Refaeli takes on Waters over boycott letter

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli tweeted in Hebrew that she no longer wants to be associated with British rocker Roger Waters after his open letter calling for a boycott of Israel.

“Roger Waters, you better take my picture off of the video art at your shows. If you’re boycotting — go all the way,” Refaeli said Wednesday on Twitter.

Her image is among dozens beamed on the wall during Waters’ concerts.

A day before Refaeli expressed her anger on Twitter, reports of the Aug. 18 boycott letter by Waters became public.

“I write to you now, my brothers and sisters in the family of Rock and Roll, to ask you to join with me, and thousands of other artists around the world, to declare a cultural boycott on Israel,” the former Pink Floyd frontman wrote.

Waters also accused Israel of practicing apartheid and noted Stevie Wonder’s cancellation of a performance for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces as a recent success story.

Recently he came under fire for using in his concerts a huge inflated balloon in the shape of a wild boar with a prominently visible Star of David, as well as a hammer and sickle, crosses and a dollar sign, among other symbols. Waters has used the gimmick for several years.

Oberlin College Student Senate endorses divestment resolution

The Oberlin College Student Senate endorsed a resolution that calls for the college to divest from six companies that do business in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and Gaza.

Following a three-hour discussion, the resolution was approved “by majority” on Monday, the Oberlin College Students for a Free Palestine said in a news release.

The six companies are Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Group 4 Securicor, SodaStream, Elbit Systems and Veolia.

Similar resolutions have been passed this school year at the University of California campuses in Irvine, Berkeley and San Diego.

The Students for a Free Palestine group at Oberlin said it would bring the resolution to the Oberlin College Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee, which sets the college's financial policies.

“My concern about BDS is that it furthers the polarization between students who might consider themselves pro-Israel and students who might consider themselves pro-Palestinian,” Oberlin sophomore Noa Fleischacker, co-chair of J Street U’s Oberlin chapter, told the Oberlin Review student newspaper before the vote.

“What we really need to be doing is creating conversation and dialogue between those students, and also on the ground of creating negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.”

$14 million raised without Stevie Wonder at FIDF gala

Despite a stormy week of protest and provocation following music icon Stevie Wonder’s last-minute pullout from the Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region dinner, the Dec. 6 gala went off without a hitch, raising a record $14 million for Israeli soldiers. 

Approximately 1,450 Israel supporters filled the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in Century City for the annual gala hosted by Haim and Cheryl Saban, including a who’s who of Los Angeles’ Israeli and Jewish communities.  

But for the approximately 130 protesters outside the hotel, the fact that Wonder would not appear made the moment a cause for celebration.

“We are here to celebrate our brother Stevie Wonder for standing up on a principle, the principle that the Palestinians of today are the South Africans of yesterday,” said Shakeel Syed, a member of the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. “He had the courage and principle to defy the oppressors and defend the oppressed.”

As FIDF guests drove past, the protesters shouted, “Shame on you!” “Stop killing children!” “Israel is a racist state!” 

Inside, during cocktail hour, Israeli news crews clamored for interviews with celebrities, including Israeli-American business and entertainment giants Avi Arad, head of Marvel Entertainment, film producer Avi Lerner, real estate developer Izek Shomof, Oracle business magnate Larry Ellison and the Israeli-born actress-producer Noa Tishby.

The four-and-a-half hour evening, emceed by “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander, was filled with moving firsthand accounts of the Israeli experience during wartime. Active-duty soldiers flown in from Israel for the event shared personal stories, softening hearts and loosening pockets before Haim Saban personally conducted a live-auction-style fundraiser from the stage.

Businessman and producer David Matalon made the night’s only mention of Wonder, when he pledged $8,000 to the FIDF and, “In honor of Stevie Wonder, another $2,000.”

Saban was quick with a rejoinder: “I’ll have him call you to tell you he loves you,” he quipped.

When Wonder backed out a week before the gala, organizers and sponsors were mostly silent, and speculation varied over the reasons given for Wonder’s decision. 

Many articles focused on the thousands of signatures on a letter and online petitions urging Wonder not to appear. The FIDF’s initial explanation for Wonder’s cancellation mentioned that some individuals associated with the United Nations had pushed Wonder, who was appointed a U.N. Messenger of Peace in December 2009, to drop out.

But in addition to these efforts, voices from within the African-American community in Los Angeles and beyond also put significant pressure on Wonder to abandon his planned appearance.

