AJWS president Ruth Messinger applauds Supreme Court ruling on DOMA & Prop 8


American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger released the following statement today after the Supreme Court ruled in two cases related to marriage equality.

“We applaud today’s historic decisions by the Supreme Court to strike down discriminatory laws as a major victory for equal rights for LGBTI people in the United States,” said Messinger. “We believe that this is one of the necessary steps to ensure that the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected everywhere in the world.

“Too many people in too many countries are ostracized, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives and loving others of the same gender. In 76 countries, people can be arrested for having sex with someone of the same gender and in five countries the punishment is the death penalty.

“As the Jewish voice for LBGTI rights worldwide, we are proud to support LGBTI activists in Cambodia, El Salvador, Haiti, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Uganda and elsewhere. These defenders of human rights stand up for the dignity and rights of every person, and they put their lives on the line to defend the human rights of the LGBTI people,” said Messinger.

AJWS is the eighth largest funder of LGBTI rights worldwide. AJWS has granted nearly $5 million to support advocates for LGBTI rights and currently funds 50 organizations promoting the rights of LGBTI people in 18 countries.  


About American Jewish World Service:

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is the leading Jewish organization working to promote human rights and end poverty in the developing world. We support more than 400 grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia and the Americas that promote the rights of women, girls and LGBT people; rebuild societies torn apart by war and natural disasters; and seek to secure access to food, land and water. In the United States, we mobilize our supporters to advocate for U.S. policies that help create a just and equitable world. We are inspired by Judaism’s commitment to pursue justice and repair the world, and we believe that Jewish history teaches us to respect and fight for the rights of others.

Jewish groups ride roller-coaster week of Supreme Court rulings


A slight bump up on affirmative action, a plunge on voting rights, and on gay marriage, the mountaintop: federal legitimacy.

It’s been a week of roller-coaster highs and lows at the Supreme Court for liberal Jewish groups. Their collective pledge: Stick it out.

“These are critical decisions and it’s going to be a fight” on voting rights, said Sammie Moshenberg, the director of the National Council of Jewish Women, one of several groups that had weighed in on the recent cases with friend-of-the-court briefs.

The same tone — vigilance on voting rights, gratitude on affirmative action and gay marriage — informed statements from other groups.

On Monday, the court ordered lower courts to more stringently scrutinize the University of Texas’ affirmative action practices but did not otherwise reverse its earlier decision upholding the right of universities to make race a factor in accepting students.

Jewish groups praised the decision, with the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center celebrating it for upholding “the use of affirmative action, the principle of diversity, and the understanding that race conscious remedies may be necessary to ensure diversity, even as we are aware that the decision’s wording indicates the Court may welcome future opportunities to review and potentially restrict affirmative action.”

Tuesday’s decision on voting rights, a 5-4 call that split the court along its conservative-liberal lines, shocked Jewish groups. The decision kept in place the shell of the 1965 Voting Rights Act but gutted its key provision, which had mandated federal review of any changes in voting laws in areas and states — mostly in the South — where racial discrimination had been pervasive.

All three Jewish justices dissented from the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, which found that the 1965 rules were outdated. In a withering dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that Congress had overwhelmingly reaffirmed the 1965 rules as recently as 2006 and said the court was overstepping its bounds.

The decision drew strong condemnation from Jewish groups and vows to bring the case to Congress, although the likelihood is that current political realities — a Republican House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate — will preclude a review of the 1965 law anytime soon.

On Wednesday morning, the court issued two rulings on gay rights. One overturned a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which mandated that federal laws abide by a definition of marriage as between a man and woman. In the second ruling, the court said that individuals who sought to overturn a California Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage had no standing to sue.

The first case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a Jewish woman, Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay federal taxes on the estate of her late wife, Thea Spyer, who also was Jewish, although their Canadian marriage was recognized as legal by the State of New York, where they resided.

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” Kennedy wrote in an opinion joined by the four liberal judges, including the three Jewish justices: Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, as well as Sonia Sotomayor. “It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper.”

The marriage equality cases had Jewish groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs on both sides, with liberal groups defending the rights of gay couples and Orthodox groups seeking to push back against the California Supreme Court decision.

“Society’s mores may shift and crumble but eternal verities exist,” the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America said in a statement. “One is marriage, the union of a man and a woman. Its sanctity may have been grievously insulted by the High Court today, but that sanctity remains untouched.”

Liberal Jewish groups were elated.

