Iran hopeful on atomic talks if ‘rights’ respected


If the world recognizes Iran’s “nuclear rights”, negotiations aimed at easing a standoff with the West later this month could have a positive outcome, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

But Washington said Iran had to move first to make its nuclear work compatible with international law and demanded it let U.N. inspectors into a military site that the West believes has been used for weapons-related nuclear research.

Iran has been under U.N. sanctions for years due to questions over its uranium enrichment – a process that yields fuel for power stations, Iran’s stated goal, but also for bombs, if done to a much higher level.

Tehran says that as a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) it can develop a full nuclear fuel cycle, and, if this is recognized, talks with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, France, Russia, China, the United States – and Germany (the P5+1) can succeed.

“I hope the P5+1 group recognizes Iran’s inalienable nuclear right within the framework of the NPT and refrains from sitting on the sidelines,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying

Under the persistent threat of military strikes by Israel and ever tighter economic sanctions from the West, Iran returned to nuclear talks that had stalled in early 2011.

Diplomats say Iranian negotiators were more forthcoming at talks in Baghdad last month than in previous negotiations, and believe the supreme leader has given them a freer hand to explore a deal.

Talks are due to resume on June 18-19 in Moscow.

“By accepting Iran’s right to use peaceful nuclear energy, the forthcoming talks in Moscow should reach a favorable result,” Velayati said.

Washington said Iran must make the first move.

“We have long said we recognize Iran’s right as a signatory to the NPT to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but only after it comes into compliance with its international nuclear obligations,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

“What’s at issue here is the fact they have not come into compliance,” Toner told reporters. “If and when they come into compliance, at that point we’ll address the possible civil use of nuclear energy.”

A senior U.S. official said it was urgent that U.N. inspectors be allowed into the Parchin military site, near Tehran, where the West believes Iran conducted weapons-related research and is now covering up the evidence.

SANITISATION

“It was clear from some of the images that were presented to us that further sanitization efforts are ongoing at the site,” said Robert Wood, acting head of the U.S. mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency, referring to satellite pictures the IAEA has shown to diplomats.

“If Iran has nothing to hide, why deny the agency access and carry out these apparent cleanup efforts?” Wood asked reporters at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

He also called the continued expansion of Iran’s underground Fordow nuclear facility a “serious provocation” and called for its immediate shutdown.

Iran has moved its most sensitive uranium enrichment activities to Fordow, located beneath a mountain, which would make it harder to destroy from the air.

Tehran has dismissed allegations about Parchin as “childish” and “ridiculous” and said it would consider allowing the IAEA to visit once a broader framework deal with the agency has been agreed on how to address inspectors’ questions.

Iran and the IAEA will hold a new round of talks on Friday in Vienna in an attempt to reach an agreement on a so-called “structured approach” document which the U.N. agency hopes will enable it to resume its investigation in Iran.

Wood called on Tehran to sign the agreement at Friday’s meeting but “history does not make me optimistic … we have all seen this movie many times before with Iran.”

The IAEA says the Islamic Republic has stonewalled its probe into the country’s atomic activities for almost four years, and Western diplomats have voiced doubt that Iran will implement any accord that is reached.

Far from recognizing Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium, the European Union issued a statement at the IAEA saying Iran must suspend its enrichment activities and provide “early access” to Parchin.

Iran’s ISNA news agency said Tehran had written twice to the P5+1 seeking preparatory meetings before talks in Moscow but had yet to hear back.

Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington and Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Michael Roddy

Opinion: Thank you Planned Parenthood


Amid all the hubris and rancor flying around the subject of women’s reproductive rights these days, I suggest we stop for a moment and send a word of thanks to Planned Parenthood for its 100 years of caring for both women and men with nowhere else to turn — almost 50 of those years in Los Angeles.

This venerable organization is well known for offering every kind of gynecological care, including birth control and, in a small percentage of cases, when requested, terminating unwanted pregnancies. But it also performs vasectomies for men,  and sex education for middle- and high-school students — including peer-advocate programs — as well as parent and adult education. 

At Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, for example, Planned Parenthood set up a clinic inside the school. In a single semester before the clinic, there were 34 positive pregnancy tests among students. In the semester after Planned Parenthood arrived, just three students became pregnant. And those benefits are both short- and long-term: Think of the teens whose futures were saved, who did not have to face the choice of having an abortion or aborting their own childhood.  Think also of the public money saved on medical care for the teen mom and public programs for the unintended child. Roosevelt is living evidence that even a single office can have dramatic results, while the absence of intervention is extremely costly, both financially and emotionally.

And yet, Planned Parenthood has become the new curse word for some on the campaign trail, as well as among Catholic bishops and on the pulpits of some churches. Mystifying as it might seem, the question of women’s reproductive rights — birth control — is coming under fire. And it’s not just the “old dudes” who are fussing, as Jon Stewart so aptly suggested Monday night in a segment brilliantly titled “The Vagina Ideologues.” Women, including Sarah Palin, have jumped on board, too. (It is worth noting, however, that while still governor, in 2009, Palin reportedly appointed a Planned Parenthood board member to the Alaska Supreme Court. Go figure).

So, in light of all this, I made a visit last week to Planned Parenthood’s Los Angeles headquarters, realizing I had no idea what it’s like to go there. The headquarters are located in a bright-blue building on 30th Street, just south of downtown, not far from the USC campus. They’ve recently renovated an industrial structure, and while I sat waiting in the lobby for my guide, I was struck by how pleasant it was to be there —  everyone coming into the offices that morning greeted one another with big smiles. Perhaps it’s the leadership, or maybe the sense of purpose in the workplace.

I toured the clinic, one of 18 Planned Parenthood health care centers in Los Angeles. It is well appointed and well thought-through: Recovery rooms, for example, allow for lots of sun, because light can help in healing.  There were also plenty of private consultation rooms for doctors, conference rooms for classes, a library for resource materials, and, most interesting, the call room, where the initial contact with clients for all the centers is made.

Rocio Ayala, the customer service center manager, heads the couple of dozen phone screeners, who collectively take between 2,000 and 2,400 calls each day. That’s about 100 calls per screener per day, each call lasting about two minutes, Ayala said — and those minutes can change lives. All the operators are required to be fluent in both English and Spanish, and they have easy access to interpreters for every other possible language clients might use. Ayala, who is Latino, told me that many of the callers are seeking health care for the first time in their lives: “We’re the place that people can turn to when nobody else can help them.” Planned Parenthood takes health insurance, but it also offers services and birth control for little or for free, depending upon need. For the uninsured, out-of-pocket birth control can average around $50 per month, not affordable for those on the poverty line, said Serena Josel, deputy director of the L.A. offices. “For 60 percent of our patients,” she said, “we are their primary care provider.”

Sue Dunlap, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles, has been with the organization for 13 years. She said the current controversy doesn’t surprise her, though she did sound a bit weary of the attacks on the organization’s mission. After all, she pointed out, studies have found that 99 percent of sexually active women in the United States use some form of birth control at some point. And one in five women in the United States will utilize the resources of Planned Parenthood in their lifetime. I can say anecdotally I know this to be true, based on my own women friends, Jewish friends included, who’ve gone there at one point or another in their lives — while short on cash for a doctor or just not knowing where to turn.

(For the record, Jewish law permits abortion in some circumstances, even requires it when the mother’s life is in danger, and birth control is permitted for married couples as long as the mitzvah of having children is also part of the plan. Some forms of birth control, such as the pill, are preferred over others, because they do not block or destroy the seed.)

The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing reproductive health worldwide, reports that 1.6 billion women worldwide are of childbearing age, 62 million of them in the United States, and that the average age that Americans have sex for the first time is 17. Given all that, the issue of containing unwanted pregnancies must be a burning concern for us all.  More and more people are seeking help from Planned Parenthood in recent years, Dunlap said, and that’s because the economy has made them more “deliberate about having access to contraception.”

So why are we even talking about Planned Parenthood except in glowing terms?

“I wish I still found it surprising,” Dunlap said. “I do find it shocking. I hope there will come a time when we say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ” She is especially concerned for the younger generation, who don’t realize that they “can’t take access to birth control for granted,” she said.

“This is access to basic care.”

Israeli women’s rights moving to front of bus


Anat Hoffman, the progressive Israeli activist who made headlines two summers ago when she was arrested for carrying a Torah at the Western Wall, comes to California next week with a clear message for American Jews: What’s happening in Beit Shemesh is as big a threat to Israel as what’s happening in Tehran.

“Americans have been trained to care about Israel’s security and think of it in terms of Israel being surrounded by millions of enemies,” Hoffman said in a phone interview in advance of her Los Angeles visit Feb. 3-4, during which she will speak at shabbat services at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Beth Am. “But security is not just measured by soldiers on the border. It’s also measured by an 8-year-old girl’s ability to go to school without being bullied.” Hoffman was referring to Naama Margolese, the Beit Shemesh girl who became a household name after Channel 2 TV aired a report revealing that she had been spit on and called a “whore” by ultra-Orthodox men while on her way to school. Their complaint was that the shy Modern Orthodox girl in a long skirt was not dressed modestly enough.

A native of Jerusalem, and a city councilwoman there for 14 years before becoming executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) — the Reform movement’s legal advocacy arm in the Jewish state — Hoffman, 57, has been fighting for decades to ensure that things like this don’t happen. Now, as the story of Naama Margolese reverberates throughout the Jewish world, Hoffman’s moment may have arrived.

For the first time, Hoffman said, issues of gender equality and religious pluralism are poised to figure heavily in the Israeli political debate. “I see this as a very important window of opportunity, because we are on the eve of an election,” she said.

Moreover, the Israeli populace is still fired up and feeling politically re-engaged by the protests of last summer, in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets and — setting a precedent for the American Occupy movement — erected tent encampments to protest economic and social inequalities.

“The question now,” Hoffman said, “is are we going to be put to sleep again and focus only on the security bit, or are we going to focus on the internal issues?”

Hoffman is convinced that those internal issues — gender equality, religious pluralism and minority rights chief among them — pose as great a threat to Israel’s future as the prospect of a nuclear Iran. But she’s not sure American Jews agree. “Ask a hundred Israelis right now what is the most dangerous thing for Israel, and most will not say the atom bomb. Ask a hundred American Jews, and they’ll say the Iranian bomb. I say, let’s not think about Iran for a bit. Let’s ask Israel, ‘Why can’t a woman have a bat mitzvah at the Wall?’ ”

Hoffman has been fighting for more than 20 years for a woman’s right to pray and read from the Torah at the Kotel. As chairwoman of the group Women of the Wall, she has long been at odds with the Orthodox establishment that controls Jerusalem’s holiest Jewish site. But it’s not just their influence over religious sites that irks her. As extremist factions of the ultra-Orthodox minority have grown ever more brazen, their influence has spread beyond the confines of their cloistered communities.

The practice of gender segregation on public buses exploded into the public debate last December after Tanya Rosenblit and, later, Israel Defense Forces soldier Doron Matalon were harassed by ultra-Orthodox men for refusing to sit at the back of a bus.

But Hoffman has been chipping away at the problem for years. In 2007, IRAC filed a petition on behalf of five women who had been harassed on gender-segregated buses, and last January, Israel’s Supreme Court deemed the practice illegal. Since then, Hoffman has regularly led “Freedom Rides,” wherein she and other Jewish women sit at the front of gender-segregated buses to ensure the court decision is being upheld. When they are harassed by ultra-Orthodox men, bus drivers often don’t interfere, Hoffman said, deferring to the customary practice of separating the sexes. “We have 13 lawsuits against drivers for not enforcing the law, and it’s very effective,” Hoffman said. “Those suits for damages are helping to unlearn what 10 years of segregated buses have taught.”

But why have these issues only reached a boiling point in recent months? According to Hoffman, women’s role in Israeli society is changing on a broader level, and the powers that be are threatened.

In Israel’s secular world, a deeply entrenched culture of sexism is finally beginning to crack. A law protecting women from sexual harassment that passed more than a decade ago is challenging the male establishment, and 2011 saw Israel’s former president, Moshe Katsav, begin serving a seven-year prison sentence for rape. “Once the law began to be implemented, behaviors that had been tolerated in the army and government suddenly became illegal,” Hoffman said. “The bastards changed the rules and didn’t tell Moshe Katsav.”

At the same time, in the Orthodox world, women are gaining power and influence. Hoffman points out that it’s women who receive a more worldly education — and therefore pay the mortgage and balance the checkbook — while men receive only a religious education. “Women are in the world, and the kids see that the women know more. So how else can the Orthodox world keep them in their place other than to say, ‘You might know more in the modern world, but in the religious world, you should know your place.’ ”

As Hoffman — who earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA — prepares to address Jewish audiences in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, she said she hopes that American Jews will hold Israel’s feet to the fire on social issues. “Don’t go easy on us,” she said. “Israel needs to hear the truth from its supporters. To be a Zionist is not a spectator sport.”


Anat Hoffman will be speaking in Los Angeles on:

Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. “Between the Stones and a Hard Place: The Challenge to Gender Equity in Israel.” Hoffman will speak during Shabbat Unplugged Service-In-The-Round. Following Kiddush, she will also speak from 9:15 to 10:15 p.m. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. Free and open to the public.

Feb. 4, 9 a.m. “Civil Rights in Israel.” Shabbat Morning Worship. Temple Beth Am, 1039 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Free and open to the public.

Feb. 4, 4 p.m. Women’s Rights in Israel. Mincha, Seudat Shlishit, Maariv and Havdallah. Temple Beth Am, 1039 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Hoffman will speak during Seudat Shlishit. Free and open to the public.

On Wisconsin, Fight, Fight, Fight


During his 1948 presidential campaign against underdog Democrat Harry S. Truman, Republican Thomas E. Dewey was on the campaign trail. As a crowd surged toward the back of his train, an irritated Dewey told the crowd, “That’s the first lunatic I’ve had for an engineer. He probably should be shot at sunrise, but we’ll let him off this time since nobody was hurt.” Lee Tindle, the 54-year-old engineer, told a reporter, “I think about as much of Dewey as I did before, and that’s not much.” Democrats chalked “Lunatic Engineers for Truman” on train after train, and hounded the candidate with references to it until the end of Truman’s winning campaign.

When Republican Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan tried to privatize trash collection after his election in 1993, the city union that represented sanitation workers had them politely visit the homes of the people they served. Their reception was extremely warm, and soon city hall was besieged with calls to keep the system in the hands of the public. Riordan’s plan ended up in the trash bin.

In December 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faced a group of nurses protesting his decision to maintain large staffing ratios in hospitals. He blithely called them “special interests” and said, “I always kick their butt.” Soon he was facing a challenge from the 5-foot-tall and very effective head of the nurses’ union, Rose Ann DeMoro, who ultimately made him eat his words. The governor learned that conservative rhetoric against unions was no match for the public’s approval of police officers, trash collectors, nurses and others who keep the lights on and the doors open.

This month, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker rammed through a radical bill to gut collective bargaining for his state’s public employees. Just like Schwarzenegger, Walker underestimated the hornet’s nest his attack on public employees would create. Over the course of several weeks, tens of thousands of protesters crowded the state capitol. By the end, farmers were driving tractors in support of the unions. Despite Walker’s attempt to split the police from the other unions, most law enforcement sided with the protesters. As of this week, anti-Walker organizers had collected nearly half of the signatures needed to recall eight Republican members of the state senate. A signature drive to place a recall of the governor on the ballot will begin in January under a state law that guarantees no recalls for one year after taking office.

Labor may not be what it used to be, and Republicans keep thinking that unions will fold like a cheap suit when attacked. But while Democrats in government do indeed tend to cave in to Republican bullies, the unions are the party’s fighting core. Their fighting spirit, as seen in Wisconsin, has done more to revive the Democratic Party than the entire national party leadership since 2008.

It’s easy to underestimate unions. They are demonized by Republicans and often kept at arms’ length by Democrats. The national media pay little attention to them. A crowd of 80,000 people in Madison is likely to get less coverage than 25 Tea Partiers. It would take divine intervention for the Sunday talk shows to put a labor leader on the stage. (That would take time away from the thoughts of John McCain.)

But let go of the stereotypes. Union members are not just the men with blue-collar jobs that we imagine. Even in the early days, women were central to their development (see the story on the anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire on Page 14); now they include men and women, blue-collar and white-collar workers, many with a college degree and from diverse backgrounds. A 2009 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that nearly half of today’s union members are women, and nearly half of union members have a college degree. One out of eight are immigrants. Latinos now make up more than 12 percent of the unionized work force, with African Americans at 13 percent. The labor movement is probably the only place in American politics where white men with blue-collar jobs are joining forces with blacks and Latinos and women, with white-collar workers and immigrants. That fact alone should worry governors like Walker trying to fight recalls.

In a number of states, Republicans now control both the governorship and the legislature. They are cutting taxes for the rich and for corporations (for the people who bankrolled their elections with the freedom offered by the Citizens United decision). They are doing this in order to create a fiscal crisis that will allow them to justify cutting programs for working people and crushing unions. Republican regimes are moving to make it harder for working-class and minority voters to participate, through voter ID laws. This is serious stuff.

