Meet the Israelis Who Battle Bigotry and Ignorance

This is the 9th year of the “Between The Lines: Voices From Israel: Stories Untold” tour (formerly the “Israeli Soldiers Tour”.) This project is one of the most significant counter-attacks of the notorious “Israeli Apartheid Week,” where false information about Israel is being spread by haters across North America college campuses.


This tour, organized by the pro-Israeli nonprofit organization, StandWithUs, brings 12 reserve duty Israeli soldier-students to thousands on North American campuses, high schools, churches (including Hispanic), synagogues, community events and through the media.


During the tour, they related their personal experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upholding its strict moral code, often in the face of an enemy that hides behind its civilians.  Their stories from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria have never been heard before.


StandWithUs “Between The Lines” tour puts a human face to the IDF uniform, thus trying to combat the demonization of Israel and Israelis led by anti-Israeli movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.)  Their in-front-of-the-lines-and-behind-the-headlines stories, which have never been heard before, try to depict the more accurate, more balanced, reality in Israel.


Itay and Ilan (Last names are withheld for security purposes) have recently returned back home from their tour, and agreed to share their experiences, the good and the bad, with us.


Itay is studying political science and communications at Bar Ilan University. He served in the IDF for five years as a human resources officer. His most recent role was in the Medical Corps where he continues to serve in his reserve duty.


One of Itay’s roles was to coordinate the construction of a field hospital to treat those wounded in the Syrian conflict. In addition to his studies, Itay works for the Ministry of Tourism as an assistant spokesperson and social media manager. In 2015, he participated in the Israeli delegation to South Korea as a part of the “Intergovernmental Youth Exchange Program.”


Ilan extended his Israeli Soldiers tour by speaking to Latino groups in Miami, Florida and then, in Mexico.  Born in Venezuela, he moved to Israel in 2010.  Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education and life have always been an example of multiculturalism and coexistence.


Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT. During his service, Ilan worked with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the life of Palestinian families.


Itay spoke in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest together with Yuval.  Ilan, who is also Director of StandWithUs Espanol and Mark traveled the Southeast.  The reservists were met by inquisitive audiences and an array of questions about Israel and the IDF.  But, every year, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stage a protest and for the second time, the University of Georgia was the target.  Ilan and Mark persevered and The Atlanta Jewish Times was present.

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?



It’s important to know what the IDF is REALLY all about: people who are defending their country but at the same time willing to help and treat anybody who needs it –- even people we may consider to be our enemies or they may consider us to be their enemies. The students we address are not necessarily aware of this.


The medical corps constructed a field hospital to treat the wounded from the Syrian civil war on Israel’s northern border. Thousands of Syrians received medical care that no one else offered them but Israel. The same happened in 2014 near the Gaza strip, only there Hamas denied its own people access to the hospital and the medical care that was offered to them. They even targeted the hospital with projectiles.


It is also worth noting that the IDF provides humanitarian aid not only in Israel’s region, but in the entire world: Turkey, Japan, Philippines and Haiti are just recent examples from the last years where our medical forces combined with search and rescue teams were sent to help in disaster struck areas.



I think it’s very important for people to have an opportunity to meet an Israeli and hear the reality from someone who actually lives there.


As a Venezuelan, I always wondered what the people from Israel think about the situation. Now, I have the opportunity to share my story – my Israel story – with people in other countries.


We realized that pro-Israel students need to hear our experiences, to receive more accurate information, and to build a connection to Israel through them.


Who are you aiming for? Who is the target audience you want to reach?



During this tour, I had the opportunity to read every kind of audience: Jewish and non-Jewish, students who have never heard about Israel in their lives, anti-Israel students, Christian leaders, community members, etc.


I think we have an important message to transmit to everyone, but I was especially excited to address people who were hearing about Israel for the first time in their lives.


How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?



In Georgia, we had an anti-Israeli protest. Approximately 20 students rejected dialogue after hearing my experiences of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. They were so blinded by their hatred of Israel, that they didn’t realized they were violating the memory of their own victims. When we asked them to respect human life and not throw pictures of victims on the floor, they started placing them on tables.


To them and every other protester I say: the only path to peace is if we meet and discuss. Groups who decide to take unilateral actions, obstruct justice and eliminate responsibility from one of the parties, are not contributing to peace but encouraging hate.



Criticism is important for every organization, including the government and the military in order to minimize errors, form new rules, improve for future times and hold people accountable for their actions.


That being said, the actions of ‘Breaking the Silence’ suggest nothing of the sort. They are promoting a political agenda under anonymous testimonies which cannot be verified.  Even channel 10 television – which is very critical of the current government policy – investigation revealed that out of ten testimonies, only two were completely accurate. The others were impossible to verify, not true or overly exaggerated. Unfortunately, these testimonies are being used abroad for the sole purpose of smearing Israel and the IDF.


Add that to the fact that they are being funded by European countries and organizations with a similar agenda and with an expectation that their money will provide results – it is very hard not to question not only their actions and goals, but the content of their material.


I ask you to remember one of Winston Churchill’s finest quotes, “When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack my own country.  I make up for lost time when I come home.”


What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?



For me Israel is an inspiration. It’s a country built by immigrants and minorities, built on the values of multiculturalism and coexistence….a country that helps others.


When I sought a way to transmit what I feel, I realized that sharing my daily dilemmas, the decisions and opportunities as an Israeli and especially an IDF soldier, was actually a good way to present Israel, the complexity of the Middle East and the incredible story of achievements of the Jewish people.


I think, people relate to Israel today because of its story of overcoming every single obstacle, and growing stronger every time. Our task is to create a connection between people’s every day obstacles, and Israel.


Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.



We were speaking in the Napa Valley, California.  During the Q&A, an 11-year-old wondered why we help those who have hurt us in the past, seek to hurt us today, hate us and view us as their enemies.


I explained that first and foremost, we are not fighting the people and we should separate them from their leadership. – even though they are taught to hate us. Why? Because we need to achieve the higher moral  ground. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who hate or teach hatred, but they are NOT the majority in Israel.


The true nature of a society is not determined by its extremists, but by its majority. Unfortunately, that’s the difference right know between the Palestinian and Israeli societies. I hope that one day we’ll see a change within the Palestinian education system. It’s an important element towards achieving peace.


Second, to achieve that higher moral basis, our values cannot be empty slogans. While some of our neighbors glorify martyrdom and death,  we say we praise the value of life.  We should transform our beliefs into actions, otherwise they don’t mean anything. This is our message of hope for peace. Yes, you may have hurt us in the past, but we are willing to overcome it even though it still hurts.  Our hand is reaching out for a better future.



In Jacksonville, Florida, we shared our story in a school located in a dangerous area.  We talked about the second Intifada and how Israel dealt with violence, and asked the students if they knew or, were ever affected by violence?  Every one of them raised their hands. As sad as that was, we created a connection between them and Israel by how we – and they – overcame violence.


How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?


Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself?



It is well known that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, the recent despicable anti-Semitic attacks are not new to our people.


Anti-Semitism is almost as old as our religion exists. I cannot foresee the future, but I know that much has changed throughout the years:


For one, there wasn’t a Jewish state back then. There is a reason why our army was named “Israeli Defense Forces” – its purpose is to protect the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. It’s important to understand that Israel is the home for every Jew around the world, even those who don’t live in Israel. It is a part of our responsibility because of the horrific past our people have endured.


That leads me to my second point which is: I believe most Israelis and Israel’s government condemn every act of anti-Semitism. We’re encouraging our allies around the world to denounce it and act against it. The Jews in the Diaspora are not alone and will never stand alone. I was moved by the actions VP Mike Pence took when he visited one of the vandalized cemeteries and by British PM Theresa May’s statement about anti-Semitism. Fortunately, they are not the only world leaders who condemn these kinds of actions.


Anti-Semitism is an old disease, and similar to many others, it might not perish completely from this world. That doesn’t mean we won’t fight against it wherever we encounter it.



I think the ideas that generated the Holocaust are still around us, and the line between an idea and a reality is very thin.  StandWithUs believes that education is the path to peace. I think education is the only way to stop hatred from spreading worldwide.

From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy


Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.

From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

Moving and Shaking: StandWithUs gala, Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educator Awards and more

The pro-Israel organization StandWithUs (SWU) celebrated its 15th anniversary at its annual “Festival of Lights” gala on Dec. 11 at The Beverly Hilton. Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg welcomed the approximately 900 attendees and thanked StandWithUs for its strong support of Israel. 

The organization honored Debbie and Naty Saidoff, who have supported SWU since its 2001 founding. Together with Ellie and Bruce Lederman, the Saidoffs have paid for every “Festival of Lights” gala and recently pledged $1.2 million per year to the organization for the next decade.

SWU co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein presented recent high school graduate Eliav Terk with SWU’s Star of David Award for his legal fight against anti-Israel actions that were allowed at his school in Houston. Upon receiving the award, Terk said SWU’s Saidoff Legal Department, a new SWU initiative, helped him take action after Israeli flags were torn down at his school. Some students wore Hamas-affiliated scarves and waved Palestinian flags, Terk recalled. He complained to school administrators, but no measures were taken against the students.

 “Some administration members told me, ‘You need to empathize with Palestinian students and see where they are coming from,’ ” said Terk, now a college student. With the legal aid of SWU, Terk filed a grievance with the Houston Independent School District, which ruled against the school and will implement new protocols to prevent similar incidents. 

Also at the gala, Rothstein and her husband, Jerry, and SWU President Esther Renzer presented the Guardian of Israel award to seven American firefighters who recently flew to Israel to help combat wildfires there.

Comedian Elon Gold served as master of ceremonies. Musical performers included David Kates, Alon Miller and Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot.

Keynote speaker Mark Yudof, former president of the University of California and current advisory board chair of the Academic Engagement Network, a group of American college faculty opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, discussed the anti-Semitic nature of BDS and equated the battle over BDS with a fight for hearts and minds of future generations.

“What happens on campuses does not stay just on the campuses,” he said to applause. “Silence is complicity.”

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

From left: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles board chair Julie Platt; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson; Federation board member Jesse Gabriel; and Rabbi David Wolpe attend a Chanukah gathering at the Federation of Los Angeles offices. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Chanukah celebrations were held across Los Angeles in advance of the holiday that began on Dec. 24, including a menorah lighting ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall on Dec. 13 that brought together L.A. City Council members and local Jewish community leaders; the Chanukah party of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) at The Mark in Los Angeles on Dec. 15; and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ celebration at its headquarters on Dec. 19.

The City Hall gathering — which featured singing, candlelighting and more — was attended by City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson, Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro and University Synagogue Rabbi Morley Feinstein.

Attendees at the AJC event included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Julie Bram, vice president of the AJC L.A. executive committee; AJC Regional President Scott Edelman; Ira Handelman, chair of the AJC’s public policy committee in L.A.; and consuls general representing a variety of countries.

At the Federation celebration, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and State Sen. Ben Allen were among the attendees.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

Where pro-Israel teaching meets pro-animal rights

The first time Israeli animal rights activist Chen Cohen met the StandWithUs (SWU) staffer who invited him to speak at last weekend’s Los Angeles conference, he thought she was a spy for the meat and dairy industry.

At many environmental and animal rights conferences, he explained, people from the factory farming industry will send their own undercover employees to gather “inside intel” on the tactics that activists plan to use to go after the major industry players.

“This woman showed up at every speech I gave, and filmed and recorded everything I said. I was certain she was working for the other guy,” Cohen told the Journal.

Instead, it turns out she was hoping the young Israeli’s message could help SWU — an Israel education organization — broaden the scope of its pro-Israel message. 

In recent years, Israel has become a leader in animal rights and plant-based eating movements. It has the world’s highest per capita vegan population, with the millennial generation leading the way in normalizing vegetarian cuisine as part of mainstream foodie culture, according to Cohen.

Even the Israel Defense Forces offers vegan food and clothing options, while the nation, as a whole, has banned foie gras, rodeos and circuses with live animals.

