U.S. academics should boycott Israeli universities


According to an announcement released Dec. 16, the American Studies Association (ASA), a group of some 5,000 university professors, has endorsed its national council’s call for a boycott of Israeli universities.

Two-thirds of the 1,252 members who voted approved the boycott, according to the release, and a third of the membership’s eligible voters participated.

The membership-wide canvass was unprecedented and was undertaken in part at the behest of boycott opponents, who said at a session during the ASA annual conference in Washington, D.C., last month that the matter was too sensitive to leave up to the 20-member national council, which unanimously endorsed the boycott.

The resolution is not binding on members and targets institutions, not individuals.

In its announcement, the ASA said it would invite Israeli and Palestinian academics to its 2014 national meeting in Los Angeles. ASA describes itself as “devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” — JTA


The American Studies Association (ASA) Resolution supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions has been grossly mischaracterized as an assault on academic freedom. On the contrary, it is one of the most significant affirmative acts any scholarly organization has proposed in defense of academic freedom since the anti-apartheid movement. 

Palestinian students and faculty living under occupation do not enjoy academic freedom, let alone the full range of basic human rights. Even the critics of the resolution recognize this fact and are quick to proclaim their concern over Israel’s occupation and the plight of Palestinians. However, they argue that the boycott would, in turn, punish Israeli academics unfairly. But the truth is, Israeli scholars also suffer under the current status quo. They are denied genuine collaborative relationships with intellectuals in the Occupied Territories and Gaza, and Israeli intellectuals critical of the regime’s policies — most famously, historian Ilan Pappe — have been harassed, censored and, in some cases, forced into exile. 

[David N. Myers: U.S. academics should not boycott Israeli universities]

Much like the academic boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era, the point of the resolution is to pressure academic institutions and the state, complicit in the policies of occupation, dispossession and segregation, to comply with international law and make real academic freedom possible. The lessons from South Africa are very clear: Boycott forced complacent academics to rethink their personal and institutional relationship to apartheid, to talk to each other across the color line and to better understand how their own work relates to social justice. If adopted, the ASA Resolution will create the conditions for genuine intellectual exchange, free of the state’s political imperative to legitimize the occupation, and grounded in a politics of inclusion, justice and equality.


Robin D.G. Kelley is the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA.

UC Irvine student divestment vote rejected by school officials


A resolution passed by the UC Irvine undergraduate student council calling on the university to divest from companies that “profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine” has been rejected by the UCI administration.

At the same time, leaders of the Orange County Jewish community denounced “the nonbinding resolution, drafted and introduced with no forewarning by a small group of students with a personal agenda and deliberated in the absence of students with opposing views.”

The Nov. 13 student council resolution, titled “Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid” and passed unanimously 16 to 0, asked the UCI administration, and the UC system as a whole, to divest specifically from Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon and other companies.

[Related: UC-Irvine student senate approves non-binding divestment resolution on Israel]

In a news release, the student council described the resolution, introduced by council members Sabreen Shalabi and Shadi Jafari, as “a historic move that could initiate a domino effect across American campuses.”

In response, the UCI administration released a statement on Nov. 14 on the resolution stating that “such divestment is not the policy of this campus, nor is it the policy of the University of California. The UC Board of Regents‘ policy requires this action only when the U.S. government deems it necessary. No such declaration has been made regarding Israel.”

Shalom C. Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation & Family Service of Orange County, lauded the strong ties between UCI and Israeli universities and promised that this work “will not be undermined by divisive efforts…that are contrary to the interests of students.”

In past years, the UCI campus has been the scene of numerous incidents between Muslim and Jewish students, with some Jewish groups criticizing the administration for its failure to take remedial action.

However, earlier this year, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake led a faculty delegation to Israel, which signed cooperation agreements with Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, Technion and Tel Aviv University.

A UN resolution against hypocrisy


Writing a column protesting the hypocrisy of the United Nations is not really fair. It’s like a turkey shoot. The evidence is so overwhelming that the U.N. is viciously biased against Israel — and ridiculously biased in favor of the Palestinians — that you’re tempted to just move on to a less depressing subject.

But the consequences of these biases are real. Last month, for example, I was reminded at a Jewish World Watch (JWW) event of the genocidal horrors that continue to befall so many millions of Africans, and then, just a few weeks later, I watched the U.N. be all-consumed with yet another resolution against Israel.

According to JWW, the first genocide of the 21st century, in Sudan’s Darfur region, has killed up to 400,000 people, and 3 million more have been displaced. If you think that’s bad, since 1998, 5.4 million civilians in Congo have been killed by war-related violence, hunger and disease, and 45,000 more continue to die every month. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped, and 2 million people have been displaced.

Have you seen any emergency sessions and U.N. Security Council resolutions defending these victims and condemning these atrocities? Of course not.

Meanwhile, if you’re a Palestinian whose home has been displaced by a Jew in East Jerusalem — with the legal backing of the Israeli Supreme Court, no less — you can expect an outpouring of international support with a ready-made stage for weekly protests and top-level U.N. attention.

My point here is not to overplay or underplay the rights of any group, but to highlight hypocrisy — criminally negligent hypocrisy from an international organization whose charter obligates it to defend the rights and dignity of all human beings.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, from 2009-2010, the U.N. General Assembly passed 22 resolutions that were “one-sided or blatantly anti-Israel,” and of their 10 emergency sessions, six were about Israel. No emergency sessions were held on the Rwandan genocide, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia or the two decades of atrocities in Sudan. That’s right, none.

And if you want to rail against the “Palestinian occupation,” don’t go to Tibet, where, according to various estimates, as many as 1.2 million Tibetans have died due to the Chinese occupation. Now, when’s the last time the U.N. took a break from Israel bashing to pass a resolution condemning the “Tibetan occupation”? How about never?

Like I said, a turkey shoot.

For my money, though, the most flagrant demonstration of U.N. hypocrisy is how they have ignored the plight of … Palestinians. Yes, Palestinians.

I’m talking about the millions of Palestinians who live in countries that have nothing to do with Jews or Israel. A country like, say, Lebanon.

This is what Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian refugee who fled Jordan and was granted asylum in the U.K., wrote last year in The Jerusalem Post:

“Lebanon, a country with some of the most hostile forces to Israel, has been holing up Palestinians inside camps for almost 30 years. Those camps do not have any foundations of livelihood or even sanitation.”

Zahran writes that the “Lebanon atrocities toward the Palestinians have been tolerated by the international community, not only by the media,” and that “many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians.”

When’s the last time we heard of a Goldstone Report or a U.N. resolution in support of the poor, oppressed Palestinians who live in Arab lands? That’s right, never.

The U.N. is the Picasso of hypocrisy. For that honor, I’d love to see a brave member introduce at their next general session a Resolution Against Hypocrisy, complete with an independent watchdog group that would report on violations like misplaced priorities, double standards, disproportionate criticism and just plain discrimination.

If they have time, they could also report on the slew of NGOs that claim to fight for Palestinian rights, but who completely ignore the millions of oppressed Palestinians who don’t live inside or next to Israel.

This would be one busy watchdog group, especially if they report on the mind-bending hypocrisy of liberal groups pushing for boycotts against Israel while genocidal murderers and oppressors are let off the hook.

Of course, it’ll take a while to push through this resolution. But for the women and little girls being raped and murdered every day in the dark corners of Africa, or the millions of Arabs across the Middle East whose decades-long suffering has nothing to do with Jews or Israel, or the many millions of other oppressed people around the globe whose daily torture is worlds away from the glamorous press lounge at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, it won’t be a moment too soon.

Maybe President Obama can introduce the resolution on his next trip to Darfur, with a rape victim standing next to him.

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”suissa@olam.org” title=”suissa@olam.org”} or davidsuissa.com.

Abbas rejects U.S. request to withdraw UN settlement resolution


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to turn down Washington’s request to withdraw a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Israel halt settlement expansion on occupied land.

Several officials close to Abbas on Friday predicted this would be the consensus of a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive later in the day to discuss President Barack Obama’s telephone call with Abbas on Thursday.

Washington has made it clear that it will veto the resolution should it come to a vote, and has implored the Palestinian Authority and other Arab nations to withdraw the proposal, but to no avail.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

U.S. vetoes U.N. resolution


Boston-area towns back pro-Palestinian resolutions


Voters in three Boston-area districts backed a nonbinding resolution supporting Palestinian rights in Israel.

The ballot question passed with 56.6 percent in favor in Tuesday’s election. Tallies were incomplete in two additional state legislative districts within Boston where the initiative appeared on the ballot.

The referendum, sponsored by a group called Massachusetts Residents for International Human Rights, an offshoot of the Somerville Divestment Project, asked voters if the state representative from their district should be instructed to vote in favor a no-binding resolution calling on the U.S. government “to support the right of all people, including non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel, to live free from laws that give more rights to people of one religion than another.”

A question with the same text as Tuesday’s nonbinding resolution was passed in the Boston suburbs of Somerville and Cambridge in 2008.

Two years earlier, Somerville had voted against questions asking whether Palestinian refugees had the right to “return to their land of origin” and whether Massachusetts should divest its holdings in State of Israel Bonds.

Angeleno pushes effort on recognizing conversions


When Lorin Fife converted to Judaism some 30 years ago, his experience with the Orthodox rabbis who presided over his year of study and conversion ceremony was one of warmth and acceptance.

Rabbi Shmuel Katz, who spent decades as the head of Los Angeles’ Orthodox bet din (rabbinic judicial panel), completed the ritual with a simple message. “Basically, my charge was to be the best Jew I could be,” Fife said.

Fife has done that.

The retired general counsel to SunAmerica, Fife currently chairs the Israel-Tel Aviv Partnership for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and co-chairs The Federation’s Israel and Overseas Pillar.

He and his wife, Linda, who serves as co-chair of LimmudLA, lived in Israel for three years, and the elder of their two sons, Yoni, 29, was born there. Yoni went back to Israel to serve in the Israel Defense Forces at the height of the Second Intifada.

And it was Fife who last week proposed that the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), where he sits on the board of governors, pass a resolution urging the Israeli government to bring the conversion process back to one that is as accepting and moderate as his own.

Representing The Los Angeles Federation at the JAFI meeting, Fife was moved to action by a recent escalation in Israel’s ongoing conversion crisis. The implications are societal, as well as personal, for Fife, a past president of the Conservative Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

Last May, Israeli rabbis retroactively annulled an Orthodox conversion where the convert did not observe all the mitzvot according to Orthodox interpretation. The ultra-Orthodox rabbis have since annulled all conversions by Israel’s National Conversion Court — led by moderate Orthodox rabbis — going back to 1999, affecting thousands of people.

The move was condemned by moderate Orthodox rabbis and most of the Jewish world, warning it could wreak havoc on families who had been living under the assumption that they were Jewish, especially thousands of Russian immigrants.