Walker is the best known, but not even the worst. That honor belongs to Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, who is about to sign legislation that will give him close to dictatorial power over local governments. The law would strengthen the power of emergency managers, who would be able to step in and overrule elected local officials and even eliminate local governments and school districts. According to a March 9 article in the Detroit Free Press, “the law would include new triggers to allow the state to step in. For example, a city or school district that misses a payday or ends a year with a deficit of 5 percent or more” could find itself subject to state control.

So much for the “home rule” that cities and towns earned more than 100 years ago. Talk is starting of a Michigan recall campaign, and in Ohio there is movement for a statewide ballot measure to overturn union-busting legislation.

Unions are not perfect. There are unions whose influence disturbs me. (Don’t get me started on the state prison guards.) Sometimes unions fight hard for protections I don’t much like. Unions sometimes seem not to give a fig about public opinion, and sometimes that hurts them. But they are the only ones within the Democratic coalition willing to get their boots scuffed up when the game is on the line.

If unions themselves may not always be popular, the people they represent are, and we need them to protect us from the scarifying assault on democracy that is emanating from the 2010 mid-term elections. Somebody has to keep the Koch brothers and other corporate raiders from taking over our democracy.

If the Wisconsin battle has proved anything, it is that we are way better off with unions, because they are willing to stand up and fight for the simple right to maintain a middle-class standard of living for ordinary people.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at California State University, Fullerton.

Inmates’ rights were violated on kosher meals, judge rules


The Indiana Department of Corrections violated federal law when it substituted vegan meals for kosher for its inmates, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson made the ruling last week in Indianapolis in response to a class-action suit filed last year against the department by Matson Willis, an Orthodox Jewish inmate at the Miami Correctional Facility.

The meals reportedly were changed in order to cut costs. The judge said the change violated the religious rights of Willis.

Some 90 to 120 inmates were affected by the change, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

A hearing set for Nov. 30 will decide what actions the department must take going forward.

State Court Upholds Prop. 8


On Tuesday May 26, 2009, we stood in Leimert Park, together with clergy of many faiths, awaiting our fate, awaiting a verdict on our humanity.  Outrage, sorrow and a renewed sense of purpose swept across the crowd as news spread that the California Supreme Court had made a Solomon’s choice – upholding as legal the marriages entered into by same-sex couples last summer while preserving the travesty of justice that is Proposition 8.  In effect, the Court had abandoned its constitutionally designated responsibility to protect a minority from having its most basic civil rights put up for populate vote.
Like the Israelites who received the blessing of Torah at Mount Sinai yet continued to wander in the wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land, LGBT Californians and our struggle for Marriage Equality live on.  Another day of justice delayed, justice denied.
What a difference a day makes.

Last year, on May 15, 2009, the California Supreme Court courageously embraced its legacy as a leader in the pursuit of justice, equality and civil rights.  The Court wisely recognized that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, have the fundamental right to official recognition of their families. The Court proclaimed that any restrictions on access to the civil institution of marriage are impermissible forms of discrimination prohibited by the California Constitution just as they did when, in 1948, California was one of the first states in the nation to overturn laws against interracial marriage. 
It was the first of many historic days last year.

On June 17, 2008, California began issuing marriage licenses free of discrimination.  The two of us stood that day in a long line that snaked in front of West Hollywood City Park. We will forever remember the sights and sounds of that day:  Groups hovered in clusters, LGBT Jews under a Chuppah blowing the Shofar, parents with their children, traditional white wedding dresses dotted the lawn. Couples together for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years became unlikely newlyweds.  One of us, the rabbi, officiated many weddings that beautiful day.  The other and her wife served as witnesses, smiling so hard our faces hurt, singing Mazel Tov and Simin Tov until we grew hoarse.

The days between June 17 and November 4 filled California with a euphoria that transformed millions. 18,000 couples married. 36,000 people, each of us touching wider and wider concentric circles of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors.  We became part of a giant wave of inclusion, justice and most of all hope.  Our families were finally able to protect and honor one another with all of the same rights and responsibilities as loving couples everywhere.

Each day was a gift.

Then came Election Day.  Some angry, some in shock, we went about our lives- walked our dogs, waited in traffic, worked, bought groceries, paid bills –wondering as we met neighbors, co-workers and strangers who among them had used the power of the ballot box to strip us of our civil rights.  Parents struggled to explain to their children how some people, a slim majority, had decided their family did not deserve the rights and recognition as other families.
From then on, we began to count the days to the time when the California Supreme Court would restore our dignity and quality.  If only the counting of those days had yielded the same blessings as the counting of the Omer.

Now that the Court has failed to live up to its Constitutional promise of equality and dignity for all, what can we as Jews do?  We can roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We can reach out to other communities of faith to explain why the calling of b’tzelem elohim requires us to recognize God’s image in all people.  We can speak out from the bimah, in the press and on the streets about how our heterosexual marriages have been unaffected by the loving union of our LGBT friends, family and colleagues.  We can tell the tale of how dangerous it is to give people the absolute power to strip a minority of its civil rights, knowing all too well the dark road down which a society can run if given such authority. 

And we can remember that, although Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the voting public, young people of all races and religions opposed it in overwhelming numbers.  May that generation carry us forward into a time when all people who love and seek to build a life together will have the full and equal legal right to do so. 

Elissa Barrett
Executive Director, Progressive Jewish Alliance

Rabbi Denise Eger
Congregation Kol Ami, President – Southern California Board of Rabbis

Jews should oppose Senator Craig’s ouster


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservative Supreme Court rulings vex Jewish advocacy groups


Following a string of conservative rulings in the closing weeks of this year’s Supreme Court session, some Jewish officials are suggesting that they may be forced to abandon their decades-long strategy of relying on the courts to protect liberal gains on a host of issues.

For decades, many Jewish groups counted on the top court to correct what they saw as the excesses of legislatures and chief executives across the country. But with the close of the court’s first full term with two recent conservative arrivals, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Jewish groups say the situation has reversed itself.

Not only has the Supreme Court thoroughly abandoned a decades-old tradition of upholding the liberal gains of the 1950s and 1960s, it has become the premier bulwark of conservatism now that Democrats have retaken Congress and the White House is weakened to the point of impotency.

“To put it in historical perspective, we were quite sanguine when cases would come up, with the sense we would get a decision in our favor,” said Jeff Sinensky, legal counsel to the American Jewish Committee. “Looking forward, it’s likely that the majority, now headed by Justice John Roberts and with Justice Samuel Alito coming on the court, have a fundamentally different perspective than the Jewish community.”

Sinensky and others cite four decisions that have especially roiled the community over the last year since Alito replaced Sandra Day O’Connor, who carefully hewed to the center, as the court’s swing vote on several hot-button issues:

  • The court ruled in April that a ban on late-term abortions did not violate a woman’s right to privacy, rolling back in part the gains of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
  • In May, the court imposed a tough 180-day limitation on an employee’s right to claim pay discrimination.
  • Last month, a 5-4 majority of the justices ordered school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. to end voluntary busing programs that sought to integrate schools that had become segregated through demographic trends.
  • Also last month, the court ruled that taxpayers have no standing to stop the executive branch from spending federal funds on faith-based programs, a decision that would hamper efforts by Jewish groups to wage legal challenges on such matters.

Not every Jewish group was unhappy with those decisions. Two Orthodox groups, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, praised the ruling on faith-based programs. In fact, Agudath argued that it didn’t go far enough, saying it should have eliminated challenges to congressionally mandated religious spending as well.

“There’s not a whole lot of logic for the distinction between executive branch decisions and congressional decisions,” said David Zweibel, Agudath’s general counsel.

Agudath also praised the abortion decision, but Zweibel stressed that the Orthodox community was not necessarily embracing a more conservative court. He noted that Orthodox lawyers in the past had been on the “liberal” side of arguments, for instance in expanding laws combating discrimination.

“To say we’re conservative or liberal is wrong,” Zweibel said.

For most of the Jewish communal stalwarts on jurisprudence, “disappointment” was the term that kept cropping up to describe the recently completed Supreme Court term.

“We were 0-for-3 this term,” said Michael Lieberman, the Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), referring to the ADL’s three friend-of-the-court briefs: the abortion case, the taxpayer case and the desegregation case.

According to Lieberman, the significance of the cases ran deeper than the losses. In each of the three cases he cited, the Supreme Court had gone out of its way to reverse lower court rulings.

“It’s really going to be important going forward to pick our forums,” Lieberman said. “The court system may not be the best way to vindicate rights going forward.”

That prospect, of an activist conservative court seeking to correct what it perceives to be a liberal taint on jurisprudence, led other Jewish groups to the same conclusion.

“There’s a concern about finding the right cases to bring to the court,” said Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. He cited the faith-based funding case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“The Hein case is a great example of how a case is not necessarily one that the litigators would have chosen as the first case on the president’s faith-based initiative,” Pelavin said.

Jewish groups signed on as friends of the court in the case because of the potential that the justices would overturn precedent, Lieberman said, but generally believed the case was not worth the risk — a sense vindicated by the court’s finding. As a result of the decision, Lieberman said, only those people directly affected by funding for faith groups could challenge the law.

“What you’re asking for is someone who is among the least, the lost, someone with an alcohol addiction, a drug addition, someone who has no job, to come forward,” he said. “It’s so unlikely that someone falling through the safety net is going to say, ‘I need that methadone treatment program, but I resent saying a prayer for it.'”

Another strategy is to advocate for legislation on the local, state and federal levels tailored to circumvent the court’s reasoning. “It may be that a local ordinance is the next way to protect the workplace,” Lieberman said. “It may be state law, it may be Congress or the executive branch.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Jewish liberal who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, said he expects to take a legislative-based approach to dealing with the court’s ruling that employees seeking to file lawsuits charging discrimination in pay, must do so with the 180-day period.

“Congress must make its intent clear: Anti-discrimination laws must be strengthened — not weakened,” said Nadler, the chairman of the civil liberties subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, in introducing legislation last week that would expand the 180-day limit.

Sammie Moshenberg, who directs the Washington office of the National Council of Jewish Women, said her organization’s strategy of directly opposing some judicial candidates has been vindicated.

Despite their concerns about the direction of the court, some other Jewish groups opted not to oppose President Bush’s judicial nominees, arguing that a president deserves leeway in placing his or her preferences on the court.

In 2001, according to Moshenberg, when NCJW first started opposing judicial nominees, “We said these people serve for a lifetime [and] make incredibly important decisions that affect us for the rest of our lives.'”

The federal bench and the Supreme Court, Moshenberg said, “have really been the backstop for our constitutional rights throughout history.”

Palestinian remarks generate cheer and gloom


Cheerful news reached us last week from Damascus. Hamas’ political chief, Khaled Meshal, told Reuters in an interview on Jan. 10 that Israel is a “matter of fact,” and that Hamas
might consider recognizing Israel once a Palestinian state is established.

Don’t misjudge me. I am not particularly thrilled with the content of Meshal’s statement, especially after learning that one hour later a Hamas spokesman denied any change in Hamas’ refusal to ever recognize Israel. What I do find refreshing, though, is that Reuters asked the question, dozens of linguists and analysts were busy interpreting the answer and news channels from China to Africa were eager to report the results.

What made me cheerful was seeing that the fundamental question of whether the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel, the key to any peace settlement in the region, is back on the table and can be discussed in good company without fear of dismissal or ridicule.

Let me explain. Five years ago, if you were to ask this question among Middle East analysts, you were sure to be scolded by an army of well-meaning conflict-resolution experts for being a spoiler of peace or ignorant of the latest polls from the West Bank.

“It does not matter what the Palestinians think about recognition or legitimacy,” was the standard answer, “what matters are conditions on the ground.”

“The road to peace is incremental,” repeated all the headlines.

Remember Peter Jennings, the legendary ABC News anchor? When he interviewed Hanan Ashrawi on his show and asked her about Israel’s right to exist, she hushed him with: “Chairman Arafat has recognized Israel in 1988,” and this kept poor Peter meek and timid for the rest of the interview.

When the Syrian Ambassador spoke at UCLA in 2005, and I asked him whether he personally recognizes Israel’s right to exist, my learned colleagues were quick to rebuke my question as impertinent — “What further proof would Israelis want to convince themselves of Arabs’ intentions?” they asked.

In other words, the question of Arab intentions, the mother of all questions and the key to all solutions, has been locked in the closet for 10 good years, and it is only Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian election, together with financial sanctions by Israel and Western governments, that have brought it back to the spotlight it deserves. Moreover, now that Hamas is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Hamas’ official stance toward Israel has given Western observers a crisp and reliable thermometer to gauge the Palestinian vision of peace, many times more reliable than the ambiguous polls and speeches we have been reading about in the past.

The emergence of such a reliable thermometer now provides valuable new insights into Middle East affairs, especially for those who believe that honesty and clarity are prerequisites to peace. True, we owe this progress to Hamas, but we have never denied credit where credit is due.

However, before we gloat, I should note that my friends in Israel have been consistently skeptical of all polls and speeches since the outbreak of the second intifada, and they have paid no attention at all to those who debate whether Hamas truly represents the heart and mind of Palestinian society.

Most Israelis today have become resigned to some version of the “salami theory,” according to which the vast majority of Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas alike, will never accept Israel as a legitimate neighbor and no matter what agreement is signed, will continue their struggle to “liberate Palestine” in incremental stages (“shlavim” in Hebrew.)

The current fighting between Fatah and Hamas is viewed by most Israelis as a confrontation between two tactics aiming for the same goal, one calling for dismantling Israel in stages, using diplomacy, international isolation, demography, deceit and occasional terror and attacks, the other calling for open warfare.

This gloomy view, depressing as it is, rests on some hard evidence, which even moderate Palestinians have not been able to dispel. Aside from Arab’s century-long rejection of Jewish sovereignty on any part of Palestine, well funded Palestinian organizations have recently intensified their anti-Israel campaign in Europe and on U.S campuses, aiming not at ending the occupation but at undermining the legitimacy of Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people.

Another indicator viewed with alarm by Israelis is that the subject of “comprehensive peace,” including hopes, images and responsibilities of state ownership, is not being discussed in the Palestinian street. While Palestinians do lay conditions for peace, they refrain from discussing its parameters, even behind closed doors.

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, is the only leader who dared remind his countrymen that compromises on the refugees “right of return” must be made if peace is to be given any chance at all. But all discussions of such compromises are considered taboo by the rest of Palestinian society, for whom “peace” has always meant a return to Jaffa, Haifa and Ramlah.

Finally, Palestinian intellectuals have been a great disappointment to Israeli peace activists. In an unprecedented candid exchange between two of the Middle East’s most respected journalists, Salameh Nematt, an Arab, and Akiva Eldar, an Israeli, Eldar writes (Ha’aretz, December 2006): “The Jewish minority, which calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and steals their olives, is my enemy. I will do everything legally possible in order to protect my Arab neighbors from the obnoxious attacks of this racist minority.

“But Israelis need to know that Arabs who call for the expulsion of Jews from their [Jewish] land and deliberately murder their children are enemies of yours, and that there are many among you willing to defend my family against those who deny my right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Those familiar with Eldar’s record as a peace activist and a champion of Palestinians’ rights and statehood would appreciate his readers’ disappointment — after 30 years of intense outreach efforts, Eldar is still begging his Palestinian friends to acknowledge his “right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Bibi Netanyahu ranks high … as racist demagogue


By rights, Binyamin Netanyahu, which every poll says is by far the most popular politician in Israel, should be ranked with Jean Le Pen, Jorge Haider and the rest of the Western
world’s racist demagogues.

But he won’t be, because anti-Arab racism in Israel is either supported or strategically ignored by the mainstream of the Jewish world and pretty much taken for granted by the non-Jewish world.

What Netanyahu said last week was not new for him. He was reported to have made the same appeal to the same sort of audience — Charedi political leaders — a couple of years ago as finance minister. Then, as now, he was apologizing for the way his child welfare cuts had hurt large Charedi families, while at the same time asking the Charedim to look at the bright sides of that policy.

“Two positive things happened,” he told a conference of Charedi government officials in Nir Etzion last week. “Members of the Charedi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birthrate.”

The once and possibly future prime minister of Israel says publicly that he’s sorry his welfare cuts made life harder for Jewish families who are “blessed,” as he put it, with many children, but isn’t it “positive” that these cuts resulted in fewer Arab children being born?

Then Netanyahu went on to suggest a national remedy for the victims of his economic policies — but for Jewish victims only, not Arab victims.

“I don’t think that the Jewish Agency should refrain from helping part of the Jewish public in the state,” he said, “and it is possible that additional nongovernmental bodies could have done so.”

Imagine if any non-Jewish government official in the world cited the lowering of the Jewish birthrate in his country as an accomplishment, then recommended that his country’s founding institution raise money to help poor non-Jewish families but not poor Jewish families.

How would the Jewish world, starting with Israel, characterize such an individual? What sort of pressure would the Jewish world apply to get him or her fired, blackballed and, if possible, indicted?

Yet everyone knows the speech in Nir Etzion will not hurt Netanyahu at all — even though, again, this is not the first time he’s said this, and even though the statements are perfectly in line with his standing as Israel’s No. 1 fear-monger on the Israeli-Arab “demographic threat.”