Cohen addressed these issues and more before kicking off his first U.S. campus speaking tour. He spoke to a room of roughly 150 students, shlichim (unofficial Israeli emissaries) and staff at the StandWithUs Milstein “Israel in Focus” Student Conference sponsored by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, held at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport hotel on Nov. 12. 

Cohen, 31, has been a key social activist in Israel for years. In 2011, the year he became a vegan, he helped organize a social justice rally in the southern Israeli town of Beer- Sheeva that attracted more than 20,000 participants, including this reporter. 

When Cohen’s good friend (and a former barbecue lover) became vegan in 2011, something clicked for Cohen.

“I had been involved in social justice and anti-vivisection campaigns,” he said, “but when I talked to him about being vegan, it connected to something deeper. I had been working to help protect and fight for the weakest members of society. Weren’t these animals, with no voice, part of the world? How could I believe that everyone deserves a good, pain-free life except them? I couldn’t.”

Cohen, as well as other activists, began doing undercover research on animal cruelty in factory farms. Israeli news outlets started to run the stories, and the animal rights movement gained traction. A former software engineer, Cohen eventually left his job to dedicate himself full-time to animal rights activism. 

He said Israelis have been at the forefront of the movement because they already have such a strong focus on kosher and parve food; the labeling allows people to more easily identify vegan and vegetarian options.

Ron Krudo, SWU’s executive director of campus affairs, thinks Cohen’s message will help students broaden their pro-Israel message to their peers.

“The issue of animal rights isn’t just a ‘progressive’ issue. It’s an issue of understanding different perspectives, an issue of human health and environmental justice,” Krudo said.

“The fact that Israel is proactive in something so positive can really inspire our students to reach out to others — to say, ‘Look at this really important thing Israel is doing that is outside of the realm of the most common pro-Israel discussions.’ Chen is providing an access point to a broader community, and the students are very intrigued.”

Dana Benavi, an SWU Emerson Fellow at UC Davis who attended the conference, couldn’t be more excited to have Cohen speak at her campus. 

“Davis students are exceptionally environmentally friendly. Our school emphasizes sustainable agriculture practices and has a large veterinary medicine program, so I reached out to places like the veterinary medicine school knowing that Chen would be a great speaker to have on campus,” she said.

Benavi said that while 10 percent of people will hate Israel no matter what, and 10 percent will defend it no matter what, 80 percent of people are open to learning more about the country and the people who live there.

“Before hearing Chen speak tonight, I had watched his videos. The kinds of things he cares about are exactly what students care about, and it’s wonderful that it’s exposing them to a positive part of Israeli society that they might not otherwise be aware of,” she said. 

While ideally Cohen would like to see everyone adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle, he knows that convincing people to take incremental steps away from animal product dependence is a more reasonable goal.

“For some people, taking part in ‘Meatless Mondays’ is a good, sustainable way to begin the journey toward a plant-based life. For others, they can start trying to incorporate more vegetarian recipes into their diets,” Cohen said. “Or perhaps they can try eating exclusively vegan food for a few days, just to see what it’s like. If you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean you should do nothing. You should always try to do something.”

Cohen understands that, especially for vegans, dietary choices can complicate life. Social events that revolve around food can be difficult and people can feel like outsiders when they have to make special food requests. 

Cohen likes to cope with that by reminding himself, and others, that veganism and vegetarianism are practices involving compassion, and practicing a plant-based existence is an expression of that value.

“If given a choice, I believe all people would choose compassion over cruelty. I want to help show them how,” he said.

A BDS survival guide

Students at UCLA’s iFEST celebrate Israel.

Most high school graduates who head off to college expect to be confronted with something new — new living quarters, new roommates, new classes and maybe even some cool (if overpriced) school merchandise. 

But Jewish students these days likely will experience something else, too: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

From groups holding Israel Apartheid Week activities on campus to formal votes by student groups in favor of divestment from Israel, the movement has become an in-your-face element of many of today’s colleges. This is especially true in the University of California system, where all but one of the campuses have voted to support BDS at some point in the past four years.

It can make for a hostile environment at times as tempers flare over passionately different ideologies pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether incoming Jewish students have a firm position on the issue or haven’t even thought about it, they should be ready to be in the middle of it. Here are some tips to help.

Brush up on your history

You may hear activists talk about Resolution 242 (the so-called “land-for-peace” resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1967) and the massacre of Deir Yassin (a 1948 attack on a Palestinian Arab village by Zionist paramilitary groups). If those terms are hazy or nonexistent in your memory, then it may be in your best interest to learn more about the conflict. Read, watch debates online and ask questions. 

This applies to everyone, since even those who do not intend to fight BDS should be prepared to form a position on the conflict and deal with the controversy. 

StandWithUs (SWU), a pro-Israel education organization based in Los Angeles that provides support and guidance to campus organizations opposing BDS efforts, has numerous resources for students to educate themselves on the conflict on its website, But students should also seek other perspectives by following current events and talking to those in the middle of the conflict when possible, according to SWU Director of Research and Campus Strategy Max Samarov. 

“I encourage people to take classes on the conflict and to read news from many different perspectives,” he said. “The reality is that depending on the news source you read, you’re going to get a different bias or point of view, so what has helped me a lot was staying in touch with current events from a lot of different perspectives. Also, get to know Israelis and Palestinians and try to hear personal narratives.”

Talk through disagreements

Instead of trying to talk over the other side, try talking to them.

 “People, especially students, should always seek to gain more understanding,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “Dialogue doesn’t equal agreement. But the alternative is fighting and narrow-mindedness, and the Jewish tradition rejects closing ourselves off from people who dissent. In fact, the very basis of our tradition, the Talmud, is based on the conversations between people who disagreed.” 

It’s important to educate the vast majority of students who don’t know much about the conflict. Even a casual dining hall conversation might make a big difference.  

Lerner added, however, that staunch supporters of BDS — such as members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — comprise only a small minority of students on campus and changing their minds teeters between difficult to impossible. 

 “Be strategic, don’t waste time yelling at people who can’t be convinced,” he said. “On our campus, there are only a handful of dedicated SJP members. With their allies, they might constitute a few hundred students. Focus instead on the other 29,800 students. When SJP does something that warrants a response, respond forcefully.” 

So while it’s OK to let criticism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians slide, don’t sit idly by as debate about BDS blends into anti-Semitism or questions Israel’s right to exist.

“Where I would draw the line is when someone in SJP or someone who supports BDS comes from a place that’s malicious,” Samarov said. “Where they don’t believe Israel has the right to exist or Jewish people don’t have right to self-determination. That’s the important thing to establish from the get-go.”

Join Jewish groups on campus 

Get involved in the local Hillel or Chabad, as well as other Jewish or pro-Israel groups your campus offers. These groups help students maintain a connection to Judaism and Israel, and also are sources to combat anti-Israel sentiment. 

Rachel Quinn, president of Southern California Students for Israel (SCSI) at USC, encourages all Jews on campus to join for a variety of reasons. “It is a huge educational and leadership benefit,” she said. “It is fun and you can meet other Jewish students, and we are all working toward a common goal, which is education about and celebration of Israel.” 

At USC, Quinn plans pro-Israel events throughout the year, often coordinating with leaders of other ethnic clubs through the university’s International Student Assembly, and other pro-Israel groups on campus. She also tries to involve Jewish students with Israel advocacy through “whatever their strengths or interests may be.”

According to Quinn, SJP and BDS are not very active at USC, especially when compared with UC colleges. There was a fear last year that SJP would hold an apartheid wall on the week of Yom HaShoah, she said, but it didn’t happen. For SCSI, the goal is for these groups to remain mild, Quinn said, while developing good relations with groups like the Muslim Student Union. 

Other schools have their own pro-Israel groups — such as UCLA’s Bruins for Israel (BFI)  — as well as their own challenges. 

At UCLA, for example, two separate BDS resolutions have been brought to the Student Association Council, failing the first time and passing the second. The experience shifted BFI’s approach to adversity on campus, according to its president, junior Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. 

In countering the first resolution, she said, “[We] mobilized the community to lobby members of the council before the meeting, to make public comments the night of the meeting, and to remain united, strong and respectful after the meeting.”   

This approach left the Jewish community emotionally exhausted, Mokhtarzadeh said. When another BDS resolution was brought to the council a year later, BFI decided to use a more collaborative tactic rather than a divisive one, through different projects that brought both sides together. 

An Israel “apartheid wall” at UC IrvinePhotos courtesy of StandWithUs.

“We rededicated ourselves to our community, to our values,” she said. “We taught the community about how they could get involved with several projects and initiatives that were working to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, in contrast to the BDS resolution, which was tearing our campus apart.” 

The pro-Israel group also dealt with a three-day Palestine Awareness Week, which included a panel with a sign reading “Zionism Is Racism.” During that span, BFI sought to ensure that Jewish students felt supported on campus and organized its own campaign titled #OneWishForPeace involving a social media campaign where students added banners to their profile pictures reading, “This Is What a Zionist Looks Like.”  

Look on the bright side

The Palestinian conflict is not the defining characteristic of Israel, nor should it be. Israel is a world leader in technology, cybersecurity, water, agriculture, and much more. For Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, lasering in on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians undermines all of the country’s accomplishments.

“When it comes to Israel, to focus only on the conflict and to allow that alone to define what Israel is and stands for completely misses the mark,” he said. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be addressed and resolved, but there is far more to Israel. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the region that has true freedom of speech, freedom of press — vibrant and open media — freedom of religion, women’s and LGBT rights, rule of law, and regularly scheduled elections where all parties accept the outcome. 

“Israel stands for tolerance, equality and respect for all cultures. We are very proud of our people and their accomplishments and the many lifesaving discoveries that are being continuously achieved in the fields of medicine, high-tech and innovation, and more. To speak of Israel only within the context of the conflict is to give only a fraction of her true picture and story, which is so much more.”

No matter how you decide to approach the subject, much is at stake, according to Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council.

“BDS is pursuing an agenda that extends far beyond Israel and the Middle East conflict,” he said, adding that BDS propagates anti-Semitic stereotypes, spreads anti-American ideas, and targets Israeli and Jewish students who have nothing to do with politics. “This is why I believe that getting educated about BDS is mandatory for any Jewish student and why it’s important that we communicate to the broader American public how this affects every citizen of the U.S.” 

Nonetheless, openly advocating for Israel on campus is not dangerous or risky, according to Lerner. 

“There is a proliferation of scary videos and articles on Facebook which lead our community to believe the campuses are somehow dangerous for Jewish students, but those posts are often recycling a handful of truly offensive incidents which have occurred on campuses over the past five years,” he said.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that many actions taken in support of the BDS movement are purely symbolic. What matters, Mokhtarzadeh said, is how to respond as a community. 

“BDS passed on our campus, and, no, the sky did not come tumbling down,” she said. “UCLA did not divest, nor did the UC. And the pro-Israel community is stronger today than ever before. BDS cannot and will not define us.”  

Conference in Los Angeles details strategies to combat BDS

The second annual StandWithUs “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference drew hundreds of people from across the country to Los Angeles to learn more about — and develop a strategy to fight — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). 

“We have to make every college student understand that being for BDS is like being against the environment, it’s like being against gays, it’s like being against civil rights, it’s like being against feminism. We have to make it unacceptable in the minds, hearts and souls of every open-minded student at colleges today,” said former Harvard law professor and renowned defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, the conference’s keynote speaker. “Nothing short of that will be a victory.” 

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization that conducts advocacy work on college campuses, at high schools and elsewhere, organized the conference. 

The April 9-11 gathering at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE drew more than 350 attendees, including 70 college students. It featured more than 50 speakers and 50 partner organizations coming together for approximately 25 panel discussions, lectures and breakout sessions focused on combating BDS on the legislative level, through legal means and through education.

The gathering’s Sunday night dinner featured remarks by Dershowitz as well as Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. 

The conference took place on the heels of a March vote by the University of California Board of Regents to approve a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance,” which denounces “anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination” on UC campuses. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and the founder of AMCHA Initiative, which investigates instances of anti-Semitism on college campuses, called the vote a step in the right direction.

