate: He lacked the smoothness of his rivals, and preferred the crude thrust in his political rhetoric, venturing into territory others would avoid.

In his successful run for Jerusalem mayor in 1993, Olmert mocked legendary mayor Teddy Kollek’s advanced years. Three years later he told reporters that between Netanyahu and Shimon Peres, Netanyahu was the “more Jewish” candidate for prime minister—a loaded reference to longstanding slanders that Peres’ mother was an Arab.

Yet Olmert when he wanted could be charming, especially when it came to the Americans. He formed fast friendships with American Jewish organizational leaders, members of Congress and others—particularly Rudolph Giuliani, another blunt-talking mayor.

For a political survivor, Olmert at times betrayed a surprisingly thin skin, calling newspapers and asking them to remove reporters he did not favor. When a local Jerusalem newspaper in 1994 uncovered his ties to a group that advocated in the 1970s for the aliyah of American Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky—an association Olmert did not need as he climbed the political ladder—Olmert strode over to the newspaper’s editor at a party and tossed a glass of water in her face.

His two terms as Jerusalem mayor were undistinguished. His most ambitious project, an expensive light-rail system, remains mired in the planning and construction stages five years after Olmert’s reign. Poverty in the city grew during Olmert’s 10-year tenure, infrastructure suffered and, unlike Kollek—who made a point of hearing out Arab complaints—Olmert essentially shut down the municipality’s Arab affairs department.

It was around the time that Olmert served as mayor that he cultivated many of the relationships with U.S. Jewish leaders that would culminate in this year’s multiple police investigations. Wealthy Jewish businessmen were attracted by Olmert’s pledges to preserve Jerusalem’s Jewish character. Allegedly that’s when the envelopes stuffed with cash—ostensibly for political campaigns—began changing hands.

Such behavior did little to dispel accusations by his rivals that he was using the mayor’s office to set up another run for prime minister. In 2003, Olmert rejoined the Knesset, again running the Likud’s successful campaign. His loyalty to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his political skills won him the post of deputy prime minister, even though he remained one of the party’s less popular figures.

Less popular in Israel, that is: Olmert remained well liked among American Jews, where he spearheaded the campaign to explain Sharon’s late-life conversion to land-for-peace policies. Olmert also formed a close friendship with President Bush.

If at first it seemed that Olmert, the veteran politician, was leaning where the political winds blew, his interlocutors soon realized his conversion on the peace process was genuine. His wife and children, all well-known doves, had had an effect on his thinking. More substantially, the shock of the violence of the second intifada in the early 2000s, which Olmert witnessed firsthand as Jerusalem mayor, convinced him that it was time to tease apart two states, Israel and Palestine.

“It was a genuine conversion,” said M.J. Rosenberg, the policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, the dovish group that formed a close relationship with Olmert after his change of heart. “Olmert’s unique value was that he approached peace as a pragmatist—none of this starry-eyed Peres stuff. It was, ‘we Israelis want to have normal lives. We want to have nice houses and take our families to football games and make money. To do this we have to lay this conflict behind us.’ There was no mush.”

Palestinians, too, appreciated Olmert as a straight-shooting partner who treated them as equals. Olmert lacked the imperiousness of Ehud Barak or the paternalism of Peres.

It was Olmert’s practical vision that finally won him widespread popularity, and the premiership in January 2006, after Sharon went into a coma from a stroke. Olmert won general elections two months later.

Within months, however, the honeymoon unraveled.

Hezbollah launched an attack that July, and the Olmert government’s belligerent response seemed hapless. Israel’s air-based war did little to prevent substantial Israeli casualties and earned international opprobrium for the destruction it caused in Lebanon. Hezbollah also suffered heavy losses, but rallied as a political force in Lebanon and is now a veto-wielding presence in the country’s Cabinet.

Hezbollah also has rebuilt its forces and missile arsenal—to three times its prewar size, according to Israeli estimates.

At the same time, Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, sold hard by Olmert at the time, also was coming apart. Hamas terrorists had driven moderates from Gaza and were behind daily barrages of rockets into southern Israel.

The need to isolate Hezbollah, Hamas and especially their backer, Iran, drove Olmert to push harder for peace. It led to the re-launch last year of peace talks with Palestinians at Annapolis, Md., and to this year’s renewed talks with Syria under Turkish auspices.

In his resignation speech Wednesday, Olmert clearly hoped the peace talks would be his legacy.

“I continue to believe with all my heart that achieving peace, stopping terrorism, strengthening security and creating different relations with our neighbors are the most vital goals for the future of the State of Israel,” he said. “We are closer than ever to concrete understandings that are likely to the basis for agreements in the two strands of dialogue, the Palestinian and the Syrian. The moment we achieve peace we will stand baffled and wonder how we did not achieve this earlier.”

When it came to the corruption charges, he sounded defiant – a legacy perhaps pf his childhood weaning on the works of Jabotinsky, who famously counseled followers to “never surrender.”

“I have been forced to battle ceaseless attacks,” he said. “Everyone knows that things have been blown out of proportion.”

Jews should oppose Senator Craig’s ouster


Long before Sen. Larry Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, American Jewish groups harbored serious doubts about the Idaho Republican. In June 1990, when Craig, then a congressman, was running for an open Senate seat, the Jerusalem Post bemoaned his “miserable” record on Israel. Pro-Israel political action committees raised more than $55,000 for Craig’s Democratic opponent in the race.

Now Craig, who over the weekend announced that he will step down later this month, is a man with very few friends.

One of his few outspoken defenders in recent days has been a gay, pro-Israel Jewish Democrat from Massachusetts, Rep. Barney Frank. While acknowledging that Craig’s conduct was “hypocritical,” given the Idahoan’s anti-gay rights record, Frank said his crime was “not an abuse of office” and does not warrant resignation.

Frank seemed to be speaking from his experience as an openly gay man, not from his experience as a Jew. But the American Jewish community as a whole should be upset over the Republican rush to drive Craig from office, and not just because as a senator he ended up being a pleasant surprise for pro-Israel activists.

As the late Yale historian John Boswell showed, where there is homophobia, anti-Semitism very often lurks around the corner.

“The same laws which oppressed Jews oppressed gay people; the same groups bent on eliminating Jews tried to wipe out homosexuality,” Boswell wrote.

While his study was based on medieval Europe, his words ring true in modern America. Jews may disagree about the status of homosexuals within our own religious communities, but when there is an upsurge of homophobia in society at large, all Jews should take note.

Craig, even though he insists he is not gay, appears to be a victim of homophobia.

Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives have long tolerated members in their midst who carried on extramarital affairs – with women. Craig’s crime in the court of law is that he allegedly sought to have sex in an airport bathroom, but his sentence in the court of public opinion is so severe because he allegedly sought to have sex with a man.

A double standard is being invoked here, and Jews, as the historical victims of double standards, have a duty to speak up.

The National Jewish Democratic Council is fulfilling that duty, at least in part. In an Aug. 30 statement, the council noted the discrepancy between the GOP’s lenient treatment of Republican Sen. David Vitter, the first-term Louisianan whose name appeared in a female prostitute’s Rolodex, and its swift punishment of Craig, who lost his major committee assignments after the sex scandal surfaced and was pressured into announcing his resignation.

Yet it is one thing to assail the Republican leadership and quite another to put in a good word for Craig himself. We may condemn Craig’s apparent attempt at adultery; we may disagree with Craig’s views on almost every topic; we may support the idea of a Democrat winning his Senate seat in 2008. But the fact remains that in the first year after his election to the Senate, Craig underwent a remarkable evolution from isolationist to Israel supporter. While his colleagues condemn Craig’s “conduct unbecoming a senator,” American Jews should remember Craig’s conduct on becoming a senator.

By 1990, Idaho’s senior senator, the Republican James McClure, had amassed, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “one of the most anti-Israel records.” Craig, who voted in the House against aid to Israel, seemed likely to follow in the retiring McClure’s footsteps.

As a freshman senator, however, Craig reconsidered his views. He visited Israel and spoke out on the Senate floor in favor of a $10 billion package of loan guarantees to pay for the absorption of Soviet and Ethiopian immigrants. Though he is unlikely to appear on any list of the “most pro-Israel senators,” Craig has consistently cautioned his colleagues about the threats posed to Israel’s security by global jihadists and a nuclear-armed Iran.

The Book of Proverbs instructs us: “Do not forsake your friend.” Craig has been forsaken by his own party, but as Craig has shown concern for the fate of the Jews, we should likewise show concern for him.