“Having faced prejudice and bigotry throughout our history, the Jewish community does not tolerate unjust discrimination against others,” Alan van Capelle, the director of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that advocates on social issues and that had joined friend-of-the-court briefs in both cases, said in a statement. “Personally, as a gay Jewish man who has long been fighting for LGBT rights, it means so much to see our highest court rule that my family has as much right to happiness and protection under the law as any other.”

Gay rights response: Let us eat (wedding) cake!


Doors opened early this morning at the Abbey, a gay bar in West Hollywood where people gathered to watch the Supreme Court rule that part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional by denying federal benefits to same-sex couples.

The watch party began at 6:30 a.m. Champagne was flowing and free wedding cake was available throughout the day. 

Anne Chamberlain, who celebrated after watching the decision at home, recalled how more than 20 years ago when she was a gay-rights activist in college, a reporter asked her what she wanted to achieve.

“I told them I wanted the rights for gays to marry, serve in the military and protection of violence, and I saw all of this in my lifetime,” Chamberlain said.

She married Megan Cavanagh in 2008 during the period of time when gay marriage was legal in California before voters approved Proposition 8. (The high court paved the way for a return of same-sex marriage by dismissing an appeal to Prop. 8) They take comfort in knowing that their marriage is now recognized federally.

Emily Reitz and Maureen Carroll at the Abbey in West Hollywood.

Some couples, like Troy Taylor, 44, and Teador Balog, 26, said the ruling means they feel more comfortable starting a family in this country. They were married in Washington D.C. but were worried that their marriage wasn’t federally recognized. Balog is a Hungarian citizen and now it will be easier for him to gain citizenship if he ever seeks to do so.

“The decision allows us to build a life together as a family,” Taylor said.

Emily Reitz, 28, and Maureen Carroll, 37, have been engaged for just over a year and plan to get married on Sept. 1.

“We had been planning on getting married no matter what, and we wanted it to be recognized,” Reitz said.

Reitz was raised Jewish although she no longer goes to synagogue. She plans to have a nondenominational wedding but said that they will definitely break the glass after the ceremony.

Reitz and Carroll said they look forward to celebrating tonight at 5:30 p.m. at a rally at San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards.

Colorado judge accepts insanity plea from accused theater gunman


Accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, who could face execution if convicted of killing 12 moviegoers last summer, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on Tuesday, and a judge accepted his plea.

Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. He is accused of killing 12 people and wounding dozens more in a gun rampage inside a suburban Denver cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” last July.

Holmes, seated with his lawyers, said little during the latest proceedings in Arapahoe County District Court, but he appeared attentive and answered “no” when the judge asked him whether he had any questions about the ramifications of his plea.

The judge, Carlos Samour Jr., had delayed ruling on whether to accept such an insanity plea until legal questions surrounding the matter were resolved.

Among those issues was a challenge to the state's insanity-defense law by public defenders. They argued that a provision of the statute that requires a defendant mounting an insanity defense to submit to an examination by court-appointed psychiatrists is unconstitutional.

Compelling a defendant to divulge information that could be used against him at trial and at sentencing violates his right against self-incrimination, they argued. But Samour upheld the law last week, setting the stage for Tuesday's hearing.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the former University of Colorado-Denver graduate student if he is convicted.

Public defender Daniel King said in court last month that defense psychiatrists had obtained a complete diagnosis on Holmes' mental illness.

Twice since his arrest, Holmes has been hospitalized, his lawyers said, once for apparent self-inflicted head injuries and again when he was held in restraints in a psychiatric ward.

At a preliminary hearing in January, before a judge ordered the defendant to stand trial, investigators testified that Holmes spent months amassing firearms and bomb making materials in preparation for committing mass murder.

At the same time he was assembling his arsenal, Holmes failed his oral examinations and was told by a university professor that perhaps he was not a good fit for his neuroscience doctoral program, prosecutors said.

Also expected to be decided at Tuesday's hearing is the issue surrounding a package Holmes sent to a university psychiatrist who treated him that was delivered to a university mail room two days after the killings.

A notebook included in the package sent to Dr. Lynne Fenton reportedly contained details of a planned massacre. Holmes' lawyers have argued that the package is protected by physician-patient privilege and should not be turned over to prosecutors.

Defense attorneys submitted numerous pre-trial pleadings that were made public on Tuesday, including a notice to the judge that they plan to seek a change of venue for the trial on grounds that pretrial publicity could prejudice the jury. They also asked the judge to sequester the jury.

Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool

Motion to vacate Prop 8 ruling over Judge Walker’s sexuality is denied


A federal judge has denied Prop 8 proponents’ motion to vacate Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling against a ban on same-sex marriage over Walker’s sexuality, ” title=”CNN.com” target=”_blank”>CNN.com.

Bombing Adds Insult to Ruling on Fence


The International Court of Justice may have ruled it illegal, but Israel’s West Bank security barrier has at least one new supporter.

For Sammy Masrawa, it was more baptism by fire than conversion, after Masrawa witnessed a bombing that killed an Israeli woman and wounded at least 20 others in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

"I am an Arab from Jaffa, a leftist, and I was opposed to the separation fence until today," said Masrawa, who survived the attack at a downtown bus stop with mild injuries. "But the terrorists do not distinguish between Jews and Arabs. After what I saw today, I hope to set up a lobby in favor of the fence."

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the terrorist wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, said its men planted the bomb detonated by remote control to avenge Israel’s killing of its leaders. The blast was the first terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in more than six months. It left Bat Yam resident Sgt. Ma’ayan Nayim, 19, dead.

For Israeli government officials, the attack added deadly injury to the insult of the July 9 ruling at The Hague that the fence is illegal and must be dismantled.

"This morning’s act of murder is the first to have occurred under the auspices of the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in opening remarks at his weekly Cabinet meeting. "I want to make it clear: The State of Israel completely rejects the International Court’s opinion."

"This is a one-sided opinion based solely on political considerations," Sharon continued. "The opinion completely ignores the reason for the construction of the security fence: murderous Palestinian terrorism."

Though it’s only partially complete, the fence already has saved thousands of lives, officials said, noting the dramatic decrease in successful Palestinian terrorist attacks since construction began.

In its nonbinding advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice, a U.N. body, ruled that the barrier contravenes international law, that parts of it built beyond the Green Line — the 1949 armistice line between Israel and the West Bank –must be dismantled and that Palestinians whose land was confiscated must be compensated. The court said that the barrier could impede the Palestinians’ right to self-rule.

Israel argues that the fence is a legitimate means of self-defense, and that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on what is essentially a political conflict.

The key question is to what extent the court’s ruling might aggravate Israel’s isolation on the international stage. Israeli officials see the Palestinian appeal to the court as part of a longstanding strategy to delegitimize the Jewish state and bring it to its knees through international ostracism.

The idea is to have Israel stigmatized as a pariah state, much the way South Africa was before the collapse of the apartheid regime.

Indeed, calling the fence the "apartheid wall" — as Palestinians and their supporters often do — is an overt attempt to associate Israel with the old South Africa.

The first major success of this Palestinian strategy was the 1975 U.N. resolution denigrating Zionism as racism. That resolution was overturned in December 1991, after the launch of the Madrid peace process.

When peacemaking bogged down a decade later, the Palestinians resurrected their strategy, scoring a success at the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in August-September 2001. Now they have followed it up with the ICJ ruling.

But there’s a difference. The anti-Zionism campaign sought to delegitimize the founding principle of Jewish statehood, but the attack on the fence aims to delegitimize Israel through its occupation of supposedly Palestinian territory.

That can cut two ways, however. It may be harder for Israel to defend against accusations of occupation, but that critique carries within it an implicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist within its pre-1967 borders.

In an article in Ha’aretz, Tel Aviv University law professor Eyal Benvenisti writes that those who would deny legitimacy to the Zionist enterprise may not want to invoke the ICJ ruling. 

Israel’s battle now will focus mainly on Europe. With Palestinians hoping to translate the ICJ ruling into anti-Israel measures at the United Nations, European and American support will be important in the General Assembly and, even more so, in the Security Council.

The General Assembly sent the issue of the fence to the court last December, asking it to prepare an advisory opinion on the "legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian territory."

Israeli officials say the language of the request essentially prejudged its outcome: The Palestinians call the barrier a wall though over 90 percent of it actually is a fence and could be moved. Israel also does not consider the West Bank "Occupied Palestinian territory" but rather "disputed territory" whose status must be determined in negotiations, as per Security Council Resolution 242, which has guided Israeli-Arab peace talks for the past 25 years.

Considering the way the General Assembly presented the issue to the court, Foreign Ministry Jonathan Peled said, it was no surprise that the court ignored the heart of the problem and the very reason for the fence: Palestinian terrorism.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli envoy to the United Nations and now an adviser to Sharon, told JTA that while Israel respects international law, it opposes the politicization of international bodies such as the ICJ.