The regents “came out with a statement that is aspirational. … It is a necessary but not a sufficient [step],” she said, appearing Sunday morning on a panel titled “BDS in Academia/Faculty.”

California Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) called the BDS movement a “global scourge” while appearing on a panel titled “Legislative Approaches to BDS.”

“This issue transcends politics, it transcends religion. This is about right and wrong,” he said.

Allen, who is not Jewish, introduced an anti-BDS bill earlier this year that, if passed, would force the state to stop doing business, in most instances, with companies that participate in a boycott of Israel. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) recently introduced similar legislation. 

How does one combat BDS? Michael Harris, a co-founder of San Francisco Voice for Israel, which is now the San Francisco chapter of StandWithUs, attempted to provide some answers during a Sunday panel titled “BDS in the Community.” He said there are five ways to combat BDS, and they include using “positive language” in materials that speak about Israel. 

Robert Jacobs, Northwest regional director of StandWithUs, joined Harris on the panel and discussed what he called the rapid growth of “anti-Israel organizations” such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). This, he said, is reflected in an increasing number of anti-Israel speakers, including at high schools, college campuses and beyond. 

“We see anti-Israel speakers spreading rapidly,” he said.

(StandWithUs, for its part, conducts pro-Israel workshops in high schools across North America, and, during the conference, the organization’s CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein announced plans for the organization to begin working in middle schools.)

Jacobs also said that the “BDS movement has overreached … [and] crossed into anti-Semitism. … It’s bad, but it’s also good. … It’s getting the Jewish community engaged in a way that it wasn’t before.” 

At the conclusion of “Combating BDS Through Social Media,” Harris asked Rothstein why SJP has been able to make anti-Zionism synonymous with support for the Palestinians. 

“Why do we need to let them define ‘pro-Palestinian’ as ‘anti-Zionist’?” he asked. 

“SJP is not pro-Palestine,” Rothstein replied. “They are just anti-Israel.” 

Speaking to the Journal on Sunday afternoon, Rothstein said she hoped attendees would leave the conference ready to fight BDS. 

“Everybody is very, very stimulated, they’re enjoying it,” she said. “For me, it will all be in the follow-up.”

Breakout strategy sessions took place throughout the weekend, but StandWithUs declined to allow members of the media to join them.

The organization works with a broad cross-section of organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and this was reflected at the conference. Christians United for Israel Campus Outreach Director David Walker appeared on Sunday during a panel titled “BDS on Campus.” He spoke of a recent phenomenon in which the pro-Palestinian movement is attempting to apply the issues raised by Black Lives Matter to its cause.

“They’re hijacking the message of the Black community,” said Walker, who is Black.

Alex Schieber, 21, a political science and Judaic studies double major at the State University of New York at Albany and president of the school’s Great Danes for Israel, said he is all too familiar with the trend.

“Last year, [my school] had the ‘From Ferguson to Palestine’ rally and my friend put up a sign that said, ‘Jews believe Black lives matter, too’ or something like that, and [anti-Israel students] took a picture of it and made a meme out of it saying ‘Zionists be like lives matter. What a joke.’ 

“And it immediately blew up. It had thousands of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Israel comments, racist comments, bigoted comments, and that was a great shock for me, because my university is 28 percent Jewish. I never expected anything like that to happen at my university,” he said. 

“I had just come into the pro-Israel movement and it was a shock for me and I immediately wanted to figure out how to stop them on our campus and how to prevent stuff like this from happening … to make sure it never happens again.”

Anti-Israel UC Davis activists denounce Israel as a “liberal-democracy” – and they are right

George Deek is the child of Palestinian Christian refugees.  He is also a diplomat in the Israeli Foreign Service.  Superficially, this seems to be an impossible contradiction.  But, Deek refuses to be placed into categories of other people’s makings.  Last week he spoke at UC Davis when a band of about 30 anti-Israel hecklers disrupted his talk, chanted slogans including long live the Intifada, waved Palestinian flags and, after about 10 minutes, walked out shouting “Allahu Akbar!”  Afterwards, they released a statement accusing Israel of the horrible crime of being a “liberal-democracy.”

You read that correctly.  Israel is a shameful example of liberal-democracy.  

No doubt, most Israelis would proudly proclaim “guilty!”

Their statement, heavy with cliché-ridden revolutionary rhetoric, calls Deek “a self-identified Israeli born to a Palestinian family [who] perfectly embodies the project of zionist (sic) liberal-democracy, which seeks to assimilate Palestinians into non-existence.” The statement also accused Deek of being a “colonial collaborator” for essentially using his “Palestinian identity” to further Israeli interests. 

Let’s deconstruct this a bit to better understand the protesters’ angst.  First, they correctly identify Israel as a liberal and democratic society.  All Israelis, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, are entitled to the right to vote in a secret ballot for the parties of their choice, petition their government, hold peaceful demonstrations, run for elected office, and to freedoms of religion, expression, association, assembly, press.  They are also entitled, by right, to their own personal identity.

All citizens enjoy these rights. This includes the one-in-five Israelis who are Arabs.  According to a 2015 sociological study about one-third of Israeli Arabs identify as “Israeli,” one-third as “Palestinian,” and the other third as somewhere in between. The study observes that this “suggests a complex, multi-faceted divided identity with many nuances and sub-identities.”  In another study, fully 75% of Israeli Arabs stated that Israel has a right to exist as an independent state, and 48% that they could support its existence as a democratic, Jewish state.

Most people possess complex and nuanced identities.  George Deek does and clearly so do many of his fellow Israeli Arabs, many of whom – like Deek – have excelled.  Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Beduoin, is also an Israeli diplomat and, like many other Bedouin, he was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.  Major General Hussain Fares, a Druze, commands Israel’s Border Police, and Major Alaa Waheeb is the highest ranking Arab Muslim IDF soldier who is operations officer at a ground forces training base.  Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab, sits on Israel’s Supreme Court.  Dr. Aziz Darawshe, a Muslim Arab, is Director of Emergency Medicine at Israel’s premier Hadassah University Medical Center.  Lucy Aharish, a Muslim Arab, is an anchor on Israeli Hebrew-language television.  Fr. Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest, leads a growing movement that redefines Arab Christians as “Arabic-speaking Arameans.”  As such, Naddaf is urging Christian Arabs to integrate more into mainstream Israeli society, including volunteering for the IDF.  Two years ago, Israel officially recognized the Aramean identity on a par with other communities. 

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs actively integrating into Israeli society and claiming full ownership of an Israeli identity undermines the UC Davis protestors’ radical ultra-nationalist dogma that delegitimizes Israel’s existence.  The reality of George Deek does not compute with their closed ideology, and competes with their monochromatic narrative they are promoting on campus.

In other words, the disrupters’ nationalist narrative is disrupted by Deek’s personal narrative.  This is what disturbs them.  Their rigid and intolerant worldview prevents them from processing the fact that modern human identities are multi-faceted and nuanced.  The only way they can understand Deek is by reducing him to a one dimensional caricature carrying the label “colonial collaborator.” 

This is why they focus their ire onto Israel’s open liberal-democratic society, which creates opportunities for Israeli Arabs to express and define freely their complex, nuanced multi-faceted identities beyond the predetermined, imposed and politicized identity dictated by Arab nationalist ideology. 

George Deek seeks peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  He came to UC Davis to discuss the issues and open paths to dialogue.  But these “hear no evil” demonstrators wanted nothing of the sort.  Their approach is polarizing, hate-filled and a certain formula for perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades more.  Deek and others like him are attempting to show us a different way toward peace.  We’d be foolish not to follow it. 

Roz Rothstein is CEO and Yitzhak Santis is Senior Writer and Analyst for StandWithUs

Let my people go? Some say yes, some say no

The war over Israel’s image continues to play out in Los Angeles media. 

A StandWithUs (SWU) advertisement that appears in the March 11-18 edition of the Hollywood Reporter reads, “Isn’t it Time to Go to Israel?” Its publication comes on the heels of a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) ad that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 24, calling Israel an apartheid state and encouraging Academy Award nominees, who’d been offered a free trip to Israel as part of a gift bag prior to this past Sunday’s Academy Awards, to “#SKIPTHETRIP.”

“We wanted to make sure the message is, ‘People need to go and see for themselves and visit Israel,’ ” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s the single-most powerful way to formulate their opinions about Israel, to go visit the country. They’re saying ‘skip the trip’ and all that stuff, calling Israel names, and we’re encouraging people to take the trip, go to Israel, and experience the over 3,000-year-old Jewish connection in just one visit.”

The full-page, pro-Israel SWU advertisement appears on page 83 of THR’s ninth issue of the year, currently on newsstands, according to a SWU spokesperson. The cover story of the issue, which features coverage of the Oscars, is “Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Movie Lines.” 

SWU works to galvanize support for Israel among college students, high school students and others. It condemns the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, among other things. JVP, meanwhile, supports the BDS movement.

Berkeley commission rejects Israel divestment resolution

A Berkeley, California, commission rejected a resolution to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

The Berkeley City Human Welfare and Community Action Commission voted 5-2 against the resolution, with one abstention, on Wednesday night.

City Attorney Zach Cowan said the issue was not within the purview of the commission, which generally addresses issues of local poverty, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

In September, Berkeley City Councilman Darryl Moore removed commissioner Cheryl Davila, who he appointed, from her position over the divestment proposal. Davila was removed just before the panel took up the issue at its Sept. 16 meeting.

Moore reportedly said he asked his commissioners to discuss with him any controversial issues they were working on. Davila worked on the resolution for nearly a year without discussing it with Moore, the Mercury News said.

Yitzhak Santis, the chief programs officer at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute that monitored the resolution’s progress, called the defeat “a major failure for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and a testament to the herculean efforts of Israel’s friends in the Bay Area.”

Johanna Wilder of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group, spoke at the commission meeting.

“BDS activists attempted to hijack the commission to further their narrow, political, extremist agenda, but the commissioners refused to succumb to this pressure and defeated the resolution,” said Wilder, associate director of the group’s Northern California region.

Organizations that appeared at the meeting in support of the resolution included Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee and the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

The Jewish Community Relations Commission of San Francisco was among the organizations that mobilized against the resolution.


Berkeley students chant for intifada [video]

A video of UC Berkeley students chanting in support of an intifada “just hours…after the stabbing of a 72 year old Jewish civilian on a bus” was shared on the Facebook page of pro-Israel group StandWithUs on Wednesday.

“Shocking: right now on the campus of UC Berkeley, students participate in a ‘day of action’ and explicitly chant ‘we support the intifada,’ just hours after this ‘intifada’ resulted in the stabbing of a 72 year old Jewish civilian on a bus,” according to the Facebook page of StandWithUs, which combats anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.

“Where is their moral compass!?” the StandWithUs Facebook page adds, in reference to the UC Berkeley students depicted in the video, which you can view below.

Deadly incidents, many of them stabbings, have been taking place on an almost daily basis in Israel this past month, prompting observers to predict that an intifada—a Palestinian uprising—is imminent. If an intifada were to occur, it would be the third intifada since Israel’s founding in 1948. 




Shocking: right now on the campus of UC Berkeley, students participate in a “day of action” and explicitly chant “we support the intifada,” just hours after this “intifada” resulted in the stabbing of a 72 year old Jewish civilian on a bus. Days ago, this “intifada” led to the stabbing of a 13-year-old Israeli child in the streets of Jerusalem…and last week, the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of 4 of their children. Where is their moral compass!?#StopIncitement

Posted by StandWithUs on Wednesday, October 14, 2015

J Street: Sometimes fans do more harm than good

This essay is part of a continuing dialogue on the nature of pro-Israel activism. 

The disagreement between J Street and other pro-Israel groups continues. 

In a recent op-ed, J Street’s Alan Eisner contended that Israel needs “fans, not cheerleaders,” arguing that American pro-Israel groups mindlessly root for Israel while fans would be more judicious, criticizing it for the occupation and the settlements.

That is the rub. J Street is fixated on blaming Israel for failed peace efforts and wants the United States to pressure the Jewish state to unilaterally bring about the two-state solution. But that view ignores dangerous realities.