Of course, Craig’s pro-Israel stance is not the only reason why American Jews ought to oppose Craig’s ouster. We ought to oppose his ouster because it would signal a victory for forces of hate within the Republican Party.

Seventeen years ago, American Jews tried to prevent Craig from becoming a senator, but now we should be outraged over how he lost his job.

Daniel Hemel is a 2007 Marshall Scholar and is studying international relations at the Oxford University.

Katsav cops plea in sex charges


His reputation in shambles from a sex scandal that broke a year ago and swelled in subsequent months, Israel’s outgoing president, Moshe Katsav, put an end to the sordid chapter by agreeing to a plea bargain after months of insisting he was innocent.

His reputation in shambles from a sex scandal that broke a year ago and swelled in subsequent months, Katsav put an end to the sordid chapter by agreeing to a plea bargain after months of insisting he was innocent.

Under the deal announced Thursday, President Moshe Katsav will plead guilty to sexually harassing and molesting female staff in exchange for prosecutors’ agreement not to pursue rape charges against him. He will resign early, receive a suspended prison sentence and pay compensation to the complainants.

This marks the first time an Israeli head of state has been convicted of sexual misconduct – — a legacy many hope soon will be forgotten after Shimon Peres takes over the presidency July 15.

For much of this year, Katsav was on a leave of absence and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik served as acting president.

“Israel’s ‘No. 1 citizen’ has become a convicted sexual offender,” Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told reporters. “The shame will accompany him forever.”

The deal was deplored by women’s rights groups and others who saw the plea bargain as an easy pass for a member of Israel’s political elite, the latest in a long string of lenient convictions and sentences for a corrupt Israeli leadership.

The attorney for the employee of the president’s residence who had accused Katsav of rape, known as Complainant A, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday in an effort to block the plea deal, but her request was denied.

“The attorney general gave in to pressure, and the prosecutor forfeited the doing of justice because we’re talking about the president,” attorney Kinneret Barashi told reporters. “This is a black day. At issue is a complainant who told her truth, in which she believes. Along with her I will fight by all means in order to change this decision and bring justice to light. I have a great deal to say, and the last word has yet to be said.”

Mazuz said the State Attorney’s Office entered the plea bargain because it saw difficulties in proving the toughest allegations, some of them dating back years.

“A confession by the president is no trivial matter,” Mazuz said, defending the agreement.

But the Association of Rape Crisis Centers said in a statement in response, “The plea bargain sends a clear message to sexual assault victims: Better to stay quiet, better not to tell. In the State of Israel, there is no one to safeguard the victims of sexual assault.”

When Mazuz’s office first said in January that it was considering a rape indictment, Katsav took a leave of absence but angrily denied wrongdoing. In a raucous speech in which the president clearly lost his temper, Katsav spoke of himself as the victim of a “witch hunt” targeting successful members of Israel’s Sephardi underclass.

Arab lawmaker quits Knesset as probe begins


Israeli Arab lawmaker Azmi Bishara has abruptly ended a parliamentary career built on denouncing the Jewish state from enemy capitals and then dodging charges of sedition at home.

After weeks spent abroad on what he called routine travels, Bishara turned up at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on April 22 to submit a letter of resignation to the Knesset.

The move followed an announcement by the Israeli police that Bishara, who heads the predominantly Arab party Balad, was under investigation for allegations that could not be published due to a court-issued gag order that was extended to Wednesday.

Bishara, 50, has denied wrongdoing but made clear he is in no hurry to face the probe.

“I decided to tender my resignation today, after leaving the country, because I know that I would not have been able to leave the country for three years, the time it would take the court cases and investigations,” he told Al-Jazeera.

“Exile is not an option. Return is definite, but the matter will take some time and arrangements,” said Bishara, a Christian from the religiously mixed town of Nazareth.

For many mainstream Israelis, it was goodbye and good riddance. In an Israeli Arab leadership increasingly considered disloyal among the Jewish majority, Bishara stood out for his especially provocative antics.

He visited Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon to voice outrage at Israel’s military offensive last year. He met with Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as radical Palestinian leaders, always ready to praise the ethos of armed “resistance” against Israel.

Bishara overcame repeated attempts to have him tried for fraternizing with Israel’s enemies, invoking his parliamentary immunity from prosecution. This enraged rightist Israelis, who warned of a “fifth column” among the country’s Arab minority.

Some moderate Israeli Arabs also sought to distance themselves from Bishara, so astounded by his temerity as to suggest it was all an elaborate cover for a role as an Israeli spy or covert diplomat.

“The definition of Knesset member Bishara as a ‘collaborator’ is one of the ways to explain the behavior, conduct and statements of this man, in oratory and in writing,” Alex Fishman wrote in Yediot Achronot. “He has stretched all the ropes to the breaking point, tested the limits of the tolerance of Israeli democracy, and each time succeeded in establishing a new limit.”

Balad, which holds three of the Knesset’s 120 seats, calls for Israel to abandon Zionism and become a “state of all its citizens.” That is out of the question for most Israelis, who want the country to remain a democratic Jewish homeland.

News of Bishara’s departure and rumors of his legal worries, which may involve charges from the counter-terrorism and counter-espionage Shin Bet agency, was greeted with regret in some corner of the Israeli intelligentsia.

There was empathy and even admiration for the scintillating intellectual, who speaks four languages, including a Hebrew more erudite than that of many Jewish Israelis.

One veteran commentator, Yaron London, saw in Bishara a sort of latter-day version of the Diaspora’s old political mavericks — the revolutionaries and utopianists.

“I once said to Azmi Bishara that he is more Jewish than I,” London said. “The heart of a Jew, even one who lives among Jews in their state, is the heart of a minority figure, but a Christian Arab who is a citizen of the Jewish state is an island within an island, a minority within a minority.”

“Bishara, a brilliant and arrogant intellectual, bossy and stormy, charming and easily offended, has no time to waste. He realized that the Jews would not accept his vision unless they were greatly weakened — and therefore they must be weakened.”

Scandals and war fallout cast doubt on Olmert’s leadership


Following the sudden but not unexpected resignation of the Israeli army’s chief of staff, pundits are asking how much longer Ehud Olmert, the country’s beleaguered prime minister, can survive in office.

Under investigation for corruption and with his approval ratings at an all-time low, Olmert is facing increasing public pressure to quit.

Things could get even worse for him if the Winograd Commission, which is investigating last summer’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, is critical of his role when it presents preliminary findings at the end of the month.

But Olmert is a tough customer unlikely to resign of his own accord. And the way the Israeli system works, it could be difficult to force him out.

The fact that Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz chose to resign clearly marks last summer’s war in Lebanon as a failure. And the fact that he has already gone puts the Winograd spotlight on those up the line — Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Olmert himself.

The Winograd mandate includes asking the big questions: Why did the prime minister decide to go to war so hastily, just hours after the ostensible casus belli, the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah along the border with Lebanon? Why didn’t Olmert pressure the army to launch a major ground strike much earlier in the campaign to stop rocket fire on Israeli civilians? And why didn’t the government do more to move civilians out of the line of fire?

According to Yoel Marcus, the doyen of Israeli political analysts, the perceived failure in the war, the corruption clouds and the absence of clear leadership on peacemaking with the Palestinians or the Syrians has spawned a dark public mood that the Olmert administration will not survive.

“In this grim atmosphere, the public is not going to sit back and allow the chief of staff to take all the blame for the second Lebanon War while the political leaders who initiated and planned it are let off the hook,” Marcus wrote in Ha’aretz. “Maybe there won’t be a Yom Kippur War-style earthquake. But Labor MK Avishai Braverman is right in predicting that the pair of duds known as Olmert and Peretz are living on borrowed time. Sooner or later they will be toppled from government by the Domino effect.”

Although nothing has been proven against Olmert, the accumulation of corruption scandals involving him or close members of his administration has eroded public confidence in the prime minister. Olmert is being investigated on suspicion of rigging a tender for the sale of Bank Leumi, Israel’s second largest bank, when he was finance minister in 2005-06.

Olmert says the changes he made were to maximize state profits from the sale. The prosecution has ordered the police to investigate whether the changes were meant to help his billionaire friends, American S. Daniel Abraham and Australian Frank Lowy — although in the end they did not make a bid.

Olmert also is suspected of giving preference at the Investment Center to clients of a former law partner and of making dozens of political appointments in the Small Business Center when he was minister of industry and trade in 2003-05.

He also has been tainted by suspicions of corruption by association: His close friend, Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, is suspected of involvement in a sick-fund scam, and his longtime secretary, Shula Zaken, is suspected of helping to appoint cronies to the National Tax Authority in return for tax reductions for pals.