"The terms of reference that the court was given by the U.N. could only result in a decision that was tantamount to the outlawing of the shield, while condoning the continued use of the sword," he said.

Palestinian leaders were overjoyed at the ruling. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat called it a "victory for justice," while P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei described the ruling as ‘historic"

The leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group, called Saturday for Palestinians to step up attacks on Israelis.

"What removes the barrier," said Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, " is the will, determination and resistance of Palestinians, with the backing of the [Arab people]."

Europe has been sending mixed signals. Though many European nations were among the more than 30 mainly Western countries opposed to referring the matter to the ICJ, the European Union put out a statement after the ruling saying it corresponded with the E.U. view that the fence is illegal.

Foreign Minister Bernard Bot of Holland, which currently holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency, threatened Israel with unspecified "consequences" if its "dialogue with the E.U." over the fence and other diplomatic matters did not improve.

In trying to drum up international support, Israel will argue that the court ruling was too one-sided to be taken seriously. Moreover, in circumscribing Israel’s right to self-defense while saying nothing against Palestinian terrorism, the ruling is more likely to encourage more terrorism than a peaceful solution, Israel will argue.

Israel’s own Supreme Court has ruled that the government must strike a better balance between legitimate defense needs and Palestinian human rights. It questioned the route chosen in several areas, and more complaints are under consideration.

Despite Sharon’s forthright rejection of the ICJ’s decision, he remains bound by whatever the Israeli Supreme Court rules. And, in anticipation of further Supreme Court decisions, Israel is considering rerouting some unbuilt portions closer to the Green Line, causing far less disruption to Palestinian life — while, some fear, providing less security for Israelis.

Israel will say the measures were taken in deference to its own Supreme Court, but such moves also might help placate the international community.

Details Wanted on Immigration Plan


Jewish groups are pleased with President Bush’s initiative to give illegal immigrants temporary legal status in the United States, but they are withholding accolades until they see how Congress fills in the details.

"The most important thing is that the president recognized and stated publicly that immigrants are a tremendous value to the United States and that our immigration system needs to be fixed," said Gideon Aronoff, vice president of government relations and public policy for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush has been focused on the war on terrorism, paying little attention to the immigration issue. However, his new immigration initiative announced Jan. 7 has "put the issue front and center, back at the top of the agenda," Aronoff said, "and that is a very good thing."

The initiative would offer temporary legal status to illegal immigrants who want to enter the U.S. workforce. They could fill jobs for which no American employee can be found for up to three years, after which their permits could be renewed. Immigrants who currently work illegally could qualify for the temporary worker status after paying a one-time fee that has yet to be decided.

Critics say the initiative fails to provide a long-term solution to the problem of illegal immigration. Immigrant advocates point to the dangers illegal immigrants face on the nation’s border with Mexico, where most enter the country, and of exploitative U.S. employers.

Since Sept. 11, undocumented workers in the United States have been called a potential threat to homeland security.

Bush’s plan is only a "quick fix," said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which works to strengthen Jewish ties with blacks and Latinos. The program doesn’t provide meaningful access to permanent visas or a path to citizenship, he said.

In addition, while Bush has praised undocumented immigrants’ economic contributions to the country, the initiative ultimately will relegate temporary workers to second-class employee status, Schneier said.

"The Latino leaders I have talked with are disappointed with the initiative," he continued. "As part of intergroup relations, it behooves the Jewish community to take its lead from Latino leadership."

The president’s plan is targeted primarily at Latinos, though Jews, too, have a stake in comprehensive immigration reform. Of the estimated 8 million-10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, a few are Israeli, Russian and Latino Jewish immigrants.

"In the Russian Jewish community, no more than 7 percent is illegal," said Alec Brook-Krasny, executive director of the Council of Jewish Emigre Community Organizations, an umbrella group for 25 Russian Jewish organizations in New York. Bush’s initiative would affect no more than 10,000 Russian-speaking Jews in New York, he said.

There is no comprehensive estimate of illegal Israeli immigrants in the United States, according to Ido Aharoni, consul for media and public affairs at Israel’s New York consulate.

"I can only assume some will be affected," he said, if they have overstayed tourist visas or are working illegally.

Still, the Jewish community traditionally has felt a sense of responsibility on immigration issues for historical, humanitarian and political reasons. As recently as this summer, HIAS and several other Jewish organizations lobbied the U.S. government for comprehensive immigration reform.