It is not cheerleading to respect Israel’s right to require that a two-state solution does not turn into a repeat of the Gaza withdrawal, with Hamas taking over and escalating attacks against Jewish civilians, and that Israel’s ability to protect its citizens from terrorism is ensured.

It is not mindless cheerleading to point out that anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement pervades Palestinian society. Terrorists are glorified, town squares are named in their honor and the Palestinian Authority continues to reward with handsome salaries Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have been convicted of terrorism. The greater the crime, the higher the salary.

It is not mindless cheerleading to emphasize that Israel offered precisely the two-state solution that J Street advocates but that Palestinian leaders rejected in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Those who do not hold the Palestinian leadership accountable are infantilizing them and perpetuating obstacles to peace.

It is not blind cheerleading to stress that Israel has reason to be cautious in an increasingly unstable and threatening region. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is spreading — recent reports indicate that it has followers in the West Bank and Gaza. Hezbollah is staking out positions in the Syrian Golan and openly threatens Israel. Hamas is repairing relations with Iran, remains pledged to the murder of Jews everywhere and the obliteration of Israel, and has resumed building cross-border terror attack tunnels. Islamist extremists are gaining footholds from Yemen to Libya. And Iran continues its genocidal rhetoric against the Jewish state, even as the outcome of negotiations about ending its nuclear weapons capability remains uncertain.

It is not cheerleading to counter the dangerous anti-Israel propaganda of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) that seeks to defame and delegitimize Israel. Although J Street opposes BDS, it prioritizes criticizing Israel and highlighting its shortcomings, which adds to the chorus of condemnation.

Eisner and J Street ignore these realities more than do pro-Israel groups who bring the issues to public attention.  

J Street’s mission contradicts the decades-old policy of a bilateral, negotiated solution to the conflict. J Street hopes to marshal popular and official American support for the U.S. to impose a specific solution. J Street disparages existing pro-Israel groups, charging that they have worked against American and Israeli interests and against peace, earning the praise of Stephen Walt, co-author of the discredited and frequently anti-Semitic “The Israel Lobby.”

J Street drew a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel during the 2008-9 war, and a prominent J Street member attempted to facilitate Judge Richard Goldstone meeting with congressional leaders about the discredited Goldstone Report that accused Israel of war crimes — before Goldstone himself recanted. During last summer’s Hamas-Israel war, as Hamas barraged Israel with more than 4,000 rockets and Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels were exposed, J Street refused to participate in a Boston solidarity rally for Israel.

J Street opposes bipartisan legislation for renewed sanctions against Iran, demanding that Congress wait for the outcome of negotiations, even though many argue that this legislation would help the negotiations, and Israel views Iranian nuclear weapons capability as an existential threat and supports such a measure. And why would J Street have endorsed many 2014 congressional candidates known for their anti-Israel views?

J Street and Eisner feel it is important to criticize Israel’s policies but they don’t seem to feel the same need to criticize the Palestinian leadership, which has refused to make peace, continue negotiations, do the hard work of state building or denounce terrorism. One-sided criticism of Israel will not build up the Palestinians or bring us closer to peace.

It is not cheerleading to highlight Israel’s extraordinary accomplishments in re-establishing the Jewish state as a robust, pluralistic, progressive democracy, and in turning a third-world economy into a first-world economy on the cutting edge of innovations that benefits the world. That does not mean agreeing with all of Israel’s policies, but it does mean countering the anti-peace extremism and factual distortions that are now invading mainstream discourse. The Jewish state deserves no less as it navigates how to survive and thrive in a very dangerous neighborhood. 

Roz Rothstein is the CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid, Ph.D., is the education and research director of StandWithUs. 

J Street, StandWithUs debate best way to support Israel

Representatives of StandWithUs (SWU) and J Street — two Jewish organizations with very different takes on Israel — faced off Jan. 13 in a debate on why their respective group is a better friend to the Jewish state.

The free event, at Temple Judea in Tarzana, featured attorney, writer and UCLA graduate student Philippe Assouline in support of SWU, and J Street Vice President for Communications Alan Elsner. Temple Judea’s Rabbi Joshua Aaronson served as moderator for the hour-long debate, which attracted more than 400 attendees. 

The two organizations are often pitted against each other. SWU is a pro-Israel education-and-advocacy organization that concentrates resources on bolstering Israel’s image on college campuses, which are becoming increasingly anti-Israel. J Street is a progressive organization that supports a two-state solution, often criticizes the Israeli government and lobbies United States congressional leaders on legislation related to Israel.

Aaronson began the night by asking the debaters to discuss public perceptions about their respective organizations and to comment on why those perceptions even exist. Assouline blamed J Street, along with pro-Palestinian organizations, for marginalizing SWU to the extent that it is seen as little more than a mouthpiece of the Israeli government.  

“Those two things combined have given StandWithUs a completely undeserved right-wing reputation. If I had to put a label on the people I work with, it would be center-left,” he said. “There is not one person I work with who is against Palestinian self-determination and who has come out vocally against a two state-solution,”

As for J Street, which is generally seen as more of a left-wing group, any misperceptions about it come from a different place, Elsner said.

“Since J Street’s inception, there have been people in the Jewish-American establishment who felt threatened by our organization, and have tried very, very hard to spread falsehoods and dishonesty and basically blackmail the organization,” he said, “and I find it bizarre.”
Each speaker was not afraid to throw darts at the other’s organization. Assouline called J Street a lobbying organization — and not in a good way — saying, “J Street doesn’t merely try to inject new voices into the discussion; it is a lobbying group that tries to influence American policy, to change Israeli policy over and against the wishes of the Israeli electorate, sometimes.”

After the debate, Elsner described SWU to the Journal as “just a classic hasbarah cheerleading group that pushes the case of the Israeli government. That’s perfectly legitimate, but let’s not call them what they’re not.”

Another source of tension between the two groups is the documentary “The J Street Challenge,” which takes a critical view of J Street. Attorney and author Alan Dershowitz is among those who speak negatively about the progressive group in the film.

SWU did not finance “The J Street Challenge,” but it has organized screenings of it in Los Angeles and elsewhere. During last week’s debate, Elsner criticized the journalistic integrity of the film, indicating that J Street leaders did not have a real opportunity to participate in it.

Aaronson repeatedly asked the audience to withhold its applause for both debaters, but people applauded anyway, including for SWU’s Assouline’s comment about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses: “This is a campaign to kosherize killing Jews, to kosherize terrorism and to make the eliminationist rhetoric of the Palestinians noble. It is an abuse of compassion to disguise hatred as concern, and it is not about 1967, to my distress; it is about 1948.” 

When an audience member asked if the two speakers could envision their respective organizations ever working together, Assouline said he believes middle ground lies in combating the BDS movement, which has made the climate on college campuses so hostile toward Israel that supporting the country has become an act of courage. Still, Elsner said, combating BDS requires a broad appeal beyond pro-Israel groups, which SWU lacks.

In an interview following the debate, Ilanit Maghen, 31, a Santa Monica-based architect who attended the event, expressed frustration with both sides.

“It just doesn’t make sense that within ourselves as Jews — American Jews, Israeli Jews, whatever you call it — that there is such a split in belief. This is what doesn’t work in my opinion about the peace process,” she said. “I don’t support anything. I support peace. I support people who support peace.”

Moving and shaking: StandWithUs, Chanukah in Los Angeles and Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple has named Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback as its next senior rabbi.

The senior rabbi-elect, who is currently the head of Wise School, the synagogue’s day school for kindergarten through sixth grade and early childhood center, succeeds Rabbi Eli Herscher, according to a Dec. 10 announcement on the Stephen Wise website.

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple 

When he starts July 1, Zweiback, 45, will be only the third senior rabbi in the community’s 50-year history. Herscher, 67, who became senior rabbi in 1990, is set to continue as senior rabbi emeritus. Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, 94, founded Stephen Wise in 1964.

A hilltop Reform congregation in Bel Air, Stephen Wise has grown to become one of the largest in the nation, with 2,200 member families. Board President Glenn Sonnenberg expressed confidence in Zweiback’s abilities to lead it.

“Rabbi Yoshi brings with him a robust package of vision, spirituality, management experience and love for the Jewish people, committed to building upon the foundation provided by Rabbis Zeldin and Herscher,” Sonnenberg said in a statement. 

The appointment culminates a national search for a successor to Herscher, according to the temple’s website. Additional clergy at the temple includes Rabbis David WoznicaRon Stern and Spike Anderson and Cantor Nathan Lam.

Zweiback is a graduate of Princeton University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), where he was ordained and received his training as a Jewish educator, according to his biography on the temple’s website. He previously served Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills and directed HUC-JIR’s Year-in-Israel program. He also is a musician and composer.

He and his wife, Jacqueline Hantgan, are dual citizens of the United States and Israel. Together they have three daughters.

Pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs’ (SWU) annual Festival of Lights gala, which took place on Dec. 14 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel, drew 1,200 attendees and raised more than $2 million. The funds raised will “support people around the world who want to educate their campuses and communities about Israel,” Roz Rothstein said. 

From left: Festival of Lights drew Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, SWU President Esther Renzer, honorees Larry and Sandy Post, SWU CEO Roz Rothstein, SWU COO Jerry Rothstein and comedian Elon Gold. Photo by Jonah Light

Honorees included SWU Vice President Larry Post and his wife, Sandy, who have supported SWU campus programs and more. 

Two college students, Sarah Tagger, a junior at UC Santa Barbara and Gabriel Goldstein, a freshman at Brandeis University, described how the organization has equipped students with the ability to push back against anti-Israel activity. SWU CEO Roz Rothstein presented them with the SWU Star of David for Courage and Leadership Award.

Also honored was Diane Schulman, wife of the late Roger Richman, a philanthropist who left SWU a legacy donation. The evening marked the launch of the Diane Schulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, which will help support SWU’s outreach on high school and college campuses. 

Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel highlighted the need for SWU’s work in the community. The evening featured comedian Elon Gold as emcee and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as keynote speaker. Rapper Ari Lesser and Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Cantor Alon Miller performed.

A pair of recent Chanukah celebrations took place at Los Angeles City Hall.

On Dec. 12, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, other elected officials and representatives of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles came together inside the City Hall rotunda to light an electric chanukiyah, nosh on sufganiyot and more. Three days later, West Coast Chabad partied on the steps of City Hall’s Spring Street entrance.

Notables in attendance at the former event included City Controller Ron Galperin and his husband, Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro; Federation President-CEO Jay Sanderson; Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel; City Attorney Mike Feuer; City Councilmembers Paul KoretzBob Blumenfield and Joe Buscaino; Federation board member Jesse Gabriel; and Federation’s senior vice president of community engagement, Catherine Schneider. The event began at 11:30 a.m. and ended an hour later.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the West Coast Chabad leader, City Councilmembers Koretz and Paul Krekorian and others attended the Chabad gathering. The Cheder Menachem Boys Choir performed at the event, which began at noon.

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the West Coast Chabad leader, at Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Paul Michael Neuman

The first night of Chanukah this year fell on Dec. 16.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple hosted a community sing-along of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Dec. 14 in honor of the well-known Jewish musical’s 50th anniversary. The event was free to the public and featured a live orchestra and nine cantors from various synagogues who led the packed temple in song. 


From left: Linda Kent and Rabbi Susan Nanus, co-producers of the “Fiddler on the Roof” community sing-along. Photo by Rebecca Weiner 

Rabbi Susan Nanus, who produced the event with Linda Kent, welcomed the 1,200 plus attendees, saying that the sing-along was Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Chanukah gift to the community 

Barbara Isenberg, author of “Tradition! The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ the World’s Most Beloved Musical,” was on hand to speak about the origins of the musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1964. She noted that one of the reasons why “Fiddler” has been so popular is that the story goes beyond ethnic, religious and generational lines with its universal themes of love, family and, of course, tradition. 