Even if Olmert is innocent, critics say he won’t be able to govern because he’ll be too busy trying to clear his name.

Olmert also is under fire for a perceived lack of political leadership. He says he doesn’t have the political power to make major diplomatic moves, but critics say he doesn’t seem to have an agenda for peacemaking with the Palestinians or the Syrians, or any unilateral alternative either.

The resulting loss of public confidence in the prime minister is reflected in recent public opinion polls. A mid-January survey in Ha’aretz gave Olmert an approval rating nationwide of just 14 percent. A few days later the news for the prime minister was even worse: A poll aired on Israel’s Channel 10 TV claimed that 69 percent of Israelis actually wanted Olmert to resign.

Ironically, although Olmert is probably the most unpopular prime minister in Israeli history, he has one of the strongest coalitions based on the support of 78 of the 120 Knesset members.

So how could he be forced out of office? One way would be for a majority of 61 Knesset members to vote for early elections. But since many of them are unlikely to be re-elected, pundits reckon the chances of that happening any time soon are remote.

A more likely move is a vote of “constructive no-confidence” in which 61 Knesset members coalesce around an alternative candidate for prime minister, thereby installing a new national leader without holding new national elections.

Here pundits see two possibilities — a split in Olmert’s Kadima Party in which half the Kadima legislators return to their Likud origins or at least make a pact with Likud, bringing its leader Benjamin Netanyahu to power.

The second constructive no-confidence scenario involves Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and a coup in Kadima in which she replaces Olmert as leader. Polls show Livni with a 51 percent approval rating to Olmert’s 14 percent, and see her as three times more likely than Olmert to win a new election.

Another scenario that could bring down Olmert would be Labor leaving the coalition, but that’s unlikely to happen before Labor elects a new leader in May. If Labor does pull out then, it would leave the Likud in a position to decide whether to join Olmert in Labor’s place or to force new elections.

Most pundits agree that the countdown on Olmert’s government has begun, but they differ on how long it will take before it falls. And despite his obvious weakness, most pundits think Olmert will be able to stumble on for some time yet.

But where Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, was able to ride out a rebellion in the Likud and a string of corruption scandals, most pundits believe that even if he gets by the Winograd Commission, Olmert does not have the political clout in the longer term to emulate his illustrious predecessor.

Another Tendler Steps Down


The longtime principal of one of Los Angeles’ largest Jewish high schools is leaving to start a new school. Rabbi Sholom Tendler resigned last week as Hebrew principal of Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YULA) and as rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He said he plans to open a new yeshiva boys’ high school elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Tendler’s resignation comes shortly after his nephew, Rabbi Aron Tendler, resigned under pressure as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Meanwhile, Tendler’s other nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was suspended this year by the board of his New York City-area synagogue as a result of longstanding allegations about alleged sexual misconduct.

Sholom Tendler, 61, says his departure is a matter only of his desire to start a new high school.

Sholom Tendler has been YULA’s rosh yeshiva, Hebrew for principal, for the last 26 years, including in 1987, when the school hired attorneys secretly to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior against Aron Tendler. The internal probe yielded inconclusive results, but Aron Tendler was moved from the girls school to the separate boys school.

“I was aware of that investigation,” Sholom Tendler told The Journal, adding that he recused himself from the situation because his relative was involved.

After news of the investigation came to light in recent months, YULA alums and parents expressed outrage that the school dealt with the matter privately. Some clamored for “accountability.” Sholom Tendler’s resignation, so soon after the disclosures, has inevitably invited speculation that his departure is, in effect, the school’s response to community pressure.

Not so, Sholom Tendler said.

“There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between [what happened with his nephews] and my decision to build this new school,” he said. “It’s unfortunate how unfounded rumors can blacken even the most beautiful of endeavors.”

Sholom Tendler also expressed sympathy for his nephews’ ordeals: “It’s very painful, and I’m supportive of them and their families in this terrible time of agony that they’re going through.”

Aron Tendler has declined interview requests; Mordechai Tendler has been more vocal, denying any wrongdoing.

YULA officials also emphasized that Sholom Tendler’s exit is voluntary.

“He helped create YULA,” said Rabbi Meyer May, the executive director of YULA’s boys division. “He could have stayed at YULA for his entire career.”

So why is Sholom Tendler leaving?

He replied that there is a shortage of yeshiva high schools in Los Angeles.

“Anybody will tell you there are not enough high school desks in Los Angeles. It’s a healthy sign, but a serious problem,” Sholom Tendler said.

His added that his new school will fill a niche for the more “ultra” side of the Orthodox community, while also stressing a serious academic curriculum.

Sholom Tendler is calling his new high school Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok — named for his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, a rebbe who inspired “a joy of learning,” as Tendler put it. He plans to open in September for about 10 to 15 ninth-graders. He said he is currently scouting for a location in the Pico-Robertson or La Brea area.

The school will provide both serious Torah study and strong secular academics.

“People who are observing the demographics in the Jewish community see that there are a growing number of people who are very serious about religious observance and at the same time want to live in the professional or business world, rather than the rabbinate. We want parents to have the opportunity to prepare their sons for either way of life,” he said.

Because of the labor involved in starting a school, Sholom Tendler also is stepping down from heading Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, where he has served as rabbi almost since its inception 13 years ago. He will stay on until the search committee finds a new rabbi. He said he expects to remain involved in the community, possibly as rabbi emeritus.

 

Tendler Resigns Under Cloud


Rabbi Aron Tendler has stepped down six months early from the pulpit of Shaarey Zedek, an Orthodox synagogue in Valley Village, because “it was no longer appropriate for Rabbi Tendler to continue,” shul officials said.

Tendler, 51, first announced his resignation in a January letter to congregants. At the time, he said he planned to remain leader of the synagogue until the High Holidays in September. But in a March 6 letter to congregants, shul president Jim Kapenstein and board chair Yacov Yellin wrote that Tendler would be stepping down immediately in light of “new matters which had recently been brought to our attention.”

The letter offers no specifics and shul officials declined to elaborate.

Separately, The Journal has learned that Tendler was once accused of inappropriate conduct at the Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YULA), an Orthodox high school in Pico-Roberston where he had worked from 1980 through June 1999, first as a teacher and then also as a principal. The 1987 investigation was inconclusive, but Tendler transferred from the girls school to the boys school, which is located on a separate campus.

Allegations against Rabbi Tendler surfaced on Jewish blogs — web logs — more than a year ago, citing anonymous sources who alleged the rabbi had behaved inappropriately toward women and girls. These rumors were alluded to briefly in articles published in two East Coast newspapers about problems facing the rabbi’s brother, Mordechai Tendler, who is currently defending himself against accusations of sexual misconduct.

Aron Tendler could not be reached for comment. In January, when he originally announced his departure, Tendler declined to be interviewed, referring The Journal to his resignation letter. This week, he did not return calls or e-mails.

In his Jan. 18 letter to the congregation, Tendler characterized his resignation, after 22 years of affiliation with the synagogue, as voluntary.

“This has been a decision I have contemplated for some time, and after great soul-searching and deliberation and with the full support of [my wife] Esther and the family, I decided that it was time to explore other opportunities and embark on a new aspect of my personal and professional life.”

Tendler wrote that he intended to stay in the community but wanted more time with his family and to pursue writing, teaching and other projects: “On occasion, I would like to sleep for more than four hours. Selfishly put, I want more time, and if not now, when?”

Tendler is regarded as a charismatic leader and an inspiring teacher and speaker — someone who could turn around troubled youths, leading them to more religious, more successful lives. In 1999, he received an educator’s award from the Milken Family Foundation.

This week’s letter to congregants notes that the stepped-up departure was agreed upon by Tendler, board chair Yellin and president Kapenstein just prior to Tendler’s recent trip to Israel: “At that time we agreed that current circumstances [which include new matters that had recently been brought to our attention] have caused us to conclude that it was no longer appropriate for Rabbi Tendler to continue with his previously announced rabbinic transition.”

The letter went out to congregants Monday.

“In short, the decision was made that, in the best interest of the shul, Rabbi Tendler’s resignation should be accelerated and Rabbi Tendler agreed it was prudent to do so,” the letter said.

At the same time, an unofficial source close to synagogue leadership said that no congregation member had made any first-hand allegations about improper conduct against the rabbi.

For their part, YULA officials declined to speak for attribution, but a source close to the administration recounted events surrounding the 1987 Tendler investigation in a prepared statement provided to The Journal.