Fife sought to channel the resulting outrage into a call for those who believe in a more expansive gate to Jewish peoplehood to speak up against religious coercion.

“It has become apparent that secular Israelis basically have no connection to Judaism at all, and it’s become more and more apparent to the great mass of Israelis that it is important to be able to recognize the pluralistic approach that exists in the Diaspora,” Fife said in a phone interview after the meeting in Jerusalem.

He put forward a motion at JAFI’s annual assembly calling on the Israeli government to recognize conversions from any stream of Judaism and to establish a conversion authority separate from the chief rabbinate.

While his motion received a near-unanimous approval at the plenary on “The Conversion Crisis,” by the time it reached the resolutions plenary later that evening, it had already been revised and the dissent had organized.

Some of the dissenters opposed the motion on the grounds that the status quo is acceptable and should not be tampered with. Others, including JAFI Chair Richard Pearlstone, felt the wording needed to be more nuanced, so as not to derail ongoing efforts to establish an independent conversion authority.

Yaakov Ne’eman, a former government minister who has been overseeing that effort since the 1990s, threatened to resign if Fife’s resolution were passed.

Fife’s resolution was ultimately defeated, and more moderate twin resolutions were passed.

The resolutions call on the Israeli government to establish courts of “Jewish law which will base themselves on appropriate, moderate and tolerant prior halachic decisions to allow the conversion process to move forward.”

The resolutions also call for the establishment of an independent conversion authority. The General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, meeting just after the JAFI conference, passed a similar resolution.

The Jewish Agency, which was the government in prestate Palestine and now runs auxiliary agencies mostly in the social realm, still holds some sway over the Israeli government, but its resolutions are nonbinding.

Still, Fife is encouraged that the resolution, even in its toned-down form, made it into the daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, and that the discussion had people paying attention.

“My hope is that by continuing to pursue this issue with sensitivity and dignity and thoughtfulness, we can transform this from something ugly into something beautiful and a good thing for the Jewish people,” Fife said.

Happy New Year — shofar so good!


5768

Whether you spend Rosh Hashanah in services, in the kids’ room or in the hallway, when it’s time for the shofar to blow everyone listens. Fill in the blanks with the words below and learn more about the shofar (visit jewishjournal.com for the answers):

The shofar is made from a _______’s horn, which is blown a lot like a ________. Hearing the sounding of the shofar in synagogue is considered one of the “_____” of the holiday, but the shofar is not blown if Rosh Hashanah falls on ________.
Blowing the shofar marks the beginning of the ___ ____. It tells us to “____ __” and is tied into the second day’s _____ portion, the Binding of _____ (Genesis, chapter 22), where God tests ________’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son. Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac when an _____ stops him. Abraham finds a ram and kills it instead. (There’s a lot more to this story, but you’ll hear about it all in shul.)

There are different types of shofar notes: tekiah, a three-second one; _________, three notes; teruah, nine short blasts; and _____ _______ (“the big one”), the final blast. Some people hold the note so long their face turns red. When you add it up, a total of 100 ______ are sounded each day.

Abraham
angel
Isaac
musts
New Year
notes
ram
Shabbat
shevarim
tekiah gedolah
Torah
trumpet
wake up

For the secular New Year, many people like to make a resolution – a promise – that they’ll do something in a different way in the coming year. YeLAdim wants to know if you have a resolution for the Jewish New Year: Will you be nicer to your brother, sister or friend? Clean your room? Call your bubbe more? Stop putting off homework?

In addition to resolutions, Rosh Hashanah is a time to ask forgiveness for bad things we might have done during the past year: Did you yell at a friend? Did you play with your brother’s PSP without asking? Did you read your sister’s diary?

YeLAdim is giving you the chance to make resolutions and ask forgiveness. Tell us what you plan to change in 5768 or what you’d like to be forgiven for. You can send your ideas to kids@jewishjournal.com. We’ll print your responses, and, who knows, maybe you’ll inspire others.

Make A Date

YeLAdim loves a good weekly planner – and we came across a really cool one: “The Calendar of the Jewish People – The Animated Edition (starring The Jewish Day That Starts at Night).” With its cute graphics, info boxes and helpful backgrounds on the holidays, you won’t have to shlep around both a Hebrew and a secular calendar. For more information, visit

Briefs: Holocaust denial resolution goes to U.N.; Swiss admit Israel-Syria mediation; Survivors owed


Holocaust Denial Resolution Goes to U.N.

The United States presented a resolution condemning Holocaust denial to the United Nations General Assembly. The text, introduced Tuesday in advance of the U.N.-designated International Day of Commemoration for victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27, urges member states “to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event” and “condemns without reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” Although it does not mention Iran, the measure is seen as a reaction to last month’s Holocaust denial conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction to, but certainly the conference in question only reminds us that there are those among us who actually minimize or deny the Holocaust, and we find that frightening,” said Richard Grenell, the U.S. mission’s spokesman. “And this resolution makes clear it’s unacceptable to even minimize it.”

The resolution, which has some 25 sponsors, is expected to go to a vote Friday.

Pole Wins Jerusalem Prize

This year’s Jerusalem Prize will go to Leszek Kolakowski in recognition of his critiques of the repressive aspects of Soviet communism and his championing of human liberty. The prestigious literary prize will be presented at next month’s Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Born in 1927, Kolakowski earned a doctorate from Warsaw University and went on to serve on the faculties of Harvard, Oxford and the University of Chicago before retiring in 1995. Past recipients of the prize include Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera and Simone de Beauvoir. Some of the recipients went on to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, including V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee.

Swiss Admit Israel-Syria Mediation

Switzerland confirmed that it had been mediating secret efforts to launch Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Monday that top emissaries from her government were currently in Damascus. She refused to elaborate, but the disclosure appeared to confirm a Ha’aretz report earlier this month that a European country had mediated two years of unofficial talks between a retired Israeli diplomat and a Syrian American businessman about how the two countries could resume peace talks that were cut off in 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the contacts as unauthorized, while the Syrian government called the Ha’aretz report baseless.

Survivors Owed Billions, Study Says

Holocaust survivors are still owed as much as $175 billion in reparations, according to a new study. The Jewish Political Studies Review in Jerusalem said European nations had promised $3.4 billion in reparations, but only half of that had been paid by 2005. Only about 20 percent of Jewish assets have been returned overall, according to the study, which was made public last Friday by Reuters. The study said payments slowed after the United States stopped pressuring Europe on restitution. Holocaust survivors, many of them poor, are frustrated with the lack of payments. “Things are moving much too slowly,” said Menachem Rosensaft, founder of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The Claims Conference said it would not comment on the report.

Katsav to Face Rape Charges

Israel’s attorney general decided that President Moshe Katzav should be charged with rape. Menachem Mazuz’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying it had collected enough evidence to support charging Katsav with rape and sexual harassment of former employees, obstruction of justice and fraud. A final decision on whether to indict Katsav will be made after a hearing in which the president may present his case. The president has immunity while in office, but said last month that he would resign if indicted. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing.

JDub, Matisyahu End Legal Troubles

In a release issued Tuesday, nonprofit Jewish record label and management team JDub announced it has resolved all legal disputes with Matisyahu, although its business relationship with the artist remains severed. In a surprise move last March, the Chasidic reggae star abruptly ended his management agreement with JDub’s Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harrison on the eve of the release of his first major studio album, “Youth.” JDub claimed their agreement with the artist had three years remaining on a four-year contract when Matisyahu moved to representation by former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.

— Staff Report

Rap Mogul Addresses Jewish Congress

Rap mogul Russell Simmons called on Jewish entertainers to fight racism. In a speech Monday to the World Jewish Congress titled “Unity: Fighting Our Fights Together,” Simmons spoke about his public service announcements against racism and anti-Semitism that will be aired in Europe later this month. The ads, produced by Simmons, co-leader of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, feature Simmons and rapper Jay-Z encouraging young people to fight racism and anti-Semitism in their communities. Simmons called on the Beastie Boys and other Jewish entertainers to create another public service announcement with him, this one focusing on Islamophobia.

Saddam Chroniclers Look to Yad Vashem

Iraqis documenting Saddam Hussein’s crimes have been consulting with Yad Vashem. Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that a group of Iraqi exiles that want to honor the late dictator’s victims visited the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial last year and also met with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who has documented the stories of Holocaust survivors. “It is difficult for me to make a comparison between the story of the Iraqi victims and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe,” Kanan Makiya, one of the researchers, told Yediot. “Yet there are many basic similarities. Saddam behaved toward some parts of his people as Hitler did toward the Jews. Both cases are tragedies and there were innocent victims in both cases.”

Shipwreck Found Off Israel’s Coast

An eighth-century shipwreck was discovered off Israel’s northern coast. Though the 50-foot-long boat was discovered almost a decade ago, Haifa University’s Institute for Maritime Studies announced the find Tuesday after completing its research into the vessel.

“We do not have any other historical or archaeological evidence of the economic activity and commerce of this period,” said the university’s Ya’acov Kahanov. “The shipwreck will serve as a source of information about the social and economic activities in this area.”

In addition to the wooden hull, many of the boat’s contents were preserved. Among them are 30 vessels of pottery of different sizes and designs containing fish bones, ropes, mats, a bone needle, a wooden spoon, wood carvings and food remains, mainly carobs and olives.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Truth Trumps Presbyterian Divestment Resolution


Last week, delegates to the Presbyterian Church USA’s (PCUSA) General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., voted to undo their hateful 2004 anti-Israel divestment resolution. Understanding its significance requires a crash course in obscure acronyms.

The first is BDS, which stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions. It is the cornerstone of the Palestinian lobby’s strategy to delegitimize Israel.

The next is WCC, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches — an international umbrella group of mainline Protestant denominations, including America’s Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian and Methodist Churches. The WCC’s monomaniacal animus toward Israel is reflected in a moral crusade promoting such measures as economic boycotts and demanding the dismantling of its life-saving anti-terrorism barrier.

And then there was the United Nation’s WCAR, its World Conference Against Racism, which proved to be the launching pad for labeling Israel as the apartheid state of the 21st century. Israel’s friends have had a difficult time counteracting this campaign, which has wide support in Europe, on campuses and in some U.S. churches.

All this reflects the three D’s — demonization, double-standard and delegitimization — Natan Sharansky’s litmus test dividing acceptable criticism of Israel and outright anti-Semitism.

The WCC demonizes the Jewish state by issuing a tsunami of resolutions against Israel, far more than all trouble spots around the globe combined. Israel is a greater problem than genocide in Sudan, concentration camps in North Korea, prosecution of converts to Christianity in Muslim nations and the suppression of Tibet, to name a few.

Meanwhile, Protestant denominations demanding the dismantling of Israel’s security fence — without ever suggesting an alternative to protect against suicide bombing — constitutes a chilling double-standard. Demands are made to no other country to give free access for terrorists to mass murder in buses and restaurants.

And in the name of peace, Protestant denominations partner with organizations like Sabeel, whose answer to Israel’s “occupation” is a one-state solution (i.e., populated by an Arab majority) that delegitimizes Israel by insuring that it will not remain a Jewish state.

The BDS people want Americans to equate Israel with apartheid and come to treat it as an illegal, pariah vestige of European colonialism.

Last week, a group of Presbyterian activists had enough. They engineered a major setback to the well-oiled divestment machine.

The language of the 2004 PCUSA resolution — which had spurred similar talk and action in all of the other mainline Protestant denominations — was replaced with new language that spoke of investment in peaceful enterprises, rather than divestment. It included an apology to Jews for the hurt that the old “flawed” measure had caused.

While critical of some parts of the security fence, it asserted that it “does not believe that the Presbyterian Church (USA) should tell a sovereign nation whether or how it can protect its borders or handle matters of national defense.”

Delegates approved the new resolution with a 94 percent vote, after defeating two attempts by their own leadership to water it down. They then broke new ground by voting overwhelmingly to condemn all suicide bombings as crimes against humanity and to urge other churches and the United Nations to adopt a measure that would empower victims of terror to legally pursue those who incite and sponsor the real scourge of the 21st century.

The battle is hardly over. The highly politicized elements embedded in the PCUSA administration and in other mainline denominations will not roll over and play dead. Boycott efforts continue in Europe (as in continuing calls in Britain for academic boycott) and in Canada (where the largest public sector labor union recently voted to boycott Israeli goods).

But if Birmingham is not a final victory, it does provide the Jewish community an opportunity. We now know that rank-and-file Protestants are supportive of Israel’s struggle, even if that support has been weakened through years of one-sided propaganda fed by their churches’ administration.

We know that Jewry has dedicated Presbyterian friends within, who have worked tirelessly to put an end to the unfair targeting of the Jewish state. We have been reminded that fair-minded people are open to hear Israel’s narrative.

We recently accompanied 11 Presbyterians on a trip to Israel, where they met people never seen on the official trips organized by PCUSA leadership. We traveled to Birmingham to dialogue with delegates and to testify before the crucial Peacemaking Committee.

We were honored to present to the assembled Presbyterian leaders Dr. Judea Pearl, father of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was brutally slain in Pakistan with the words, “I am a Jew,” on his lips. With great dignity and clarity, Pearl rose above the din of the likes of Norman Finkelstein and other imported anti-Zionist Jews to tell delegates that divestment did not aid a single Palestinian, was not supported by the Israeli peace lobby and only succeeded in strengthening those who aid terror.

Finally, we also confirmed that there is a direct correlation between popular Presbyterian support for Israel with the quality of contacts they had with their Jewish neighbors.

Bottom line: We can neutralize corrosive anti-Israel propaganda with one tool — the truth. The only effective way to convey that truth is personal contact. Christians should hear from Jews why Israel is important and that there is more than one narrative about the Holy Land.

To achieve that goal, every neighborhood synagogue and temple has the potential to serve as facilitators of Israel’s hopes and aspirations, and along the way give our non-Jewish friends a chance to understand why Israel is so precious to us.

The destruction of Israel’s moral position will only be achieved if the lies repeated over and over again go unchallenged. Telling the truth over and over again is the only antidote. We can only do this by sitting together.

In 1963, the KKK dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four black girls attending Sunday school. Civil Rights leaders used the event to galvanize support from fence-sitting moderates and help transform a nation.

Time will tell if Jews turn their Birmingham moment into a wider effort to reach out to millions of decent Americans targeted by an insidious campaign to make Zionism a dirty word and to cripple Israel’s ability to defend herself.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the center’s director of interfaith affairs.

Seeing Red Over Green’s Israel Policy


Local leaders of the Green Party are working to overturn an anti-Israel resolution that has become official party policy. Resolution 190, which passed in November, calls for a boycott of and divestment from Israel until “the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized.”

Indicating that they have “lost several party members as a result” of the resolution, the L.A. Green Party’s County Council wrote a formal letter stating that “the issue is far more complex than is captured in the resolution” and referred to the resolution as “divisive.” Resolution 190, which urges all companies, governments and student organizations around the world to boycott and divest from the Jewish state, makes no reference to violence that targets Israeli civilians, such as suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Nor does it take into account, for example, the nuclear threat from Iran or human rights violations in countries hostile to Israel.

Resolution 190 was adopted by the Green Party after four weeks of discussion, which culminated in approval by national party delegates in online voting.

Leading the effort to denounce and rescind the resolution are Gary Acheatel, a Beverly Hills High graduate who founded Advocates for Israel in Oregon two years ago, and Lorna Salzman, a New Yorker who ran in Green Party primaries as a presidential candidate in 2004. They have disseminated two substitute resolutions that aim to “initiate a broad, open dialogue” involving state committee members and the Israeli Green Party.

In a shift of rhetoric, the substitute language removes the onus from Israel and proposes a policy of opposing “U.S. military aid … to all countries that have a record of violating human rights, including the mistreatment and inequality of women….”

The internal conflict over Resolution 190 exposes deep rifts within the party. While the Green Party has long dedicated itself to ecological matters, there is some debate as to whether the party’s platform embraces human rights and peace, especially within the context of foreign policy.

When an issue is “far from what is already agreed upon in our national platform,” said Michael Feinstein, former mayor of Santa Monica and co-founder of the Green Party of California, “it is necessary to reach further into the party’s grass roots to ensure that positions taken are truly reflective of our membership.”

But Ruth Weill, a member of the Wisconsin Green Party, the source of Resolution 190, said the Green Party has always taken stands on issues of social justice: “We’re the party that’s been trying to end the Iraq War for three years.”

Weill, who like Feinstein is Jewish, adds that Resolution 190 is justified because of Israel’s “continued occupation, cutting off of water aquifers, violating tons of international laws.”

Supporters of Israel and Israel itself often have been on the defensive because of general hostility toward the nation but also specifically because of opposition to the Israeli presence in territories since the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1975, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War and the first oil crisis, the United Nations passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. The United Nations rescinded that resolution in 1991.

Some Arab and Muslim-majority nations have long practiced an economic boycott of Israel, but in recent years the idea has gained some traction in the West. Israel has been equated with regimes like apartheid-era South Africa, even as other nations that notably violate human rights, such as North Korea and China, escape similar censure. The Presbyterian Church (USA) two years ago passed an anti-Israel resolution. Other entities have refused to do so. The British University Teachers Union and residents of Somerville, Mass., a suburb of Boston, rejected resolutions that proposed divestment from Israel, according to published reports.

Resolution 190 was the brainchild of two Wisconsin Greens, Ben Manski, who is Jewish, and Mohammed Abed, a member of Al-Awda, an Islamic organization that advocates for Palestinians’ right of return. Abed said that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is “comparable in many ways to South African apartheid.”

Manski defends the procedures by which Resolution 190 became party policy. He said that there was a “lengthy discussion” over four weeks and then online voting over two weeks. Although only 72 of 126 Green Party national delegates voted on this resolution, it was approved overwhelmingly; 55 supported it, 7 voted against it and 10 abstained.

Manski hails the process as “one of the most democratic, deliberative and transparent” of any party. However, the Israeli Green Party, which called Resolution 190 “a breach in trust,” was not consulted during the debate. Most Greens in Los Angeles County were also unaware of the resolution until after it passed, according to local party members interviewed.

“The vast majority of active Greens in L.A. County and across California had no idea that this was being debated or voted upon,” said Feinstein, who added that L.A. County has roughly 25,000 registered Greens, which he asserted is more than Wisconsin or any other state except California and New York.

At the time of the Kosovo war, said Feinstein, the German Green Party, which is part of the international Green Party, held a national meeting to discuss intervention in that Balkan republic.

“Here, we had an e-mail vote,” said Feinstein.

It isn’t entirely settled what it would take to rescind the resolution — whether it would require a majority or two-thirds vote. Nor is it clear what form the vote would take. But the critics don’t intend to let the matter go.

A series of talking points, circulated by Salzman and Acheatel, argue that Resolution 190 “reflects interference by and manipulation of the [Green Party] by outside special interest groups.”

They specifically cite Al-Awda and the American Muslim Association. Of these outside parties, Salzman said, “As far as I’m concerned, they wrote the declaration.”

Resolution co-author Abed called this “utter garbage,” adding, “Ben Manski and I wrote it as members of the Green Party,” not as representatives of any other organization.

 

Reform Body Rejects Science Distortion


The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the largest body of religious Jews in the nation, has forcefully come out against the “politicization” of science at a time when the issue is boiling over in state legislatures, churches and classrooms.

The strong statement came as delegates to last month’s URJ biennial gathering in Houston voted on a handful of controversial resolutions. The media focused on two: a groundbreaking resolution on the Iraq War and another rejecting Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

However, one of the most significant proposals got scant attention. In an overwhelming show of unity, delegates voted to oppose the misuse of science to serve religious or ideological ends.

And just in case anybody missed the point, the body unanimously adopted an amendment on the floor singling out one target: Kansas, the home of the “Wizard of Oz” and now, just as improbably, of a growing movement to redefine science to conform to the religious views of its conservative leaders.

Last month, the Kansas Board of Education approved new public school science guidelines intended to boost the intelligent design movement and discourage the teaching of evolution.

Science is once again at the heart of the intensifying church-state wars, and it’s not just evolution. More and more, religious right activists are distorting the notion of scientific inquiry as they pursue their social and political aims. And, as Kansas demonstrated, an increasingly sophisticated, well-financed and well-connected religious right is having an impact.

The results could be devastating, starting with a further loss of U.S. preeminence in science and technology, and filtering right down to deteriorating medical care — even for those ideological conservatives who self-righteously suggest modern science is a farce and a failure that only their religion-based answers can fix.

The fight over science is hardly new.

Since the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925, which involved criminal charges against a teacher accused of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution, religious conservatives have been trying to develop scientific rationales for their religious convictions.

Dinosaurs in museums, many still argue, are elaborate tricks of secularists to promote the view that the earth is billions of years old, not the thousands claimed by literal interpreters of scripture. Many go further than just asserting that religious doctrine.

Countering scientific dating evidence, they cite their own scientists who offer elaborate “proofs” that carbon-14 dating is a fraud. They say that their own “research” shows dinosaurs and humans appeared on earth at the same time, a mere 6,000 years ago.

The goal isn’t just to promote their faith by promulgating religious doctrine. They are trying to distort and discredit science, using scientists with academic credentials but driven by faith, not proof, to advance their views.

Part of their motivation is to find “scientific” explanations to reinforce their own faith. But in part, their goal is broader — to systematically break down barriers to teaching their specifically religious beliefs in the schools by cloaking them in scientific respectability.

That is the engine behind the intelligent design movement — the effort to infiltrate creationism into the schools under the guise of objective science. Increasingly, that effort is getting traction with an administration and a Congress that regard the fundamentalists as mishpachah (family), as well as key political allies.

Other examples abound.

A report by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) in 2003 concluded with this statement: “the Bush administration … has repeatedly suppressed, distorted, or obstructed science to suit political and ideological goals. These actions go far beyond the traditional influence that presidents are permitted to wield at federal agencies and compromise the integrity of scientific policymaking.”

That report cited a pattern of deliberate distortions of science to suit religious or ideological ends, including bogus or distorted research on sexual abstinence programs, environmental problems, HIV/AIDS, stem cell research and breast cancer.

The report also noted examples of government officials appointed to key health and science oversight positions because of their views on today’s culture war issues, not their professional qualifications.

The Reform movement resolution cited another study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which found evidence of a “systematic effort to suppress and distort scientific findings in order to promote certain political ends.”

Even the highly respected Centers for Disease Control (CDC) altered medical recommendations based on religious pressure.

There are moral arguments from polar opposite perspectives to be made about issues such as abortion, abstinence, stem cell research and others. But to bend science to conform to moral and religious beliefs and make such distortions part of national policy is more than a church-state violation; it is a prescription for national decline in a world where so much — economic strength, environmental protection, the battle against disease — depends on a scientifically informed public and policymakers who can distinguish between science and faith.

That was the reality that the URJ acknowledged in Houston. In a short debate before the overwhelming vote in favor of the resolution, a noted scientist and a neurologist spoke angrily about the impact of the trend — including real harm that will be done to Americans if science is turned into just one more front in the nation’s culture wars.

Fighting public displays of the Ten Commandments may be important to preserve a constitutional principal. But protecting the integrity of science will be critical to the lives of millions of people.

Kansas may be just the first major battleground — and the URJ just the first Jewish group to speak out as the fight over science gains intensity.

 

Israeli Wins Nobel for Game Theory


An Israeli who has educated the world on conflict resolution was named last week as the co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in economics.

Hebrew University professor Robert Aumann, 75, and American scientist Thomas Schelling “enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

The two will share the $1.3 million prize.

Game theory is the science of strategy, the study of how various rival groups — whether business colleagues or warring parties — can interact to secure an ideal outcome. Aumann specialized in “repeated games,” analyzing conflict over time.

“I am very moved by this honor,” he told reporters outside his office at the Hebrew University’s Center for Rationality. “I think credit should also go to members of the school of thought who have helped to make Israel perhaps the world’s No. 1 superpower when it comes to game theory.”

Aumann, who is religiously observant, was born in Frankfurt but moved to the United States with his family in 1938. He took degrees from the City College of New York and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, immigrating to Israel in 1956.

Aumann is the second Israeli to win the Nobel for economics. Two Israeli biochemists shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry last year, and former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Menachem Begin have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

“His work is important and a major contribution to the world of economics and to theory,” Hebrew University President Menachem Megidor told Israel Radio about Aumann.

Schelling, 84, is a University of Maryland lecturer recognized for his application of game theory to issues of global security.

In a telephone conversation with the academy, Aumann suggested that his specialty could give insight into Israel’s struggle for survival in the Middle East.

“I do hope that perhaps some game theory can be used and be part of this solution,” he said.

But Aumann, who lost a son during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, said an end to the conflict with the Palestinians is far off.

“It’s been going on for at least 80 years and as far as I can see it is going to go on for at least another 80 years. I don’t see any end to this one, I’m sorry to say,” he told reporters.

 

Pullout Seen Really as West Bank Issue


The Gaza withdrawal in itself plays only a small part in the current face-off between settlers and the Israeli government. Three other and more basic issues are at stake, and they go to the core of what the Jewish state will become, according to Arie Nadler.

Nadler, a professor of social psychology at Tel Aviv University, is a noted authority on conflict resolution, as well as on the impact of massive social trauma on individuals and groups. He meets frequently with both Palestinian and settler leaders, and will lead a weekend seminar in Irvine Aug. 19-21. he will discuss the Gaza disengagament from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives and its likely aftermath.

The crux of the present confrontation is not Gaza, but whether Israel will eventually abandon the West Bank and, in essence, return to the pre-1967 borders, Nadler said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.

“The settlers are trying to make the Gaza withdrawal so traumatic that no future Israeli government will even consider evacuating [the settlement of] Ariel on the West Bank,” he said.

On a second, deeper level, the confrontation is about “the meaning of democracy in Israeli society,” whether its members are willing to accept majority decisions and play by the same political rules.

The most fundamental and important aspect of the Gaza disengagement goes to the seemingly intractable secular vs. religious divide in Israel.

“We face the question as to the ultimate source of authority in the state,” Nadler said. “Is it democratic rule or Torah?”

From his discussions with settler leaders, Nadler is cautiously optimistic that the evacuation of Gaza will proceed without large-scale violence.

“The political leadership of the religious Zionist settlers has an intuitive sense of the fragility of the ties that bind us as a people,” Nadler observed. “Just as in the Sinai Peninsula withdrawal in 1982, the majority of settlers will approach the red line, but they will not cross it.”

This relatively hopeful scenario could change instantly if Palestinians decide to use the changeover to launch large-scale terrorist attacks, he warned.

Nadler, who describes himself as a political centrist, showed considerable sympathy for the emotional pain of the Gaza settlers.

“In a way, the settlers were the pampered children of both the Likud [right-wing] and Labor [left-wing] parties,” he said. “They were told that they were the true Zionist pioneers. They saw themselves on a higher moral plane, and suddenly they are told to go away.”

To help heal the settlers’ trauma, it is vital for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to assign some deeper meaning, such as the welfare and survival of Israel, to the painful disengagement, Nadler believes.

In the aftermath of the withdrawal, the relocated Gaza settlers will go in two different directions, Nadler thinks.

“A minority will disengage itself from Israeli society and secular democracy,” he said. “The majority, after overcoming a psychological crisis, will perhaps re-examine its assumptions and tactics, and ultimately move closer to the political center.”

Nadler will be the scholar-in-residence at the seminar sponsored by Ameinu, formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Irvine. Also on the program will be political scientist Raphael Sonnenshein, will who speak on “California in Ferment.”

For seminar reservations until Aug. 16 call (323) 655-2842, or e-mail LZinLA@aol.com.

 

Concern Grows on Iran Abuses


 

Concern is growing among circles of Iranian nationals and expatriates that European countries are turning a blind eye to the regime’s human rights atrocities in exchange for trade benefits.

Late last year, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution criticizing Iran for human rights violations. It cited new restrictions on freedom of expression and the persecution of political and religious dissenters. The resolution, the 52nd such measure by the United Nations against Iran, was approved 71-54, with 55 abstentions. The world body said Iran was facing a “worsening situation” regarding freedom of opinion and expression.

Human Rights Watch reported that the Iranian judiciary was using threats of lengthy prison sentences and coerced televised statements in an attempt to cover up its arbitrary detention and torture of internet journalists and civil society activists.

However, despite the U.N. resolution and the Human Rights Watch report spotlighting the problems, many Iranians inside and outside the country, as well as human rights activists, are concerned by what they see as appeasement by three leading E.U. countries, France, Britain and Germany. Word has spread that in return last October for Iran’s promise to halt its uranium enrichment program, which could be used to develop nuclear weapons, there would be political concessions made. Reportedly included would be a milder position on human rights issues.

In one Iranian human rights case that drew international attention, Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in custody in 2003. She was arrested while photographing families lined up outside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison waiting to visit prisoners. The journalist’s arbitrary arrest, torture and subsequent death were further compounded by refusal to release Kazemi’s body to her son and a sham trial, in which a scapegoat for the death was cleared.

Kazemi’s death was only one of many human rights violations of which Iran has been accused. Last month, Hajieh Esmailvand, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, was facing death by stoning, according to Amnesty International. The Iranian Penal Code states that women will be buried up to their breasts for execution by stoning, and the stones should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.”

The stoning death sentence was not an isolated incident. Zhila Izadyar, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, was sentenced to be stoned to death after being convicted of having an incestuous relationship with her 15-year-old brother, Bakhtiar. The boy was sentenced to 180 lashes, plus prison.

Hanging was ordered for a retarded 19-year-old woman on “morality-related” charges, after being forced into prostitution by her mother, and a religious judge ordered hanging for 16-year-old girl for “deeds incompatible with chastity.”

Boys have not escaped hanging sentences either. One 16-year-old who in self-defense allegedly killed someone attempting to sexually abuse him faces the noose — but not for two years. In this case, there is a law barring the execution of juveniles under 18. As a result, he will be imprisoned until he is legally old enough to be hanged. There are three other imprisoned minors awaiting the same fate when they turn 18.

During 2004, approximately 230 Iranian prisoners were executed or received death sentences. Recently, state-run television aired video of eight prisoners dangling from a gallows in southeastern Iran. Opponents of the regime have compiled the names and cases of 21,676 political prisoners executed by the government since 1981, and they claim this is less than one-fifth of the actual number.

Continuing concern over prisoner executions and other rights abuses rose even higher after an AFP news story on Oct. 21 that said Europeans promised to help on a range of “political and security issues” and would continue to regard the main Iranian resistance group “as a terrorist organization.” On Oct. 24, the state-run Jomhouri Eslami paper wrote: “European counterparts have stated explicitly that they are prepared to close Iran’s human rights file.”

The news confirmed Iranian expatriates’ previous worries that the E.U. had struck a deal with Iran in 2002, in which it would not go before U.N. Commission on Human Rights and General Assembly and accuse it of human rights abuses. Since that date no resolution on human rights in Iran has been sponsored by the E.U. before the commission — unlike the previous 20 years.

Last year’s passage of a U.N. General Assembly resolution accusing Iran of human rights violations is a good sign, but much more needs to be done. Rights violations in Iran are continuing, so international condemnation of them be should be maintained. Otherwise, Iran’s clerics might get the wrong message.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.

 

Europe Held Key in U.N. Fence Ruling


When it comes to action at the United Nations, Europe — considered by many observers to be the organization’s moral bellwether — often decides the course.

That was the case again this week as the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that Israel comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that it must tear down its West Bank security barrier and compensate Palestinians affected by its construction.

The next question is whether the U.N. Security Council, whose resolutions are binding, will take up the issue.

The United States has indicated it will veto a Security Council resolution, but the Palestinians have said they’ll push it anyway.

The Israelis say they’re not worried about the Security Council because they know they can depend on a U.S. veto.