Following Isenberg’s opening remarks, a full orchestra came onto the stage to perform “Fiddler’s” overture. Then 10 cantors, including Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Cantor Don Gurney and Cantor Seth Ettinger, took the stage to lead the audience in a selection of popular songs from the musical. Gurney encouraged the crowd to sing along with professionals, to “raise the roof — ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ that is.” Gurney provided the solo for “If I Were a Rich Man,” an audience favorite. 

Following the sing-along, participants were free to shmooze in the courtyard and enjoy complimentary jelly doughnuts. 

— Rebecca Weiner, Contributing Writer 

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

U. of Washington students reject divestment resolution

The student senate at the University of Washington voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed measure on divestment from Israel.

The vote Tuesday night of 59 against, 8 in favor and 11 abstentions followed a 3 1/2-hour debate, according to StandWithUs, a pro-Israel campus group. The resolution was sponsored by UW students Peter Brannan and Amira Mattar.

The proposed resolution at the Seattle school called on the university to divest from companies providing equipment or services used to maintain or support “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including a) the demolition of Palestinian homes and the development of illegal Israeli settlements; b) the building or maintenance of the Separation wall, outposts, and segregated roads and transportation systems on occupied Palestinian territory, and c) illegal use of weaponry and surveillance technology by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilian populations.”

According to Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, a student group at UW, the school has about $6 million invested in four of the companies identified in the resolution.

StandWithUs hailed the resolution’s resounding defeat as a blow to the movement to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, known as BDS. The group also credited the university’s Hillel with helping quash support for the resolution.

“BDS was handed one of its worst defeats on any campus last night,” Robert Jacobs, director of StandWithUs Northwest, said in a statement. “This just shows how incredibly successful we can be when the community works together. Exposing BDS’s goal of eliminating Israel and violating Jewish rights to self-determination was the key focus of the night, and it was clear that this message got through to many senators.”

Moving and Shaking: Peter Weil named Skirball board chair, Myron Zimmerman honored

Los Angeles attorney and longtime Skirball Cultural Center board member Peter Weil has been named the second-ever board chair of the Skirball, succeeding founding board chairman Howard Friedman.

“In his decade of service to the Skirball board of trustees and record of leadership in the Jewish community and the city of Los Angeles, Peter M. Weil has amply demonstrated his readiness for this important new responsibility,” Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Center, said in a statement.

Weil’s appointment was announced on Dec. 17. His term officially begins on Jan. 2, 2014.

Weil is managing partner and senior business and real estate lawyer at Glaser Weil. He has served as president of the L.A. chapter of the American Jewish Committee, president of the City of Los Angeles planning commission and in other capacities.

Weil taking the reins from Friedman represents one of many milestones at the center, which is celebrating its 18th anniversary in 2014 and recently completed its final phase of campus construction. A Los Angeles museum and educational institute, the Skirball focuses on the story of American Jewry and more.

From left: Myron Zimmerman (MZ Foundation); Esther Renzer (Stand With Us); comedian Elon Gold; Roz Rothstein (Stand With Us) and Bret Stephens (Wall Street Journal). By Jonah Light Photography.

The pro-Israel group StandWithUs honored San Francisco Bay Area entrepreneur and philanthropist Myron Zimmerman on Dec. 8 as part of its annual Festival of Lights gala.

The event, which recognized Zimmerman’s financial contributions to the organization, took place at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel. Attendees included Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal and David Siegel, Israeli consul general in Los Angeles.

Zimmerman, founder of the Oakland, Calif.-based MZ Foundation, has made invaluable contributions to StandWithUs, funding programs that, among other things, have put “a human face on the [Israel Defense Forces],” said the organization’s CEO, Roz Rothstein.

The event was a way to celebrate those contributions — and more. Held every year around Chanukah, Festival of Lights helps StandWithUs raise money for the coming year. This year, it brought in approximately $2.5 million to support 2014 programming, Rothstein said.

The event was sponsored by Bruce and Ellie Lederman, and Debbie and Naty Saidoff. Comedian Elon Gold served as emcee, and musicians Ari Lesser and Ronny Weinreich performed.

Producers Harry Wiland, left, and Dale Bell are helping to establish a master’s program focused on media and social justice. Courtesy of Media Policy Center.

Veteran Los Angeles producers Harry Wiland and Dale Bell conceived and are helping to launch a master’s program at Woodbury University in Burbank that will deal with how films and other forms of media can be a means of achieving a more equitable society. The program, to be known as media for social justice, will begin in September 2014.

“We want to … see if we can find the next Edward Murrow or Martin Scorsese,” said Wiland, who, with Bell, is co-CEO of the Santa Monica-based Media Policy Center (MPC).

The program aims to give students “the knowledge, tools and networking skills neces-sary for producing and distributing media that promotes greater social justice,” according to the MPC Web site.

Woodbury is a nonprofit private university. Bell and Wiland have been working there for the past two years, as instructors of an elective course focused on media and social change. 

Actress Eva Longoria speaks at Fiesta Shalom at Sea. Photo by Tiffany Rose.

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles hosted a star-studded gathering — the inaugural Fiesta Shalom at Sea — on a FantaSea Yachts luxury ship on Nov. 24.

Fiesta Shalom at Sea is the first of many upcoming events which will celebrate Israel’s culture and shared values with the diverse communities of the Southwest,” according to a statement released by the consulate.

“Israel, like America, is a land of opportunity and a multitude of cultures,” said Israeli Consul General David Siegel, who appeared at the event.

The community soiree in Marina del Rey drew celebrities, elected officials, community leaders and foreign diplomats. Attendees included actress Eva Longoria; former congressman Howard Berman; L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca; actor Edward James Olmos and producer Moctesuma Esparza.

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to

Calif. board votes in student leader of BDS movement as regent

A student leader in the anti-Israel divestment campaign at the University of California, Berkeley, was elected to serve on the University of California system’s Board of Regents.

Sadia Saifuddin, a student senator at Berkeley, was voted in by the board on Wednesday as a regent for 2014-15. She was up against two other students for the post.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, in a statement criticized the selection.

“The choice of Sadia Saifuddin as student regent sends the wrong message and in fact, defeats the Regents own goal of being more inclusive,” she said.

The Berkeley student senate’s Israel divestment resolution co-sponsored by Saifuddin called  for divesting $14 million in university and Associated Students funds from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings because they profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Jewish settlements. The nonbinding resolution passed in April by a vote of 11-9.

Saifuddin, Rothstein said, “instigated a bigoted campaign that purposely marginalized one group of students on campus. How can she be expected to represent all students when she has an extremist point of view against those who do not agree with her?”

The daughter of immigrants from Pakistan, Saifuddin told the campus newspaper following the resolution vote, “I don’t want one cent of my money to go toward fueling the occupation of my brothers and sisters,”

A former UC student regent, Jonathan Stein, praised Saifuddin.

“Sadia is what kept UC Berkeley from cracking apart through that experience,” he said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center had launched a petition against Saifuddin’s nomination.

Saifuddin graduated from the Council on American Islamic Relations’ Youth Leadership Program in public speaking, media relations and governmental activism in 2008 and has maintained close ties to the organization, which has been accused of promoting radical Islam.

The Board of Regents sets educational policy for the 10 universities in the UC system and appoints their senior officers.

L.A. set to celebrate Israel, Jewish community

This year’s Celebrate Israel Independence Day festival will feature plenty of stars when it takes place on April 21, but only one has plans to actually spend time in outer space.

It’s not quite the Apollo 11 spacecraft — which took Neil Armstrong to his lunar landing — but the Space IL spaceship could make Israel only the third nation in the world to land on the moon when it launches in 2015.

The celebrity spacecraft, along with the Israeli rock band Mashina and local ’80s cover band the Spazmatics, will highlight Los Angeles’ best impression of Tel Aviv on Yom HaAtzmaut at the second annual event held by the Israeli American Council (IAC), formerly known as the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC). It will take place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (Rancho Park).

[Click here for a map of the festival]

Two of the festival’s main organizers — businessmen and philanthropists Naty Saidoff and Shawn Evenhaim — predict that this year’s installment, which honors the Jewish state’s 65th birthday, will attract between 15,000 and 20,000 people. 

“We need to unite all the Jews that live in this city,” Evenhaim said. “This is one day that helps to do it.”

The event is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at

This year, there will be 21 artists from Tel Aviv’s artist colony, a beer garden, Israeli folk dancing, a kids’ stage and other children’s activities, including a puppy petting zoo, a drum circle, backgammon games, face painters and stilt walkers. Throw in an Israeli history exhibit at the “Time Travel Tunnel” and a massive community oil painting of the Tel Aviv coastline created by oil and acrylic paint artist Tomer Peretz and there may really be something for everyone. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to attend as well.

According to Adee Drory, the festival’s director, there will be a major effort this year to provide a large variety of food and, just as important, to minimize waiting time in lines. There will be 21 vendors and 32 points of sale. People in a Mediterranean mood can enjoy shawarma, falafel or a “hummus bar.” Those in a more American mood can munch on sweet corn, hot dogs and funnel cake. 

The goal, Saidoff said, is that the aroma from the foods, the sounds from the music and the general feel of the event will resemble a day outdoors in Tel Aviv.

“It’s for the Israelis who want to feel Tel Aviv for one day and for the Americans who haven’t been to Tel Aviv,” Saidoff said.

Major festival sponsors include Debbie and Naty Saidoff, who are underwriting the event, along with Westfield shopping centers, Dorit and Shawn Evenhaim and the government of Israel, which this year will give $54,000, up from $10,000 to $15,000 last year, according to David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. The Jewish Journal is media sponsor for the event.

Naty Saidoff said the Israeli government’s involvement in the event symbolizes an important shift in Israel in terms of how yordim — Israelis who live in the Diaspora — are viewed. 

“There’s a changing reality with [the] passage of time,” Saidoff said. “Israelis that live in the Diaspora are not considered people who necessarily betrayed the ideals of Zionism.”

Siegel said, “It’s very important for us to cultivate our ties with the Jewish community here and to make sure that they feel close to Israel.”

One late entry into the list of the sponsors was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. It wasn’t until late last week that Federation decided to contribute $10,000 to the festival — less than the $50,000 it provided last year.

Andrew Cushnir, Federation’s chief programming officer, explained that while Federation prefers to donate to groups instead of “one-time” events, in 2012 it wanted to help re-establish the festival, and so decided to commit “seed funding.”

“Last year, because it was the first time they were bringing it to Rancho Park, we made a decision to give them support beyond our usual approach,” Cushnir said. “This year, we are happy to be a supporter at our current level.”

Saidoff, who hopes Federation chooses to play a major role in future Celebrate Israel festivals, said that its initial decision to not renew at last year’s level was disappointing.

“The absence of the Jewish Federation was confounding,” Saidoff said. “[But they] decided to take a booth and donate $10,000, which is a step in the right direction.”

Preceding the festival at 9 a.m. is the “Salute for Israel Walk,” which will begin at Motor Avenue by the park, head east through the center of Pico-Robertson and return to Rancho Park. Joining the walk will be cars from “Fueled by the Fallen,” a group that honors military and public safety personnel who were killed. Its “9/11 Angel Cruiser Series” cars, which display the names of everyone killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will be on display at the festival. 

The walk will be organized by the IAC and StandWithUs, an event sponsor and  pro-Israel nonprofit. 

In 2011, what was known as the Israeli Festival sputtered because of money problems and a dearth of community support. So last year, Saidoff pushed hard to create this event, and he made sure to make the case to the community — Jewish and non-Jewish — about why it mattered. He was able to secure the Cheviot Hills location after the city’s Westside Neighborhood Council voted 11-1 to allow the festival.

“Israel is a light to the nations,” Saidoff said. “This nation is a light to the neighborhood and to the city. It sounds lofty, but that’s my sense of purpose.”

Founded as ILC in 2007, IAC is a nonprofit group with an annual budget of approximately $3 million. Its mission is to support Israel by bolstering Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans and establishing links between Israeli-born Americans and Jews born in America. 

For Saidoff, a director at IAC, the way that Celebrate Israel furthers that mission can be described in one word — unity.

“Unity is very important in the Jewish community,” Saidoff said. “They say the Second Temple fell because people were squabbling as the enemy was at the door.” 