While Tendler was at YULA “there was a charge regarding inappropriate behavior, not sexual relation[s],” the source said.

“Immediately upon receiving the report,” according to the statement, “the school administration requested that a nationally renowned investigatory lawyer come to Los Angeles and conduct a thorough investigation.” The results of the three-day investigation were “inconclusive.”

“It was unclear what happened and the version of events and the motives of the participants were contradictory. There was no corroborating evidence,” the statement said. “Immediately after the investigation, [the] school administration, to remove any doubt, and to be careful and mindful of the students’ well-being, permanently removed Rabbi Tendler from his position at the girls school, and Rabbi Tendler replaced those hours with more hours at the boys school. Rabbi Tendler had no further official contact with the girls school. After his transfer to the boys school there were no more reports of any kind concerning Rabbi Tendler’s behavior.”

The source added that the school has a zero-tolerance policy regarding misconduct toward students.

Students and parents were never informed of either the accusations or the investigation. Some alumni family members, not speaking for attribution, said they were outraged that the issue had been concealed.

YULA was founded in 1977 by Rabbi Marvin Hier. It’s affiliated with The Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, which Rabbi Hier also heads.

Jewish schools have emphasized a “zero-tolerance policy” against sexual abuse and other forms of misconduct since the widely publicized case of New York-area Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who went to prison after leaders in the Jewish community had, for years, brushed aside allegations of inappropriate behavior against him.

“We intend to uphold appropriate conduct not only in sexual abuse but other types of conduct,” said Rabbi Avrohom Union, the rabbinic administrator of the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC).

The RCC oversees the rabbinical court and matters such as kashrut, or Jewish dietary law. Union said it was against the organization’s policy to comment on whether the RCC was conducting an investigation. “We expect rabbis who are spiritual leaders in the community to behave not only in a manner appropriate of their position but also in a way becoming Orthodox Jews.”

Rabbi Aron Tendler comes from a prestigious rabbinic family. His grandfather was the illustrious Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the de facto heads of the Orthodox community in the 20th century until his death in 1986. His father, Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, is the rabbi of The Community Synagogue of Monsey, an ultra-Orthodox community in Rockland County, New York, and an expert on Jewish medical ethics.

The New York Post reported that Aron’s brother, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, was suspended by the leadership of his synagogue, Kehillat New Israel, which also is located in Rockland County. In December, a former congregant sued Mordechai Tendler, alleging that he claimed to be the “Messiah” and gave her “sex therapy” to help her find a husband during counseling, the Post wrote, citing court documents. Mordechai Tendler has denied any wrongdoing, challenges the validity of the suspension and has taken his case to religious court.

Acts of Faith


Rabbinical School Moves to UCLA Hillel

The Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR CA) has moved to its new home at the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center For Jewish Life at UCLA. Just five years since its establishment, the non-denominational graduate school for rabbinic, cantorial and chaplaincy studies outgrew its first location at Temple Beth Torah in West Los Angeles. Although Hillel is a center for Jewish students on UCLA campus and the Academy is a graduate program, both institutions are devoted to pluralism and diversity in Jewish life.

The Academy also attracted a number of respected congregational clergy from synagogues throughout the L.A. area. These include Temple Adat Shalom, Temple Beth Am, Beth Jacob Congregation, B’nai Horin-Children of Freedom, Congregation Mogen David, Kahal Joseph, Kehillat Israel, N’vay Shalom, Ohr HaTorah Congregation, Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Shomrei Torah Synagogue, Sinai Temple, Stephen S. Wise Temple and Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

With a current student body of 65 students, AJR leaders hope the move will increase applicants, faculty and supporters for AJR CA.

“It’s a huge move for this young school,” said Stan Levy, founding chair of AJR CA’s board of governors.

“It gives us tremendous credibility and visibility in the community that these two institutions with philosophies of making Judaism inclusive to all branches and denominations of Judaism have come together,” he said.

A Tendler Resignation

After 22 years as head rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village, Rabbi Aron Tendler resigned last weekend.

“It is with mixed emotions that I write you today to let you know of my decision that, after 22 wonderful years, I have decided to step down as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek,” Tendler wrote in a letter to the 400 member families of the Orthodox synagogue.

“This has been a decision I have contemplated for some time, and after great soul searching and deliberation and with the full support of Esther and the family, I decided that it was time to explore other opportunities and embark on a new aspect of my personal and professional life.”

Tendler wrote that he intends to stay in the community but wants to spend more time with his family and pursuing writing, teaching and other projects.

“On occasion, I would like to sleep for more than four hours. Selfishly put, I want more time, and if not now, when?” he wrote.

Tendler will stay on through the High Holidays and help the search committee in its quest to find a new rabbi.

“Rabbi Tendler turned innumerable lives around, and it will be a great loss for us,” Brad Turell, Shaarey Zedek’s communications director, told The Journal. “He’s very talented and we wish him the best.”

A Singing Sabbath

Temple Beth El of San Pedro will hold its first musician-in-residence weekend Feb. 10-12, featuring jazz artist Mark Bloom. Bloom, a pianist, stage and musical director, producer, composer and performing artist, combines jazz music and Jewish services and prayer. In addition to producing hundreds of scores for stage and screen, he has also composed, arranged and accompanied such Jewish performers as Rabbi Joe Black, Doug Cotler, Ron Eliran, Danny Maseng, Peri Smilow and Bat-ella.

During the Temple Beth El weekend of Shabbat Shira (the Sabbath of Song), Bloom will lead his Jazz Shabbat Service, which has been performed in more than 50 congregations nationwide. He will also teach a workshop on “Nefesh” Shabbat (The soul of Shabbat) and perform a jazz concert on Saturday night. He’ll present aspecial children’s concerts on Sunday morning, during Torah school.

This musician-in-residence weekend will culminate a year of celebration honoring Cantor Ilan Davidson’s 10th anniversary with Temple Beth El.

Cantor Davidson said that both jazz and prayer are fixed forms, “each take on their similarities, thereby making it an individual expression for each participant.”

“Prayer,” Rabbi Charles Briskin said, “is a combination of keva, the written word, and kavanah, the spiritual dimension of each individual. Mark’s Jazz Shaabbat Service combines aspects of the service with the music that melds with prayer.”

For more information about concert tickets (services are free), contact (310) 833-2467.

 

Netanyahu Resigns Over Gaza


Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation from the Israeli Cabinet may have come too late to scuttle Israel’s planned withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, but it seems almost certain to change the face of Israeli politics.

Leaving the Finance Ministry just 10 days before the pullout is scheduled to begin, Netanyahu threw down a challenge to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and set in motion a process that could split the ruling Likud Party.

Most pundits are convinced that the move will not derail the Gaza pullout, but it could considerably strengthen the Israeli right in its opposition to further withdrawals from the West Bank.

On the economic front, Netanyahu was widely praised as finance minister for initiating tough policies that led the economy from near collapse to robust growth. But analysts say his resignation is unlikely to lead to any major policy changes or have a lasting economic impact.

As for Netanyahu’s political future, leading pundits see in the move a huge gamble that could vault him into prime minister — or consign him to the far-right margin of Israeli politics.

At a dramatic news conference Sunday, Netanyahu gave just one reason for his resignation: The withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank will be catastrophic for Israel’s security, he said. Gaza will become a base for Palestinian terrorism and its port will be a conduit for terrorist weapons, while giving away territory with no quid pro quo from the Palestinians will encourage more terrorism, he argued.

“I cannot be party to this,” Netanyahu declared.

His forceful presentation begged a question: Why, if the policy is so dangerous, hadn’t he resigned earlier, when it might have been possible to change things?

Netanyahu replied that he didn’t believe stepping down earlier would have made any difference and that he first wanted to push through his economic reforms.

Most pundits were skeptical. Some suggested that Netanyahu was finding it increasingly difficult to explain to his staunchly right-wing family his continued service in a government whose central policy effort he so strongly opposes.

Others had more political explanations: Netanyahu’s own polls, they said, showed right-wing rebel Uzi Landau winning about 12 to 15 percent of the vote in a Likud leadership race. Those are votes Netanyahu needs if he is to have any chance of unseating Sharon.

His resignation, this theory goes, allows Netanyahu to take over from Landau as leader of the far-right in the Likud and — with those votes added to his own natural, more moderate constituency — win the party leadership.

Hanan Krystal, a veteran Israel political analyst, said Netanyahu believes the withdrawal plan will collapse under a wave of Palestinian terrorism. That will strengthen his national standing by proving his analysis correct.