An immigration resolution will be on the agenda at next month’s annual meeting of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), said Reva Price, the group’s Washington representative. The resolution, which is still being drafted, will reaffirm the group’s commitment to open immigration policies and will address the backlog in family immigration, among other issues.

Part of the problem with Bush’s plan may be its lack of detail. While groups like HIAS, JCPA and the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) — longstanding backers of generous immigration policies — support Bush’s idea, they’re withholding final judgment until the specifics of the plan are determined in Congress.

Bush’s speech set forth the broad outlines of the plan, leaving details — such as how to apply, who may qualify and what might disqualify someone from the program — for Congress to decide.

Bush "brought up critical issues favoring migrants and those coming over the border," Price said. But, she added, "the devil is in the details, and we will have to wait and see what the proposal looks like."

Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel at the AJCommittee, called the plan a "step in the right direction." He cautioned, however, that the plan may not set forth a path by which immigrants who have lived in the United States for a set period of time could become citizens.

Aronoff of HIAS said Bush’s plan also doesn’t resolve concerns about backlogs in family immigration, one of the group’s main concerns.

The groups were careful not to criticize the president’s proposal too harshly, however.

"I think the choice for the Jewish community and the country is stark: Either we bury our heads in the sand and pretend there is no problem and do nothing, or we come up with a sensible, long-term approach that helps on humanitarian and security needs," Aronoff said. "The national conversation on immigration reform got a shot in the arm from President Bush — and what the final conclusion will be has yet to be written."

Why is this election different from all other elections?


Campaign 2000’s white noise of candidates, pundits and paid advertisements has all but drowned out one important set of facts: What’s really at stake in this election?

The polls have one answer, but the voters – Mr. and Ms. Average Citizen – seem to have another. For that, The Journal went out into the community to find out what voters will care most about – or won’t care about – come Nov. 7.

Sandra Klasky, a past president of The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance and pro-choice advocate, said she was worried about the election’s effect on the balance of the Supreme Court.

“I don’t think people understand the appointment of the justices, the implications of their rulings or how it affects all of our lives. It’s no secret the next president is going to appointment [as many as] three justices, and that could definitely affect Roe v. Wade,” she said. “We fought for years and years to get [abortion rights] away from the states and make it federal law. To lose that by making it become state by state is totally unequal and unfair.”

The national election is not the only item at stake, points out Wilford H. Ross, an attorney for 20 years and an administrative judge in the U.S. Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals in Woodland Hills.

“The local and state races are very important this year,” said Ross. “Some of the propositions on the ballot are very bad; for example, Proposition 36. I see this situation all of the time as a judge. You can send someone for treatment a dozen times, but unless they want to get off drugs, unless they hit bottom you can’t change anything.”

Ross said Proposition A, a Los Angeles County charter amendment altering the county’s Board of Supervisors, is also a concern.

“To increase the number of county supervisors without setting term limits is like giving [State Sen.] Richard Polanco a retirement job. We’ll end up with nine dukes instead of five,” he said. “It’s too bad all these ballot propositions are so confusing. What I tell my friends is, when in doubt, vote no. Then you won’t be mad if the measure passes and there are all these hidden agendas you didn’t know about.”

Despite the plethora of ads for state initiatives, however, most people said they were focused on the different directions in which a win for either Gore or Bush would take the country.

“We are in the middle of a culture war,” said Dr. Arthur Fass, a Northridge podiatrist and L.A. chapter president of the conservative group Toward Tradition. “George Bush calls it a difference in philosophy, and the difference is very simple: Do you want the government to control people’s lives and decide what is best for them, or do you want people to control their own lives?”

Given that, Fass said he believes strongly that Bush is the better choice for the Jewish community.But Jacque Hay, a Valley businessman, staunch Democrat and well-known local activist who founded the Sephardic congregation Em Habanim, said a Bush win would be disastrous.

“I have an incredible fear that if Bush gets the advantage we’re going to go back to that ‘save the rich, forget about the poor’ attitude,” said Hay. “There are social and political views that the Republican Party holds that are 180 degrees different from my beliefs. Even though I’m an Orthodox Jew, I don’t feel I have any right to decide on abortion or affirmative action. And who supports Bush? The religious right, people like Ralph Reed and other very dangerous people. Gore has his problems, but he’s a good man. His choice of Lieberman as a running mate was a real turning point.”

Hay said he believes in the end, Gore will be able to turn the tide in his favor, if only by the strange twist of U.S. electoral politics.