(On second thought, Netanyahu is probably only No. 2 — Avigdor Lieberman, his former right-hand man and alter ego, is No. 1. When it comes to the subject of Israeli Arabs, it’s hard to tell where Netanyahu ends and Lieberman begins.)

The worst that will happen to Netanyahu from this is that maybe another liberal commentator or two will denounce him, and there will be a press release from some civil rights organization. Maybe not even that. If, on the other hand, we’re really, really lucky, the attorney general might have a word to say.

(FYI, even if there was a chance of it happening, I wouldn’t want to see Netanyahu indicted. If every Israeli who made racist remarks in public had to stand trial, the courts would collapse under the load.)

The only political parties that might censure Netanyahu are the left-wing parties, and nobody cares about them. In fact, a bad word from Meretz can only help the Likud leader in the polls.

The Anti-Defamation League won’t say anything, and neither will the other Diaspora Jewish organizations. Bibi is just too big, too popular, too important, too much a symbol of Israel for the Diaspora Jewish establishment to say a word against him, let alone accuse him of being a shameless bigot.

“Two positive things happened: Members of the Charedi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birthrate.”

That’s the Israeli people’s overwhelming choice for prime minister talking. I hope The New York Times, CNN and every other major news medium in the world picks up this story and doesn’t let it go until Israel and Diaspora Jewry are shamed into dumping this guy once and for all.

On second thought, exposure as an anti-Arab racist by the international media could cause Netanyahu some problems overseas, but at home, it would only increase his appeal.

Larry Derfner is the Tel Aviv correspondent for The Jewish Journal.

What do Dennis Prager, Jimmy Carter, Mel Gibson and General Motors have in common?


Understanding Prager

Your Dec. 8 edition of The Journal had two prominent headlines regarding recent comments made by Dennis Prager. These headlines stated: “Prager Won’t Apologize After Slamming Quran in Congress” and “Prager Opposition to Quran in Congress Rite Draws Fire.”

Since I previously read Prager’s commentary regarding the new Muslim congressman wanting to use the Quran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony, it was difficult to reconcile both your headlines and the related article. Nowhere did we see Prager “slam” or “oppose” in a practical sense. Rather, his commentary sought to perpetuate American values for this traditional congressional swearing in ceremony. Our courts also use a similar process to swear in witnesses and assure truthful testimony. Will our court system be next in line?

Your paper was quite transparent in editorializing against, not reporting, Prager’s position. Moreover, some of the same Jewish leaders named as Prager’s critics have also been at the forefront of keeping religious and Jewish symbols out of our secular society.

In this latter instance, the constitutional separation of church and state argument is invoked. Interesting how they now cloak their argument against Prager with another constitutional position, i.e., the First Amendment.

You also cite an Islamic advocacy group, which vehemently attacks Prager both personally and via his position on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Instead of overreacting to political correctness, we would be better served by pursuing the real facts and premise here.

Steven Fishbein
Sacramento

Talented Mel

I pay tribute to Mel Gibson … and believe that the word police are alive and well out there. (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto,’ Now,” Dec. 8).

How many of us are innocent of never making a racial or ethnic slur? Because he is who he is, the media goes after him, waiting for him to mess up and nail him. So what — they are only words. I believe he is a most talented actor and director no matter what anyone says … and will probably go back and see [“Apocalypto”] again.

J. Sklair
Via e-mail

General Motors

The series, “Hitler’s Carmaker,” by Edwin Black examines once again the role of Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary, in the period before and during World War II (“Hitler’s Carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine,” Dec. 1).

It has been well documented that, like all German companies, Opel participated in the rebuilding of German industry during the 1930s. As Germany rearmed, Opel sold trucks and other vehicles to the German military, as did all other German vehicle manufacturers.

In independent research supported by GM, historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. concluded that GM executives in charge of Opel strove to evade Nazi demands to convert the firm’s main factory for production of dedicated war material. His book, “General Motors and the Nazis” (Yale University Press, 2005), documents that by mid-1940, soon after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had taken complete control of operations at Opel.

It was during this later period, from 1940 though 1945, that the Nazis turned to forced labor to bolster Germany’s manufacturing industry, and that sanctions against Jews and others grew into the horrors of the Holocaust.

During this period, GM had no role in supporting the Nazi regime. In fact, GM became a key part of the American war effort, without which the Nazis might have remained in power for many years longerGeneral Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era.

While “Hitler’s Carmaker” makes for compelling reading, it is not news. It covers a period of history that has been extensively researched. For example, following in-depth investigations in 1999, Opel made a $15 million contribution to the German multicompany Trust Fund Initiative to compensate forced labor workers and their survivors.

Nor does it reflect the General Motors of today, which is firmly committed to basic human rights. These principles, spelled out in GM’s Human Rights and Labor Standards, the Global Sullivan Principles and related documents, are proudly supported by the men and women of GM around the globe.

Steven J. Harris
Vice President, Communications
General Motors Corp.

Playing With the Facts

Perhaps President Carter’s latest book is not “Mein Kampf” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but give his supporters more time to play with the facts (“With Friends Like These…” Dec. 15). For example: The response to [Theodor] Herzl’s gentle diplomacy was “Protocols of Zion”; the Palestinian response to Jewish immigration of legally purchased land where the Jews did their own labor, at slave level, were pogroms (called riots); Palestinian Nazification erupted with Hitler’s ally in genocide, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and blossomed with Arab Ph.Ds in Holocaust denial; currently there is mass Nazi education for Palestinian youth.

Don’t worry, give Carter’s book time.

Meanwhile, I hereby nominate his book for the “Janjaweed Martyrs of the Year” award.

Charles S. Berdiansky
West Hollywood

Vegan Versions

My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart’s annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast (“Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast,” Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it’s easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.

Michael Croland
Norfolk, Va.

Correction:The Dec. 15 Journal cover illustration should have been credited to Steve Greenberg. The Journal regrets the error.

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An open letter to the rabbis at the Jewish Theological Seminary


I want to share with you an email I wrote to Chancellor Elect Eisen as well as Rabbi Joel Roth on the JTS board to support allowing gays to marry and become rabbis:

Dear Mr. Eisen,

I am a 46-year-old woman born and raised in Los Angeles. I am writing to ask that the Conservative movement support gay marriage. As a child, my family was members of the Conservative Temple Beth Am with Rabbi Jacob Pressman at the helm. I am a private person but I wanted to share a bit of my story with you as I know mine is the story of many.

In elementary school I realized I was different. I had no vocabulary for it, but all the books, movies and relationships I saw led me to believe that my feelings were not normal and needed to be suppressed.

I began hiding what was to me a dark and terrible secret that I could not admit even to myself until my 20s. I did not want to be different. In fact, I went to sleep every night for years and years praying that I would wake up and be straight. Of course, that never happened. The thought of coming out and hurting my beloved parents or having them feel ashamed of me was more than I could bear and I thought my only options were either to commit suicide, which gay teens do three times more than their straight counterparts, or move to another city and hide my true self from my family forever.

I stayed in the closet until I was 28-years-old, dating men and sacrificing my youth and happiness trying in vain to fit in. I started having terrible panic attacks and actually thought I was going crazy. I realized one day that it was suddenly more painful to hide who I was than to admit the truth. I tried to prepare myself to lose my family. There were hints all my life that I was gay that my parents either ignored or denied hoping, like myself it wasn’t true or it would simply go away, or perhaps I would grow out of it. Their reactions let me know this would break their hearts.

Mr. Eisen, how different my life would have been had in my early years my temple and temple community openly welcomed gay people or if there were openly gay rabbis to demonstrate that everyone has value.

As Jews we especially understand the pain of being an outsider and of doors being closed to us simply because we were born Jewish. How terrible to think that we ourselves would ever make a fellow Jew an outsider.

By locking gay people out of the rabbinate or of the sacrament of marriage is to send a very strong message that gay people are flawed and not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as those who happen to be straight.

The reality is that 10 percent of society is gay. With an estimated 14 million Jews worldwide, that’s 1.4 million Jews that happen to be gay. With our numbers dwindling, we cannot afford to lose even one person or make any Jew feel not welcome. I have always felt great pride in being Jewish.

This year I became a bat mitzvah after two years of study. I love Jews and Israel as much as anybody. I do not think it is fair that I am excluded from being a full member of the community I love so much because of the way I was born. It’s like saying people with blue eyes can never marry.

Mr. Eisen, whether we have blue or brown eyes, straight or gay most of us grow up dreaming of the day we will stand beneath a chuppah with our family and friends surrounding us with a rabbi to bless our union.

It is my deep hope that the Conservative movement will make a strong and courageous decision to embrace all of our members so that someday no Jew will ever again feel like an outsider in our own community.

Sincerely,
Pamela Witt

Pamela Witt is a business owner in Los Angeles. She can be reached at pamwittla@aol.com.

Prager won’t apologize after slamming Quran in Congress


Conservative pundit Dennis Prager has come under fire from Muslim and Jewish groups after he attacked an incoming Muslim congressman who plans to bring a Quran to the House swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4.

But Prager said he stands by statements made in his column published Nov. 28 on the Townhall.com Web site and has no intention of apologizing to Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) or his critics.

“I called on [Ellison] not to break a 200-year tradition,” Prager, who is also a radio talk show host, told The Journal. “He thinks it’s important, and I think it’s important.”

“If you are incapable of taking an oath on [the Bible], don’t serve in Congress,” Prager wrote, adding that if Ellison brought a Quran to the ceremony, it would do “more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11.”

Ellison’s decision to carry a Quran into the ceremony has infuriated some conservatives, who draw a fine line between constitutional rights and American tradition. However, Ellison has some defenders in the GOP. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) told McClatchy Newspapers that Ellison’s ability to hold the book of his choice while he takes his oath embodies freedom of religion.

Prager is also being taken to task for equating Ellison’s proposed use of the Quran at the swearing-in ceremony with a racist toting a copy of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” “On what grounds will those defending Ellison’s right to choose his favorite book deny that same right to a racist who is elected to public office?” he wrote.

Prager defends the Quran-“Mein Kampf” parallel in his Nov. 5 column, saying he was presenting a slippery-slope argument and was not defaming Islam. He writes thatpeople who draw such conclusions are “deliberately lying to defame me rather than respond to my arguments. A slippery slope argument is not an equivalence argument.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called for Prager, who broadcasts locally on KRLA-AM 870, to be removed from his recent appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Prager’s five-year term as a presidential appointee to the council expires on Jan. 15, 2011.

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote in a letter to Fred S. Zeidman, council chair: “No one who holds such bigoted, intolerant and divisive views should be in a policymaking position at a taxpayer-funded institution that seeks to educate Americans about the destructive impact hatred has had and continues to have on every society.”

The Anti-Defamation League labeled the Nov. 28 column as “intolerant, misinformed and downright un-American,” adding that Prager’s recent appointment to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council holds him to a higher standard.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wants Prager to apologize directly to Ellison, who converted to Islam from Catholicism as a 19-year-old college student. “The notion that the exercise of your first amendment rights should be banned because someone else might misuse your words or misinterpret your actions violates two centuries of Supreme Court rulings,” Saperstein said.

Prager is a popular speaker among Jewish groups around the country,
commanding appearance fees upwards of $10,000.

While most of these groups, contacted this week by The Forward newspaper,
declined to comment on Prager’s remarks, several said they would reconsider
inviting Prager barring an apology from him.

“There’s lines you draw, and Dennis probably crossed the line,” Stephen
Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, said in
an interview with the Forward. “Just because we can get by with the first
Five Books and some people say it’s okay doesn’t mean it’s okay for the next
guy to stand up and say if they can’t swear on a Christian Bible, they’re
not qualified. He’s pandering… [and] I wouldn’t want the Muslim community to
bring in a panderer. So that’s what we’d have to think about.”

In his Nov. 28 column, Prager claimed that all members of Congress, including Jews, use a Christian Bible for the swearing-in ceremony.

However, members of Congress are sworn in together in a simple ceremony that only requires that the representatives raise their right hand. Individuals may carry a sacred text, but its presence isn’t required. Representatives can bring in whatever they want, said Fred Beuttler, House of Representatives deputy historian.

In his column, Prager also claimed that no “Mormon official demanded to put his hand on the Book of Mormon.” In 1997, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), a Mormon, carried a Bible that included the Book of Mormon to his swearing-in ceremony.
But Ellison’s use of a Quran isn’t without precedent. In 1999, Osman Siddique became the first Muslim to serve abroad as a U.S. ambassador, and he took his oath using both a Quran and a Bible.

Prager told The Journal that he would have no problem if Ellison brought along a Bible in addition to the Quran. And while he agrees that Ellison has the constitutional right to use only the Quran, Prager thinks the incoming freshman should consider the cultural and historic implications of his act.

“It’s an unbroken tradition since George Washington, and he wants
to substitute it with his values,” he said.

Prager said he will not take Saperstein up on his call for an apology to Ellison. Instead, he believes groups like the ADL and the Religious Action Center have wronged him.

“I think Saperstein owes me an apology,” Prager said. “It’s chutzpah … arrogance on his part.”

To read Dennis Prager’s column on Ellison, click here.

Mayor implores people of faith to fight homelessness


“Local communities have to provide services and supportive housing. We can’t be a city that grows in one part and leaves people destitute in another,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told a crowd of more than 300 at Leo Baeck Temple on Sunday.

Teachings from the Torah, as well as triumphs on the football field, set the tone for a conference on homelessness, which also included County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Ed Edelman, retired county supervisor and special representative for homeless initiatives for the City of Santa Monica; L.A. City Council Member Bill Rosendahl; and a panel of agency leaders, ready to enlist the conference participants in a wide range of activities.

“Homelessness is curable and we must cure it,” Leo Baeck Senior Rabbi Kenneth Chasen said in his welcoming remarks. “Jews know too well the experience of being strangers and outsiders. We have lived in countless places where there were no homes for us.”

More than 90,000 homeless people live in Los Angeles County, about 15,000 of them in downtown’s skid row.

“Los Angeles has the dubious distinction of being America’s homeless capital,” the mayor said, adding that the city is also home to 262,500 millionaires.

The mayor emphasized that homelessness is pervasive throughout the county.

“We have 15 council districts and 87 neighborhood councils, and at the end of the day we have to articulate a common vision…. Every neighborhood has the responsibility to bear the challenge of homelessness,” Villaraigosa said, citing studies showing that contrary to residents’ fears, property values do not fall, nor does crime increase when supportive housing is provided for the previously homeless.

Rosendahl cited a recent survey that had found scores of homeless people in West Los Angeles as well as Venice. Yaroslavky, emphasized that religious communities, which share a vision and passion for social justice can play a key role.

“The county has allocated $100 million for homelessness,” he said. “At one point that was as unlikely as UCLA beating USC in football. For the first time in my career, the political landscape is right for tackling this issue.”

A panel of directors of programs that provide services for the homeless provided the audience with specific programs that could use their services.

Adlai Wertman, the CEO of Chrysalis, which finds jobs for as many as 2,000 homeless people each year, left a career on Wall Street to work with the homeless.

“Why?” he asks. “First and foremost because I’m a Jew. I’m a wannabe rabbi. I spend four or five hours a week studying Torah; it was hard for me to read about the duty of taking care of the poor and the hungry without taking action.”

The New Direction Choir, composed of previously homeless veterans who’ve worked with the New Directions orgainzaton, had earlier provided concrete evidence through song and testimonies to the successes of their programs.

“I am a member of this congregation,” said Toni Reinis, executive director of the New Directions. “So I have to cite something. Our tradition teaches us that the recognition of injustice is not sufficient. Awareness must be followed by action. Real tzedakah is only committed through our acts of righteousness.”

Reinis urged members of the audience to stop by the Veteran’s Village Diner on the grounds of the Veteran’s Administration in West Los Angeles, which serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday.

Joel Roberts, the CEO of PATH, People Assisting the Homeless, introduced Mary Erickson of Imagine LA, a group whose goal is to help every faith-based community in Los Angeles to “adopt” one of the city’s 8,000 homeless families for a two year period.

The conference was spearheaded by Ralph Fertig, a professor at the USC School of Social Work. Fertig, who has long been active in the struggle for human and civil rights, joined Leo Baeck two years ago because of its tradition of social justice programming. The ex-Freedom Rider and civil rights lawyer approached the temple’s rabbis in the hope of engaging the congregation in issues of homelessness.

“We decided a conference would be the perfect opportunity to get our members’ sleeves rolled up,” said Rabbi Leah Lewis, who was also a key organizer.

“We though this could be a launching pad for more involvement.”

After the presentations, Edelman and Fertig urged everyone to sign up as volunteers. Their exhortations were echoed by Lewis in her concluding remarks.

“The Chanukah season is our time to re-dedicate ourselves to stand up for what is right,” she said. “The Macabees were not deterred by the enormity of their task. Like the Macabees, we move forward one step at a time. For us at Leo Baeck, partnering with all these agencies is our congregational first step.”

“There is no community or city or region in the country that has dealt successfully with homelessness without the full participation from religious communities of all faiths standing up for community responsibility,” said Torie Osborn, Villaraigosa’s senior adviser on homelessness.