Netanyahu then has a two-stage plan to regain the premiership, according to Krystal. First, he says, Netanyahu will capture the Likud by appealing to the far-right, though he knows that’s not a base to win a national election. Once installed as party leader, Krystal predicts, Netanyahu will move back to the political center, recalling concessions he made to the Palestinians as prime minister in the late 1990s.

But Netanyahu already has had some setbacks. Other cabinet ministers critical of the withdrawal plan failed to join his defection. Moreover, the mainstream press and the public largely were critical of his move. A poll conducted by Yediot Achronot, an Israeli daily, indicated that 47 percent of the public thought Netanyahu was motivated not by ideology but by personal and political interests.

A poll in Ma’ariv, another Israeli paper, indicated that 47 percent of Israelis would prefer Sharon at the head of Likud, compared to only 28 percent for Netanyahu. Among Likud members, who will choose the party leader, Sharon was well ahead, by a margin of 51 percent to 34 percent.

Though Netanyahu’s move generally was welcomed on the far-right, some right-wingers dismissed it as too little too late.

Some pundits argue that the importance of Netanyahu’s resignation is not Gaza but the rest of the West Bank. With Netanyahu in power or leading the opposition, right-wing settlers are convinced they’ll have a much better chance of holding on to dozens of West Bank settlements that may be targeted for evacuation in any subsequent round of withdrawals.

As for the Israeli economy, it doesn’t look as if Netanyahu’s departure will change much.

“The Israeli economy is strong. It will not be hurt by Netanyahu’s resignation. But it would be badly hurt if the disengagement were cancelled or postponed,” the Yediot Achronot economic analyst Sever Plotzker wrote, because its contribution to Israel’s economic recovery “is much greater than all Netanyahu’s reforms put together.”

Sharon aides make clear that the prime minister has no intention of stepping aside for Netanyahu. The showdown within the party will come within the next few months.

If Sharon wins that contest, Netanyahu could lead a sizable faction out of Likud and join up with the far-right. If Netanyahu wins, Sharon could take Likud moderates with him into an electoral alliance with the Labor Party and Shinui.

Either way, it’s difficult to see how the Likud can remain unified with both men in it. A lot will depend on how the Gaza withdrawal plays out.

More than Netanyahu deciding the outcome of the withdrawal, the outcome of the withdrawal could decide Netanyahu’s political future.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

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O’Connor Played Key Church-State Role


The modern-day legal guidelines on how religion fits into the American public square have largely been the creation of one woman: Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been fiercely divided for a quarter-century, with four justices opposing religious images in the public square and all federal money to religious organizations, and with four allowing for both.

At the center has been O’Connor, the first woman on the high court, who announced her resignation last week.

O’Connor’s view — allowing for religious funding but crafting strict rules for religious symbols — has tipped the balance in many of the church-state cases since she joined the court in 1981. It has been her analysis that has led to federal funding for school vouchers, but has limited public displays of religious symbols.

“She feels government money doesn’t make anyone feel unequal,” said Noah Feldman, a law professor of New York University. “Symbols have the capacity to make people feel excluded.”

Numerous interest groups, including a wide range of Jewish organizations, are expected to mobilize for and against President Bush’s choice to replace O’Connor, 75. The stakes are high, because a conservative jurist, which Bush has suggested he would nominate, likely would change the court’s stance on some of the issues the Jewish community cares about.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor, said O’Connor “single-handedly kept the wall of separation between church and state standing.”

“If she had not been on the court, we would have Christian prayer in the schools, Christian religious symbols displayed in public places,” he said.

On many issues, O’Connor split the difference between the court’s ideologues. Lawyers and activists say they often tailored briefs to court her vote, even including many of her previous opinions as background material, knowing she would be the swing justice on the issue.

“There was a joke among lawyers that you would just file briefs in her chambers and ignore the other eight justices,” said Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress.

O’Connor established an “endorsement test” on religious symbols in 1984, suggesting that the message a religious icon conveys is as important as the intent of those who crafted it.

“What is crucial is that a government practice not have the effect of communicating a message of government endorsement or disapproval of religion,” she wrote in Lynch v. Donnelly. “It is only practices having that effect, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that make religion relevant, in reality or public perception, to status in the political community.”

That analysis led to split decisions on the public display of nativity scenes. A cr?che by itself was seen as religious, but incorporating other religious and secular symbols changed the context and made the display more about a holiday season.

At the same time, O’Connor sided with conservatives and members of the Orthodox Jewish community, who argued in favor of permitting school vouchers and government funding for computer equipment to religious schools.

“The fact that she was a justice on the court while this evolution was going on meant it happened at a more moderate pace and more moderate tone than if you had a bloc of conservative justices,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs.

O’Connor also was a strong proponent of religious liberty, arguing that the government must show a compelling interest before infringing on religious exercise.

In one of her final opinions last month, O’Connor argued against the public display of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.

“It is true that many Americans find the commandments in accord with their personal belief,” she wrote in McCreary County v. ACLU. “But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.”

Nathan Lewin, an Orthodox attorney who argued before the Supreme Court on numerous occasions, said O’Connor was the observant Jewish community’s best friend on the combination of the establishment clause and issues tied to the free exercise of religion.

“She is very understanding and sympathetic of the needs of religious minorities and the ability to display those needs publicly,” Lewin said.

O’Connor’s appointment was historic. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, she became the first woman on the high court.

“She’s been a role model, a distinguished jurist and furthered the advancement of women through her decisions, personality and presence,” said Judge Norma Shapiro, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Court analysts say O’Connor made decisions based on fact, not ideology, and looked at each case on its merits. She also looked to ensure that the court did not move too quickly. She provided the swing vote in many of the civil rights reforms of recent years, including repealing sodomy laws and upholding the principle of limited affirmative action.

“She came in as a moderate conservative,” said Steven Green, former general counsel of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “She quickly fell under the influence of Justice Lewis Powell, who was the preeminent fence sitter and saw issues in shades of gray.”

When Powell retired in 1987, O’Connor became the court’s center.

O’Connor’s moderate positions won her many fans in the American Jewish community. While she did not go as far as many liberal Jewish groups wanted on church-state cases, she was seen as preventing a total erosion of that constitutional separation.

“There’s no question there is more left of the high wall of separation because O’Connor was on the court,” Stern said.

Orthodox leaders also cite her as the reason that vouchers and other programs for religious schools are available today.

O’Connor traveled to Israel in December 1994 with the National Association of Women Judges. In Jerusalem, she read a psalm at the women’s section of the Western Wall and was so moved at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, that she nearly collapsed, said Judge Shapiro, who was on the trip.

“She’s not anti-religion, but she respects the separation of church and state,” Shapiro said.

Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas and staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.

 

Jews Face Awkward Court Fight Position


The political brawl over the replacement for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced her resignation last week, could be the most bitter since Justice Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation battle.

And that free-for-all, which liberals and conservatives alike predict could be the “mother of all battles,” could leave many Jewish groups in an awkward position.

The tenor of the debate was evident within hours of O’Connor’s surprise announcement. Christian conservatives, calling in their chits from last year’s presidential election, demanded that President Bush fulfill his promise to nominate judges like his favorites, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. Just as sternly, groups associated with women’s rights, civil rights and the separation of church and state warned of pitched battles ahead if the president doesn’t make a “mainstream” choice.

Advocacy groups immediately hit the airwaves to sway public opinion. The nomination fight will almost certainly be the most expensive ever.

The awkwardness for Jewish groups is this: For a variety of reasons, many do not want to endorse or oppose nominees. But depending on Bush’s choice, many will face overwhelming pressure from their traditional coalition partners, and even from some of their own members, to take a direct stand.

The stakes in the upcoming battle are obvious. On many of the most contentious issues, and especially regarding the separation of church and state, the court has been divided 5-4, with O’Connor generally being the swing vote — the panel’s ideological center and the justice to whom lawyers routinely aim their arguments.

Few Jewish groups are eager to weigh in on specific candidates. That reticence has a number of causes, including the fear of risking precious political capital and access by challenging an administration in a fight with a low probability of success.

Umbrella Jewish groups are increasingly divided on key domestic issues, including church-state controversies, such as school vouchers and “charitable choice,” making it harder to arrive at consensus positions.

There is a sense among some that a president, elected by the people, is entitled to nominate judges and other appointees who reflect his views.

“If you want to change the judiciary, get more of your people elected,” said Marshall Breger, a law professor at Catholic University of America and a Jewish Republican.