“The first level, which has been popularized, is the petition campaigns,” said Dedon Kamathi, a producer of Freedom Now, a weekly KPFK radio show about “pan-African political and cultural” subjects. “I think that the real, within-the-family pressure came from a number of black community organizations.”

Kamathi, who first heard about Wonder’s planned appearance from Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman from Atlanta, said leaders within the black community told Wonder’s staff that if he didn’t drop the FIDF benefit appearance, they would picket in front of KJLH, the Los Angeles-based r&b and gospel radio station owned by Wonder, as well as at Wonder’s annual “House Full of Toys” benefit concert at the Nokia Theater in L.A. later this month.

“We take personal responsibility for people like Bob Marley, people like B.B. King, people like Stevie Wonder, people like Public Enemy,” Kamathi said, standing on the sidewalk outside the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel about an hour before the FIDF gala was scheduled to start. “We gave them life; they live in our communities.”

A similar intimate bond applies to the America-Israel relationship, which is bolstered mainly by American and Israeli-American Jews. For many in that group, the FIDF gala is a unique opportunity to support the young soldiers who risk their lives to defend the Jewish state.

Nevertheless, it came as a surprise when, in lieu of hearing the traditional refrain of uncritical and unequivocal support for Israel, emcee Alexander shared some unusually candid remarks about the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a lengthy and serious address, he talked about his love for both Israelis and Palestinians and his work with the organization One Voice, which has exposed him to nuances on both sides of the conflict.

Speaking of his engagement with Israeli and Palestinian civilians, he concluded: “This conflict continues because of the inability of leaders to break through this impasse and find a way to peace.” 

Nevertheless, Alexander was careful to balance his remarks. The most vigorous applause came when he referred to the Jewish state as the most “maligned, underappreciated and hardest challenged nation on the planet” and expressed admiration for its soldiers.

“I believe that the men and women soldiers that defend [Israel] are among the most honorable and noble soldiers the world has ever seen,” Alexander said, though he added that sometimes “they have made mistakes.”

That rationale — that Israel’s military sometimes exercises undue power — seems a plausible explanation as to why Wonder, an avowed peace activist, feared he might compromise his image as a neutral figure by appearing. Although the protesters were quick to claim Wonder as a fellow activist for their cause — one man held a sign with Wonder’s face and the words, “Thank You!” painted on it — in a statement posted on the KJLH Web site, Wonder did not choose sides.

“Given the current and very delicate situation in the Middle East, and with a heart that has always cried out for world unity, I will not be performing at the FIDF Gala on December 6th,” Wonder said in the statement. “I am respectfully withdrawing my participation from this year’s event to avoid the appearance of partiality. As a Messenger of Peace, I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere. In consistently keeping with my spirit of giving, I will make a personal contribution to organizations that support Israeli and Palestinian children with disabilities.”

Inside the ballroom, several Israeli soldiers took to the podium to share stories, all of them heart-wrenching reminders that even with its military might, the IDF has suffered profound losses. Yoni Asraf, an American who enlisted in the IDF, told the crowd how he had lost a limb in a mortar attack during the 2008 incursion into Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead. In a feat of stunning courage and perseverance, he refused to relinquish his post after his loss and spent years rehabilitating himself in order to rejoin his unit.

A Moroccan-born mother who immigrated to Israel to raise a family in peace recalled for the crowd the dreaded knocks on the door — once on the first night of Passover — informing her she had lost a child. Two of her sons died in combat. “I am not broken,” she nevertheless told the group. “You cannot break a spirit.”

After her emotional speech, host Cheryl Saban embraced her, while her husband looked on with misty eyes.

Haim Saban used his pulpit time to talk about the values of the IDF, portraying an army of ideals, of “courage, compassion, strength and sacrifice.”

After millions of dollars in pledges were collected, Grammy-winning musician and producer David Foster orchestrated some light entertainment, with performances by “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard and Chaka Khan, the Grammy-winning “Queen of Funk-Soul,” who sang the hit “I’m Every Woman.”

U.S. sanctions 2 Lebanese charities with Hamas ties

The United States is imposing financial penalties on two Lebanese charities that raise money for Hamas.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it was freezing any assets related to the two Beirut-based charities, Al-Waqfiya and Al-Quds International Foundation, Reuters reported. The Treasury Dept. said Al-Waqfiya and Al-Quds “exist to support the families of Hamas fighters” as well as financing projects in the Palestinian territories “intended to spread Hamas' influence and control.”