“I think Gore is going to win. The popular vote may go to Bush, but I think Gore will take the electoral vote,” Hay concluded.

Back of the Bus


True story. Last week at the Westside Pavilion, just
outside Nordstrom, six women, dressed in the garb of
Islam, were standing by the mall’s ATM. Four wore
colorful scarves, exposing the face and a bit of hair; two
were completely in black, with only small slits, 1 inch by
4 inches, revealing huge, dark eyes. From a distance, the
human form disguised, they looked like a gathering of
wrens.

I needed to use the bank machine, but the women did
not move. They blocked my way. I was irritated. They
stood around, yakking in an Arab dialect I couldn’t
understand. In a flash, a whole feminist discourse popped
into my head; I split into two, debating with myself about
the rights of women under religious totalitarian societies.
Better come back later, when they’re gone.

As I walked away, I heard the familiar metallic tinkle
of nervous female giggling. I looked back over my
shoulder. The older of the women — the grandmother? —
was clearly trying to make a decision.

“Can I help you?” I said, walking up to them. They fell
on me like a sister. Grandma forced a Visa Gold Card into
my hand. “Machine,” she said. She wanted to take $5,000
out of her account. Impossible, I know. I went through
the motions of making a withdrawal anyway; she adroitly
entered her PIN number. The machine rejected her
request. We repeated the process three times — seven
women trying to conduct business. My shoulders relaxed.
Though we failed in the attempt, we were happy in the
effort. Behind the slit, a young girl’s eyes were bright.

“Bye,” the women said, gaily. I wondered who among
us was liberated.

No doubt, you’ve heard: In Israel, women are moving
to the back of the bus. We’re not so different from
fundamentalist Arab states after all. The policy, approved
last week by the Israeli Cabinet, calls for separate
entrances and seating for women in the rear of Egged
and Dan buses to B’nai Brak. Unless overturned by the
Supreme Court, it would immediately apply only to
transit lines through observant communities. But who
knows where it will end: Separate seating on El Al?

Of course, we are aghast, we American Jewish liberals.
We speak out, in the name of Rosa Parks, and against Jim
Crow. A shiver goes through those of us who remember
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We’re heading backward, into
the darkness.

But even as we are preparing to fight this bus policy,
as part of the larger battle on behalf of religious
pluralism in Israel, I detect a tonal difference among
those who are battling the political forces of extreme
Orthodoxy. I hear anger, yes, but also compassion, a
declaration of understanding that the enemy is not the
woman in veil or the sheitel. It is the dogmatic mind that
abuses her in its pursuit for power.

I have my theories on why this sensitivity is emerging
now.

The fact is that Jewish liberalism, feminist or
otherwise, has failed to take itself, and the issue of
religious expression in Israel, seriously. It
underestimated both the anti-Semitism on the left and
the forces of theocracy on the right. Jewish liberals were
comfortable, even arrogant, for too long, and the
important work of coalition building with moderate
religious forces in Israel was not done. The Who is a Jew?
battle over religious conversions has pit Reform and
Conservative movements against the triumphant haredi.
These movements are coming alive late in the game

Let one case make the point: For a decade, Women at
the Wall has fought the lonely battle for rights of
religious access in Israel. Painted as an obscure group of
fringe feminists, Women at the Wall got little organized
support in its lawsuit demanding the right to pray at the
site of the ancient temple. (The noted exception is ARZA,
the Reform Zionist organization.) As it became clear that
the women worshipers were not bra-burning radicals but
serious religious adherents, insisting on their equal rights,
liberal Jewish groups in America were even more at a
loss to see the relevance of their plea.

The American liberal community could have been
making common cause with religious Israelis for years
but did not. Only this past spring did it awaken to the
real danger to civil liberties in Israel, when Conservative
Jewish men and women were accosted on Shavuot while
trying to hold religious services at the old Temple site.

In conversations and in news reports last week with
liberal Jewish activists, I detected a new respect for
Israeli Orthodox women, even to the point of
“understanding”why some may want separation. This
makes political sense: in fightingto get the bus policy
overturned, American Jewish groups must get the
approval of women in a community they have long
ignored.

In the ongoing war for Israel, you can’t tell a friend or
foe by sheitel or veil. Those of us who seek to create a
tolerant Israel are going to have to practice tolerance
ourselves.


Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The
Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.

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Read a previous week’s column by Marlene Adler Marks:

July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange

July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet the Seekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man