In some Jewish groups, big donors are increasingly at odds with rank-and-file membership over many of the issues surrounding the judicial debate. Their control of the purse strings, not the views of the community, are what matters.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, which take a tough line on church-state separation, will submit questions to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but unless a nominee has a particularly egregious church-state record, they are unlikely to take pro or con positions.

Other groups — the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the Reform movement — won’t be so reticent. In the past few years, both have joined other liberal groups in fighting a number of Bush’s judicial nominees, and both are expected to take active positions in the fight over O’Connor’s replacement.

The NCJW is motivated primarily by its fear that a remade federal judiciary will curtail abortion rights. The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center focuses on a broader range of issues, including abortion rights, gay rights and church-state separation. Both will press hard to get other Jewish groups more directly involved, arguing that the stakes have now become too high to be timorous.

“Anybody who cares about church-state separation, reproductive rights and civil rights can’t afford to be on the sidelines if this shapes up the way I fear,” Pelavin warned.

“There is power in numbers,” said Phyllis Snyder, president of the NCJW. “I would hope the entire Jewish community will participate in the discussions that are about to begin.”

But while many will discuss, few will endorse or oppose.

“None of the other social agenda issues, other than church-state, will push most of the major Jewish groups into getting more directly involved,” said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn.

Jews may still strongly support abortion rights, but their organizations, he said, are unlikely to regard that position as a top priority in the Supreme Court fight.

Even on church-state issues, the threshold for Jewish opposition is likely to be very high.

“For better or worse, our community sees church-state as a direct threat, and the feeling of threat has been growing,” said an official with a Jewish group that spurns endorsements. “But a nominee’s record would have to be very bad on those issues to abandon the principle of addressing only the issues, not the individuals. Still, it could happen, and there will be a lot of pressure on us to get us more directly involved.”

Most Jewish leaders are hoping for a relatively centrist nominee who will not trigger an all-out Senate battle, relieving them of the pressure to jump into the fray. But with religious right groups mounting an all-out campaign demanding a hard-right nominee, few expect that to happen.

 

Is Bibi Set to Challenge Sharon?


Everyone in the Israeli political establishment knows it’s only a matter of time before Benjamin Netanyahu challenges Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for leadership of the Likud Party and the country.

But speculation is now rife that the challenge could come sooner than expected.

Though Netanyahu denies rumors that he intends to resign soon as finance minister to protest Israel’s upcoming Gaza Strip withdrawal, he has stepped up his criticism of the plan, and some pundits are saying the former prime minister is preparing the ground for a leadership bid in the next few months.

The resignation rumors were triggered by Netanyahu’s determination to push through major economic reforms ahead of the withdrawal, scheduled to begin Aug. 15.

Netanyahu’s denials haven’t dampened the rumors. The speculation is that as soon as the reforms are passed, Netanyahu will resign and devote himself full time to challenging for the party leadership.

He will be able to argue that he left the Treasury only after accomplishing what he set out to do, and that his resignation was over a matter of principle, pundits say.

The looming Likud leadership struggle has exacerbated tensions between Netanyahu and Sharon, as well as between Netanyahu and other leadership hopefuls, including Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The disquiet at the top comes as the Likud is under fire for alleged corruption, with even Sharon and his sons under suspicion. Netanyahu, the pundits say, may feel that the next few months could be the best time for him to make his bid.

In early June, Netanyahu announced that he would vote against the withdrawal plan when it comes to the Cabinet for final approval. He cited recent comments by the Israel Defense Forces’ outgoing chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, that the pullout likely will be followed by more and worse Palestinian terror.

“It will be interpreted by the Palestinians as Israel fleeing in the face of terror. Their conclusion will be that terror works, and that will encourage more terror,” Netanyahu declared.

Comments by influential figures like Netanyahu and Ya’alon seem to be having an effect on public opinion, as surveys taken in recent weeks show a dramatic fall in support for the withdrawal.

The latest poll, published Friday in Yediot Achronot, showed 53 percent in favor and 38 percent against the plan, compared to 69 percent for and 25 percent opposed in February. That trend could encourage Netanyahu to make his leadership bid.

According to Ma’ariv political analyst Ben Caspit, Netanyahu and his close confidants discussed the resignation scenario a few months ago. No decision was taken at the time, but Netanyahu’s recent conduct has fueled speculation that he intends to step down soon.

The clue for political observers, including some of Sharon’s top advisers, was Netanyahu’s insistence that separate pieces of legislation on banking and income tax reform, which normally would require a considerable amount of time, be passed in the next two months, and that next years’ budget be passed in the Cabinet by the end of July, a month earlier than usual.

“Many political players have warned Sharon recently that Netanyahu is preparing a political ambush and does not intend to stay in the government much longer,” Caspit writes.

Given Sharon’s inherent distrust of Netanyahu’s motives, relations between the two have been strained for months. An attempt at reconciliation in March at Sharon’s ranch failed.

Netanyahu’s relations with other prospective Likud leaders — especially Olmert, who often speaks for Sharon — aren’t good either. During a public clash in mid-May over the future of public broadcasting in Israel, Olmert accused Netanyahu of deliberately manipulating budget figures and said he was unfit to be prime minister.

Netanyahu aides retorted that Olmert had grown desperate because he was “so unpopular in the Likud that his political career is probably over.”

The subtext was plain: Netanyahu, in the view of Sharon and Olmert, is a dangerous rival who might very soon make a leadership move at their expense.

If Sharon, 76, were to retire — pushed, say, by the failure of his withdrawal plan — Netanyahu seems to be well ahead of his potential rivals in the race to inherit the Likud. A recent Ma’ariv poll on possible successors to Sharon shows Netanyahu getting 47 percent support among Likud Party members, with Mofaz a distant second at 33 percent, and both Olmert and Shalom trailing far behind.

When it comes to running against Sharon himself, Netanyahu’s polls show him trailing by 10 percent to 12 percent, a gap he thinks can be closed in a good campaign, especially if there is trouble with the withdrawal or in its immediate aftermath.

Growing public criticism of alleged corruption in the Likud also could accelerate Netanyahu’s plans. In mid-May, Ma’ariv editor Amnon Dankner and senior analyst Dan Margalit launched a campaign against corruption in public life, especially in the Likud.

In a front-page editorial titled, “You Have Gone Too Far,” they wrote, “Enough. How much longer will we feel deeply ashamed of the people we have elected, how much longer will we harbor feelings of nausea and disgust at what the papers are reporting, scandal after scandal? How much longer will we rub our eyes and not believe what we are seeing?”

The shame and disgust referred mainly to Likud Cabinet ministers who gave dozens of jobs in their ministries to members of the Likud Central Committee, the body that chooses the party’s candidates for Knesset.

Netanyahu has emerged from the new campaign unscathed. Sharon has not, both because he is party leader and because of questions over his son Omri’s role in the Central Committee and his funding of Sharon’s 1999 campaign for Likud leader. Netanyahu may feel that this is another element he can exploit against Sharon if he moves quickly.

Most political observers are predicting that national elections will be held in the first half of 2006, ahead of schedule.

Whether the Gaza withdrawal produces more stability or more terrorism probably will determine whether it’s Sharon or Netanyahu heading the Likud in that ballot.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Nation & World Briefs


Sharansky Quits Cabinet

Forever the rebel with a cause, Soviet-refusenik-turned-democracy-proponent Natan Sharansky has left the Israeli government rather than take part in the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Sharansky tendered his resignation as Diaspora affairs minister Monday, accusing the Sharon government of failing to demand Palestinian reform as a prerequisite to peace moves.

“As you know, I have opposed the disengagement plan from the beginning, on the grounds that I believe any concessions in the peace process must be linked to democratic reforms within Palestinian society,” Sharansky wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “I no longer feel that I can faithfully serve in a government whose central policy — indeed, sole raison d’etre — has become one to which I am so adamantly opposed.”

Sharon, who lost two right-wing coalition partners and a Cabinet member from his own Likud Party last year over the plan to withdraw from Gaza and the northern West Bank this summer, took Sharansky’s walkout in stride. It was not immediately clear who would inherit the Diaspora affairs portfolio.

Some speculated that Sharansky — who is now outside the government because he does not hold a Knesset seat — will tour to promote his recent bestseller, “The Case for Democracy.”

In any case, Sharansky pledged in his letter, “I will continue my lifelong efforts to contribute to the unity and strength of the Jewish people both in Israel and in the Diaspora.”