It is not known whether the two charities hold U.S. assets; the Treasury Dept. did not provide details on any assets under U.S. jurisdiction and declined to comment when asked, the report said.

Four years ago, the U.S. Treasury imposed economic sanctions on the Union of Good, of which Al-Waqfiya is a central component. The Union of Good was accused of fundraising for Hamas-based groups in the West Bank and Gaza, and some of those funds were used to compensate families of suicide bombers.

Judge sanctions Eden Memorial owner over evidence tampering

A Los Angeles judge has sanctioned Service Corporation International (SCI), owner of Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills, after finding that the cemetery intentionally tampered with and destroyed evidence related to a class action lawsuit alleging that Eden mishandled human remains.

Judge Anthony J. Mohr of the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered that the plaintiff’s attorney will be allowed to present evidence to the jury showing that SCI willfully tampered with evidence, and the judge will inform jurors that they may reasonably conclude that the destroyed evidence could have been damaging.

The judge declined the plaintiff’s motion to automatically find SCI liable.

A spokeswoman for SCI said the company disagrees with the judge’s order and its attorneys are exploring options. SCI, based in Texas, is one of the country’s largest operators of funeral and cemetery services, with 1,500 funeral homes and 400 cemeteries.

About 40,000 people are buried in Eden, which owns 72 acres, a good portion of it still unused. The cemetery, at Sepulveda Boulevard and Rinaldi Street, has been in operation for more than 50 years. SCI purchased Eden in 1985.

The case is now in the discovery phase and is set to go to trial at the end of 2011.

Attorney Michael Avenatti of Eagan O’Malley & Avenatti in Newport Beach filed a class action suit against SCI in September 2009, alleging that the cemetery broke concrete vaults to squeeze more graves into small spaces, and that when bones fell out of the broken vaults, groundskeepers were instructed to discard the remains in the cemetery dump.

The suit also alleges that Eden secretly buried bodies in the wrong plots and misplaced or lost remains.

F. Charles Sands, whose family is buried at Eden, and 30 other people are the named plaintiffs on the suit, and more than 1,100 families have retained Avenatti’s services.

SCI has maintained that while there were a few cases of irregularities in 2007, family members were immediately informed and the situation was handled properly and respectfully. It denies allegations of any broad wrongdoing and maintains that it follows protocol and properly handles human remains.

In November 2009, California’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau reported that it found no proof that Eden was willfully engaged in grave desecration. Avenatti said the report, based on old audits and no new visits, does indeed hold proof of wrongdoing.

That report is but one piece of evidence in the lawsuit.

In September 2009, the court ordered the cemetery to preserve all evidence related to the case and provide documentation of any new damage to burial vaults or graves.

But soon after, SCI market director James Biby ordered Eden to clean up the cemetery dump, a fact that SCI doesn’t deny, according to the judge’s order.

Eden general manager Anthony Lampe then told the grounds superintendent “to get ‘the evidence,’ [his word], retrieve it, put in a dumpster, and have it taken off the property,” according to testimony cited by the judge in his order.

SCI claimed the dump clean-up was simply an effort to make the grounds look better. The plaintiff’s investigators recorded a video of the two-day cleanup of the dump, which had never been cleaned in its 20 years of use, according to the judge’s order. The judge said the video showed workers hand-picking concrete pieces out of the area.

In another instance, according to the judge’s order, the cemetery did not inform the court when, in March 2010, it found pieces of a broken vault in a section that used to be the cemetery dump. Rather, groundskeepers covered over that evidence with a new grave. SCI lawyers maintained that because the vault was not broken on that day, it did not fall under the judge’s order.

The judge’s order allowing attorneys to prove to jurors that SCI intentionally tampered with evidence could strengthen the plaintiffs’ case even without physical evidence. The plaintiffs’ case relies heavily on testimony from current and former employees.

The court also gave the plaintiffs extra time in examination and cross-examination, as well as in opening and closing arguments. The sanction bars the defendant from arguing during the trial that the plaintiffs lack physical evidence to support their allegations.

Rep. Lantos’ call for sanctions and diplomacy puzzles L.A. Iranians

Tom Lantos, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, made headlines last April when he reiterated his desire to travel to Iran for informal talks with Iranian officials. And yet one month later the Democratic congressman from San Mateo introduced a tough Iran divestment bill with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that the House overwhelmingly passed last week.

The seemingly contradictory approach in dealing with Iran’s regime has many in the local Jewish and Iranian American communities scratching their heads. But Lantos says the approach is consistent because his proposed restrictions and sanctions may discourage the Iranian regime from pursuing its nuclear weapons program.

“I am an unqualified proponent of dialogue that has nothing to do with the nature of my legislation,” Lantos told The Journal. “I go to countries which we have very bad relations or no relations with whatsoever, because my purpose is to put things on a diplomatic track and hopefully improve relations. Iran is no exception.”

Lantos pointed to his past efforts in opening lines of communications through meetings with officials in Libya, North Korea and the former Soviet Union as proof of his ability to make diplomatic progress.

“In the 1980s I took delegations from Congress to the Soviet Union when that was not the popular thing to do,” Lantos said. “It didn’t prevent me from going to the Soviet Union and talking to them when they had nuclear weapons pointed at us.”

In 1998, Lantos was unsuccessful in his request for a meeting with Mohammad Khatami after the moderate Iranian president called for an exchange of writers, scholars and artists between the United States and Iran. Lantos last visited the country in 1978 as a San Francisco State University economics professor.

Lantos, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, would not discuss whether he would address statements of Holocaust denial made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he were to travel to Tehran. Still, local Jewish leaders said a possible journey to Iran by Lantos could make a significant symbolic statement.

“The regime is officially at war with the memory of the Shoah, and Congressman Lantos’ mere presence exposes the big lie without even saying a word,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who also serves on the House Foreign Relations committee, said such a visit could improve U.S. chances of winning international support for American policies toward Iran.

“What greater proof that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and liar than to be confronted by Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor,” Sherman said. “Lantos’ position is that the discussions with the Iranians are not a special gift to them, but rather would improve our image in the world and help us mobilize the world against the Iranian program.”

Local Jewish leaders also said they were confident that Lantos would be one of the best U.S. officials to deal with Iran based on his longstanding record during his tenure in Congress.

“He is aggressive and out front to stand up for human rights, to stand up for Israel and stand against anti-Semitism without any apologies,” Cooper said. “At the same time he would be able to leverage his position to see if there is a way to mitigate those flash points through personal involvement in the issues.”

White House officials declined to comment on Lantos’ legislation, which passed the House on Sept. 25 in a 397-16 vote; the bill’s companion in the Senate is stalled and likely won’t be considered this year.

Some Middle East experts said they were skeptical of Lantos’ past diplomatic efforts in the region, as countries like Libya have not improved human rights conditions.

“The more Lantos has traveled to Tripoli, the more Qadhafi has cracked down on dissidents and dissent,” said Michael Rubin, a resident Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C. “Take the case of Fathi El-Jahmi, Libya’s leading peaceful secular dissident. He was put in prison after Lantos’ first trip and his visitation and medical care have been stripped with each passing Lantos visit.”

Southern California Iranian Jewish leaders said that while Lantos has been a close friend to the community and he has sought their advice on issues of Iran, his proposed visit to Iran might not yield any diplomatic breakthroughs.

“I don’t believe talking with the Islamic Republic would yield much benefit to the United States. Instead, it could disenfranchise the people of Iran who consider the United States to be their allies,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation. “It will allow the Islamic Republic more time to continue with its nuclear weapons program.”

Several Iran experts said that while Lantos and other politicians have good intentions to resolve problems with the Iranian regime through dialogue, such strategies carried out by European leaders between 2000 and 2005 have proven to be unfruitful.

“Dialogue turned out to be a sham,” said Rubin, a longtime scholar of Iran’s regime. “Rather than embrace the West, we now know that the Iranian government invested 70 percent of its hard currency windfall into its covert [nuclear] programs.”

Calls made to the Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the United Nations were not returned.

Other Iran experts said that if Lantos were to travel to Iran on a diplomatic mission, he would have some success persuading moderate Iranian officials.

“It would be particularly useful if Mr. Lantos could meet with the more reform-minded members of parliament, in order to show that he is not proposing some deal with the regime which sells out the democratic cause,” said Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the bipartisan Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington D.C.

Divestment Doubts

To the extent that you closely monitor the hearings of the Committee on Judiciary of the California State Assembly — and you know you do — you might want to keep anespecially close eye on the upcoming vote on AB 221.