Evenhaim, IAC’s chairman, sees in this event not only a chance for unity and connection to Judaism and Israel, but also a source of comfort for Jews in Israel.

“When you live in Israel and you see that people abroad celebrate the independence of the State of Israel, it makes you feel comfortable that you are not alone. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Israel.”

U.C. Riverside student govt. rescinds Israel divestment resolution

The student government of the University of California, Riverside, rescinded a decision to divest from Israel.

The Associated Student Government's Student Senate on Wednesday voted 10-2 to cancel the March 6 resolution that called on the school to withdraw funds from companies that did business with the Jewish state.

Pro-Israel activists successfully appealed the resolution that was passed following a presentation by Students for Justice in Palestine organization.

“Their presentation was full of wild accusations, libelous, and since nobody got a chance to really answer them, the senators voted without really realizing what they were voting on,” Philippe Assouline, a research associate for the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, told the Campus Reform website.

Activists supporting the Palestinians told the pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada that they planned to appeal the vote.

“We’re going to make sure it stays in the senate and if it is amended, that the language doesn’t change to the point that we no longer recognize our own divestment,” Amal Ali, a Palestinian activist, was quoted as saying.

Path to peace: StandWithUs

On Monday evening, March 11, I had a public discussion with Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and president of J Street, at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles. The topics included how American Jews should approach pro-Israel advocacy, whether peace is currently attainable between Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, and what American Jews can do to help the two sides reach an agreement.

We agreed that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is dangerous and harmful to Israel. We agreed that the Palestinian teaching of hate, incitement and terrorism is an impediment to peace, and we both professed a desire for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

[Read a counterargument to this column here: Pathway to peace: J Street]

We strongly disagreed, however, on some critical issues. J Street argued that American Jews should lobby the U.S. government to pressure Israel into changing some of its policies. Referring to a statement from J Street’s Web site, I read aloud that, “J Street was formed to change the conversation on Israel and to give voice to American Jews who believe that they have a responsibility to vocally oppose Israeli government policies that threaten Israel’s future.” While Ben-Ami claimed he did not recognize this statement from his Web site, I was troubled that J Street felt it had a right to lobby the American government in order to pressure Israel — and its democratically elected government — into pursuing J Street’s agenda. 

We also disagreed about whether Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. While Ben-Ami assured the audience that “this is the time, and Abbas is the man,” I noted that just two months ago, in January 2013, Abbas honored past Palestinian terrorist leaders, including the Mufti of Jerusalem who collaborated with Adolf Hitler to bring the Holocaust to the Middle East. I questioned how Ben-Ami could trust Israel’s security in the hands of Abbas, who promotes one set of values to his Arabic constituency and quite another to Western audiences.  

Likewise, Ben-Ami and I differed on how he characterized certain facts. For instance:

Beitar soccer games: Ben-Ami suggested that Israeli incitement and Palestinian incitement are similar. I expressed that I felt this was an unreasonable comparison. For evidence, he pointed out that Israeli crowds at Jerusalem soccer matches shout, “Death to Arabs” so much that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he could no longer root for his team. In response, I noted that this is a critical point: Olmert represented the State of Israel and he condemned such views. I said that you can judge a society by the way its leadership responds when its people say or do hateful things. 

Ben-Ami then implied that there was a lack of an official Israeli government response to the hateful soccer rhetoric because Olmert is now a private citizen. In fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly condemned the racist comments of Beitar fans. 

Monument for Baruch Goldstein: When I cited Baruch Goldstein as an example of how Israel denounces acts of violence by Israelis against Palestinian civilians, he stated that Israel “funded a monument [to Baruch Goldstein]. See the public memorial!” In fact, Israel never funded a monument to Baruch Goldstein. There was indeed a monument erected by some Goldstein supporters, but the Israeli army demolished it after the Knesset passed a law in 1999 forbidding memorials to terrorists. My point was that the Israeli government condemned Goldstein as a terrorist while the PA government glorifies terrorists.  

Demographic threat: Ben-Ami repeated his oft-made declaration that Israel must be pressured into making peace now because demographics are such that Jews will be a minority in Israel within a generation and “will be ruling over a majority that doesn’t have rights.” I called this fear-mongering and asked Ben-Ami if he includes the Palestinian population of 1.5 million people living in Gaza in his accounting of Israeli demographic concerns. This is a critical point because Israel no longer has administrative or political control over the Gaza population. Ben-Ami admitted he includes the population of Gaza. Interestingly, if we remove Gaza from these calculations, Ben-Ami’s demographic numbers are reduced by 50 percent and no longer make the case for the demographic threat being an emergency. 

Humanitarian blockade on Gaza: Ben-Ami asserted that Israel caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza in the 2008 war through its blockade and that the blockade was lifted in part because of J Street’s lobbying. I pointed out that Israel has consistently allowed food and medical supplies into Gaza, even during wars and blockades. At the time, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees, said that the agency received 15 trucks of aid a day and had two months of stock in Gaza to aid recipients.  

Mediation techniques: While I agreed with Ben-Ami’s statements that we need an active American role in facilitating Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, I disagreed with his desire to impose specific details about what the peace agreement should be. As an honest broker, I would hope that the American role would be to mediate a plan arrived at by the parties themselves, rather than pressuring the parties into pre-existing expectations. President Barack Obama himself echoed this sentiment when he recently said that his role should be to listen to both sides and help them work out compromises.

Looking back at the evening’s discussion, I am saddened that Ben-Ami insists that he and J Street are helping Israel, when in reality the actions of his organization are only hurting Israel and the advancement of peace. Although we all wish for a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, J Street’s work only emboldens Palestinians to continue their history of rejectionism and incitement. J Street encourages Palestinian refusal to return to negotiations because it does not require any accountability from them and does not seek to change hateful attitudes toward Israel — both of which are prerequisites for a lasting peace.  

Roz Rothstein is the CEO of StandWithUs.

J Street, StandWithUs heads tangle at Temple Isaiah

These are tough times for people hoping for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

A recent cover story in The New Republic optimistically called the prospects for a two-state solution “not altogether hopeless.” President Barack Obama has made clear that he will not present a new peace plan during his visit to Israel later this month. And in Los Angeles, a recent, tense conversation between two leaders of opposing pro-Israel groups at Temple Isaiah ended without any evidence of common ground between them. 

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobbying group, and Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the right-leaning pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs, appeared together on stage at the L.A. synagogue on March 11 for a well-attended conversation about Israel’s future and the role of the American Jewish community. 

Over the course of the 90-minute event, the two differed on a number of issues, including how much area in the West Bank was occupied by Israeli settlements and whether an American group had the right to lobby the U.S. government in support of policies that run counter to those of the Israeli government. 

But the chasm dividing the two speakers was most evident when the moderator, Los Angeles Times reporter (and Temple Isaiah member) Mitchell Landsberg, read a question from the audience asking each to describe, in one minute or less, their vision of an “achievable and fair” solution to the conflict. 

“First of all, it’s two states for two peoples,” Ben-Ami said. In about 100 seconds, he presented his preferred outcome: the border should be negotiated — start with the pre-1967 Green Line and use land swaps to bring most settlers into Israel proper — Jerusalem should be home to an Israeli capital in the west and a Palestinian capital in the east and the Palestinians should have no right of return to Israel. 

Following applause – from one side of the mostly filled 400-seat sanctuary — Rothstein, who at one point had criticized Ben-Ami for using language that she felt was not appropriate for an event in a synagogue, offered her own response. 

“I find it fascinating that you have a plan like that,” said Rothstein, who then proceeded to read a quote from a wealthy Palestinian who said that his people had wasted money and missed opportunities to build their own state. After some prodding from Landsberg, Rothstein answered the question directly. 

“My solution is that people need to come to the table,” she said. “Why do I need to come up with a solution when the Israelis and the Palestinians need to sit down and talk?” 

Supporters of each side left the event unconvinced by the other; still, Temple Isaiah Associate Rabbi Dara Frimmer said that she was glad the conversation was taking place at the synagogue. 

“As a Reform congregation, I think the more we talk about Israel, the better,” she said. 

“But on a conversational level,” Frimmer added, “I think there’s a lot of work we all need to be doing, about how we listen to one another, how we try to express our ideas, how we push back in a way that enhances our dialogue.”

Rallies across U.S. supporting Israel’s right to defend itself

Israel solidarity rallies are scheduled for New York and venues across the United States.

Meanwhile, on Sunday in Los Angeles, some 1,400 demonstrators voiced their support for Israel's right to defend itself and its ramped-up operation against escalated rocket attacks on its South from the Gaza Strip.

In New York, hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators are expected to rally across from the Israeli Consulate in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon in an event sponsored by Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum.

Also in New York, in suburban Westchester County, a rally was scheduled for Tuesday evening at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey, Nan Hayworth and Eliot Engel are scheduled to attend.

Other rallies were scheduled Tuesday in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and West Hartford, Conn.

At the Los Angeles rally, the demonstrators gathered outside the Westwood Federal Building in West Los Angeles to voice their support for Israel at a rally organized by pro-Israel organizations StandWithUs, the Israeli-Leadership Council and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple told the crowd.

Some 100 pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators carried signs that read “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine,” “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel,” and “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.”

In Boston, some 1,000 pro-Israel demonstrators rallied Monday night in an event organized by synagogues, schools and Jewish nonprofit organizations, including the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, J Street, the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC.

The Boston rally “is a statement to our sisters and brothers and cousins in Israel that we’re supportive and we feel your pain,” Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, Mass., told The Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, lay and professional leaders from The Jewish Federations of North America arrived in Israel on Nov. 18 for a two-day emergency solidarity mission.

The leaders from New York, Chicago, Boston, New Jersey, Cleveland, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis and Birmingham, Ala., visited southern Israeli cities under fire, including Ashkelon, Sderot and Beersheva, offering solidarity with the residents and examining areas of need.

“The ongoing crisis being faced by the people of Israel, particularly those in the South, will not be fought by the Jewish state alone,” Michael Siegal, JFNA's incoming chair, said upon arriving in Jerusalem. “We are here to express our firm solidarity and to say that as always, when Israel is in need, we are here.”

The JNFA already has committed $5 million in assistance to the Jewish Agency's Israel Terror Relief Fund for the immediate needs of the people living under fire.

Organizations representing Orthodox Judaism — the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel — on Monday called on “all Jews to increase their Torah study as spiritual support and merit for those Israeli soldiers and civilians on the front line of battle.”

The RCA instructed its members to hold special classes and lectures in their communities on Wednesday and Thursday “dedicated to the support of the IDF and the State of Israel.”

“In the merit of our increased study of Torah, may we merit the promise recorded in the Talmud, Sotah 21a, that the study of Torah protects and rescues those who engage in it,” said a statement from the three organizations.

Drawing 1,400, peaceful L.A. pro-Israel rally turns ugly near its end [VIDEO]

With an Israeli flag wrapped around him, Rabbi Dov Elkins stood with a crowd outside the Federal building in West Los Angeles on Sunday to participate in a pro-Israel rally.

“We’re here to support Israel,” Elkins, 75, said, joined by his wife, Maxine. Residents of Princeton, N.J., the couple were in L.A. visiting their children and grandchildren; they had attended Shabbat services at the Pico-Robertson shul the Happy Minyan on Saturday, and when the rabbi announced that a pro-Israel event would be taking place the next day, they decided to attend. 

“We wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Maxine Elkins, 65, said, adding, “I’m a Jew, and this is the least American Jews can do — to come here and support Israel.”

As many as 1,400 demonstrators turned up on the afternoon of Nov. 18 to support Israel, according to police on the scene.  They came in the wake of the recent violence between Israel and Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. For approximately one week, Israel has responded to ongoing, indiscriminate Palestinian rocket fire with targeted air strikes aimed at killing Hamas military leaders and destroying weapons caches.

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jay Firestone

The demonstration was organized by the pro-Israel organizations Stand With Us, the Israeli-Leadership Council (ILC) and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region (ZOA). Jews of all denominations came out for the rally, staged outside the Westwood Federal Building at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, including Americans, Israelis and Jews of Iranian heritage.