“The Security Council is the least of our worries,” said Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative at the United Nations, noting that a U.S. veto likely would obviate the threat of sanctions there.

For Israeli officials, the whole process points to the weakness of the Europeans.

In meetings with European diplomats this week, Israeli officials said they’ll make that point.

“If this is the position of the Europeans and the U.N., we will not be able to give them a role in carrying out the ‘road map,’ so they are creating a situation which is unacceptable to us,” Mekel said Wednesday.

The European Union and the United Nations are official partners, along with the United States and Russia, in the so-called “Quartet,” which is sponsoring the road map plan to get the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track.

Arguing that it might politicize the international court and divert the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, European countries abstained from the General Assembly resolution last December asking the court to judge the legal consequences of Israel’s fence.

On July 9, the court ruled that the fence was illegal and ordered Israel to dismantle it.

Israel dismissed the court — which said international legal guarantees of self-defense were not relevant to Israel’s struggle against Palestinian terrorism — and said it would disregard the advisory opinion.

Again on Tuesday, Israel slammed the U.N. resolution. After Tuesday evening’s vote, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, told delegates, “Thank God the fate of Israel and the Jewish people is not decided in this hall.”

The vote was 150 in favor of the resolution and 6 against, with 10 abstentions. Joining Israel and the United States in voting against were Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Paulau. Abstaining were Cameroon, Canada, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

While the vote was widely expected, it was postponed twice as the Europeans sought to inject a modicum of balance into the Palestinian-led resolution.

In the end, the Europeans, unanimously supported the resolution after certain modifications.

The Palestinians began circulating the draft resolution early last week. Exploratory discussions between the Palestinians and Holland, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, began Monday afternoon.

By Tuesday, intense discussions were under way, as the Europeans appeared split in their view.

After a two-hour break Tuesday evening, additions were made to the latest version that apparently appeased European concerns.

The first called on the Palestinian Authority to take action against those “conducting and planning violent attacks” and on Israel “to take no action undermining trust,” including attacks on civilians and assassinations of terrorist leaders.

But Mekel criticized the resolution for not making significant reference to Palestinian terrorism, for not specifically noting Israel’s right to self-defense and for making the ICJ opinion, not the road map, the main signpost in the peace process.

He said the resolution would allow the Palestinians to condition progress on the road map on Israel’s dismantling of the security barrier.

In analyzing the Europeans’ role in the vote, one Israeli diplomat reserved his harshest judgment for the French.

“Pardon my French, but we’re talking here about the French connection,” he said. “They did everything they could this week to guarantee European support for the resolution.”

French officials could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, in discussion July 16 surrounding the resolution, the Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser Al-Kidwa, called on countries to impose sanctions on companies involved in the fence’s construction.

“Israel will have to choose what to declare itself — officially, morally and legally as an outlaw state, or to reconcile itself with a new reality and comply,” Al-Kidwa said.

Even as it resigned itself to the resolution’s passage, Israel hoped the debate would shed light on the situation.

Blasting the debate as hypocritical, Israeli officials noted the events of last weekend, in which the Palestinian Authority police chief was kidnapped by terrorists from P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s own Fatah faction. That set off a round of musical chairs during which Arafat tried to install his cousin in a top security position.

“These are the guys that want to tell the international community what is the rule of law?” Mekel said.

Jewish organizations swiftly blasted the U.N. move.

“Today the General Assembly has built a barrier — a barrier to progress in the peace process,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement.

The Palestinians will use the resolution to “avoid their responsibility” under the road map to dismantle terrorist organizations, the group said.

“The war on terror cannot be won by closing one’s eyes and wishing terrorism away, as the ICJ and the General Assembly have,” the statement said. “If the ICJ opinion applies to all states, then terrorists have won the battle. If only to Israel, then anti-Semites have.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, for its part, denounced the ruling. Noting that Israeli officials cite a tremendous decline in terrorist attacks because of the fence, the group demanded that the General Assembly seek a ruling from the World Court to designate suicide bombings a “crime against humanity.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said it would meet with U.N. diplomats this week in an effort to prevent even nine affirmative votes necessary to pass a binding resolution at the Security Council.


Support Pledged on Marking Historic Ruling


May 17 will mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education that outlawed separate educational facilities as inherently unequal.

Less well-known is Orange County’s role in establishing that historic precedent. In 1947, a group of parents led by Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez of Westminster fought to end California’s segregation of its Latino school children. Their suit came to the attention of the state’s governor at the time, Earl Warren, who went on to hear the Brown case as chief justice of the nation’s highest court.

"This is an opportunity for us to join with the fastest-growing community in Orange County," said Marc Dworkin, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s local chapter. "We are natural allies over civil liberties," said Dworkin, who recently met with Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana). He pledged the Jewish community’s support for a pending congressional resolution to give national recognition to the Mendez family’s role in history.

Dworkin had company. He enlisted support from Rabbi Shelton Donnell of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom and Chelle Friedman, staff to the Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Council, to champion Jewish issues in a collaborative approach. "This way we can have a more coordinated effort," Dworkin said. "It strengthens everyone to go in together."

Cultivating Latino-Jewish relations is a priority for Dworkin. Last month, he helped convene a two-day regional summit between Latino and Jewish leaders in Arizona and San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange counties. He has also asked the O.C. Human Relations Commission to help start an ongoing Latino-Jewish dialogue this spring among leaders, similar to the diverse "living room" discussions started after Sept. 11.

World Briefs


Foxman Presses Vatican on Film

Abraham Foxman wants the Vatican to take a stand on Mel Gibson’s controversial film on Jesus. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, met with Vatican officials Tuesday. He urged Vatican officials to tell bishops around the world to inform Catholics that the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” is Gibson’s interpretation of the Gospels, and not a factual record. The movie is slated to open in the United States on Feb. 25. Foxman also scheduled meetings with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other Italian officials during his two-day visit. Foxman stopped in Rome en route to Brussels, where European Commission President Romano Prodi will host an international seminar on anti-Semitism and minorities in Europe that begins Thursday.

Gibson: Anti-Semitism ‘a Sin’

Mel Gibson denied he is anti-Semitic and insisted his new movie does not blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion. Gibson, in an interview with Diane Sawyer on the ABC News show “Primetime Special Edition,” which aired Monday night, said “The Passion of the Christ” echoes his belief that “we all” are responsible for the death of Jesus.

“To be anti-Semitic is a sin,” he told Sawyer. “To be anti-Semitic is to be un-Christian, and I’m not.”

Some Jewish leaders have warned the movie will fuel anti-Jewish attitudes because it asserts the Jews pushed the Romans to kill Jesus. Gibson denied that, saying the movie is “not about pointing the fingers.”

No-show No Good?

Israel’s justice minister opposed Israel’s decision to abstain from The Hague’s hearings on the West Bank security barrier.

“This is basically a worldwide tribunal where your opinions should be broadcast and reported everywhere in the world,” Yosef “Tommy” Lapid told Reuters on Tuesday, referring to hearings at the International Court of Justice set to begin Feb. 23. “If you do not put up an argument, you will not have publicity for your views.”

Israel has decided to sit out the hearings at The Hague after filing an affidavit describing the fence as a counterterrorist measure and challenging the authority of the court to rule on the fence’s legality. Lapid said Cabinet colleagues overruled his call for Israel to argue its case in the court.

Conservative Rabbis Support Fence

Conservative rabbis from around the world approved a resolution supporting Israel’s West Bank security barrier. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority Feb. 12 at the close of the Conservative movement’s annual Rabbinical Assembly, held this year in Jerusalem. The subject of the fence had been one of the most controversial items at the conference, and a revised version passed after a debate over the language. The final version stressed Israel’s right to self-defense while cautioning that Israel should do all it can to “avoid unnecessary hardships to innocent Palestinians” and maintain “the Jewish and democratic character of the state.”

U.S. Backs Gaza Pullout

The Bush administration announced its clearest support to date for Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The United States government seemed to be caught off guard by the Israeli prime minister’s plan to uproot 17 Gaza settlements; U.S. officials were concerned that the move could undermine prospects for a peace treaty. After Israel explained the plan, however, administration officials warmed to the idea. On Wednesday, the State Department said in a statement that “Israeli moves to ‘disengage’ by removing settlements could reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, improve Palestinian freedom of movement and address some of Israel’s responsibilities in moving” toward the vision of peace that President Bush outlined in a June 2002 speech. The speech called for regime change in the Palestinian Authority, an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state by 2005.

Israel Gets Time on Falash Mura

Israel’s High Court of Justice agreed Feb. 12 to give the government more time to bring Falash Mura to Israel from Ethiopia. The government agreed to verify within the next 90 days those eligible to immigrate. The government will be working off a list of people who claim to be Falash Mura — Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now are returning to Judaism. There are an estimated 20,000 Falash Mura waiting to emigrate from Ethiopia. The next court hearing on the case will be held in four months.

Birthright Funding Restored

A new matching grant will allow Birthright Israel to more than double enrollment for its summer programs. The free trip to Israel for young adults who never have been on a peer tour to the Jewish State notified its trip providers Sunday that it had secured funding for more than 8,200 spots for its summer programs. Due to funding problems, Birthright had planned to accept only 3,500 people, all but 500 of whom would come from North America. The Avi Chai Foundation announced it would provide Birthright with a “challenge grant” of $7 million, which they expect will be matched by philanthropists. In a statement, the foundation said it decided to give the grant in response to the cutback in funding for the program by the Israeli government, which reduced its funding for Birthright to a token amount for 2004 due to budget constraints.

Landau Takes Charge at Ha’aretz

English-born journalist David Landau was named editor in chief of Ha’aretz. Landau is to replace Hanoch Marmari, who resigned last month after a 13-year tenure, the Israeli daily announced Feb. 12. Landau, 56, was Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s longtime Jerusalem bureau chief. Landau began his career at the Jerusalem Post but left after the newspaper was sold to Hollinger International in 1990. Following a stint at Israel’s daily Ma’ariv, he co-founded Ha’aretz’s English-language edition in 1993. Landau also is a contributing writer at The Economist.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Hillel Head, Writer Clash on Campus


Having Alan Dershowitz speak on behalf of Israel at a university event was meant to be provocative, but nobody could have predicted the fracas that erupted after the prominent author and attorney spoke.

Outside the auditorium, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel, allegedly kicked freelance journalist Rachel Neuwirth, after she reportedly called him "worse than a kapo."

The city attorney concluded an investigation of the incident late Wednesday afternoon and recommended the parties involved in the case meet with a hearing officer in the city attorney’s office to determine a resolution.

"The facts [of the case] are in dispute," said Eric Moses, director of public relations for the city attorney, "and the best way to handle a situation like this is to get the parties together to talk."

Neither Seidler-Feller nor Neuwirth will face criminal charges, Moses said.

The incident has upset many in the community, and highlighted ongoing disputes between Jews on different sides of the debate over Israel.

Donald Etra, attorney for Seidler-Feller, told the Journal that his client was seeking to resolve the case. "He has been an incredibly effective Hillel rabbi, and he intends to remain so," Etra said.

According to Daniel Hakimfar, a fourth-year UCLA student who is involved in some pro-Israel campus groups and was present at the event, Seidler-Feller approached a group of pro-Palestinian protesters who were standing outside Royce Hall as the event let out. At least one protester was holding a placard that said "Edward Said Lives," referring to a recently deceased critic of Israel.

Seidler-Feller introduced himself to them and started talking to them about Israel and invited them to a Hillel event featuring former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon and Palestinian representative for Jerusalem Sari Nusseibeh.

Upon hearing Nusseibeh’s name, Rachel Neuwirth, a freelance journalist and pro-Israel activist who had also approached the protestors, took Seidler-Feller aside and objected to him approaching the protesters in what Hakimfar described as an "apologetic manner" and countered with the allegation that Nusseibeh advised Saddam Hussein to launch Scud missiles toward Israel’s population centers for maximum casualties.

Seidler-Feller and Neuwirth got into a verbal argument and Seidler-Feller grabbed Neuwirth’s arm. Neuwirth called Seidler-Feller a kapo (a Jewish guard in the concentration camps during World War II) and then said he was worse than a kapo because she could never judge a kapo.

Whether Neuwirth called Seidler-Feller a kapo before or after he grabbed her arm is in dispute.

At that point, Seidler-Feller allegedly pushed and kicked Neuwirth.

"When a rabbi does that, he pretty much goes against everything he has been teaching," said Hakimfar, who thinks Seidler-Feller should resign.

Etra would not comment on specifics of the incident, citing ongoing legal issues.

Neuwirth went home, but told The Journal she had trouble sleeping because of the pain. According to Neuwirth, the next day she went to the hospital where a doctor prescribed Vicodin and Ibuprofen. Neuwirth then filed a report with the campus police, who investigated the incident and passed on their recommendations to the city attorney’s office.

Etra told The Journal that Seidler-Feller has tried to apologize to Neuwirth and others for his actions.

"What he did was sad and shameful," said Allyson Rowan-Taylor, program director at StandWithUs. "When he called to apologize, I said to him, ‘as a rabbi, as an educated man and as a scholar of Torah, you should know better.’ The thing he did was an offense to all of the things he represents."

Rowan-Taylor suggested Seidler-Feller take anger-management courses.

David Myers, professor of history at UCLA, told The Journal that he suspected that people would use the incident to manifest grudges against the controversial Seidler-Feller. He blamed a "a political culture that is really toxic" for increasing the overall tensions in communal discourse.

"This is a man who has devoted his life to the Jewish community and the Jewish State," Myers said. "I fear this [incident] will not be used as an opportunity for introspection, but rather to attack an agenda, and to act on long standing animosity toward Chaim."

Etra, Seidler-Feller’s attorney, said his client would not resign.

"From what I gather, the person that started the incitement perhaps should also consider that type of course," he said, referring to suggestions that Seidler-Feller take anger management classes.

Jeff Rubin, public relations director for Hillel in Washington, would not comment on the incident.

Hillel UCLA boardmember Laurie Levenson said Tuesday the board will wait for the city attorney’s office to issue its findings before making any comments.

Ross Neshaus, the president of Bruins for Israel, a pro-Israel student subsidiary of UCLA Hillel, also did not comment, telling The Journal that his organization was still deciding on a statement.

Arab Groups Assail Bush Appointment


Jewish and Arab leaders say President Bush’s appointment of Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes to a federal think tank — despite the objections of Arab groups and some congressional Democrats — offers a window into White House thinking on Middle East issues.

Bush’s Aug. 22 appointment of Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) comes after Arab American and Muslim groups waged a strong battle against his Senate confirmation. They called Pipes an "Islamaphobe" who made bigoted comments against Arabs and Muslims.

The USIP was founded by Congress in 1984 to create programs and fellowships that foster peace and nonviolent conflict resolution. The organization frequently sponsors lectures in Washington on international conflicts. Its board is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Jewish groups were gearing up to back Pipes in the Senate, saying they rely on his insight and scholarship on militant Islam. In the end, however, no heavy lifting was required. Instead, Bush placed Pipes on the board through a recess appointment, allowing him to serve without confirmation until the end of the congressional term in January 2005.

Jewish leaders say the move shows the White House’s commitment to combating the threat radical Islam poses to the United States and its allies. Pipes had warned of the danger of militant Islam long before Sept. 11 and criticized many scholars in his field who he said had become apologists for Islamic militancy.

Arab leaders, however, say the appointment shows that some White House officials hold the same "right-wing" views on Middle East issues as Pipes. Specifically, they point to Elliott Abrams, a senior official on Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, who they say has a track record of public comments that put his positions in line with those of Pipes.

Pipes was nominated for the post in April, but his confirmation was postponed last month by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee after several lawmakers, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), voiced opposition to it.

"It certainly reached a level of attention and publicity that surprised me," Pipes said. Major newspaper editorials came out for and against the nominee. Pipes said he was told the White House decided to use a recess appointment, because of its eagerness to fill the institute’s board, not because of concerns over his ultimate confirmation.

Pipes said Kennedy and others misunderstood the writing and work he has done for more than 25 years, at times taking his comments out of context and at other times distorting them.

Arab groups claimed Pipes had said that Muslims do not follow proper hygiene, but Pipes said he was simply describing the way Europeans look at Muslims. Also, he said many of the comments he has made about radical Islam often are mistaken as accusations against the Muslim religion in general.

"I’m making a fairly complex and novel argument about the differences between religious Islam and radical Islam," he said. "It’s an important argument that needs to be made."

Pipes said he will expand on his rationale for the objections to his nomination in a column for the New York Post.

Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Pipes is prevaricating when he says that he is trying to distinguish between Islam per se and terrorist actions linked to militant Islam.

"He defaults to putting everyone in an Islamist militant category," Ibish said. "You have to basically agree with his pro-Likud stance to not be considered a militant Muslim."

Several Jewish groups quickly praised Pipes’ nomination, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The Anti-Defamation League said Pipes had an "important approach and perspective to the challenges facing the U.S. in the post-9/11 world."

The nomination of Pipes, a frequent lecturer to Jewish audiences, was being watched in the American Jewish community. Jewish officials said they would have backed Pipes vocally if a fight over his nomination had erupted on the Senate floor.

Instead, the community decided to stay silent in order not to derail a process that was moving in Pipes’ favor. Meanwhile, many Arab leaders voiced their opposition.

When word of Pipes’ impending recess appointment became public, nearly a dozen Muslim and interfaith groups spoke out against him and led a phone campaign to the White House against the appointment.

Ibish said Arab and Muslim groups consider the fact that Pipes’ nomination required a "backdoor" appointment a victory for their cause. "It’s an important political statement that the White House had to do it this way," he said.

Pipes said his writings have been more closely scrutinized in the past five months and that he has learned to be more cautious.

"I’ve learned to be careful to make sure things I say cannot be taken out of context," he said. "It is the lesson of increased attention that I hope I have profited from."

Rep. Darrell Issa: Ally of Israel


In the interest of balance, The Journal made several unsuccessful attemptsto procure an Op-Ed piece on behalf of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) from aJewish supporter. In lieu of an Op-Ed, the congressman’s office provided thefollowing statement concerning his record on Israel and terrorism. Ajournalistic investigation into the congressman’s record will appear shortlyin our news pages.

Darrell Issa is a California congressman of Lebanese heritage. Throughout his career in the private sector, civic affairs and public life,Issa has stood for an absolute commitment to tolerance of all faiths, as well as all Americans.

More than a reliable vote for a strong American policy in the Middle East, Issa has gone further. He has met repeatedly with leaders in the region to encourage cooperation in the war on terrorism and to advance the “road map” to peace. Issa’s record is clear, and the facts of his leadership speak volumes.

The congressman has an unequivocal voting record in favor of Israel. He has supported both the 2002 House Conference Report and final House version of America’s aid to Israel (H.R. 2056); supported House Resolution 392, expressing solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism; supported House Concurrent Resolution 280, urging presidential action against Palestinian terrorism; and signed the “Hyde-Lantos” letter (April, 2001) to President George W. Bush, urging a reassessment of America’s relationship with Palestinians

Demonstrating strong leadership in the Middle East, the congressman has strongly endorsed the Bush administration’s policy to liberate Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power; personally lobbied Egypt to return its ambassador to Tel Aviv; personally pressed Syrian and Lebanese governments to act against Hezbollah; and has traveled to Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Syria and the West Bank — always in consultation with U.S. officials

“Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) confirmed that … his [Issa’s] votes on Middle East issues have been supportive of Israel. Other Democrats interviewed for this article agreed,” wrote The Forward. Rep. Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.) called Issa an outstanding congressman who has fought tirelessly to find a solution to the Middle East conflict,” and Daniel Ayalon, Israeli ambassador to the United States, sent the congressman a letter stating, “We would like to thank you for your assistance with the humanitarian efforts concerning the four kidnapped Israelis held by Hezbollah.”

Love and Loyalty


We would always say that we were the ambassadors of love and happiness, causing people to smile as they passed by us, the chemistry almost touchable.

At that point, the fact that he was a Jew and I was an Italian Catholic didn’t seem to make much difference. We were in love and that was all that mattered.

As we traveled through our relationship and through the past two and a half years, we overcame many of the obstacles that couples face. We also embraced the issues that arose due to our interfaith relationship, knowing that it was an important and vital component, not something to put off or take lightly.

Our discussions about religion began early on and became a running dialogue. We started off slowly, trying to discuss this delicate topic without hurting any feelings, but soon realized that if the relationship were to proceed, the hard questions needed to be asked. How do you want your children to be raised? Can you accept symbols such as a Christmas tree or a menorah that reflect the other’s religion? Do you feel that you can be true to yourself and your faith if you have a partner who is of a different religion?

Having asked these questions, we knew that the answers were nowhere except within. We read, we discussed, we attended seminars about being interfaith, and we learned about each other. Through this and because of this, our love and relationship continued to grow.

David voiced to me during one of our many discussions that he felt very strongly about having his children bar or bat mitzvahed. Knowing that his father was a Holocaust survivor who has since passed away, I understood and empathized with his strong feelings about this, and I began to think. Raising Jewish children was not something I ever had to consider before, and when I met David, I initially assumed that we would do "both."

I then began to think more about David’s desires in regard to what I viewed as my greatest hopes for my future children: that they be kind, moral and believe in something larger than themselves. If these were the things that I regarded as most important, and if my spouse had such strong feelings, then getting there through Judaism rather than Christianity would be OK. Not always easy or natural for me, but OK.

You would think that any tension and unhappiness that arose regarding our interfaith relationship and its future would come from my family, since I had decided to raise my future children Jewish. However, it proved to be the opposite. My mother, although not happy with the decision, was supportive, realizing that these were my decisions to make, understanding that she would still play a significant role in her grandchildren’s lives. David’s mother, however, despite the sacrifice that I had decided to make for him, believed that it wasn’t enough and that he should still marry a Jewish woman. Her unhappiness with our growth as a couple soon became obvious and vocal. She expressed to him her belief that there must be a common base in order for a relationship to survive — and that base needs to be religion.

Slowly, the constant pressure, comments from and discussions with his immediate family began to chip away during two years of soul-searching, discussions and resolutions until David became torn and conflicted between our love and his loyalty to his family and religion. I understand that his family only wants the best for him. However, I also believe that there doesn’t need to be a choice between love and loyalty; that the two can co-exist if both people are willing to compromise in some way.

We, as a couple and as individuals, had reached a place where we both felt that we were being true to ourselves as well as to our religions. However, David’s growing inner conflict was something he could no longer resolve or even understand, and it hindered our growth. Knowing that this was something he needed to resolve within himself in order for our relationship to survive, we decided that it would be best for him to work it out alone. We decided to split up, putting our relationship and love to the ultimate test.

Being without him fills me with a tremendous sadness, as does the uncertainty of whether or not our roads will join together once again. I don’t know if the resolution of his inner conflict will reunite us or keep us apart. However, I understand that this is a journey I cannot take with him, and I can only pray that he finds the strength that I know he has within himself to find his own truth. I look at this as a time for answers, knowing that God has a plan.

If our love is as true and as strong as we believe, we will find our way through this and will be stronger for it — once again bringing smiles to other people’s faces as well as to our own.


Lia Del Sesto is a freelance graphic designer and professional vocalist from Providence, R.I. Reprinted courtesy of InterfaithFamily.com, a member of the Jewz.com Media Network.

Different Heroes


“Od lo avda tikvataynu.”

A poster of Moshe Dayan hung in my childhood bedroom. Growing up in the light of the Six-Day War, I adored this new Jewish hero — tough, cocky, a Jew without fear. A generation later, we venerated Yitzchak Rabin — the warrior peacemaker, the realistic visionary, the taciturn prophet. This year, I celebrate a different kind of hero and a different kind of courage.

Every Israeli child knows someone who has been killed. Every child has a cousin or a playmate, a teacher or a neighbor who has been killed or maimed during the onslaught of terror. For every fatality, there are dozens who are brutally wounded, and hundreds of traumatized family, friends and neighbors.

What happens to kids 9, 10, 11 years old who are attending funerals on a regular basis? Or who are regularly visiting friends in the hospital trauma center? What part of their childhood is lost? What part of their innocence is betrayed? What happens to parents who want to protect their children, but there’s nothing they can do? The teacher of my friend’s 12-year-old daughter was killed in one of the bombings. My friend went into her bedroom that night to console her.

She looked at him with eyes suddenly so much older and said, “Don’t worry, Abba. I understand.”

Such is life in Israel these days.

Purim in Israel was different this year. Usually, a Mardi Gras delirium takes hold of the country for a day or two. Streets fill with costumed Queen Esthers and righteous Mordecais, as well as species of Spider-Man and Superman. Shopkeepers offer each passerby a “L’chaim!” Everyone has a party to attend. This year, however, security officials requested that masks not be worn on the streets and in public places, and that costumes remain simple, for fear that terrorists might take the opportunity and turn a festival of joy into an eruption of destruction. Such is life in Israel these days.

But there were masks — gas masks. Fearing the poisonous intentions of Saddam, Israelis were once again issued gas masks — even small children — and ordered to prepare sealed rooms in their homes and businesses. So Holocaust survivors must watch their children and grandchildren prepare to meet poisonous gas attacks. Such is life in Israel these days.

We think of heroism in flashing images of courage and daring: A Queen Esther or Judah Maccabee who risks it all to save the people. There is another image of heroism. It is the heroism of sustained resilience. There is heroism in a tenacity of conviction facing a steady surge of evil, rising and falling like the tide, but — like the tide — never subsiding. Perhaps this is a more authentically Jewish form of heroism: the steadfast refusal to surrender to the darkness, to collapse into despair — the refusal to give up the dream.

This week’s Torah reading begins: “The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin, except for the relatives that are closest to him” (Leviticus 21:1).

The Chasidic master, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, read the verse as a warning against the defilement of the soul. The soul is defiled, its essence violated, when it is infected with the bitterness and rage that comes with senseless suffering and tragedy. Ironically, only those who hold out faith that human existence is ultimately meaningful are susceptible to this bitterness. One who believes that life is absurd and meaningless is never disappointed, never shaken. Without expectations or dreams, he knows no tragedy. The Ishbitzer taught that those who — like the priests, sons of Aaron — would serve God, are commanded to find the resources to resist the defilements of despair and darkness. Despair is the ultimate denial of God; surrender to darkness, the ultimate blasphemy.

This week, we celebrate the heroes who have given us the miracle of the State of Israel. We also celebrate those whose names are not listed in books or commemorated on plaques — heroes of resilience and resolution who cling to our ancient dream despite the relentless tide of evil. Od lo avda tikvataynu. For their sake, we haven’t lost our hope.


Ed Feinstein is rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Jewish Groups Back U.S. Stand on Iraq


Jewish groups are supporting a resolution from their umbrella organization backing the Bush administration’s use of force against Iraq "as a last resort."

The resolution from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, released Oct. 12, expresses support for President Bush and Congress in seeking to make Iraq destroy its weapons of mass destruction and stop weapons development programs.

The resolution has changed significantly from the draft released last week. It now specifically includes support for "the use of force as a last resort" — the draft had offered support only for unspecified presidential initiatives — and supports White House efforts to build U.N. and other international backing. That placates both critics, who said that an explicit warning of military action was needed, and those who said that nonviolent tactics needed to be endorsed.

"It says what we wanted to say, that we stand with the United States," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents.

The final version was composed after individual groups provided feedback on the draft last week. Many leaders said the draft was too vague, with the conference not presenting a clear view as to whether Jewish groups supported more controversial elements of the U.S. debate, such as unilateral action, if international support was not forthcoming. Hoenlein said the draft was meant to be vague in order to elicit feedback for the final version.

The resolution comes after the major debate in the United States on Iraq has ended, with both houses of Congress voting to give the president authority to use military action if necessary. The House voted 296-133 in favor of the resolution on Oct. 10, with the Senate concurring early the next morning, 77-23.

But Hoenlein said the American debate is not over. "There is going to be an ongoing debate, and there’s a feeling that we have to be on record on how we stand," he said.

While there were concerns about the draft language, most Jewish leaders had suggested last week that they would support the conference’s resolution. Leaders of the conference’s constituent groups praised the final resolution as a thoughtful consensus representing a wide array of Jewish opinion.

"It shows that Jews can stand proudly with our country, but recognize the tragedy of war," said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. "It’s as good of a situation as can be when one is about to wage war."

The Jewish Council tabled a resolution on the issue last month, a sign that Jewish support for a U.S. attack might not be as comprehensive as once thought. Some have argued that the council’s hesitancy was an impetus for the toned-down conference language. The council is scheduled to review the issue again at a New York meeting next week.

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), said the resolution was not one his group would have written, but it was still a fair compromise. "Although we at ZOA believe it is unproductive to give Saddam another chance to destroy weapons of mass destruction, we do support this as a good consensus statement that does support ultimately military action against this evil military regime," Klein said.

The Conference of Presidents’ leadership has been criticized in the past for not always seeking consensus before acting. But the process used on this statement was well received.

"I think they handled it well," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the central body of the Reform movement in North America and a frequent critic of the conference’s decision-making.

However, Yoffie said that he still believes the conference "tends to improvise" in decision-making, and needs a more established process.

One major organization, the American Jewish Committee, has said it will not support the conference resolution, because it believes that it would be inappropriate for Jewish groups to speak out on Iraq at this time.

Nobody Likes Saddam


So do you think America should go to war with Iraq?

The question is not idle.

This week, members of Congress and the Bush administration met with Jewish leaders in Washington to discuss President George W. Bush’s resolution on Iraq. While administration officials did not ask directly for Jewish support, some GOP congressmen did call for an active Jewish lobbying campaign on behalf of the Iraq resolution, reports our Washington correspondent James Besser.

Whether you approve or not, the groups who will lobby do so on your behalf. So now would be a good time to make up your mind, and make your voice heard.

Right now, it’s fair to say that the country’s 6.1 million Jews are of about that many minds when it comes to war with Iraq. Experts on both sides are hitting each other’s arguments back and forth like Venus and Serena.

There is no agreement on Iraq’s unconventional weapons capability. There is no agreement on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s willingness to use those weapons on a more powerful force rather than on, say, Kurdish children. There is no agreement on whether the aftermath of a successful "regime change" would plunge Iraq’s three large ethnic groups into murderous chaos or jump-start its highly literate and oppressed people toward democracy.

There is no agreement on whether America, in acting nearly unilaterally to attack Iraq, will alienate important allies and undermine the United Nations. Perhaps it will, by asserting its leadership, put both cowards and dictators on notice. There is no agreement on whether American forces can get rid of Hussein, and at what cost in American and innocent Iraqi lives. Some say ousting Iraq is the linchpin in America’s war on terror, others say it is a distraction.

Many Jews are inclined to agree with former Vice President Al Gore, whom they supported overwhelmingly for president in 2000. In a speech earlier this week in San Francisco, Gore bashed into Bush’s Iraq policy and called it a smoke screen for his failure to extirpate Al Qaeda. Or perhaps Jews would agree instead with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Gore’s former running mate. On Oct. 15, Lieberman said the United States must be "unflinching in our determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq before he, emboldened by Sept. 11, strikes at us with weapons of mass destruction." That’s right: he said it Oct. 15, 2001.

The sides in this debate do not split Democrat and Republican, left and right, hawkish and dovish. As numerous pundits have pointed out, many experts with actual combat experience oppose rushing into war, while many of the officials who favor it never saw a uniform, much less combat.

Israelis, who have seen much terror and war, support immediate American military action against Hussein. Perhaps more than any other country besides Iraq, Israel will feel the war’s effect. Some argue that war on Iraq will bring about an immediate and perhaps devastating attack on Israel. Other experts say the Iraqi threat to Israel will only increase, so better to stop it now.

With so much in dispute, are there any points of accord? Nobody likes Hussein. Experts agree that he is developing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons, and at least trying to develop nuclear ones. But how soon will he be able to deliver these weapons, and, knowing the cost, why would Hussein, the consummate survivor, even want to? On these points, experts disagree.

No wonder, then, when GOP officials asked Jewish leaders to get behind the president’s resolution on Iraq, the leaders offered only qualified support for now. The board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregation voted in favor of U.S. action against Iraq, on the condition that the United States first try all possible diplomatic solutions and that Bush not act with explicit congressional support, Besser reported. The American Jewish Congress is working out a statement of support, as is The Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations. The Conference represents 52 Jewish organizations nationwide and speaks to elected officials as the consensus voice of American Jewry. Its opinion in such sweeping policy matters can be important. Ideally, it reflects the positions of its member groups, which receive input from their constituents, like you.

But how do you go about deciding whether to support the Bush resolution or not? By turning to Bush. The president, in speeches, articles, interviews and especially in press conferences, needs to be as precise and as forthcoming as possible. He needs to provide, as Sen. Arlen Spector (R.-Pa.) has written, "information amplifying the specifics on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; the precise details concerning U.N. efforts to conduct inspections in Iraq, and Iraq’s refusals; the type of a military action necessary to topple Hussein, including estimates of American casualties, and how a post-war regime in Iraq is envisioned."

The president has yet to do this, and the ball is in his court.

Zinni’s Third Time Around


Peace envoy Anthony Zinni’s return to the Middle East later this week is seen as an attempt to address mounting international pressure on the Bush administration.

Zinni set off for Israel as the U.N. Security Council, in a surprise move, approved a resolution Tuesday night calling for a Palestinian state next to Israel. It was the first time the council explicitly has endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state.

After saying that he would not send Zinni back to the region until Palestinian attacks on Israel fell substantially, President Bush reversed course last week, and said Zinni would return to the region.

Zinni was scheduled to arrive on Thursday. The envoy’s second mission to the region ended in early January, at which time he set several conditions for anti-terror action by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Arafat largely has ignored the demands. Yet, American officials believe that without some gesture, Vice President Dick Cheney’s trip to the region — where he is discussing the American war on terrorism and a possible attack on Iraq — would be consumed by Arab calls for American action in the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Concern for the Cheney trip "was the key element," said David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "They didn’t want the Cheney visit to be diverted and marred by Arab-Israeli issues."

Indeed, Cheney was at the president’s side when Zinni’s trip was announced. He noted that the Arab-Israeli conflict was "not the only thing" on his agenda.

Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said sending Zinni back to the region eases the pressure on Arafat to control violence.

"Having Zinni return before violence stops is a concession to the terrorism that is going on," he said.

A State Department official, however, disagreed.

"The violence got so out of hand, we wrote ourselves a new parameter for sending Zinni back," the official said. "In sending Zinni right now, we can remove any excuses Arafat may claim for not doing what he must do."

In early December, on Zinni’s first visit to the region, Palestinian suicide bombers attacked Israel, forcing Zinni to return to the United States. On his second visit, a Palestinian ship was caught transporting tons of weapons and ammunition from Iran.

Some people question what options the Bush administration will have if Zinni again proves ineffective. But other analysts say Zinni is the best, if not the only, choice right now.

Stephen Spiegel, a political scientist and a scholar for the Israel Policy Forum, said it was a mistake to announce that Zinni would not return until violence was quelled, since it allowed terrorists to veto any diplomatic progress.

In the end, it was precisely the increasing violence, and international pressure to stop it, that forced Bush to make the move. Since Zinni was recalled in January, the Bush administration has kept rhetorical pressure on Arafat to curb terrorist attacks as the first step toward a cease-fire.

But all signs are that the policy has been ineffective. Arafat’s Fatah faction has emerged lately as the leading militant group, carrying out virtually all the terror attacks of recent weeks through its Tanzim and Al-Aksa Brigade militias. Hamas got back into the fray with an attack in the Gaza Strip on March 7.

With U.S. activity reduced to verbal salvoes, the spotlight has shifted in the past few weeks to initiatives from the European and Arab states, which are less palatable to Israel. As more states sought ways to temper the conflict, each pressed for U.S. intervention. The United Nations, European Union and Egypt all have called on the United States to get involved, as have newspaper editorials in the United States.

Tuesday’s U.N. resolution was sponsored by the United States and was approved by a 14-0 vote, with Syria abstaining. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority welcomed the resolution. "The whole world is behind a Palestinian state," an Arafat spokesman said.

Israeli officials, for their part, noted that the text "demands immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all forms of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction."

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Yehuda Lancry, termed the resolution balanced — "which is quite a novelty for Israel," he said.

Still, expectations for Zinni’s mission are low.

"The feeling is that stopping things from hemorrhaging is something," Makovsky said. Zinni also might be able to restart Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, Makovksy said, but little more than that.

Zinni is likely to focus on getting Israel and the Palestinian Authority to move straight to a work plan laid out by CIA Director George Tenet — including security discussions and arrest of terrorists — to ensure a cease-fire.

That is designed to allow for a cooling off period, followed by the Mitchell Plan of confidence-building measures leading to a resumption of peace talks.

"The first step toward any political solution has got to be the Tenet plan," Bush said in announcing Zinni’s return.

Because the Tenet plan requires various anti-terror steps from Arafat initially, American officials hoped the Israeli government would go for it. From Israel, it demands an end to the policy of targeted killings of Palestinian militants and the removal of troops from areas under Palestinian Authority control.

Sharon had said Israel would not begin the Tenet plan until the Palestinians stop their attacks for a week, but changed course over the weekend amid mounting pressure.

He now says Israel can negotiate, even with the violence. Indeed, Sharon has seemed uncharacteristically eager in the last week to meet U.S. requests.

He lifted Arafat’s travel ban on Monday, allowing the Palestinian leader to move around the West Bank and Gaza, fulfilling his pledge to lift the siege with the arrest of the final suspect in the assassination of Israel’s tourism minister.

Reform Needs Standards


The Reform rabbis’ recent resolution on same-gender officiation affirms two mutually contradictory actions: It supports any Reform rabbi who wishes to perform a same-sex ritual, including, though not so specified, marriage; and it supports any Reform rabbi who refuses to perform same-sex rituals.In an important way, there is nothing new in this resolution. A Reform rabbi could always have performed a same-sex commitment service. Nothing in Reform Judaism would have prevented Reform rabbis from doing so 10, 20, or 50 years ago, because there are no religious standards in Reform Judaism (this is not criticism, it is description). Reform rabbis can do anything they want ritually. So a Reform Jew can celebrate Shabbat on Tuesday. Indeed, for decades many Reform synagogues held Shabbat services on Sundays.

When I asked one Reform rabbi what binds his colleagues to each other and to their denomination, he replied, “Union dues,” only partially in jest.Reform Judaism is very important to the Jewish people. It has served as a way back into Judaism for many Jews who would not set foot in a Conservative or Orthodox shul. It is also a wonderful vehicle for experimentation with the tradition, especially the services, and as a result some of the most beautiful services in Jewish life take place in Reform synagogues.But because as a movement Reform has no religious standards, it is entirely understandable why movements based on standards (i.e., Conservative and Orthodox Judaism) would find it theologically difficult, if not impossible, to regard Reform rabbis as necessarily the religious equals of their rabbis.

This same-sex officiation resolution is a good example of Reform’s lack of standards. What are Reform Judaism’s standards regarding religious same-sex marriage? There are none. They are whatever a Reform rabbi wants them to be. And the same is true about every other Jewish religious issue. The Reform rabbi or temple may have standards, but the Reform movement does not.

Those in the Reform movement who push for having Judaism obliterate any distinction between opposite-sex sexual love and same-sex sexual love regard their position on homosexuality as, more than anything, “progressive.” The irony here is that it is not progressive, but regressive. Homosexual behavior was regarded as religiously and morally no different from heterosexual behavior throughout the ancient world. Ancient Egyptian men prayed to copulate with the buttocks of male gods. Ancient Greeks had sex with their wives in order to produce children and with males for pleasure. Nowhere in the ancient world was homosexual behavior regarded negatively. Only the Torah did, listing it as one of the practices of ancient Canaan that Israel must desist from. The elevation of male-female sexual love as the human ideal was the work of the Torah, and it resulted in a profound elevation of the status of women from baby-machine to co-equal of men.

Reform Judaism’s primary self-image is as a progressive movement. The truth, however, is it has often been a follower of the spirit of its times, precisely when it most regarded itself as progressive:

  • Reform Judaism thought it was progressive when it dropped kashrut and served shellfish at a banquet of the Hebrew Union College in the late 19th century. Yet it was only imitating the larger gentile world, and today Reform embraces mitzvahs such as kashrut, and many Reform rabbis refrain from eating shellfish.
  • Reform Judaism thought it was progressive when many of its congregations changed Shabbat from Saturday to Sunday. Yet, it was only imitating the Christians among whom the Reform Jews lived.
  • Reform Judaism thought it was progressive when it fought furiously against establishing Jewish day schools. Today Reform has rescinded this opposition, and there are now Reform Jewish day schools in most major American cities.
  • Reform Judaism thought it was progressive when it alone among Jewish denominations opposed Zionism. Yet it was Zionism that was progressive, and today it is difficult to imagine there being even one anti-Zionist Reform rabbi.
  • Reform Judaism thought it was progressive when it dropped virtually all Jewish religious rituals and Hebrew at its services. Yet, it was only making its services more like those of the Protestants among whom Reform Jews lived. Today, most Reform services have more Hebrew than English, and it is increasingly rare to find a Reform rabbi who does not a wear a yarmulke during services.
  • And now Reform Judaism thinks it is progressive in equating homosexual and heterosexual behavior. Yet, again, it is only imitating the larger world – the liberal secular world in which Reform Jews live.

Having said allthis, the reader might be surprised to learn that I attend a Reformsynagogues almost every Shabbat and deliver the weekly sermon at its minyan. I also love visiting and lecturing in Reform synagogues around North America; I love the services that freedom has enabled many Reform synagogues to produce.

And I love those Reform Jews, rabbinic and lay, who, though free to do nothing, have embraced Judaism with all their heart, all their soul and all their might. It is also critical to add that Jewish life must embrace Jews who are gay. They are as much our brothers and sisters as any heterosexual Jew, and, needless to say, created every bit as much in God’s image.

But this latest resolution, an attempt to undo Judaism’s awesome contribution to the world – making man-woman monogamous love society’s ideal – should make it clear that we need standards-based Jewish denominations. This means that for those Jews who are willing to change talmudic law, but not Torah principles, there is no denomination. Maybe this resolution will be the catalyst for the creation of such a movement – perhaps a Torah-based Reform Judaism.

Movements have started over much lesser issues than the definition of marriage.

Dennis Prager’s paper on this subject, “Judaism, Homosexuality, and Civilization,” may be obtained through the Web site www.dennisprager.com, or by calling 800-225-8584