Arrest Made in AIPAC Scandal

A Pentagon aide was arrested on suspicion of passing classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Larry Franklin turned himself in to the FBI on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office told JTA, and will answer charges that he passed information to two senior AIPAC staffers during a June 2003 lunch in Virginia. The staffers — AIPAC’s policy director, Steve Rosen, and Iran specialist Keith Weissman — were fired last month. AIPAC declined immediate comment on Franklin’s arrest. According to the federal complaint, the information Franklin allegedly passed was classified top-secret and related to potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. The complaint goes on to say Franklin told the AIPAC staffers, who aren’t named in the complaint, that the information was “highly classified” and asked them not to use it.

New Chair for Conference

Harold Tanner was elected chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The past president of the American Jewish Committee was unanimously confirmed Tuesday afternoon at a meeting of the umbrella organization for 52 U.S. Jewish groups. Since the nominating committee announced its choice of Tanner on April 7, the heads of the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League questioned the nominating process, suggesting Tanner was a last-minute candidate who had not been vetted properly. Tanner will assume his duties on June 1. At Tuesday’s meeting, only Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, raised a point of procedure, suggesting that future candidates provide a brief presentation to the group so that members know their positions. After Tanner’s nomination, Klein complained that he knew nothing about the candidate.

Palestinian loses U.S. Citizenship

A U.S. court stripped a Palestinian man of his citizenship for not reporting $6.4 million in cash withdrawals and for illegally sending the money abroad. Federal authorities declined to say where Hasan Ali Ayesh sent the money. Ayesh, who owned a convenience store in Memphis, immigrated to the United States in 1984 and became a citizen in 2002.

Iran Lashes Out

Iran said Israel’s assumed nuclear arsenal endangers world peace. Addressing a United Nations conference on the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Tuesday that Israel “has endangered regional and global peace and security” because it has nonconventional weapons, believed to include atomic warheads. Iran, which signed the treaty, has been censured by the United States for its pursuit of nuclear technology that can be used to make weapons. Israel, which has never confirmed having a nuclear arsenal, is not a signatory to the treaty and thus is not attending the U.N. conference. “Israel has continually rejected calls by the international community to accede to the NPT,” Kharrazi said in his speech.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Here and Gone


 

After less than 10 months on the job, the president of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute has announced plans to step down, a development that surprised board members and raised questions about the health and future of the Jewish-owned camp, retreat and conference center.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret insisted his departure was voluntary and amicable. He said he enjoyed his time at Brandeis but wanted to move on to a more spiritually fulfilling job.

“What I found over the past year is that I missed the congregational life and lifestyle immensely,” said Jeret, 40, who will leave Brandeis July 31. “There is a spiritual intimacy between a rabbi and congregation community around life-cycle events and around long-term engagement.”

Brandeis board members say that resignation, though regrettable, would have no long-term negative impact. To take over his duties, the board has tapped Gary Brennglass, a former board chair who has a 35-year association with Brandeis. For now, the board has put off a search for a new president.

Some outside observers worry that instability at the top could make it harder to recruit a talented new leader in the future. Jeret’s exit represents the second time in less than two years that a Brandeis president has departed.

“To the outside world, it doesn’t appear that Brandeis has its act together,” said Jay Sanderson, chief executive of the Jewish Television Network and a former Brandeis director of development and marketing in the late 1980s.

Brandeis-Bardin Institute, which owns 3,000 acres in the Santa Susana Mountains — the largest piece of land owned by a Jewish institution outside of Israel — offers camping and other programs in a rural setting of rolling hills that rise on either side of a sun-baked valley. This year’s rains have made the scenery especially picturesque, spawning a rushing creek from the rocky wash that runs through the property’s center.

Jews of multiple generations remember Brandeis as the place they learned how to folk dance or how to swim, or where they bonded with other teenagers at Camp Alonim. Or where, as adults, they attended spiritually meaningful retreats.

But the peaceful, expansive setting has sometimes belied a troubled institution. Some critics say simply that Brandeis has underperformed, recently failing to reach its potential as a center of Jewish life and culture in Southern California.

Board members insist that all is well and that Jeret’s brief leadership has contributed to a bright outlook.

Brandeis has raised $3 million over the past year for a new dining commons at Camp Alonim; recruited new, young blood to the board, and added four specialty camps — basketball, soccer, arts and wilderness — that will debut this summer, Jeret said.

In the wake of such progress, Jeret’s decision came as a particular surprise to board members, Brandeis Chair Linda Volpert Gross said. Just last month, Volpert Gross said, she threw a surprise birthday party for Jeret at her Encino home that attracted most directors.

“I didn’t wish for [Jeret’s departure], but this institute has been around since 1948 and has had a lot of leaders,” said Volpert Gross, a Harvard MBA. Through all the changes in leadership, “Camp Alonim, BCI [Brandeis Collegiate Institute] and the annual dinner have gone on.'”

Like Volpert Gross, Brandeis executive board member Nathan Hochman said he felt disappointed that Jeret had decided to move on. Hochman headed the search committee that selected the rabbi.

This search process cost at least $50,000, according to some sources, although Hochman declined to confirm that amount. New York-based DRG Inc., an executive search firm for nonprofits, handled the nationwide headhunt.

Hochman insisted that Jeret had been the best choice. “We believe and still believe that Rabbi Jeret has tremendous potential as a leader in 21st century Jewish America,” Hochman said. “As it turns out, we believe he will emerge as that leader by being head of a congregation with a very devoted [local] community, as opposed to being head of an institute like Brandeis-Bardin that has a national congregation.”

Jeret said he had held Brandeis in the highest regard, but longed for congregational life. A former rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach, Fla., Jeret said he had accepted a position at Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes, which had offered him the same job one year ago.

Going forward, board member Hochman said, Brandeis leaders will focus on three areas: the introduction of Camp Alonim’s specialty camps, expanding BCI and the family weekend programs. He said the core aspects of Brandeis are healthier than ever.

Nearly to a person, board members interviewed spoke of a financially healthy, untroubled Brandeis and good times ahead. No one has documentation to demonstrate otherwise.

One board member, however, speaking not for attribution, allowed that Brandeis, like many Jewish organizations, faces difficult times. He speculated that the economic challenges weighed heavily on Jeret.

A former board member with inside knowledge said she thinks Brandeis has a deficit of at least $500,000 and has drawn down $1 million to $2 million from a line of credit.

Brennglass, the new executive director, declined to discuss the institute’s reputed debt, endowment or other financial data. He noted that Brandeis owns 3,000 acres just 45 minutes outside Los Angeles, intimating that it has substantial assets.

“Brandeis will continue to do the great work it has done for 50 years,” Brennglass said.

Jeret’s predecessor said recent developments are a matter of concern.

“I don’t know what the situation is there, but what is needed by the board is an honest assessment of how Brandeis is perceived in the community, what it’s real situation is and how it can move ahead,” Rabbi Lee T. Bycel said. He left the top job at Brandeis in August 2003, after three years, when the board decided not to renew his contract.

Bycel said he hopes for the best: “The community desperately needs a successful Brandeis-Bardin.”

 

Survivors Sue Claims Commission


Survivors are suing the commission on Nazi-era insurance claims, a commissioner has called for the resignation of its chief and Jewish officials handling the claims acknowledge serious problems.

But they also say there probably isn’t a better way to dole out the claims.

The anger and frustration some lawmakers and survivors feel toward the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims peaked last week when several survivors filed suit, claiming the organization was delaying payments.

California’s insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, a member of the commission, later joined the suit and called for the resignation of the commission’s chairman, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Survivors Jack Brauns, Manny Steinberg and Si Frumkin, all Los Angeles-area residents, charged that the ICHEIC improperly delayed or denied payments totaling more than $1 billion on policies held by the survivors or heirs of those who perished under Nazi rule.

"This is a commission that is supposed to help survivors," said William Shernoff, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. "But from what we see, they are helping the insurance companies more than survivors."

They also are seeking Eagleburger’s resignation, saying his salary — which they estimate at over $300,000 — is paid for by the insurance companies. The plaintiffs believe Eagleburger is working in the insurance companies’ interests.

"This is blood money stolen from survivors," said Frumkin, chair of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jewry.

For his part, Eagleburger says he has no intention of resigning. His aide, Anais Haase, said that time and resources planned for investigating claims would be diverted to defending against the lawsuit if the survivors persist in fighting them.

"We don’t believe we are mistreating survivors or their heirs," Haase said. "We offer the only option available at no cost to survivors and their heirs."

The plaintiffs are asking the ICHEIC to place more pressure on Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali to divulge more unpaid life insurance policies. The ICHEIC has published 9,000 names of Generali policyholders, but the claimants suggest the list could exceed 100,000 policies.

Shernoff said Holocaust survivors and their heirs should also maintain the right to use litigation to gain money owed them, rather than working through the ICHEIC.

The suit was filed under California’s Unfair Business Practices statute, but it’s unclear whether the ICHEIC can legally be defined as a business.

A Generali official in New York called the lawsuit baseless and misleading, saying that thousands of claimants "have and will continue to be paid and offered generous amounts through ICHEIC, which is supported by leading Jewish Holocaust restitution organizations and the State of Israel."

Stuart Eizenstat, a special representative for Holocaust issues in the Clinton administration, said the lawsuits could wreck the ICHEIC system if the suit nullifies the agreements the commission has reached with the insurance agencies.

"It continues to cast a cloud of debate over the exercise," he said. "It diverts energy and attention from filling claims."

Eizenstat said he appreciates that the suit is an expression of frustration over the slow process of paying claims. But he and others contend that the insurance companies, not the ICHEIC, have made the process more difficult by withholding names.

Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, agreed.

"There is no bad faith here," he said of the ICHEIC. "There is bad information after 50 years."

Singer acknowledged that the organization has had trouble completing its mission.

"ICHEIC has a mammoth task, and it’s bigger than we ever thought it was going to be," Singer said. "We couldn’t have known it at the time."

He suggested an ombudsman might be able to bridge the gap between the ICHEIC and the Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC, founded in 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has had some problems in the past two years. Eagleburger threatened to resign last year after difficulty securing cooperation from German insurance companies.

Congressional representatives and others also have chastised Eagleburger and the commission for its slow progress, especially considering the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC also has been criticized for spending $56 million in five years, and Eizenstat agreed that the organization cannot be considered a model of efficiency.

But both Eizenstat and Singer defended Eagleburger.

"Larry has earned every nickel and then some," Eizenstat said. "He’s had to undergo hell to bring the parties together."

California Gov. Gray Davis issued a statement Saturday accusing the ICHEIC of "not meeting its mission.

"The system does not work, claims are not being investigated and survivors are not being paid,” Davis said in the statement.

Edwin Black and Tom Tugend contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

Labor Sinks to New Low as Mitzna Quits


Amram Mitzna’s decision to abdicate the leadership of the Labor Party after just months on the job seems to signal the lowest ebb for a party that dominated Israeli life for decades. But it might just herald a dramatic realignment of Israel’s political map.

After months of rebellion by party officials, who never grew accustomed to his leadership style, Mitzna threw the Israeli political establishment into turmoil by announcing his resignation May 4. The announcement opened what could be yet another a bitter battle for the leadership of Labor, which has been rudderless since party leader Ehud Barak retired after losing the premiership to Ariel Sharon in February 2001.

It also raised the possibility that centrist Labor politicians, who chafed at Mitzna’s decision not to join a national unity government after Sharon was reelected by a landslide in January, might take the party back into Sharon’s embrace.

If that happens, the more dovish wings of the party could split, leaving Labor for an alliance that former Labor legislator Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, head of the left-wing Meretz Party, have been talking about building for months. Beilin even said Mitzna could lead the alliance.

Beilin pointed out that if just six other Labor members of Knesset joined Mitzna, the leftist group would have 13 Knesset members to Labor’s 12 and would constitute the largest opposition faction in the Knesset. Ironically, in that case, Mitzna no longer would be Labor’s leader, but he would still be leader of the opposition.

Such a move could lead to a major realignment of political forces in Israel — and it is quite conceivable if the new Labor leadership decides to join Sharon’s government. First, though, Labor will have some hard choices to make about its leadership and direction.

Mitzna was hailed as a potential savior when at age 57, he burst onto the national political stage eight months ago after serving as mayor of Haifa for a decade. The Palestinian intifada was at its height and Labor, which had been the junior partner in Sharon’s unity government until leaving on a budgetary pretext, was struggling.

Mitzna promised to discard Sharon’s policies, immediately sit down with any Palestinian leaders and, if all else failed, unilaterally withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip within a year.

Many Israelis hoped that Mitzna, soft-spoken and highly principled, would give Labor a new sense of purpose and help the country address its most pressing problems. However, his resignation dashed those hopes and left the party worse off than at any time in its long and checkered history.

Some pundits are predicting the demise of the once-dominant, 70-year-old party. Others foresee a split in the ranks. Even if none of that happens, Labor, which has fallen to just 19 seats in the 120-member Knesset, faces a long and difficult process of rehabilitation.

The circumstances and manner of Mitzna’s resignation made an already tough situation infinitely worse. In his resignation speech, he claimed leading figures in the party had never accepted his leadership, hadn’t given him a moment’s grace and had done all they could to undermine him.

"I am ashamed of the fact that since my election, before and after the elections to the Knesset, many in the party leadership focused on me and the struggle against me rather than on the struggle for peace and justice," he declared.

Mitzna said he had been confronted by a group of manipulative Machiavellians, who put personal ambition above the general good.

"I regret this," he said. "But I do not regret the fact that I am cut from different cloth."

Although he didn’t mention names, Mitzna’s barbs were aimed, first and foremost, at the man he replaced as party leader, former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

Mitzna’s main problem as leader was that — although he had been elected by an overwhelming majority of the party membership — Ben-Eliezer’s people still controlled Labor’s decision-making institutions. Time and again, Ben-Eliezer used this to embarrass and humiliate the politically inexperienced Mitzna.

Just two weeks after Sharon’s new government was sworn in in late February and Mitzna had become opposition leader, Ben-Eliezer issued a public challenge: He insisted that a peace plan he had drafted, which was different from Mitzna’s, be adopted as party policy.

Only 126 of the 2,400 Central Committee members turned up for the debate, and though Mitzna pleaded that no vote be taken, Ben-Eliezer was adamant. By a vote of 78-46, with two abstentions, the Ben-Eliezer plan became Labor Party policy, a major slap in the face to the new party leader. The final straw came two and half months later, when Mitzna, after a string of similar defeats, failed to get his way on candidates for the Haifa municipal election in June.

At his news conference, Mitzna said he was prepared to fight for his dovish views, but not to fight daily to prove his legitimacy as party leader.

The press was deeply divided over Mitzna’s decision to resign. Some argued that he was too good for his political colleagues; others said that he had feet of clay.

"Maybe Mitzna failed. Maybe he is not the stuff of which leaders are made," Yediot Achronot’s Sima Kadmon wrote. "True, he has little political savvy. And you would need more than the fingers of two hands to count his mistakes. But even if all that is true, only a pathetic party like Labor could reject a man of such quality."

But Doron Rosenblum of Ha’aretz argued that "like others on the Israeli left," Mitzna was too finicky and fragile.

"He is touchy, spoiled and refined," Rosenblum wrote. "A weakling and a crybaby. Suited only to aesthetically pleasing situations. He deserves better. And if not he walks out."

It’s difficult to gauge how much Mitzna’s departure will cost Labor in terms of public support. A weekend public opinion poll, however, gives some indication: 60 percent of the those polled thought Mitzna most suited to lead Labor, followed by Ben-Eliezer with a mere 10 percent.

Labor voters liked Mitzna’s promise of cleaner politics, and his unmitigated condemnation of his party peers will repel many potential supporters. To steady the ship, most Labor leaders are now talking about appointing a temporary party leader, rather than going straight into another strength-sapping leadership race.

The lone candidate for interim leader is veteran Shimon Peres, whose task would be to put things back on an even keel and smooth the way for a leadership race in about a year’s time. There also is talk of a "collective leadership" working in unison around Peres. Labor’s secretary-general, Ophir Pines, said sadly that maybe now, after the shock of Mitzna’s resignation, the others "will get their act together."

Many names are being bandied about as prospective candidates to eventually take over as party leader, among them former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, former ministers Matan Vilnai and Ben-Eliezer and perhaps even Barak. A lot will depend on when the race takes place and whether Peres is installed first as temporary leader.

The key question is whether Sharon will be able to attract the new, temporary leadership to join his coalition. Peres, Ben-Eliezer and Barak are known to be in favor.

Mitzna, too, had said recently that he would consider joining Sharon’s government if it accepted the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which calls for an end to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, after being rebuffed by Mitzna for months, Sharon was in no hurry to embrace him when Mitzna’s hold on Labor clearly was becoming precarious.

If Mitzna’s successors do lead Labor back into government — and if Mitzna in turn leads a sizable contingent out of Labor — the consequences for the Israeli political spectrum could be far-reaching.