About 100 pro-Palestinian supporters held a counter-demonstration across the street, on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard.

For the most part, the three-hour event was peaceful, but during the final hour, the situation became heated when a fight reportedly broke out between a pro-Palestinian protestor and pro-Israel protestor. Police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol officials were on scene.

In response, pro-Israel supporters charged over to the Palestinian side of the street. Police officers stepped in to bring the Israel protestors back to their side.

Demonstrators waved Israeli and American flags along with signs with slogans such as: “Israel Deserves Security;” “Hamas is the Enemy of Peace;” “Gaza Children Deserve Education Not Military Training” and more.

Community leaders supporting Israel included Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine and Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, a 2013 mayoral candidate. Also present were Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, West Coast director of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, Rabbi Avi Taff of Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Jason Weiner, a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Wolpe said.

Am Yisrael Chai,” he added.

Other speakers included Israeli actress Noa Tishby, ILC chairman Shawn Evenhaim, Roz Rothstein, CEO of Stand With Us and Orit Arfa, executive director of the ZOA-West.

Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a nonprofit that organizes Iranian-American Jews in political, civic and Jewish life, was among a group of Iranian-American Jews in attendance. In addition, the Israeli Scouts of Los Angeles, a youth group from the San Fernando Valley, brought 47 teens.

All ages attended to show support for Israel. Chloe Bismuth, a 20-year-old UCLA student who said she travels to Israel every year, showed up with her knuckles painted to spell out “Israel” and tiny Israeli flags painted onto her cheeks. Israel is a “country all of us as Jews should rely on,” she said, “all of us who believe in democracy.”

Pinhas Avgani, 63, Israeli and a Woodland Hills resident, was among the dozens who gathered on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Wilshire-and-Veteran to chant and wave flags, standing as close to the street as police officers would allow.

“When [Palestinians] put weapons down, there will be peace. If Israelis are going to put their weapon down, Israel will disappear,” Avgani said.

Naz Farahdel, a 24-year-old Iranian American Jew and a law clerk at the city attorney’s office, turned out with two friends, also Iranian American Jews.

The pro-Israel side aimed for a broad celebration of Israel. Upbeat Israeli music played loudly; people came together for Israeli dancing, and the crowd sang the Hatikva.

Until the pro-Israel charge across the street, the pro-Israel side stayed on the southwest and southeast corners of Wilshire-and-Veteran.  A line of hundreds of demonstrators began at the southwest corner of the intersection, extending eastward, halfway down the block toward Sepulveda Boulevard. People led Israel chants, speaking into bullhorns. Passing cars honked horns and waved Israeli flags out of the windows. Meanwhile, LAPD helicopters circled overhead.

On the Palestinian side demonstrators carried signs expressing support for Palestinians and also denouncing Israel and the United States: “Resist Zionism and Imperialism;” “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine” and “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel.”  One banner read: “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.”

When the pro-Israeli group crossed the street after the disruption began, Rothstein called the Israel protestors back to their side. Soon, nine California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicles parked in a line in the center of Wilshire. Police officers stationed themselves on foot at all four corners of the intersection, keeping the crowds to the sidewalk. Officers stood by the parked vehicles.

Chants turned ugly. When the Palestinian side chanted, “Free, free Palestine,” a man on the Israel side yelled back, “Bomb, bomb Palestine.”

Angering many on the Israel side, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator tied an Israel flag to his leg and let it drag in the street. A group of male teenagers, a middle-aged man and two elderly women on the Israel side responded by yelling out insults and curses.

Around 3:45 p.m., Rothstein, in cooperation with law enforcement, told demonstrators on the Israel side to go home. Rothstein had initially told law enforcement that the event, which began at 1 p.m., would end no later than 3:30 p.m. By this time, attendance of both sides had dwindled, but a sizable Israel group and a small Palestinian group remained.

LAPD officers accompanied the Palestinian protestors as they crossed to the pro-Israel side to walk toward their cars in the Federal building parking lot, where most of the demonstrators from both sides had parked. “We want to get those folks safety out of here,” a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official told Rothstein.

Rothstein joined a police officer in a police car and using the car’s loudspeaker asked everyone on the Israel side to leave, as the car inched slowly in front of the pro-Israel crowd. “Thank you for your cooperation. Thank you for being here,” she said.

By 4 p.m., most demonstrators on both sides departed.

Rothstein acknowledged that the pro-Israel side had engaged in some bad behavior. “It is kind of why I sometimes worry about putting these things on. You never know who is going to show up,” she said. “But it’s a community and we have a tapestry.”

While the Palestinian side was small compared to the Israel side on Sunday, on Nov. 15, hundreds of pro-Palestinians had rallied outside the office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, near Wilshire and Barrington avenue. There, one attendee blamed Israel for the recent violence. “It’s saddening but it’s not shocking, and if you’ve been following the news today [Nov. 15] it had been reported that Israel had broken the cease-fire first. Unfortunately Western media has not been quick to follow up on that regard,” she said.

“But regardless I support neither Hamas or Israel. What I support is the liberation of the Palestinian people,” she added.

In addition to Sunday’s rally, local initiatives are showing solidarity with Israel, including a project organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles that enables people to post messages onto the Federation website in support of the children of Israel.

Jewish groups react swiftly to escalation of Gaza rocket attacks on Israel

Jewish organizations had an outpouring of reaction on Wednesday to the escalation of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel that had started Saturday—conveying their prayers for the safety of southern Israelis, condemning the Hamas terrorism, and affirming the Jewish state’s right to respond.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a broad Gaza operation targeting Hamas terrorists, called “Pillar of Defense,” which killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari. After Jabari’s death, Hamas intensified its rocket fire.

In Kiryat Malakhi, where three Israelis were killed by a rocket that hit their home, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) said its Better Together program “is taking care of 30 displaced families whose building was bombed and deemed uninhabitable by providing basic needs and finding them temporary shelter.” JDC is also delivering food to the homes of the elderly.

“JDC’s Emergency Response Team is already helping the elderly, people with disabilities, and youth at risk, providing basic needs and emotional support during this distressing time,” JDC President Penny Blumenstein and Interim CEO Darrell Friedman said in a joint statement.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs, expressed “hope for the day when Palestinian leaders lay aside their hatred and arms, and reach out for peace with Israel.” She also said Hamas’s onslaught “endangers the citizens of Gaza who are being used as human shields.”

The Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “remains silent” despite daily Palestinian terrorist attacks.

“He has yet to condemn or criticize these blatant violations across an international border that put one million innocent Israelis in jeopardy,” Conference of Presidents Chairman Richard Stone and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a joint statement. 

Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, said “These latest unprovoked attacks follow years of unrelenting terror that has forced so many Israelis to live in a constant state of fear— conditions which no country would tolerate.”

“We proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the people and state of Israel during this difficult time and pray that such attacks will soon end,” Silverman said.

American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris on Thursday criticized the United Nations Security Council for not being able to agree on a statement of concern regarding Israel’s situation during a Wednesday night emergency session in New York.

“The inability of too many world leaders to distinguish between the arsonist, Hamas, and the firefighter, Israel, is gross negligence,” Harris said. “No UN member state can honestly say it would respond differently to a neighbor dedicated to its annihilation and launching rockets to provoke a larger confrontation.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said it “stands with Israel as it exercises its sovereign right to respond to the rocket attacks launched by Hamas terrorists from Gaza.” NJDC added that it is “relieved to see that the Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted many incoming rockets, helping to save Israeli lives and property as well.”

From Jihad to hasbara

“Who here is Jewish?” Kasim Hafeez asked the audience. Nearly all of the several hundred raised their hands. “Seven years ago,” he added, “I would have wanted to see all of you dead.”

The audience knew where this was heading, which didn’t make his words any less startling. Hafeez, 28, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani descent, grew up in Nottingham, England, and quickly added that now, seven years after his youthful fling with violent jihad, he stands firmly with Israel. 

He spoke at the annual StandWithUs (SWU) “Israel in Focus” conference, sponsored by Gila and Adam Milstein. SWU, an Israel-advocacy group headquartered in Los Angeles, held the gathering at Santa Monica’s Sheraton Delfina hotel Nov. 9-11, and it included talks about ways to advocate for Israel. 

Funny, articulate and self-assured, speaking without notes, Hafeez talked about his early years in a Pakistani neighborhood in England. “In my house, there was always mistrust of Jews and Israel,” he said. “The attitude was: ‘Jews are always up to something …’ My father was blatant about it. ‘Hitler was a good man. He didn’t go far enough; he didn’t kill enough Jews.’”

It was similar in the community, Hafeez said. “I remember, as a kid, holding up signs saying: ‘How can we help our brothers in Palestine?’” 

By the time he was 16, in 2000, Hafeez said he had become “radicalized.”

“There was no question that America and Israel were guilty of all crimes, they were the doers of evil. … When you’re radicalized like that, that’s what you become. Them versus us,” he said.

“My most radicalizing experience was attending a British university. The level of propaganda was insane.” Hafeez attended a group purporting to show students how to be “better Muslims.” It was all about extreme anti-Israel propaganda. “At university, you’re surrounded by people who constantly demonize Jews. … You couldn’t say you were anti-Semitic, which is what it was. But being anti-Zionist was cool.”

One day, at a bookstore, Hafeez came across Alan Dershowitz’s book “The Case for Israel.” He read it with the idea that he would refute all the points. Instead, he found a lot of his deeply held feelings about Israel called into question. Confused, Hafeez decided to find out for himself whether Israel was an apartheid state, as he had always believed. He flew to Israel.

Carrying a recently renewed British passport (unmarked by visas), Hafeez was asked by security at Ben-Gurion Airport what countries he’d been to recently. He said: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The security person asked: Why have you come to Israel? Hafeez was truthful: He said he used to be anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist, but now he wanted to see the country for himself.

“So I spent the next eight hours with a security person,” he said. “He treated me very well, bringing me coffee and things to eat. We became almost like family.” When the security person finally let Hafeez enter the country, he offered some advice: “‘Next time you’re asked why you came to Israel, tell them you’re on holiday.’ ”  

Hafeez walked around Jerusalem looking for signs of apartheid and didn’t see any. “This was not what I expected. I spoke with Muslims; I’d ask them how it was for them. They’d say, ‘We love it here; this is our home.’”

He went to the Holy Sepulcher, Al-Aqsa … then to the Western Wall. 

“I thought: ‘Am I allowed here?’ Well, I was, of course. I was even approached by Chabadniks wanting me to lay tefillin. I thought to myself: ‘What am I doing here? Am I supposed to pray?’

 “I put out a hand to touch the stones, to see what would happen. Then, slowly, I put my forehead on the stones. Then I looked around and saw the Israeli flag, and I thought: Here I am, at the spiritual center of the Israeli state. I looked at that flag and thought: There are 6 million people, 6 million Jews, who never got to see and touch these stones. No matter what happens, no matter what peace agreements are made, what treaties, what progress, there are 6 million who will never get the chance to do what I’m doing right now.”

Hafeez realized that Israel is about survival. “It struck me with such resonance. This is your home. … How hypocritical it had been of me to deny Israelis their homeland.” 

When Hafeez returned to England, he felt he could either get back to life as it was or do something about what he’d learned. He’s been a pro-Israel activist in Great Britain ever since. 

A student in the audience asked, “How do you get along with your family now?”

“My dad and I have nothing to do with one another,” Hafeez said. “My mom ignores the changes I’ve gone through. My sister and auntie are supportive. I even gave them IDF [Israel Defense Forces] scarves, which they wear.”

Asked how he became involved with speaking on the topic, Hafeez responded, “I called SWU and they arranged for me to talk on campuses, gave me tools and resources and information.”

Wrapping up his hour-long presentation, Hafeez said: “If someone says libelous things about Israel and no one responds, the other side considers it a victory. Don’t be ashamed of supporting Israel. It’s a wonderful country. Be proud of it. I figure that if I can change the attitude of just one person, I’ll have done some good. It’s terrible to live with hatred, especially hatred that’s so misplaced. If someone’s been indoctrinated, maybe one little fact might begin to change things, might cause a small crack in that shell.”