“I’m especially delighted about the religious community coming together with the city and county,” Chasen said as the congregants moved to an adjoining room where tables were covered with snacks, literature and sign-up sheets.

“The remarkable thing is that both Mayor Villaraigosa and Supervisor Yaroslavsky came,” he said. “The city and the county have not always worked together on homelessness. It’s a great sign of successes to come.”

College Students Find High Holidays’ Place in Higher Learning


The High Holidays are here. With them comes a new school year, whereupon many recent graduates of Jewish high schools will face the challenges for the first time that can accompany being an observant Jew in an academic environment that runs on the Christian calendar.

Gone are the days when observant Jewish students suffered for their absences from class or exams on the High Holidays or Passover. The California Education Code fully protects students’ rights to observe religious holidays free of academic penalty.

But the fact remains that academic life at nonsectarian universities may not have become much easier for young Jews who want to observe, because there are still indirect effects of such absences.

At top schools, such as USC and UCLA, observant Jewish students are finding that the penalty to be paid is all in the details.

Some students say that although professors are understanding about Yom Kippur, and despite the fact that Rosh Hashanah falls on the weekend this year, time they spend in shul could set them back because of assignments that are due the day after the holidays or even on Yom Kippur itself.

“I am worried because I am an architecture major, and there are deadlines, and it’s fast paced so I just have to be ahead of game constantly,” said Yoav Weiss, who just entered his freshman year at USC.

Although most universities have support staff available to aid students dealing with religious issues — at Hillel, the Office of Religious Life or University Chaplain’s office — most can only help deal with the major scheduling conflicts, like those that involve rescheduling an exam that falls on a holiday.
Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of the Office of Religious Life at USC, admitted that she couldn’t come to the aid of students over the myriad little conflicts that affect them.

For example, some professors offer four midterms and throw out each student’s lowest exam score in the calculation of the students’ final grades — but if they inadvertently choose to give an exam on a Jewish holiday, thereby making that exam the student’s lowest, the student likely has no recourse. In circumstances like this, the Office of Religious Life can do little to help, according to Laemmle.

“Sometimes Jews have to work a little harder, and that’s OK,” said Laemmle, who said she tries not to show Jewish students any favor in her role at the school.
Observing Shabbat weekly may be the greatest challenge of all, however, at universities where honors programs or intensive, fast-track programs demand extra time on Fridays and weekends. Some students said they have encountered professors who cannot comprehend why they cannot stay late on a Friday night, or e-mail them on Saturday.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director at UCLA Hillel, was skeptical of the notion that there is a “problem” for young Jews who want to observe Shabbat or holidays at universities. He thinks students should look at the positive aspects of the modern university, which allows them to miss class so that they can affirm their Judaism.

“You’re dealing with a system that attempts to create the best possible climate for someone who wants to be Jewish and who wants to observe,” he said. “So, I’m trying to understand why someone would want to make out of that an issue. On the contrary, one would want to enterprise. Look at the opportunity you have.”
Seidler-Feller emphasized that the university is the place where students learn to prioritize their commitments with confidence.

“You go out into the world, and you know that you’re in a law job, and it’s tough … and then they say they want you to work on such and such a day, and you have to have the inner strength and self-confidence and integrity,” he added. “So when do you start learning this? At a university, where the downside is minimal.”

Not surprisingly, observant Jewish students who have already experienced the fork in the road that a nonsectarian education can present tend to be more relaxed about dealing with it in college.

David Goldenberg, a recent graduate of La Jolla High School, just began school at UCLA. He’s already made up his mind about when he’ll miss class and when he won’t and put on a relaxed front.

“It’s only a few days a year,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”

Lebanon War: Mission Accomplished


Contrary to what is now the accepted wisdom in the media, Hezbollah, in its recent offensive against Israel, neither badly bloodied the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) nor fought it
to a standstill.

In fact, the opposite is the case.

By any legitimate measure, the IDF handed a resounding military defeat to Hezbollah, and while Israel’s soldiers did not cure the cancer that is Hezbollah, they did send it into remission.

From a military perspective, there can be absolutely no doubt as to the results of Hezbollah and Iran’s offensive against Israel. It was a defeat. Every part of their war plan, except the manipulation of the media, failed.

Hezbollah expected and planned for a massive charge of Israeli armor into Southern Lebanon. The amounts and types of anti-tank weapons they acquired and had operationally deployed in their forward positions, as well as their secondary and tertiary bands of fortresses and strongholds through southern Lebanon, attest to this fact. They intended to do in mountainous terrain what Egypt had so effectively done in the Sinai Desert in the Yom Kippur War.

In that war, Sinai indeed became a graveyard for Israeli armor. Egypt destroyed hundreds of Israeli tanks. Whole brigades were decimated in single battles by the Egyptians’ highly effective anti-tank missile ambushes. In that war, almost 3,000 Israeli soldiers were killed. That was Hezbollah’s plan. It was a good one. And it failed.

Just prior to the cease-fire, Israel suffered 29 tanks hit. Of those, 25 were back in service within 24 hours. Israel suffered 117 soldiers killed in four weeks of combat. As painful as those individual losses were to their families and to the Israeli collective psyche, which views all its soldiers as their biological sons and daughters, those numbers in fact represent the fewest casualties suffered by Israel in any of its major conflicts.

In 1948, Israel suffered 6,000 killed. In 1967, in what was regarded as its most decisive victory, Israel lost almost 700 killed in six days. In 1973, Israel lost 2,700 killed, and in the first week of the first war in Lebanon, Israel suffered 176 soldiers killed.

Why then the impression of massive Israeli casualties in clear contrast to the actual numbers of those killed? It is because the Israeli army is a citizen’s army. It is made up of everyone’s child, everyone’s brother or sister, aunt or uncle. The nation, as a whole, mourned the loss of its children quite literally, as if they were the sons and daughters of each and every family.

Were I, as an Israeli officer in the military spokesperson’s unit, to have made a statement to the Israeli press about the actual lightness of Israel’s casualties, I would, at the least, have been relieved of duties, if not also of rank.

Indeed, members of my unit volunteered to a man to go into Lebanon under fire to help retrieve the bodies of four fallen soldiers and make sure that reporters (who by that time were reported to be simply driving into Lebanon) could not broadcast pictures before the families were notified. We provided an additional covering force, as well, against Hezbollah, while medics and a rabbi safeguarded the sanctity of the remains of four kids, younger than my 22-year-old son. We did so not only not under orders but in violation of orders, because we were all of us fathers, as well as soldiers, and these were not only our comrades in arms but our sons. We were there to bring them home.

That is the emotion. But the numbers are different. They are the lightest casualties suffered by the IDF in all of its wars.

Military historians will spend years deciphering why exactly this was so. Was Israel’s government and its general staff, by its refusal to commit large numbers of forces for the first three weeks of combat, in fact making a highly intelligent strategic choice? Possibly.

Possibly it was dumb luck or divine intervention. Either way it meant three things:

  1. Hezbollah’s ambush never happened, because Israel didn’t take the bait. Instead, it used air power and then a series of probing raids, primarily by infantry, to methodically, slowly identify and root out the enemy positions.
  2. It meant that those small numbers of troops deployed into Lebanon in the first weeks of fighting had to do more with less than perhaps any other Israeli fighters in any other war. Certainly in other wars, there were many individual battles in which so much was expected of and accomplished by so few. But no war comes to mind in which so few soldiers were deployed across an entire front.

    They performed brilliantly and with uncommon courage in the face of withering fire from heavily fortified and prepared positions. These were draft-age soldiers: 18- and nineteen-year-olds, commanded on the platoon and company levels by 20-somethings, none of whom had ever faced anything remotely like the combat against Hezbollah’s terrorist army. In spite of what many see as the logistical and command failures of their superiors, they performed brilliantly and achieved their objectives.

  3. When the vast bulk of Israel’s force was finally deployed, made up primarily of its reservists, these soldiers achieved in 48 hours what many believe they should have been given weeks to accomplish. Despite logistical failures, some times fighting without food or water, Israel’s soldiers, regular army and reserves alike, handed Hezbollah a decisive military defeat.

All of Hezbollah’s Siegfried Line-like system of fortresses and strongholds, their network of command and control bunkers along Israel’s northern border were destroyed, abandoned or under the control of the IDF by the end of the hostilities. Hezbollah’s miniterrorist state within a state south of the Litani had been dismantled.

Its terrorist capital within a capital in Beirut, its command and control center and infrastructure were in ruins. In the end, it sought and accepted a cease-fire resolution in the United Nations that provided the framework for Israel to achieve all of its stated war aims. This last point is of no minor consequence both in terms of what Israel achieved and failed to achieve in the counteroffensive it waged against Hezbollah.

I can speak to this subject with some degree of expertise, since I was one of the people tasked with putting into a simple declarative sentence what the IDF’s mission was as handed down to it by Israel’s democratically elected political leaders. The sentence defining the IDF’s mission read as follows:

Cover Story


From: "Joel Bellman" Date: Thursday, July 20, 20068:39 AM Subject: An Open Letter to Ramona RipstonFriends:I thought you might be interested in seeing the followingletter, which I sent today.Joel Bellman*****************************************Ramona Ripston, Executive Director ACLU of SouthernCalifornia 1616 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Dear Ramona:I write with a heavy heart, as a long-time ACLU member ofmore than 30 years' standing, to express my most profounddisappointment and strenuous disagreement with the ACLU ofSouthern California's decision to honor Salam Al-Marayatiwith a "Religious Freedom" Award at this year's upcomingGarden Party on September 10http://www.aclu-sc.org/Events/101851/. I'm not sure when heand MPAC would legitimately deserve such recognition, but itmost certainly is not a time when MPAC is falsely blamingIsrael for defending herself in a two-front war launchedwithout provocation by Islamic terror organizations with thesupport and sponsorship of two rejectionist Islamic nations.As a consequence, this will be the first ever Garden Partythat I intend to boycott, and I will urge all of my friendsto do the same.I've known Salam personally for nearly 20 years. Underordinary circumstances, I can tolerate his posturing onMPAC's behalf as the voice of "moderate" Islam, although hisactual political positions are scarcely distinguishable(except in tone) from those of most of the anti-IsraeliMuslim world. Today, Israel finds herself under fiercemilitary attack across two internationally recognizedborders by guerrillas from Hamas in Gaza, and from Hezbollahin Southern Lebanon. In both cases, Israel had unilaterallyrelinquished territory (even dismantling settlements andevicting Israeli citizens), and watched while free anddemocratic elections welcomed violent extremists into thepolitical fold, and in Gaza even put them in charge. Andthen, rather than moderating their behavior and assuming theresponsibilities of civilized governance, these groupsinstead took the opportunity to mobilize and mount armedassaults that killed and captured Israeli militarypersonnel.The inevitable and entirely predictable military responsehas called down terrible death and destruction throughoutthe Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, bringing ruinto large portions of a nation that sought no war withIsrael, but which has been effectively hijacked byextremists supported and controlled from Syria and Iran.The blood is entirely on their hands, yet when even Arabnations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were able, atleast initially, to recognize and condemn Hezbollah'saggression, MPAC has once again laid the blame squarely atIsrael's doorstep. In a July 16 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=378 MPAC willfullydistracts us from the real issue by asserting, "Regardlessto the role of Iran and Syria in this conflict it isillegitimate for pro-Israeli sympathizers to skirt fromIsrael's responsibility for escalating the level of fightingwithin the region," and then for good measure makes apositively Orwellian bid for spin control by adding that"MPAC also calls upon all those who are engaging in ananalysis of the current situation to cease the use ofIslamic terminology to explain this very clearly politicalnarrative."In a July 19 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=380 MPAC calls on "allpeople of conscience" to oppose a congressional resolutionin support of Israel and instead "to demand an immediate andunconditional ceasefire and condemn the continued Israeliaggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese people." Init Salam is quoted as saying, "We must make our voices heardin order to do all that we can to bring an end to thismerciless round of violence, and to restore the sanctity ofall civilian life."Not a word, of course, about the culpability of Hamas andHezbollah, not to mention Iran and Syria, in fomenting andexacerbating this crisis. Last Friday, Hezbollah leaderSheik Hassan Nasrallah blustered, "You Zionists, you wantedan open war and you will have it." Today, Hezbollah'sapologists are pleading for relief and rescue from thecalamity it brought down upon itself, but it is universallyrecognized that any ceasefire leaving Hezbollah's weaponsand warmaking capacity intact would be merely setting thestage for a future attacks and ongoing suffering andcivilian casualties on both sides.Salam's statements are perfectly consistent with MPAC's,CAIR's (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and otherMuslim propagandists' post-9/11 efforts to recast the globalstruggle against radical Islamic terrorists as somehowhaving little or nothing to do with Islam per se, when intruth it has everything to do with Islam in its mostvirulent and dangerous form. We are meant to believe this issimply one more post-colonial liberation struggle, like somany others long sentimentalized by the Left -one in whichIslam plays at best an incidental part - rather thanproperly recognizing it as the epicenter and flash-point ofradical Islam's war on the West, war on modernity, and evena nihilistic war against itself.It is particularly repellent to me that not only Salam, butRabbi Beerman and Rev. Regas are similarly to be honoredwith this award - when all three recently participatedtogether in the farce of MPAC's " Interfaith Vigil to Endthe Occupation" following the initial attacks on Israel. Toreiterate: Israel no longer occupied Gaza or SouthernLebanon. Free elections had been held, after which Israelwas attacked first from those territories withoutprovocation. And amid all the crocodile tears shed by MPACover civilian casualties, it is Hamas and Hezbollah whosecrete their weapons and mount their rocket and missileattacks from within civilian neighborhoods, using thePalestinian and Lebanese populations as both willing andunwilling "human shields," and who target civilian, notmilitary, areas inside Israel.Hezbollah and its sponsors have put civilians on both sidesof this conflict squarely in harm's way - and yourprospective honorees have turned the situation on its headto cast the principal victims as the aggressors. At thiscritical juncture, these three are those whom the ACLU ofSouthern California has seen fit to honor in the name ofreligious freedom? For shame, Ramona. For shame.In frustration and sorrow,Joel BellmanSubject: RE: No Honor for MPAC's Al-Marayati Date: Thu, 20Jul 2006 12:38:30 -0700 From: "Bellman, Joel" To:Elizabeth -I will look forward to that. I've been getting anunbelievably enthusiastic response from everyone to whom Ihave sent it (virtually all on the Left).Back in 1978, she kindly took the time to write me a verythorough two-page personal letter attempting to defend theACLU's position on the Nazi Skokie march, which as you knowcost the ACLU many members (including me for a couple ofyears, as I think you and I once discussed). That said, Iwas disappointed that she focused relentlessly on the issueof whether Nazis should have free speech rights, not on thespecifics of how they should be allowed to exercise them inthis unique situation - thus entirely missing the point,because I agreed with her that they should have thoserights. But for me, it was instead a time/place/mannerissue, and that didn't include a residential street whereHolocaust survivors would be forced to see uniformed Nazismarching past their front windows. I know the courtseventually agreed with the ACLU position (anyone can bewrong), but I objected to the way she mischaracterized theobjections that many of us had to the ACLU position.I mention all this because I will be very unhappy, again, ifRamona responds with boilerplate about the right to dissent,the need to maintain open dialogue, etc. etc. - and does notsubstantively address my objection to singling out forspecial honors this particular trio - and most especiallySalam and MPAC which he represents, when they are engagingin such an outrageous and disingenuous media blitz in themiddle of a terrible and entirely unnecessary shooting warwhere his constituency are clearly the aggressors.Of course they all have their rights to speak, which Icontinue to defend. I am explicitly objecting to the ACLU ofSo Cal decision to pay them special tribute in the midst ofthis deplorable propaganda campaign.Cheers,Joel

Let There Be Yiddish


“Gut Shabbes.” Synagogue vice president Donna Groman stands at the door, warmly greeting each guest. Inside, a samovar sits on a white-clothed table alongside temptingly arranged platters of homemade kugel and apple cake for the oneg.

Tonight is a Yiddish service, Zol Zahn Shabbes — literally, we should have Shabbat — and it’s happening at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), founded in 1972 as the world’s first synagogue for lesbian and gay Jews.

It’s a meeting of two seemingly incongruous worlds — an almost extinct 1,000-year-old Eastern European language and culture and a progressive and now well-established congregation of 180 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual families. And the Pico Boulevard synagogue is expecting a big crowd.

The sanctuary begins to fill. The congregants, young and old, male and female, are respectfully but comfortably attired. Many hug or kiss as they claim their chairs. All have varying allegiances to Yiddish.

Member Rebecca Weinreich, with daughters Shoshanah, 8, and Ashira, 4, is a celebrity this evening. Her grandfather, scholar Max Weinreich, founded the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Vilna, Poland, in 1925. Escaping from the Nazis in 1940, he re-established it in Manhattan.

“Do you speak Yiddish?” I ask Weinreich.

“Not in public. The expectations because of my name are too high,” she says.

“Shalom Aleycheim.” The lights dim as cantorial soloist Fran Magid Chalin welcomes everyone.

I peruse the 17-page booklet, which includes the evening’s program, a history of the Yiddish language and links to Yiddish resources. Even a nar (fool) could realize that this evening’s agenda is not just a kitschy visit to the alte velt (Old World).

Immediately the chorus begins singing, “O, Vee Gut un Vee Voyl Iz,” a Yiddish version of “Hiney Ma Tov.” They segue seamlessly into “Meer Viln Ale Nor Sholem,” which is “Heveynu Shalom Aleycheim.” People are clapping and singing along.

More people enter, and I count more than 100 guests.

After a break to greet one another, Chalin says, “Yiddish is the language that childproofed what parents said.”

Chalin herself studied German and, in her early 20s, sang in a Yiddish adult choir in Philadelphia. There, singing songs about the early labor movement, she felt electric, establishing a deep bond with the language. Later, after graduate school, she enrolled in a two-month Yiddish immersion class at Columbia University in New York.

“Many of us have this romantic relationship with Yiddish. It speaks to us about a time gone by,” she says. But she cautions that we can’t have a relationship if we relegate it to little pockets or little sayings.

The songs that Chalin has chosen for the choir quickly dispel any sense of romanticism. “Un Du Akerst, Un Du Zeyst” (“And You Plow and You Sow”), written in 1864 for the German Workingman’s Federation, taunts workers for how little they have to show for all their hard work. Others were written during the Shoah, giving comfort to the Jews in the same ways the Negro spirituals sustained the slaves.

Chalin introduces Lilke Majzner, Yiddishist and president of Los Angeles’ Yiddish Culture Club, founded in 1926. A native of Lodz, Poland, and a survivor of seven concentration camps, Majzner came to the United States in 1950 at age 17.

“I came without any script,” she says in a booming, confident voice. “I came to talk to you in English about Yiddish. That’s silly. That’s very silly.”

People laugh. But it’s clear that this diminutive figure, 84, professionally dressed in a beige suit and sensible shoes, isn’t here to entertain us.

She proves that further by reading a poem by Yiddish writer Malka Tussman. It begins, “You have a Jewish mouth, so speak Yiddish.” It ends, “Let there be Yiddish. That’s how I talk.”

How Majzner talks is even more emphatic: “I am shouting into your Jewish ears. Let there be Yiddish.”

And shouting she is. She educates us about the 1,000-year history of Yiddish — a history not just of words, of grammar and of curses but also of political parties, of freedom and of going on strike for Jewish and human rights.

And she exhorts us — passionately and convincingly — to take up the banner of her legacy, to learn Yiddish to make up for the 3.5 million Yiddish-speaking Jews who were murdered in the Shoah and to build a better world.

“And when you don’t feel the heaviness of the legacy, I will put some rocks in it,” she says.

She receives a standing ovation.

After services, a crowd gathers around Majzner, some speaking Yiddish.

I talk to Davi Cheng, a Chinese American Jew-by-choice. She grimaces as she describes the frustration of mastering the guttural sounds of Yiddish.

“There’s no ‘ch’ sound in Chinese,” she explains.

I also sit briefly with Chalin who tells me how, in her experience, she finds a disproportionate number of gays and lesbians studying Yiddish.

“In my classes at Columbia, we talked about how Yiddish doesn’t have a country and how often the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] community feels like a people without a country,” she says.

Chalin thinks many of those who desire to speak Yiddish fluently, like gays and lesbians, long for the notion of a secure community.

At evening’s end, as people leave, I notice the samovar is empty and the apple cake and kugel gone.

Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.

 

‘Superman’ Director Lives Out His Dream


“Whether you’re an immigrant or you’re born in the heartland, at some point we all feel like an alien.”

Those are not the words of an immigration rights attorney but rather of filmmaker Bryan Singer, whose last three films, the first two editions of “X-Men” and the upcoming “Superman Returns,” which opens on June 28 nationwide, all present parables on the current state of xenophobia pervading this country.

Of the famed Man of Steel, first introduced to comic book readers in the 1930s, Singer said, “He’s kind of the ultimate immigrant. He comes from a foreign place, adapts to the value system and has a special relationship with his heritage.”

Singer sees Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — two Jews who were sons of immigrants — as a Judeo-Christian hero, part Moses, part Jesus. Like Moses, Superman is the boy dispatched down the metaphoric river to be discovered in the cornfields, if not the reeds, of the Midwest. Like Jesus, he has a kind of doubling with his father, voiced in the new film as in the 1978 “Superman” by the late Marlon Brando, who says, “The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son.”

If Superman first entered popular culture when the Nazis were beginning to assert their power in Germany, he “never cleared up the problems in Europe,” Singer said. “He handled small problems; he served by example.”

Over the decades, however, through numerous incarnations in comic strips, animated shorts, television shows and films, Superman began tackling worldwide catastrophes, as he does in Singer’s new film, though he does not rescue Jews per se.

That does not mean that Superman lacks a Jewish pedigree.

As Michael Chabon suggested in his novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” Siegel and Shuster, in conceptualizing Superman, may very well have been inspired by the Golem, a mythic figure in Jewish folklore, who could be built from mud and clay, according to strict rabbinic instructions, and could vanquish all evil.

Yet “Superman Returns” never implies that its protagonist, played by Brandon Routh, is of any ethnicity other than Kryptonian. If he resembles any mythological creatures, they would seem to be Greek ones. Like Atlas, Superman lifts, if not the entire planet, a huge nefarious landmass, which he hurls into space. He also catches the ornamental globe that sits atop the Daily Planet Building, a structure modeled after the art deco former home of the New York Daily News. Of course, Superman’s strength is matched by his speed as he flies through the sky like Hermes, easing a plane carrying Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth, into an emergency landing on a ball field.

Superman may have been in drydock for five years, as we are told in the film, but unlike Roger Clemens, he doesn’t get the benefit of a trip to the minors. He must perform at a big league level from the start, although we do see flashbacks to his youth, when he runs through the cornfields and learns how to fly, a nice touch since Superman did not fly in his early comic strips.

The 40-year-old Singer calls “Superman Returns” a “dream project” and said “it was a fantasy of mine to have Kryptonian blood,” not surprising for a man who in the 1970s loved watching reruns of the “Superman” TV show starring George Reeves. But Singer did not read the comics as a child. To this day, he suffers from dyslexia, which still impedes his efforts at reading. He likes to read short stories, but he did not even know about the “X-Men” until he was assigned to direct the first movie of that franchise.

While “X-Men” and “X2,” which came out in 2000 and 2003, respectively, predate the current illegal immigration crisis, they, like all of Singer’s films, deal with the human capacity for evil and for persecuting outsiders, whoever they may be.

Like Superman, the mutants in the “X-Men” movies are not simply stand-ins for illegal immigrants. They are heroic, if in some cases demonic, fantasies of the other — the outsider in all of us.

As a gay, adopted, agnostic Jew, Singer has always been drawn to the otherness of these superheroes, though he chuckles when asked about a recent Los Angeles Times article that highlighted Superman’s gay appeal. “If you look at my career,” he said, “I’ve probably never made a more heterosexual movie before.”

None of his previous studio movies may have had an explicit gay theme to them, but “The Usual Suspects,” his 1995 breakthrough film, which received much buzz for its plot twists, subversion of the noir genre and brilliant ensemble cast, may be best remembered for the Oscar-winning performance of Kevin Spacey, essaying Verbal Kint, a criminal mastermind of dubious sexuality.

Singer followed that with 1998’s “Apt Pupil,” in which Brad Renfro plays a high school student obsessed with the Holocaust and with a former Nazi living in his neighborhood. The film featured some baroque horror touches, such as when Ian McKellen’s Nazi tries to stuff a cat in an oven, and Singer even framed a few longing looks between the 16-year-old boy and his Nazi mentor, cut next to a shot of the boy’s indifferent response to the sexual advances of his girlfriend.

Then came “X-Men” and “X2,” McCarthyite allegories that among other provocations featured McKellen, the Nazi in “Apt Pupil,” as a Holocaust survivor, who like Darth Vader has turned to the dark side.

“X2,” in particular, showed us non-Geneva-friendly torture taking place in prison cells that but for their high-tech gadgetry might remind one of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. There are also congressional and presidential calls for mandatory mutant registration, prescient in the wake of today’s immigration legislation proposals, and, of course, a teenage son coming out to his parents that he is a mutant, prompting the altogether familiar reply from his mother, “Can’t you just not be a mutant?”

While Singer wants as broad an audience as possible to enjoy the film, he particularly wants “older people and women to have an emotional experience,” he said. Unlike his past films, “Superman Returns” is, Singer said, “a romantic picture.”

It is also a film with a long and troubled past. Over the last decade, numerous actors and directors were attached to the film, whose budget, like its superhero, seemed to know no bounds. None of that history worried Singer, who got a chance to reshape the storyline and, indeed, has a story credit on the film. It also helped that he used some of his regular repertory of actors, such as Spacey, playing yet another notable villain: Lex Luthor.

Singer’s first real understanding of evil came when, as a boy of 9 or 10, he dressed up as a Nazi one day while playing a World War II game with his German neighbors in Princeton Junction, N.J. He came home wearing a swastika.

Singer’s mother admonished him, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when his junior high school teacher, Miss Fiscarelli, taught an entire unit in social studies on the Holocaust, that he gained a greater understanding as to why his mother had been so troubled. That class changed Singer’s “whole perception of what people are capable of anywhere,” he said.

“Superman Returns” is not directly about Nazis, and its diabolical antagonist is more over-the-top than menacing, yet Singer does not discount the possibility of future genocides.

“The German culture [at the time of the Holocaust] was extremely artistic, extremely sophisticated and extremely advanced,” he said, proving that “anywhere, any place, any century, it’s possible, and any person is capable of it.”

“Superman Returns” opens nationwide on June 28.

 

NGOs Feel Sting of Hamas Ban


Nearly three months since Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority, Western governments aren’t the only ones trying to figure out how to deliver aid to the increasingly needy Palestinian population without inadvertently supporting its extremist government.

Nongovernmental organizations — which Western governments opposed to ties with Hamas view as the most viable medium for delivering aid to the Palestinians — are themselves running into problems trying to maintain their operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

With the Palestinian Authority in disarray and Western governments still in the process of defining what is permissible vis-?-vis links to the Hamas-run government, many nonprofit groups operating in Palestinian areas are facing serious funding problems, confusion about whom they are allowed to talk to and work with, and the challenge of having to establish ties with a completely new — and far less institutionalized — Palestinian bureaucracy.

The situation is nothing short of a crisis, many officials with these groups, sometimes known as NGOs, here say.

“I have never seen as much policy confusion in government as I have seen when Hamas was elected in the Palestinian Authority,” said John Bell, director of the Jerusalem office of Search for Common Ground in the Middle East.

“Who can we have contact with? Can we be in the same room as a Hamas person? There are many legal issues for us to consider,” Bell said. “Unfortunately, we’re a bit in the realm of the absurd.”

A variety of officials from nonprofits operating in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip discussed the challenges of operating in Hamas-run territory at a conference last week on nonprofits, human rights and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The forum, hosted by NGO Monitor, was held June 14 at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.

Many officials from nonprofit groups complained that American, European and Israeli restrictions on contacts with the Hamas government are too far-reaching, threatening nonpolitical and even pro-peace activities, such as the teaching of coexistence curricula in Palestinian schools. Because those schools are now under the aegis of Hamas, coordination with officials from the Palestinian Education Ministry is now banned by Western governments.

“It’s virtually impossible to fund Palestinian society today in the West Bank without encountering Hamas,” said Daniel Seideman, legal adviser to Ir Amim, an Israeli group that advocates for a binational Jerusalem and promotes services to Palestinian residents of the city.

But many Western observers argue that the funding crisis in the Palestinian Authority — precipitated by Western sanctions — is a necessary part of getting the Hamas-run government to abandon terrorism.

“This crisis is necessary and overdue,” said Saul Singer, an Israeli newspaper columnist who spoke at the conference. The idea, Singer explained, is to use the crisis to force Hamas to accept the principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We’re talking about a game of chicken here,” Singer said, between the principles of Hamas, a terrorist group that mandates Israel’s destruction, on the one hand, and the principles of the international community — abandonment of terrorism, recognition of Israel and acceptance of existing Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements — on the other.

“I think Hamas should give in,” Singer said.

While this game is played, however, groups funded by Western governments must figure out how to adjust to the new reality of maintaining their activities in a territory where cooperation with the local government is restricted.

There are pitfalls and obstacles everywhere, officials with these groups say.

Other organizations report that donors’ targeted gifts are harder to use because of the new bans. Some say they have been forced to return funds to donors.

Gershon Baskin, co-CEO of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, says his group does not accept funding from the Palestinian or Israeli governments in order to steer clear of restrictions and conflicts of interest. But his reliance on other governments, such as that of the United States, has come at a cost.

According to Bell, the United States is more stringent than Israel when it comes to restrictions on nonprofits’ activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The United States “is putting out extremely stringent demands and conditions,” Bell said. “The Israelis are a lot more practical about it. They know things have to be done, and they’re trying to get them done while at the same time the U.S. government is prohibiting very common-sense activities.”

Many officials with nonprofit groups say Western bans on contacts with Hamas should be more nuanced — both to facilitate easier aid to the Palestinians and to help bring Hamas around to a more moderate point of view.

“I understand the logic behind a government boycotting Hamas,” Baskin said. “I don’t think that has to limit nongovernmental actors in trying to effect change.”

“I would like to see the international community looking for ways that can help us to move the Hamas from where it is to a different place, to a better place, to a reformed political platform, which I believe is inevitable,” Baskin said. “We have to be very careful about both boycotts against Israel and boycotts against Palestine that prevent peaceful NGOs from doing their work.”

 

A Harvest of Conflict


Developer Ralph Horowitz made no secret of his intense displeasure with the 350 mostly Latino farmers who squatted on his 14-acre parcel at 41st and Alameda streets in South Los Angeles. As he saw it, the farmers who cultivated avocados, squash, tomatoes and other produce on individual family plots without paying him were squatters who, in effect, stole from him.

Before Horowitz finally evicted the farmers and their supporters last week, he also had to endure celebrities railing against him and demonstrators showing up at his home — not to mention the expense of thousands of dollars in legal fees spent on enforcing his property rights.

But Horowitz hauled out the most explosive grievance at the 59th minute of the 11th hour in the standoff. Speaking to a Los Angeles Times reporter last week, Horowitz said he refused to reward a group that included people who had made anti-Semitic remarks about him.

“Even if they raised $100 million, this group could not buy this property,” Horowitz told NBC4 in a separate interview. “It’s not about money. It’s about I don’t like their cause and I don’t like their conduct. So there’s no price I would sell it to them for.”

Horowitz, who declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story, also has talked of being infuriated by an Internet site that accused him of being part of a “Jewish Mafia” that controls Los Angeles.

The South Central Farmers group and supporters have emphatically denied engaging in anti-Jewish posturing, noting that many in their ranks are Jewish, including rabbis. They accuse Horowitz of playing the anti-Semitism card to divert criticism from him and to splinter an alliance of Westside Jews, environmentalists and South L.A. farmers that coalesced around saving the farm.

“I believe Horowitz thought he was getting a lot of bad press, and sometimes people believe that if you attack you can take the issue away from those people who are questioning what you’re doing,” said Dan Stormer, a civil rights attorney who’s representing the farmers. “The best defense is a good offense.”

Other observers say that Horowitz had plenty to be aggrieved about, and studies suggest that anti-Semitism is a real problem among Latinos. But evidence of actual anti-Semitism on the part of the farmers or leaders is slim or even nonexistent.

The recent battle over what many call the largest urban farm in the nation captured headlines around the world, pitting Horowitz against poor Latino farmers and do-gooder celebrities. With last week’s eviction looming, entertainers such as ’60s folk icon Joan Baez and actors Danny Glover, Martin Sheen and Laura Dern visited the farm site to show support. As pressure mounted and the bulldozers began rolling, many hoped Horowitz would buckle and sell the property, especially after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he helped cobble together a $16.3 million offer for the land — a bid that apparently met the asking price. (Some insiders say the complicated proposal would have demanded substantial good faith from Horowitz, such as a provision that would have required him to borrow $6 million against the property with the expectation of getting reimbursed within 18 months.)

In the end, though, Horowitz walked away from a deal that would have made him a media hero, one that would have allowed the farmers to continue growing their fruits and vegetables that, supporters say, some relied on for sustenance.

Why didn’t he sell? Horowitz told several media outlets that his anger toward farmers for squatting on his land and vilifying him had so alienated him that he wouldn’t sell to them for any price. He “disliked from the beginning,” he said, “the activists, the movie stars, the anarchists and the hard-nosed group.”

He also pointed out a land trust that offered to purchase the land had missed a deadline.

But what about the anti-Semitism bombshell — which is bound to reverberate through the Jewish community, while also raising questions about Horowitz’s timing and motives?

It’s not difficult to find implied and explicit anti-Semitism linked to the cause of the South Central farmers.

La Voz de Aztlan, a Web site that describes itself as “a totally independent news service,” offered that “Not many people are aware that Los Angeles has a powerful ‘Jewish Mafia’ that is in cahoots with the Los Angeles Police Department and many local elected politicians. … Through ‘backroom deals’ and collusion with certain Jewish L.A. City Council members, Ralph Horowitz was given ownership of the land and he has now placed an ‘eviction notice’ on the entrance to the farm.”

The AfroCubaWeb site linked to the La Voz story and in its summary added the word “sinister” in front of “Jewish land developer Ralph Horowitz.”

Such radical sites are widely dismissed as marginal and irrelevant, but a handful of arguably anti-Semitic posts also appeared on the leftie site la.indymedia.org. A poster who called himself “Farmboy” referred to “WHORE-witz”; “Susan” wrote: “There was a time in this country when Jews were also kept down. Do you remember that? It appears, Mr. Horowitz, that you’ve forgotten what prejudice is like. If it’s not about the money, then what is it about, Mr. Horowitz?”

Another poster submitted a picture of a Molotov cocktail and suggested it was time to use them.

Horowitz’s charges of anti-Semitism come at a time when Latino anti-Semitism in the United States has reached worrying levels. According to a 2005 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey, 19 percent of American-born Latinos hold anti-Semitic beliefs, while 35 percent of foreign-born Latinos have such views. For Americans at large, the number for those with anti-Semitic views is 14 percent.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman has said Latino anti-Semitism stems from anti-Jewish teachings in the schools, churches and communities of Latin countries.

But is anti-Semitism the issue at the South L.A. farm? The local ADL branch has received no complaints alleging anti-Semitism on the part of the farmers or their supporters, said Alison Mayersohn, spokesperson for the ADL, Pacific Southwest Region.

The farmers and their allies explicitly disassociated themselves from anti-Semitism when word reached them that that Horowitz believed they had posted anti-Semitic comments on their Web site and/or linked to an anti-Semitic site. Both charges were untrue, and group leaders faxed a letter to Horowitz on June 9 — days before the eviction — to tell him that they condemned anti-Semitism.

“We have never engaged in such descriptions and would support you in speaking out against anti-Semitism,” the missive said. “In addition, many of the supporters of the South Central Farmers are Jewish.”

L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose Ninth District includes the urban farm, acknowledged that there have been ad homonym attacks on Horowitz, but she observed no anti-Semitism from anyone associated with the farm. Perry, who is African American and Jewish, has faced intense criticism herself for suggesting that the site could be used to generate local jobs and needed tax revenue.

Horowitz, apparently, could not be mollified. His enmity for the farmers and their supporters only grew after learning that anti-Semitic printouts from La Voz de Aztlan had circulated by unknown sources at L.A. City Hall. That Web site, which Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has called “venomous,” has no official or unofficial connection with the farmers.

Even so, the injection of anti-Semitism into the dispute by third parties apparently set Horowitz off. Rabbi Levi Cunin of Chabad of Malibu, who spoke with Horowitz by phone in a failed bid at bridging the gap between the two sides, said the developer expressed upset at being characterized as a stereotypical Jewish landlord.

In Cunin’s opinion, “it was a very complicated puzzle and [anti-Semitism] was just a part of it,” he said. Horowitz “was vilified strongly, and I think he felt very, very hurt by the way this was all dealt with.”

Farmer Alberto Tlatoa, 20, said Horowitz’s charges of anti-Semitism represented nothing less than the cynical attempt of a victimizer trying to portray himself as victim. Looking tired and dispirited two days after the forced eviction, he pointed to torn branches and twisted plants where his family’s three peach trees, squash and other fruits and vegetables once flourished.

“I want to call on him to look into his heart,” said Tlatoa, wearing a shirt bearing the message, “South Central Farmers Feeding Families.” “These are families just trying to survive, to feed their kids, to keep them away from gangs. That is not a crime.”

Stormer, the farmers’ attorney, said that he wouldn’t have represented them if he’d detected any anti-Semitism. Stormer says he will continue to pursue litigation to undo the eviction. His next appearance in court is scheduled for July 12, when he intends to challenge the city’s below-market sale of the property to Horowitz in 2003.

The tussle over the land dates back before 1986, when the city seized Horowitz’s land using the eminent domain process. Officials hoped to build a trash incinerator on the site, but community opposition derailed that project. After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began allowing people to cultivate the land. After a series of bruising court battles, Horowitz regained possession of his land in 2003 for about $5 million — a price well-below market level but close to what the city had paid him 17 years earlier. (As part of the deal, Horowitz agreed to donate 2.6 acres for a community soccer field.) Farmer supporters challenged the legality of the sale and continue to do so, characterizing it as a backroom sweetheart deal.

Insiders said Horowitz was initially open to working out a deal but lost interest after repeated attacks on his character. He also told several media outlets that he paid more than $25,000 per month to maintain the property but received not a penny from the squatting farmers.

Leaders of the farmers have recently come under scrutiny for alleged wrongdoing and intimidation. The L.A. Weekly reported allegations that the leaders evicted fellow farmers, even though they lacked legal authority, while also allegedly collecting “donations” from farmers. The leaders have denied the charges, saying those evicted had illegally subleased plots for personal gain.

Meanwhile, those sympathetic to Horowitz’s position have included Mark Williams, an African American board member of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. Williams accused “radical” farmer activists of both bad faith and race baiting over the history of the conflict. He said that it was his mother, activist Juanita Tate, who had originally helped broker a deal with the city for the farmers to use the land while it lay fallow, provided that the farmers would vacate when needed on 30 days notice.

That day arrived when the city agreed to return the land to Horowitz. Tate took the position that the farmers should abide by the agreement. In response, she was cast, said Williams, as “a black woman hostile to the new Latin majority in our community.”

Williams said that the attacks devastated Tate, the long-time executive director of Concerned Citizens, which community members founded in 1986 to block the proposed incinerator project. Tate died in 2004.

But resisting an eviction does not make the farmers racist or anti-Semitic, supporters said. In the weeks following the judge’s order to leave in late May, activists and celebrities built an encampment at the farm, including a kitchen, medic station and art space. A “sacred space” also appeared, which featured a menorah and other holy and spiritual relics, supporter Sarah Coffey said.

“The community that has been built here isn’t about race, religion or color,” she said. “It’s about sustainability and connectedness to the land.”

As last week’s eviction approached, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa amplified his effort to broker a solution that would have preserved the green space, which stands out in an industrial area — and in a city that is short on accessible urban parkland. Working with the Annenberg Foundation and Trust for Public Land, the mayor helped put together a deal that he thought would meet Horowitz’s asking price, said Darryl Ryan, the mayor’s press deputy.

Much to Villaraigosa’s chagrin, Horowitz torpedoed the deal, Ryan said.

“I think when it came down to it, Mr. Horowitz didn’t want to sell the land to the farmers,” he said. “Mr. Horowitz didn’t like the way they were treating him.”

Neither the mayor nor his staff members witnessed any anti-Semitism directed at Horowitz by the farmers or their supporters during their involvement, Ryan added.

The city has allocated a 7.8-acre site at 111th Street and Avalon Boulevard that would accommodate some 200 garden plots. Thirty displaced farmers already have begun cultivating the land. Some of the farmers remain dissatisfied with the substitute location for a variety of reasons. The city is looking for other potential garden sites as well.

Farm supporters hope beyond hope that somehow they will prevail in their struggle to regain the use of Horowitz’s property, although the odds appear dim at best.

As things stand, many of the avocado and peach trees have been cut down, along with the photogenic walnut tree in which actress Daryl Hannah had perched.

But has more been lost than an urban garden?

Horowitz’s “unfounded” charges of anti-Semitism have generated an anti-Jewish backlash among some Latinos, said Tezozomoc, an elected co-leader of the South L.A. farmers. The farmers, he said, feel angry about the developer’s besmirching them.

But others see continued good relations between the two ethnic groups.

“The dust-up over the garden is not going to have any serious impact on Latino-Jewish relations,” said David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates, Inc., an L.A.-based consulting group that focus on improving ties between the city’s diverse communities. “There are other more profound and deep-seated issues that could cause friction, but the garden isn’t one of them.”

 

Jewish World Watch Eyes National Stage


Janice Kamenir-Reznik wasn’t sure where Darfur was on the map when she heard a Rosh Hashanah sermon at Valley Beth Shalom some 18 months ago.

During his sermon, Rabbi Harold Schulweis told the congregation that “Never Again” applies not only to the Holocaust but requires Jews to speak out and act against genocides anywhere, especially in Darfur, and urged formation of a new organization, Jewish World Watch.

Characteristically, Schulweis immediately followed preaching with action and asked Kamenir-Reznik to serve in a volunteer capacity as co-founder, president and CEO of the nascent organization.

The 54-year-old Encino lawyer, mother of three and veteran problem solver, has since learned much about Darfur, and she has shared her knowledge to help mobilize a vital segment of the Jewish community, especially young students, to transform awareness into tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

As of now, the 3-year-old Darfur genocide is no longer unknown, but its horrors continue. Currently spreading from the Sudan to neighboring Chad, it has claimed 400,000 civilian dead and 4 million refugees, accompanied by mass rapes of women and starvation among children.

The problems are staggering, but adopting the biblical injunction, “Do Not Stand Idly By,” Jewish World Watch has mobilized synagogues and schools, launched an effective divestment from Sudan campaign, and is now starting to ship solar cookers to a refugee camp.

The solar cooker concept is an elegantly simple response to a terrifying fact of life facing 20,000 people, almost all women and young girls, in the Iridimi refugee camp in eastern Chad.

While foraging for scarce firewood for basic cooking and water purification, the women and girls are at constant risk of gang rapes by roving bands of Arab militiamen. However, these dangerous excursions and the resultant atrocities can be circumvented through the use of simple, inexpensive sun-powered cookers made of cardboard and aluminum foil — donated by Jewish World Watch — that can be easily assembled by the refugees.

The cookers have proven their worth in other African countries, and Jewish World Watch, spearheading the Coalition to End Gang Rape in Darfur, aims to send 6,000 of the devices to families in the Iridimi camp.

Another front in Jewish World Watch’s three-pronged campaign of education, advocacy and financial support is to persuade public institutions to divest themselves of holdings in recalcitrant companies doing business with the Sudanese government.

Kamenir-Resnik, addressing the University of California regents before they approved such a divestment, said that in general the Jewish community opposed such a tactic, because of its misuse against Israel.

But in order to counter the Darfur genocide, she said, “The divestment tool is not only morally appropriate, but is, indeed, a moral imperative.”

Among the most persuasive advocates of this cause was a four-person delegation of 12-year olds from the Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, who testified last week before the Los Angeles City Council.

Their appearance was the culmination of a year-long project, inspired by Jewish World Watch, in which 16 sixth-graders studied the issues and raised nearly $900 through bake sales, washing cars and sale of green Jewish World Watch wristbands at a Purim carnival, said Orley Denman, their teacher.

Natan Reches, one of the four student reps, described his participation as “a life-changing experience,” and the L.A. City Council followed through by voting unanimously to divest funds held by the state employee and teacher retirement systems.

By now, 43 Los Angeles-area synagogues, ranging from Reconstructionist to Orthodox, and with a combined membership of nearly 200,000, are members of Jewish World Watch, with Temple Israel’s Rachel Andres as a main sparkplug. They have raised $500,000, mostly in small denominations, of which the bulk has gone toward the building of two medical clinics and construction of water wells.

Recently the local American Jewish Committee chapter, ignoring organizational turf, collected $7,500 at a luncheon for the Jewish World Watch effort.

Education was the first emphasis of the Jewish World Watch founders and remains a top priority. Some 50 volunteer speakers have fanned out to high schools, summer camps and synagogues, with impressive results.

For instance, at Calabasas High School, the Armenian Club raised more than $2,000 by selling self-designed T-shirts, and senior Samantha Finkelstein has spread the word by talking to large assemblies at 10 other high schools.

Although now focusing on Darfur, Jewish World Watch holds to its original mission statement: “To combat genocide and other egregious violations of human rights around the world.”

Jewish World Watch is now hiring its first executive director and is evaluating future directions: Whether to expand from its Los Angeles base and go nationwide, and whether to address itself to other genocides and human rights violations, without neglecting its Darfur mission.

Amid considerable acclaim for Jewish World Watch’s work, there have been some critical questions. Some come from “insular Jews,” as Kamenir-Reznik calls them, who ask why they should give to non-Jewish causes, and, in any case, “nobody helped us during the Holocaust.”

Since the main perpetrators in Darfur are Arab Muslims killing black African Muslims, some skeptics wonder whether there might be a political, pro-Israel subtext to Jewish World Watch’s concern, and whether the black survivors will be subsequently “grateful” for Jewish help.

Perhaps the best answer is given by Schulweis, who told a recent press conference about Jewish World Watch’s work: “I’ve been a rabbi for 50 years and have never seen such a response, especially among young students,” he said. “Some people say about the Darfur genocide that it’s an internal matter, that reports have been exaggerated. These are the same excuses we heard during the Holocaust.

“There is always an alternative to passive complicity. If we now turn aside, that would be our deepest humiliation,” he said.

For more information, call (818) 501-1836, e-mail info@jewishworldwatch.org, or visit www.jewishworldwatch.org.

 

Gay Marriage Ban Could Alienate Jews


It’s a familiar calculus in the relationship between the Jewish community and the Bush administration: a social issue that divides the country 50-50 has the Jewish community split 75-25 against where President Bush stands.

On Monday, Bush strongly endorsed the federal marriage amendment to the U.S. constitution, which would effectively ban gay marriage.

“Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said after meeting with supporters of the constitutional amendment. He was referring to the 2004 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bill, which was likely to be considered by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, has virtually no chance of passing. Constitutional amendments need 67 of the 100 Senate votes to pass, and no one anticipates the vote breaking 55.

That makes it a win-win for Bush in his effort to keep evangelical conservatives on board ahead of the November midterm congressional elections. The reasoning is that the amendment will still resonate with the GOP’s conservative base five months from now, but will likely have disappeared from the memories of Republican-leaning social moderates.

However, Jewish Republicans, who have been trying to lure Jews away from their solid 3-to-1 support for Democrats, might have been dealt a blow, at least according to the amendment’s opponents.

“It’s unclear to me how the Republican Party will gain ground in the Jewish community by bringing forth a centerpiece of the religious right’s agenda,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “For a large section of the Jewish community, this is an issue of fundamental rights and they will be watching closely to see how their senators vote.”

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements oppose the amendment. On Tuesday, the Conservative movement’s leadership joined in the opposition, in a statement that referred to a 2003 United Synagogue resolution opposing any such discrimination. Also in opposition are major Jewish civil liberties groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

The National Council of Jewish Women has taken a lead in opposing the legislation, organizing clerical lobbying against it and leading an alliance of liberal Jewish groups in urging senators to vote it down. Orthodox groups, led by the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, support the amendment.

The most recent polling on the issue, by Gallup, found 50 percent of Americans in favor of the amendment and 47 percent opposed. A 2004 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews found 24 percent in favor and 74 percent opposed.

Jewish supporters of the amendment suggested they would sell the amendment to the Jewish community as one that would guarantee religious freedoms.

Proponents of gay marriage were “pursuing a deliberate plan of litigation and political pressure which will not only redefine marriage, but will follow from that to threaten the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment — religious liberty,” said Nathan Diament, the director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.

Diament, the only Jewish participant at the meeting with Bush on Monday, said the Massachusetts ruling already had a negative impact on religious freedom. He cited as example the state’s Roman Catholic Church decision to drop out of the adoption business because it would be required to consider gay couples as parents.

“They’re trying to impose their position on society at large,” he said of proponents of gay marriage. “How a society defines marriage affects everybody.”

That view had some backing from at least one Jewish civil rights group, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Marc Stern, the AJCongress’ general counsel, cited the example of an Orthodox kosher caterer who could face a lawsuit for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding.

A successful compromise would “recognize the marriages in the context of a secular economy, for instance by not discriminating on domestic partner benefits, but it would not force people to act in areas they find morally reprehensible,” Stern said.

Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor and an activist for gay rights, said such arguments had no place in the public arena.

“There are lots of ways in which a religious organization can run its business as it wishes,” Feldblum said. “Rabbis don’t have to perform a marriage that they don’t agree with, a religious organization does not have to allow lesbians as rabbis. The problem is when religious organizations are operating in the public arena, with lunch banks, day camps, shelters. Then it’s very difficult to allow a religious organization to go against the public policy of the state.”

Republican Jewish spokesmen turned down requests for comment, but the amendment was not likely to help their efforts to appeal to Jews on domestic issues.

The emphasis before the 2004 election on Bush’s friendship with Israel and his tough reputation on security issues failed to make much of a dent on the Jewish Republican vote, which crept up to between 23 percent and 25 percent from about 19 percent in 2000.

Since then, Jewish Republicans have learned the lesson of emphasizing foreign policy too much and have carefully calibrated a social message designed to appeal to younger Jews. In Jewish newspaper advertisements and in stump speeches, Bush’s pro-business record is pitched to Jewish voters who may be more fiscally conservative than their parents.

And spokesmen like party chairman Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, bluntly acknowledge to Jews that the Democrats were on the right side of history when they backed civil rights in the 1960s; but they say that Bush has inherited that mantle with his efforts to promote democracy abroad and force education reforms at home.

The most prominent Jewish Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would vote against the amendment. He cited classic Republican small government philosophy: government “ought to be kept off our backs, out of our pocketbooks and out of our bedrooms,” Specter said, according to The New York Times.

Democrats said the marriage amendment would help cripple such efforts.

“The Republicans are saddled with an agenda that’s horrific to the vast majority of American Jews,” said Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Supporters of the amendment said they believed momentum was on their side. A similar effort in 2004 garnered just 48 Senate votes; this effort will top 50, they believe.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, said he believed all Americans would eventually internalize the amendment’s moral arguments.

“This battle will be won in stages,” he said. “It takes time for the nation to fully absorb the implications of allowing same-sex marriage and the effect it will have on traditional families.”

The Reform movement’s Pelavin said his impression was that time was on the side of opponents of the amendment.

“This isn’t a fight that we picked, this is a fight that the president and the Republican leadership have picked,” he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”

 

UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics


Like Moses upholding the Tablets of the Law, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller stood on the steps of UCLA’s Ackerman Union last week, his outstretched arms grasping a large, hand-lettered cardboard sign, which proclaimed:

Peace for Israel
Peace for Palestine
Share the Hope

Milling near the solitary UCLA Hillel director were Arab and Jewish students with competing exhibits, but to reach them a visitor had to pass through a colorful marketplace of causes up Bruin Walk.

The largest crowd was listening to the deafening rock band, Moving Units, anchoring a gauntlet of tables, leafleteers and displays urging students to participate in the Inaugural Bruin Cardboard Boat Race, engage in Christian Bible studies, fight drug addiction, play volleyball and so on.

At the end was a large photo collage of men and women of different races and nationalities, each asserting “I am a Palestinian” to indicate international solidarity for the cause. The announced Apartheid Obstacle Course, presented by the Guerrilla Theatre, was running an hour late.

The Bruin Walk display was one of the events organized by Muslim, Arab and supporting students as part of the weeklong “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace” program.

The low-key theme appeared to be an attempt by the sponsoring Students for Justice in Palestine to lend a respectable scholarly touch to the anti-Israel demonstrations.

If this approach indicated a higher level of sophistication by the sponsors than in previous years, so did the Jewish response, organized by Bruins for Israel.

Bruin Walk was dotted with graphic pro-Israel posters aimed at different campus constituencies.

“Where in the Middle East Can Gay Officers Serve Their Country?” asked one poster, answering, “Only in Israel.” Other posters, with the same bottom line, queried, “Where in the Middle East Can Arab Women Vote?” and “Where in the Middle East Are Daughters Valued as Much as Sons?”

Smack in front of the Palestinian display stood 21-year-old Michael Smoyman, a yarmulke on his head and holding a sign inscribed, “Obstacle to Peace: Suicide Bombing.”

As Seidler-Feller’s arms grew tired of holding the peace poster, he was approached by George Malouf, an Arab graduate student from Gaza, who took over the rabbi’s sign and post.

When the “apartheid wall” finally arrived, it lead to a mind-bending face-off between Arab students dressed as Israeli soldiers manning roadblocks, and Jewish students dressed as suicide bombers and carrying such signs as, “If I were a Palestinian suicide bomber, you would be dead now” and “If I were your neighbor, you would want a fence, too.”

Two campus cops on bicycles were on hand to break up a threatening scuffle, but on the whole the week’s mood was largely nonconfrontational.

It was quite a different story a week earlier at UC Irvine, which for the past three years has witnessed militant anti-Israel agitation during Palestine Week.

Instead of UCLA’s benign “Obstacles to Peace” slogan, the theme of the UCI Muslim Student Union was “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” featuring lectures on such topics as “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”

Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a Black Muslim imam and veteran rabble-rouser given to bloodcurdling threats against Israel and “Zionist Jews” spoke at both UC campuses.

While he pulled out all the stops at an UCI outdoor rally, at UCLA he spoke to some 70 people in an indoor auditorium in a considerably calmer and less vituperative voice.

Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the regional American Jewish Congress chapter, monitored the UCI events and, shocked by the hostile atmosphere, said “I now understand what it’s like to be a Jew in pre-war Germany or an American Embassy hostage in Tehran.”

Jeffrey Rips, the Hillel executive director at UCI, said that while there was general agreement that free speech should not be abrogated on campus, the administration had the right and duty of exercising its free speech by publicly condemning anti-Semitic demonstrations and hate harangues.

This point represents a long-standing demand by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and some UCI faculty members, who protested this year’s events to Chancellor Michael V. Drake.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is currently investigating charges by the Zionist Organization of America that the UCI administration has failed to take a stand against anti-Semitism and to prevent harassment of Jewish students on campus.

To balance the dour campus picture, Rips said that except during Palestine Week, there was little tension between Muslim and Jewish student the rest of the year.

While some Jewish students, especially freshmen, were intimidated in the past by the militancy of Muslim students, who outnumber Jewish students, “now you see students wearing kippot and ‘I’m Proud to be Jewish’ T-shirts, and we also had a large sukkah on campus,” he said.

Rips blamed the tenser atmosphere at UCI, compared to UCLA, on a more radicalized Muslim student group, which takes its cues from Malik Ali, and the fact that UCI has become the main media focus for national Arab-Jewish campus tensions.

General and Jewish papers ran extensive stories on UCI’s Palestine Week; UCLA’s was covered only by the campus daily.

 

Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes


When former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine agreed to chair the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), he hoped to infuse it with the passion and purpose of its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In those days, the JCRC — which is one of the major voices and faces of The Federation to the non-Jewish world — was a high-profile entity. It took up the cause of Soviet Jewry and Ethiopia’s Jews. It was assertive locally, too, whether in denouncing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 or reaching out to non-Jewish communities in need.

But something has happened during the John Fishel era at The Federation.

Critics say that starting in the mid-1990s, the JCRC slowly began losing its voice and shirked a core mission: to be as visible and forthrightly active as possible.

As Levine saw it, the community relations committee could once again become a powerful voice by taking principled stands on controversial public policy issues, thereby strengthening coalitions with African American, Latino and other ethnic groups.

Levine’s appointment came at a time when JCRC staff morale was low. The committee had largely abandoned public policy advocacy in favor of its more traditional roles of ardently supporting Israel, reaching out to other religious and ethnic communities and lobbying for government dollars for social programs. Under Fishel, the JCRC has seen its influence, as well as staff and budget, shrink.

“John Fishel doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it,” said Howard Welinsky, a former JCRC chair. He said that Fishel constantly pushed to downsize the JCRC during Welinsky’s two-year term in the late ’90s.

But Fishel’s view is that the political climate simply evolved. The JCRC has “a unique function,” he said, but the community itself no longer always coalesces, through the committee, as one voice. There are no longer such issues of broad agreement, such as support for Soviet Jewry.

“I think it’s become much more difficult for the JCRC to define what becomes an issue of Jewish concern,” Fishel said.

To be sure, JCRCs across the country have seen budgets shrink as federations’ resources dipped. After the successful immigration to Israel of nearly 1 million Soviet Jews — a Herculean undertaking that community relations councils around the nation helped orchestrate — several JCRCs experienced periods of “searching for meaning,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the New York-based parent organization for 125 community relations councils nationwide.

Which is why the appointment of former Rep. Levine was so welcomed. Given his political connections in Sacramento and Washington and his energy and dedication, JCRC supporters believed Levine would restore the committee’s lost luster.

When the Israeli embassy contacted Levine, seeking JCRC public support for Israel’s planned withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza, he set about building consensus. Although Levine eventually succeeded in putting the JCRC on record as favoring the withdrawal — a position shared by the majority of American Jews — he said he felt frustrated that it took so long for The Federation to sign off on the public pronouncement. And by this time, The Federation was following the train of opinion shapers, rather than leading it.

Time was, the local JCRC, with The Federation’s blessing, took controversial stands on issues of the day, said Steven Windmueller, the committee’s director from 1985 to 1995. In those heady times, the JCRC opposed the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and spoke out in support of abortion rights, he said.

Although those positions angered some Jews in the community, Windmueller said the committee’s views reflected those held by the majority of the Southland’s liberal-leaning Jews. The JCRC’s willingness to take those and other positions, Windmueller said, attracted scores of young people to the committee, which served as a gateway to the Jewish community for many. Some later went on to became Federation donors, he added.

About a decade ago, however, the L.A, Federation, like some others around the country, began discouraging the local JCRC from venturing into controversial public policy matters, Windmueller said. With competition for charitable dollars heating up, many federations concluded that the risk of alienating conservative donors outweighed the benefit of taking liberal stands. Increasingly, most JCRCs left political advocacy, whether liberal or conservative, to other groups.

In Southern California, that void was filled by the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, StandWithUs, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), among others. Ironically, the PJA’s willingness to fight against sweatshops and the exploitation of hotel workers along with its boldness in embracing the sort of left-of-center causes once championed by the local JCRC has helped swell its ranks to 3,500. With half its members under 30, the alliance, which just opened a second office in the Bay Area, has succeeded in reaching a demographic coveted by Fishel’s Federation.

“What we find is that pursuing a positive, progressive Jewish response to the issues of the day is profoundly inspiring , especially to young people who one day will be our community leaders and donors,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

Two of the nation’s most robust JCRCs are among the most politically liberal. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has a staff of 24 and a $3 million budget, while the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council employs 20, with a budget of $2.1 million. By contrast, the local JCRC has five full-time and two part-time staffers and an annual budget of $1.2 million. Unlike Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco have taken bold policy stands recently, with San Francisco, for instance, coming out in favor of same-sex civil marriages.

A left-leaning JCRC wouldn’t fly everywhere, but the formula has consonance with liberal Los Angeles.

Levine had expected the L.A. JCRC to take positions on ballot initiatives, legislation and other political issues, provided he could build consensus. But The Federation’s new chairman of the board, Michael Koss, worried about alienating donors. Koss said he also thought the JCRC would benefit if led by someone who was not strongly identified with either liberal or conservative politics. Koss, who had the authority as Federation chair, did not reappoint Levine. The former congressman, for his part, said he had no interest in a second term given the lack of support.

“Losing Mel Levine for the JCRC or anyplace Mel puts his hat is a loss,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair.

Fishel said he respects Levine but added that Federation chairs make their own appointments. Fishel’s critics counter that it’s his job to show leadership.

Koss tapped corporate attorney Ron Leibow as Levine’s successor. Leibow, former chair of The Federation’s Planning and Allocation Committee, said he plans to revitalize the JCRC and has made reaching out to ethnic groups, especially Latinos, a priority.

Those involved with JCRC are determined to make a positive difference. Under new JCRC Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, the committee has added paid staff and seen its budget increase. Several JCRC programs have grown in importance. The Holy Land Democracy Project, for instance, has helped teach thousands of area Catholic high school students about Israel, while, simultaneously, tightening links between Jews and Catholics. The JCRC continues to take elected leaders on trips to Israel — to expose them to the Jewish state and to Jewish issues.

But a recent, tentative step back into the political fray was telling, when the JCRC encountered some Federation resistance and withdrew, for now, a pro-immigrant statement. The scenario unfolded in mid-May, when the JCRC board approved a statement saying that it supported better border security but opposed legislation that would criminalize illegal immigrants. The statement also favored normalizing immigrants’ status, insiders said. JCRC members had hoped the resolution would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community, she said.

The Federation board, however, barely approved the JCRC resolution, so the JCRC has pulled back, while it develops new wording that could attract more support, Schwartz-Getzug said.

That the JCRC still hasn’t come out with a statement weeks after one of the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in U.S. history reflects the committee’s — and, by extension, the Federation’s — cautious approach. Critics might go farther, arguing that this reluctance to take a public stand on immigration illustrate that those institutions no longer speak for the local Jewish community.

“If the Federation isn’t going to take a position on something as important to the Latino community as immigration, even after the huge marches all over the nation, then what in the world do they have to say to the Latino community?” commented Michael Hirschfeld, formerly the top JCRC staff member. Hirschfeld was himself the focus of an earlier JCRC furor: His unexpected 2003 dismissal, after 24 years with the JCRC, generated a firestorm of criticism, and a few calls for Fishel’s resignation.

Levine believes that until Fishel’s Federation either allows the JCRC to become independent or have more autonomy, the committee will serve as little more than an administrator of such programs as KOREH L.A, a well-regarded tutoring program.

“The CRC and Federation are no longer a meaningful political force in the structure of Los Angeles,” said Levine, now a partner in international law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “That’s unfortunate.”

 

Iranian Colored Band Report Discredited


When the renowned exiled Iranian journalist Amir Taheri reported in a Canadian newspaper last week that Iran had just passed a law requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing, the world reacted with shock. The story, which also outlined required colored bands for Christians and Zoroastrians, was immediately picked up by major newspapers in Israel, and the word spread quickly. The purpose of the law according to Taheri’s article, was to set a standard dress code for Muslims and also for Iranian Muslims “to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake and thus becoming najis [unclean]”.

The story seemed credible, given that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel proclamations for months. But, as it turned out, Taheri was wrong. No such law had been passed.

Nevertheless, Taheri’s report set in motion a media frenzy, with checks and balances of rumor control that illustrate how on edge — and careful — the Iranian exile community is these days. Local Iranian Jewish leaders were bombarded with requests for comments from the international media on the reported legislation, but they held back from responding until they had received solid confirmation from their sources in Iran.

“To the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups,” Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation said in a press release. “I am not aware of what was said by whom, but it is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around.”

Kermanian also said that while Iran’s Islamic officials have in the past put out ideas in the media to gauge international reaction, there was no specific information about this instance.

The report stemmed from new legislation geared to making women in Iran dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions, Iranian legislator Emad Afroogh Afroogh who sponsored the Islamic Dress Code bill told the Associated Press on Friday. Allegations that new rules affecting religious minorities were not part of the new regulations, he said.

“It’s a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless,” Afroogh said. “There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill.”

Morris Motamed, the Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament also denied the existence of any bills designed to segregate Jews in the country with special insignia on their clothes.

“Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in the parliament,” Motamed said. “Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here.”

Rumors of anti-Semitic laws in Iran have disturbed local Iranian Jews who have been increasingly concerned for the safety of roughly 25,000 Jews still living in Iran since Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to “wiped off the map” late last year.

“The mere fact that such possibilities are considered to be plausible is a reflection of the sad state of affairs of the religious minority groups in Iran,” Kermanian said in his press release.

According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian Jewish activist who tracks anti-Semitism in Iran, the Jewish community lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from militant Islamic factions in the country. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two Jews died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Yousefabad synagogue in Tehran, was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the local Iranian Jewish community was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to save the lives of 13 Jews in Shiraz. They were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released.

Both Jews and Muslims of Iranian origins living in Southern California have been closely collaborating to raise public awareness of Ahmadinejad’s comments. Nearly 2,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered at a pro-Israel rally in Westwood last November to condemn Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

“We wanted to show the world that we are against such comments made by Mr. Ahmadinejad and that his comments are not representative of the Iranian people,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of KRSI “Radio Sedaye Iran,” a Persian language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news around the world. “Iranians are not the type to want the destruction of another people. We respect the Jewish people and only wish success for the State of Israel.”

 

I’m Going to Jail Over Darfur Genocide


(Editor’s note: This article was written and published prior to Rabbi Steve Gutow’s planned arrest.)

I’m going to jail.

Along with interfaith religious leaders, members of Congress and others, I am being arrested in Washington,

D.C., Friday, April 28, outside the Embassy of Sudan in a public protest of the continuing genocide in Darfur.

The aim is to focus attention on Darfur and to add stronger voices to help the Bush administration force the international community to take action to halt the tragedy. Our act is a prelude to the “Save Darfur” mass rally scheduled for Sunday on the National Mall.

Darfur is a remote region of western Sudan bordering Chad. The Arab-dominated Sudanese government has engaged in a genocidal policy in Darfur designed to ethnically cleanse the region of the mainly black African tribal people from whose ranks come rebel groups fighting the central government.

The situation is extraordinarily complicated. Human rights groups say the rebels are also responsible for abuses, including looting humanitarian aid convoys. Chadian bandits encouraged by Sudan’s actions also prey on the tribal population. Still, if the Sudanese government could be taken to task and forced to stop the abuses, most would stop.

It is not the combatants on either side but the unarmed civilians, the dirt-poor families who struggle for survival in the best of times, that suffer most. They are the victims of government-backed Arab militias known as the Janajweed, a group of poor, nomadic tribesman who are guns-for-hire in the conflict. Some 200,000 civilians have died and another 2 million have been forced from their villages and are refugees living their lives in sparely equipped camps beset by starvation and disease.

The situation could get worse in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s purported call for Islamic militants to head to Sudan to confront those involved in African Union and U.N. peace efforts. How ironic, given that both the Sudanese government and Darfur’s tribes are Muslim.

Given the difficulties of the situation, what good can come from my arrest?

In truth, the arrest is a little political theater designed to garner media attention in advance of Sunday’s mass demonstration. Such actions are commonplace in Washington. Law enforcement officials sanction in advance where and when they will take place. Protesters in violation of trespass laws are peaceably arrested and after a few hours in custody pay a small fine and are released.

There is no real sacrifice on my part. So again, what’s the point?

In a moment of exquisite — some would say divine timing, Haftarah Shemini, read in synagogue just last Shabbat, helps make my point.

The reading from II Samuel refers to the death of Uzzah. Uzzah is slain by God after he tries to keep the Ark of the Covenant from toppling from a cart pulled by oxen that lose their balance. The traditional explanation for Uzzah’s death is that despite his good intention, his touching the Ark was an act of irreverence for which he had to pay dearly.

As extreme, even outrageous, as this repercussion seems, I much prefer a more a contemporary explanation — one that sheds a moral light on Darfur: Uzzah’s offense was not that he dared touch the Ark, but that he allowed others, including no less a revered figure than King David, to arrange inappropriate transportation for the Ark, when Uzzah knew, or should have known, that the arrangement was lacking.

In short, Uzzah’s greater offense was his failure to act before it was too late, before disaster struck.

As Jews, we are directed to be proactive rather than merely reactive. Our responsibility is to question the actions of those in power and, when necessary, to draw public attention to their failings. We cannot simply sit back and blame outcomes on others. Uzzah’s death can show us that we bear the consequences of our inaction as well as our action.

The West’s reaction to Darfur until now is yet another example of how easy it is to wash our hands of a situation we believe does not affect us directly. We tell ourselves that we have issues closer to home and closer to our heart that must take priority, and we divert our gaze.

This week, we also commemorate Yom HaShoah, our own genocide of the Holocaust, and we say, “Never Again.” Well, it’s happening again.

As 21st century Jews, as citizens of a world made smaller by globalization, we do not have the luxury to look the other way. We are called to speak up and to do what we can. Too little, too late no longer cuts it. In this light, to be arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy is the very least one can do to bring attention to Darfur.

We must demand action on Darfur — from our government and from the world. And we must do all we can to ensure that this demand is heard.

Article provided courtesy of Washington Jewish Week.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a member of the executive committee of the Save Darfur Coalition.

 

‘State Department for Jews’ Hits 100


In a meeting room with gold silk curtains and tiled walls, a delegation from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) takes their seats at a long, glass-topped table facing Tunisia’s foreign minister and his aides.

Soon the questions begin: When will Tunisia resume official relations with Israel? What is the country’s stance on Iran?

These questions are de rigeur for the AJC, which is sometimes called “the State Department of the Jewish people,” because of its frequent meetings with leaders of foreign countries.

AJC board members and activists traveled to Tunisia last month as part of a multicountry tour marking its 100th anniversary. The diplomatic mission included stops in five European capitals, Morocco and Israel, meeting with presidents, government ministers, NATO officials and the pope.

The group is also planning a forum in Washington, D.C., beginning May 1, that will feature political and intellectual notables from around the world.

“It’s unbelievable access,” said Stephanie Pulver, an AJC member from New York, who was among those in Tunisia. “It allows us to try to bring up issues that are important to the community and learn about the country and the problems they are having.”

The AJC was founded in 1906 by American Jewish elites, mainly of German Jewish background, who were alarmed by the Kishinev pogroms in czarist Russia and wanted to protect and strengthen Jewish communities around the world by promoting democracy and pluralism. Today, it has 33 chapters in the United States and a presence in 20 countries, advocating for Israel and human rights and against anti-Semitism and terror.

The group faced a crisis during the 1940s, when its president, Joseph Proskauer, opposed Zionism. As a result, the AJC left the American Jewish Conference, an umbrella organization, in the 1940s because it opposed Zionism, according to Brandeis University historian Jonathan Sarna.

“Many people thought the organization would not survive,” Sarna said.

However, after World War II, the AJC began to recognize the importance of the State of Israel, and it soon rebounded in importance. In the postwar era, it worked successfully for the inclusion of a human rights provision in the U.N. Charter and was integral in convincing the Vatican to issue in 1965 the Nostra Aetate, which absolved Jews of the collective responsibility for Jesus’ death.

Among its recent achievements are helping to persuade the U.S. government to ban the Hezbollah television station, Al-Manar, and working with the Polish government to build a memorial at Belzec, the previously neglected site of the Nazi death camp where 500,000 Jews were killed.

The AJC is known for its “deep research” of issues, Sarna said, and for working behind the scenes in establishing contacts with high-level international leaders. It came as little surprise when in 2004, the AJC opened its Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, the home of the European Union.

“The ability of the committee to re-invent itself to change as American and world Jewish conditions change is quite extraordinary,” Sarna said. “Not all Jewish organizations can do that.”

Now, the AJC’s longtime executive director, David Harris, said the organization has its work cut out for itself in the future.

“The threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, radical Islam and the potential marriage of extremists and weapons of mass destruction” are among the main issues the organization will attempt to address at a time when the United States will no longer be the sole superpower, Harris said, speaking during the Tunisia trip.

In Israel, the entire delegation of approximately 200 people gathered for the centerpiece of the mission, meeting with senior government ministers, army officials and academics.

Harris said he envisions the AJC continuing two tracks of involvement, one involving Israel-Diaspora relations, the other promoting relations between Israel and other countries.

In Germany, the delegation heard Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pledge not to back down on demands on Hamas; they heard Stephan Kramer, secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, proudly describe Germany’s growing Jewish population of 120,000 as the third-largest in Europe.

“This is a very hopeful place at a time when in the last five days we have not seen a lot of hope,” said Kara Newmark of St. Louis at a gala dinner at Berlin’s Adlon Hotel, referring to the previous visit to Israel.

Said Harris: “If you said to the AJC folks in 1946, ‘Folks, put on your calendar for 2006, a gala dinner in Germany,’ people would have declared me certifiably mad and retired me to the farm. But maybe the 160th anniversary of AJC will be celebrated at dinners in Tehran, Damascus.”

AJC is paying special attention to the Arab world, said Jason Isaacson, director of the group’s office of government and international affairs.

“Part of the issue is Jewish concerns and communities, but it is also about there being only a billion Muslims in the world,” he said. “We obviously need to be talking to them.”

In Tunisia, the visiting delegation heard from officials who touted the recent visit of Silvan Shalom, Israel’s foreign minister at the time of his visit. The Tunisian-born Shalom was given a festive homecoming by Tunisian government officials in a visit that some suggested indicated warming ties between the two countries.

Still, those same government officials were reticent about when Tunisia might reassess its relationship with Israel. Tunisia broke off formal diplomatic ties after the start of the second intifada in 2000.

“We have to see how things are resolved on the ground,” Tunisia Foreign Minister Abdelwahab Abdallah told the AJC delegation. “Our feeling is that the situation has stalled and even deteriorated. We have to be patient.”

These discussions are normal for the AJC, which often talks with foreign diplomats and officials — especially during the United Nations’ General Assembly every September. The nations that sit with them often are seeking Jewish clout in their dealings with the U.S. government.

For its part, the AJC wants to drum up global support for Israel and protect vulnerable Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora.

Connecting with the local Jewish community was an integral part of the AJC visit. In Tunis, the delegation also met with Mohamed Lejmi, the country’s solicitor-general and director of judicial services, who spoke of laws that protect minority rights in Tunisia, including those of the country’s small Jewish minority of approximately 1,800, including 200-300 in Tunis.

In April 2002, a suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives outside of the Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, an island off the coast of Tunisia that is home to a vibrant Jewish community of about 1,500. The blast killed 21 people, most of them German tourists. It is suspected that the perpetrators had links to Al Qaeda.

The AJC delegation traveled to Djerba as part of the visit, stopping at Ghriba Synagogue to take part in Shabbat services. The synagogue, built on the ruins of an earlier synagogue and believed to be among the oldest synagogues in Africa, has been guarded by Tunisian police since the attack.

JTA Foreign Editor Peter Ephross in New York and correspondent Toby Axlerod in Berlin contributed to this report.

 

Jewish Groups Take Pro-Immigrant Stand


You didn’t see many Jews amid the sea of Mexican and American flags during the recent pro-immigrant rallies that filled city streets, but Jews and Jewish groups, in largely liberal Los Angeles, have been advocating on behalf of immigrants, mostly outside the view of television cameras.

Among local Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been leading the way: Its regional branch has been developing and disseminating a pro-immigrant resolution for roughly six months. The resulting declaration, recently approved by the Pacific Southwest Region of the ADL, calls for humane treatment of illegal immigrants, while also accepting the need for “security precautions … necessary to protect the integrity of the United States border and the well-being of the American people.”

Sixteen local civil rights organizations and the Catholic church have signed on to the declaration, said Amanda Susskind, regional director of ADL. The declaration has been forwarded to L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, with the hope that the City Council, too, will endorse the nonbinding resolution. Signatories hope the declaration will work its way to other cities and to the state Legislature as well.

The ADL declaration is intentionally short on specifics. It does not get into details about the number of years or days per year an undocumented immigrant should work to get resident status or whether or not illegal immigrants should be required to learn English or submit to a criminal background check. Instead, the declaration condemns in broad terms “xenophobia and anti-immigrant bias as having no place in United States’ immigration policy” and also proposes the monitoring of extremist groups.

Other local Jewish organizations also have taken a pro-immigration stance, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). Two rabbis affiliated with the organization were part of a delegation of clergy who recently spoke to congressmen in Washington to “present a moral agenda,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

A signatory to the ADL declaration, the alliance “takes the position further,” said Sokatch, urging community leaders “to take a stand substantially similar to Cardinal [Roger] Mahony’s.”

Mahony has spoken out adamantly against House and Senate bills that would define illegal immigration as a felony and would also criminalize the actions of those organizations and people who help these immigrants.

Sokatch says that the PJA would advocate civil disobedience against such provisions, which are part of legislation proposed by Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

“Any law that would cater to the worst, xenophobic elements,” Sokatch saus, “would require us to civilly disobey the law.”

Sokatch said that he did not attend the March 25 “Gran Marcha” because it was Shabbat, but he and his two daughters did attend another rally at UCLA, which included many non-Latinos, some Jews presumably among them.

The local branch of the American Jewish Congress also signed the ADL declaration. The national organization was expected to consider its own resolution on immigration at its national board meeting this week. Executive Director Neil Goldstein said that his organization is “strongly in favor of border controls,” but prefers the more pro-immigrant approach of legislation developed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The historic position of Jews is that we are an immigrant people,” Goldstein says. “We support the idea of immigrants coming to America balanced with respect for the law and our border.”

Another local signatory to the ADL declaration is the legal aid group Bet Tzedek, which represents Latino immigrants through its employment-rights project. The organization aims to prevent discrimination against immigrants “whether they’re documented or not,” Bet Tzedek Executive Director Mitchell Kamin said.

An individual on the frontlines of a walkout was teacher Steve Zimmer, who runs intervention programs at Marshall High School. Zimmer, who is Jewish, marched with students to act as a “buffer” between the police and students. At the beginning of the day, he had no idea that he would end up walking with the students all the way from Silver Lake to City Hall, adding that he wore “wing tips much to my chagrin.”

Once the Marshall marchers, the vast majority of them Latino, reached the crest on Spring Street, they saw thousands of other students — estimates put the total at 40,000 — some from as far away as the San Gabriel Valley. Zimmer characterized the moment when his students spotted their peers as “jubilant.” Zimmer, who knows City Council President Garcetti, prevailed upon Garcetti to talk to the teens. Later, as widely reported, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to them as well.

The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. Unified teachers union, has passed a motion calling on teachers to have conversations with their students on immigration and to support students’ constitutional rights. The motion was proposed by Andy Griggs, who is Jewish, and it passed overwhelmingly, UTLA Treasurer David Goldberg said.

“We want to make sure students are safe and don’t get beat up,” Goldberg said.

The View From L.A.: Hoping for the Best


Los Angeles supporters of Israel’s political parties praised or mourned the results of the Knesset election, but even the winners weren’t entirely in a mood to celebrate.

Shimon Erem, a former high-ranking officer in the Israeli army, said he had planned to fly to Israel to cast his ballot for Kadima (Israel has no absentee voting). However, with pre-election predictions that the centrist party would gain around 40 seats, Erem felt his vote wouldn’t be needed.

Instead, Kadima got only 29 seats out of a total of 120, a showing he attributed to “faulty strategy due to overconfidence, to taking its support for granted.”

Dr. Yehuda Handelsman, a veteran leader of the local Israeli community, also backed Kadima, but had been more realistic.

“I think we did pretty well,” he said. “If Ariel Sharon had remained healthy and had led the party, I think we would have gotten 35-40 seats.”

As a new party, Kadima has not yet organized an American support group, but Handelsman predicted the establishment of such an organization in the next two years.

The Labor Party came in second with 19 seats and Bea Chenkin, regional executive director of Ameinu (formerly Labor Zionist Alliance), said she was satisfied.

“Considering that [former Labor Party leader] Shimon Peres jumped ship to join Kadima, we did as well as could be expected,” she said. “A lot of Israelis feel that the social problems of the country have been neglected, but now these issues are coming to the fore again.”

Rabbi Meyer May, president of the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of California, said that the three religious parties had done a good job in mobilizing their base among the generally apathetic electorate.

“Shas, National Union-Religious Party and United Torah Judaism understood that there was a lot at stake for the observant community and managed to retain their strength, May said.

Even among the Orthodox parties, there are strong ethnic and ideological differences, noted Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a Loyola Law School faculty member and an Orthodox leader.

At least one of the religious parties, most likely the less ideological United Torah Judaism, will join a Kadima-led coalition, Adlerstein predicted.

Robert Rechnitz, national vice chairman and Western regional president of American Friends of Likud, said he was “obviously disappointed” by the election results.

Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, had been the largest party in the sitting Knesset, but will have only 12 seats in the next one.

Rechnitz blamed the decline on Sharon’s absence at the top of the ticket and defections by many retired and Orthodox voters, who had been hurt by Netanyahu’s past economic policies, as well as by what he called a “vicious” campaign against Netanyahu in the Israeli media.

The leftist Meretz Party managed only five seats, to the dismay of Dr. Isaac Berman, a national board member of Meretz USA.

“Similar to the Democratic Party here, Meretz didn’t seem to have clear message and didn’t make the right kind of noise,” Berman said.

Views on the road ahead in the peace process varied from wait-and-see resignation to cautious optimism among several community leaders interviewed by The Journal.

Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israeli advocacy group, said the situation in Israel is so fluid that it is difficult to make predictions about how events will unfold. Given the internal and external challenges Israel faces, though, she said that now is a time for unity.

“This is a time when Israelis need to pull together and work together,” Rothstein said. “You have the potential polarization of the Israeli society on the left and right on the inside and the Hamas threat from the outside.

A more upbeat assessment came from Mark LeVine, associate professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine. He said that despite Olmert’s vow to draw Israel’s final borders unilaterally, a negotiated settlement could eventually emerge. Hamas, he said, despite its refusal to recognize Israel, is not opposed to cutting a deal. And because of its standing in the Arab street, the group has the credentials to do so.

“Assuming Hamas doesn’t engage in too much violence either against military targets or terrorism against civilians, I would assume that in the next couple years there’s going to be a repeat of the negotiations you had at Camp David in 2000 and in Taba,” said LeVine, who wrote the 2005 book, “Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil” (Oneworld). “They’re probably going to be using pretty much the same maps.”

A local Muslim leader weighed in with similarly cautious optimism.

“There’s a recognition by the bulk of the Israeli population that the Greater Israel Project is over,” said Nayyer Ali, past chair of the Muslim Pubic Affairs Council. “Unlike the mood in Israel in 2000 and before, we now have a consensus among Israelis that the end solution is a Palestinian state.”

Ali added that the rise of the terorrist Hamas group on the Palestinian side also should not be viewed as a fatal impediment to peace. Just as the Israeli left cannot make peace without the support of more conservative Israeli parties, Ali said, Palestinian leaders, absent Hamas, also could not make a binding agreement. Despite its vow never to recognize Israel, “like other ideological parties, I think Hamas will have to deal with reality now that it’s in power,” Ali said.

But Sabiah Khan, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California chapter, said she sees nothing but a stalemate ahead in at least the short term: Israel, on the one side, refuses to negotiate until Hamas renounces terrorism and recognizes its right to exist. The new Palestinian government, on the other hand, won’t engage Israel until the Jewish state ends its “occupation,” recognizes the national rights of the Palestinian people and renounces terror.

“Basically, we have two groups saying the same thing, that they’re not going to talk to each other [until the other side does something that it isn’t willing to do], Khan said. “Outside intervention from the U.S., Europe, the United Nations or Arab governments is needed.”

Some or all of those parties, she said, could break the impasse by encouraging a negotiated settlement based on international law and existing U.N. resolutions.

Regardless of last week’s voting results, the local Israeli consulate was in campaign party mode on Election Day. Consul General Ehud Danoch and his staff festooned the consulate’s Jerusalem Hall with small Israeli flags, and had spread out a generous supply of pita, hummus, techinah and cookies for more than 100 guests who jammed together to watch the results of the first exit polls.

Danoch drew on his own political background for a running commentary on the merging trends and shared the general astonishment at the success of the Pensioners Party, which came out of nowhere to gain seven seats.