The bill introduced by freshmanAssemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) would require the state’s employee pension funds CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from companies that do business with Iran. Together CalPERS and CalSTRS now invest about $24 billion in such companies.

Last week AB 221 breezed through its hearing at the Committee on Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security on a 4-to-1 vote. Its Judiciary Committee hearing is slated for April 17.

As it rolls along, it has attracted a growing list of supporters in the Jewish community. Groups from Hillel to the Board of Rabbis of Southern California have lobbied for it. Many rabbis have sent e-mails to congregants urging them to call their representatives and support its passage.

And it’s not just Jewish groups that have signed on. The Iranian exile community and assorted anti-terrorism experts and Web sites have all backed the bill.

AB 221 is part of a nationwide effort to punish and isolate Iran economically. The Iran Counter-proliferation Act of 2007 (HR 1400),proposed by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the House Foreign Affairs Committe Chair, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), would, among other measures, expand existing sanctions against third parties that still deal with Iran.

And at least 10 states are considering their own measures to curtail employee pension investments in Iran. The effort was spearheaded by Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman. The soft-spoken, telegenic Steelman — not a Jew — was a featured speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., in March, where she wowed delegates with her straightforward appeal for “terror-free investing.” Just why in the world, she said, are her state’s investments supporting the very governments trying to kill her?

If you read AB 221 and these other measures, one word that doesn’t pop up often, if at all, is the “D” word. But make no mistake, whether the legal language speaks of “prohibiting investment” as in AB 221 or of requiring “foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to cease all business activities in Iran,” as in the Lantos bill, what they really mean is divestment.

On the one hand, divestment can be our friend. It worked to bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa, and Jews, non-Jews and even George Clooney lined up late last year to support another California Assembly bill calling for divestment from companies doing business with Sudan in light of its support of genocide in Darfur.

And there is no question divestment is politically and emotionally satisfying. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long roused crowds with his vision of an economically sanctioned Iran: “Fewer and fewer companies will enter Iran,” he said at AIPAC. “More and more will leave. Investment dollars and the technology it buys will dry up. The lifeline of a hated regime will be cut, its future imperiled.”

But it might be wise to pause to consider two questions before we leap on this bandwagon.

Can sanctions backfire? We Jews had better have a strong and convincing answer when the inevitable question arises: If companies and institutions can punish Iran through divestment, why not Israel? Why are nukes OK for Israel but not Iran? Why not divest from both. After all, Israel’s critics have been pushing for divestment with significant success and the backing of people like South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. Intelligent, moral beings should have no trouble discerning between Israel and a regime that has made public promises of nuclear genocide — “Israel should be wiped off the map” — but the challenges will come.

Former Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz, who sponsored last year’s Darfur divestment legislation, told me even he isn’t sure he’d support AB 221.

“I’d have to think long and hard about it,” he told me over the phone. “I don’t know how far one pushes it. At some point you weaken the statement if you do it in 15 different cases. In the case of active genocide, it was a no-brainer.”

Will sanctions work? An analysis by Israel’s Re’ut Institute says maybe not. Iran has been working hard to develop a web of economic ties with Eastern European and Asian countries to soften any economic blows. It is too simplistic, argues Re’ut, to attribute Iran’s economic woes to sanctions, when poor but correctable economic policies may be to blame.

And, most troubling, even if the economy goes south, that’s no guarantee it would affect Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Iran’s nuclear aspirations are driven by various factors including the desire for regional hegemony and international recognition,” a Re’ut report said.

“Thus, it is not clear that Iran will cease enriching uranium because of economic pressure.”

Remember, sanctions failed miserably against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and that country just sells Macanudos, not oil.

“Isolating Iran like Castro’s Cuba has produced only the same result as in Cuba: strengthening Iran’s ‘Castros,'” wrote New York Times columnist Tom Friedman in January. “But for talks with Iran to bear fruit, we have to negotiate with Iran with leverage.”

Friedman called for economic measures targeted at Iran’s hardliners, for bringing down the price of oil, for making clear “that Iran can’t push us out of the gulf militarily,” for restoring our embassy in Teheran and for allowing Iranian students visas to study in the U.S.

When it comes to Iran, Leon Wieseltier said, “a reasonable level of hysteria” is justified. It just might be that a divestment campaign, especially one divorced from outreach and incentives, is unreasonable.

Truth Trumps Presbyterian Divestment Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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