L.A. Jews in ‘Forward 50’

Four Angelenos are among the 50 American Jews selected by the Forward newspaper for its annual list of newsmakers, which was published on the New York-based newspaper’s Web site on Nov. 12. 

Scooter Braun, manager of teen sensation Justin Bieber; Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of IKAR; Roz Rothstein, founder and CEO of StandWithUs; and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) were included on the diverse list. 

Although two of the L.A.-based names on the Forward’s list have been included on similar Jewish lists in the past — Brous has been on Newsweek’s “most influential rabbis” list and Rothstein was named as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post in 2011 — Braun and Sherman hadn’t been seen before on lists of big-name Jews. 

Sherman and Braun each had big years, though. Braun was profiled in the New Yorker and added to his stable of entertainer clients Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen and PSY, the Korean performer behind the surprise hit “Gangnam Style.” Sherman, meanwhile, retained his seat in Congress by winning a bitter and expensive race against fellow Democrat Howard Berman.

Rothstein and Brous, by contrast, were lauded by the Forward for their work as founders of two very different startup organizations, each of which has grown rapidly under their leadership. 

StandWithUs, a right-leaning, pro-Israel group that celebrated its 10th anniversary in January, is now a $4 million-a-year operation with 15 branches across the country. IKAR, Brous’ 8-year-old non-denominational and social justice-minded spiritual community, “is thriving so profoundly,” the Forward states, “that its leaders are planning to build what they call ‘a living laboratory for 21st-century Jewish life’ — a center that will include sacred space, an art studio, a music lab, a library and a café with kosher, organic food.”

The 2012 edition of the Forward’s annual end-of-year list — which was produced by the paper’s staff despite having lost access to its offices, which are still without electricity after Hurricane Sandy — ranges broadly. Topping the list are casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, TV writer Lena Dunham, composer Philip Glass, gymnast Aly Raisman and Rabbi David Zwiebel, who leads Agudath Israel of America, which represents devoutly Orthodox Jews. 

A few other West Coast Jews made the list as well, including University of California President Mark Yudof, Evan Bloom, the young founder of a San Francisco deli, and University of California, Berkeley astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011.

Israel for a Cure participates in AIDS Walk

Israel and American men and women of all ages, representatives of Israeli and Jewish community organizations and others turned out to walk with Israel for a Cure, one of approximately 1,700 teams that participated in the AIDS Walk Los Angeles on Oct. 14.

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles organized the Israel for a Cure group to demonstrate Israel’s support for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“The reason we do this is because it really is a global issue — it affects Israel, it affects the Jewish people,” said Consul General of Israel David Siegel, who was among the participants. This was the fourth year that the consulate has organized a team for the walk.

The Israel for a Cure team drew approximately 50 participants wearing Israel for a Cure T-shirts and carrying blue and white balloons, Israeli flags and a banner proclaiming “Israel for a Cure.” Participants included representatives of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy group; Na’amat, an Israeli movement dedicated to women’s rights; members of the Israeli Leadership Council; and of Congregation Kol Ami, a synagogue based in West Hollywood.

Additionally, community leaders — including Congressmen Howard Berman and Adam Schiff, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and L.A City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine — stopped by the team’s meeting station — near the intersection of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards — to express support.

Also among the participants was Drew Michelman, a student at Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, who raised more than $2,000 for the event as part of his bar mitzvah project.

“It was a good experience to just know that while you’re walking, you’re helping people around the world,” the seventh-grader said.

In addition to being committed to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS on a community level, Israel is focused on ending the epidemic on a scientific and policy level, Siegel said. Last year, Israel signed a multiyear cooperative agreement with UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. The Israeli biotech industry is currently working on developing cutting-edge methods of battling deadly viruses such as HIV. 

AIDS Walk Los Angeles is an annual event that raises funds and awareness to improve the lives of people affected by the disease, reduce the incidence of infection, and advocate for fair and effective HIV-related policy. This year, the 28th annual walk — a 6.2-mile trek in West Hollywood — drew a reported 30,000 participants and raised $2.9 million.

StandWithUs launching new Israel advocacy training for teenagers

The pro-Israel education and advocacy group StandWithUs is launching a new program to help train 48 teenagers from around the U.S. as proactive leaders on their future college campuses.

While StandWithUs has been working with high school students since its founding in 2001, particularly helping them with classroom presentations, the new StandWithUs-MZ Teens Internship Program will break new ground by taking an individualized approach to “teach them a variety of themes and give them a lot of support for their own current activities, and help them do a project that will elevate not only their own knowledge but other people around them now, while they’re in high school,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in an exclusive interview with

The 48 participating students—a number that StandWithUS hopes will grow to hundreds—will be broken into three groups of 16, each of which will have a mentor. The MZ Foundation, which is funding the program through a “significant grant,” was interested in Israel advocacy training for high school students in particular.

“[MZ believes] that in preparing the students better for the challenges they’re going to face in college, the smart way to go is to give them that kind of support earlier, and StandWithUs feels the same way,” Rothstein told

Rothstein said high school students face anti-Semitic challenges “not as clearly and overtly” as college students do, but need to prepare for what college holds in store—and for how they might be able to educate others. In that sense, the new program’s goal is to “help students understand the importance of running proactive activities on their campuses,” she said.

The program, she added, will help students grasp “how rich it is to be able to engage with something that’s important to them anyway, whether they’re going to be facing a challenge or just wanting to educate their campus community.”

“They will be able to participate in a high-profile project that will make Israel’s image clearer to the world, [by broadening understanding of] Israel’s gifts to the world, Israel’s high tech—whatever it is that the kids will choose, they will have had an opportunity to begin educating now,” she said.

The program includes two three-day, all-expenses-paid conferences—one in September, and one in the spring—as well as year-round mentoring for the students and a gift certificate of $1,000 toward a trip to Israel for the two most successful interns. Teenagers interested in applying should email

Anti-Israel aid billboards coming down

A subsidiary of the CBS Corp. removed 23 billboards in the Los Angeles area calling for a stop to U.S. foreign assistance to Israel.

The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel, which sponsored the billboards, said in a statement that it received a letter from CBS Outdoor, a subsidiary of the CBS Corp., saying the contract was canceled because the coalition “used the ‘CBS Outdoor’ name without permission” in its publicity. CBS Outdoor refunded the undisclosed amount of the contract to the group, the coalition said on its Facebook page.

The coalition is asking supporters to demand that CBS Outdoor put back the billboards.

“If you support us trying to get our message of ending military aid to Israel back up on billboards in the nation’s second largest city, won’t you help flood CBS with phone calls demanding that our billboards be put back up and our contract be honored to the full term?” the coalition said in its statement.

U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) had slammed the group for its billboards in a June 21 letter to the organization.

“We are the leading voice in the international community, and have the world’s most powerful military, yet your organization would have us abandon our closest ally in the Middle East and allow its deterrent capability to wither on the vine,” Berman wrote to the group, which posted its billboards in the San Fernando Valley. “That is not the way to demonstrate international leadership.”

The pro-Israel organization StandWithUs said it will launch an ad campaign to counter the coalition’s, as it has when the coalition has posted similar billboards in other cities, including Washington, D.C., Albuquerque, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle.

“People and companies should avoid getting entangled with these anti-Israel activists,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs. “They distort facts, exploit the good name of organizations and companies, and harass those who disagree with them.”

With an eye on Twitter, StandWithUs releases app for pre-fab pro-Israel messages

To celebrate the 64th anniversary of Israel’s founding, StandWithUs released a new social media application that the pro-Israel educational nonprofit hopes will help expand its impact on Twitter and Facebook.

ShareIsrael, an app designed for iPhones, iPads and devices running the Android operating system, is intended to promote pro-Israel messages in the social media landscape. Using the new app, people can take readymade messages and like them on Facebook or post them to Twitter.

Critics of Israel often use social networking outlets to spread their messages, StandWithUs Israel Director Michael Dickson said, and the group hoped its new app would help counterbalance those critical messages with supportive ones.

“They are able to get their tags to trend,” Dickson said of Israel’s online critics. “That’s something that we certainly want to counterbalance.”

The ShareIsrael app, which was developed by StandWithUs with two Israeli web developers, Omri Ariav and Alon Carmel, allows users to distribute prefabricated messages through email as well as Facebook and Twitter. Of the three portals, Dickson said, Twitter is the preferred one because that’s where the conversation about political matters and current events takes place today.

In 2010, when Israel Defense Forces soldiers raided the Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza and killed a number of those on board, Twitter guided the conversation, but only somewhat. Today, Dickson said, its influence has grown.

“Journalists are as in tune with what’s going on in their Twitter feeds as they are in tune with what’s coming out of the central news agencies,” he said.

With that in mind, the new app’s prefabricated tweets are presented complete with accompanying web links, never exceeding 140 characters and, perhaps most important, equipped with pro-Israel hashtags.

Hashtags—a word or string ofwords preceded by the # symbol—have been used in the conversation about Israel before. In December 2011, when messages with the hashtag “#IsraelHates,” began to emerge as a trend on Twitter, a senior Israeli official promoted a messaging campaign with the hashtag “#IsarelLoves” in response.

The messages promoted by StandWithUs through its app in its first week included, “Warren Buffet’s first purchase outside the USA ever was an Israeli company. #israelat64” and “#Israel: 3,000 years old, 64 years young”.

“We realize that people don’t have a lot of time and are on the go,” Dickson said. “They want to do something good for Israel, and we’re just making it easier and quicker and more effective.”

According to StandWithUs, the app was accessed by more than 2,000 people in its first week via the group’s website. It is expected to be available for download in the App Store and Android Marketplace within a few weeks.
—by Jonah Lowenfeld, Staff Writer

El Al employees share brighter side of Israel

As most people who care about Israel know, it’s difficult to have conversations about the Jewish homeland without broaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is why StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization that focuses on on-campus advocacy, along with the Jewish Agency for Israel and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recently launched an initiative involving employees of Israel’s seldom-discussed private business sector in leading discussions around the world that are focused on the brighter side of Israel — the food, the partying, the in-your-face feel-good vibe of Israelis.

The program, dubbed Blue and White El Al Ambassadors, brings pilots and flight attendants who work for El Al airlines, one of Israel’s largest private companies, to visit college campuses, synagogues, Federation programs — even churches — around the world for informal conversations with students, congregants and others over Israeli chow.

During their layover in Los Angeles on Feb. 15, flight attendants Danny Young, 25, of Tel Aviv; Hagay Ashkenazi, 45, of Har Adar; Noa Renert, 50, of Reut; and Efrat Rael-Brook, in her late 30s, of Ra’anana, spoke with approximately 25 California State University, Northridge (CSUN), students at the university’s Hillel. The brainchild of El Al CEO Elyezer Shkedy, the program has enlisted approximately 60 staff members of El Al, out of hundreds who applied, who have volunteered to be cultural ambassadors for Israel. Since starting approximately three months ago, they have participated in nearly 30 events, in New York, New Jersey, Toronto and elsewhere, said Alon Futterman, development director at the Jewish Agency and the director of Blue and White El Al Ambassadors.

“What we would like to do, through this program, is talk about other sides of Israel that we feel people are not talking about enough, sides that are not related to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Futterman said.

Young, who’s originally from London, shared stories about acclimating to life in Israel, including an incident in a bathroom on a train, where, unable to read the Hebrew, he pressed the button for the alarm believing it to be the flusher; Ashkenazi, who’s gay, discussed coming out of the closet in Israel and meeting his life partner in a club in Jerusalem — that partner, who is also a flight attendant, sat in the audience at CSUN. Renert, who has three adult daughters, opened up about her decision years ago to switch careers from being a therapist to a flight attendant. And Rael-Brook told the crowd how she met her husband, more than 10 years ago, on an El Al flight — he was a somewhat unruly passenger, she joked.

On Feb. 13, the flight attendants gave a similar talk at UCLA Hillel, and on Feb. 17, they appeared briefly during Shabbat services at Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts.