Ghosts of Communism

Two weeks ago, my wife, Ann, and I completed our first trip to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Everywhere we went, our local guides proudly pointed out the progress that has been made since the fall of communism, and we could readily see for ourselves the affluence, elegance and style that are on display in the places that the tourists like to visit.

But we also saw the bullet holes and shell damage that have been left unrepaired to memorialize the ravages of World War II, and we were reminded of the price that the Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians paid when they defied the will of their Soviet masters in the 1950s and ’60s. In Bratislava, for example, we saw one heroic monument that honored the Red Army as the liberator of Czechoslovakia in 1945, and another monument that honored three Slovak victims of Soviet gunfire during the uprising known as the Prague Spring in 1968. Indeed, we always detected a certain kind of emotional scar tissue in the guides themselves, many of whom are survivors of one or both of these world-historical eras.

It is this same layered complexity that Yale historian Marci Shore has succeeded in bringing to life in the pages of “The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe” (Crown, $27), a courageous and imaginative effort to measure how the Nazi and Soviet regimes impacted the private lives of real men and women.

“All historical drama is acted through the lives of individuals,” she announces. “The eclipsing of private space was among totalitarianism’s deepest violations. In this way the totalitarian state was unlikely its merely authoritarian or monarchical predecessors: it distinguished itself — it made itself — by caring what lovers said in bed.”

Here is a surprising and even revolutionary way to write history. To be sure, historians have debated in what ways Nazi and Soviet atrocities were qualitatively different from both earlier and later outrages, but the conversation has usually focused upon the origins, mechanics and goals of mass deportation, mass imprisonment and mass murder. Shore, by contrast, focuses on the intimate emotions and inner emotions of the human beings who are the raw material of history.

Consider, for example, the fate of a young Czech woman named Jarmila. She was the youngest person to sign Charter 77, the manifesto of the liberation movement in Czechoslovakia, but she did so against the will of her parents, who were fearful that it would attract the ungentle attention of the secret police to the rest of the family. “Eventually they denounced her to the secret police,” Shore reports, “and so began a long series of arrests, detentions, interrogations, beatings.” She was forced to go into hiding at her grandmother’s home: “I love her,” the grandmother later told Shore, “she’s my sunshine.” But the whole family understood and accepted that denunciation of a child was a survival strategy under the communist regime.

When Shore sees anti-Semitic graffiti and evidence of criminal violence in Warsaw, she is offered an explanation by a Polish graduate student called Mikolaj: “Envy, insanity, racism and hooliganism,” he muses, “the pillars of Polish reality.” Yet she also allows us to understand the contemporary Poles are put off by Jewish tourists who come only to see the death camps: “They didn’t know about the heroic Polish underground,” Shore explains. “They didn’t know that Poles had also died in Auschwitz. They didn’t want to know.”

Not many Jews remain in Poland, of course, but the precious remnant is marked in strange ways. A woman named Tamara weeps over the fact that she was condemned to grow up under communism because her grandfather refused to make aliyah after the war ended. “She could not escape from this moment of her grandfather’s refusal to cross the border, this moment of decision, the moment when her life might have been a different one,” Shore writes. “She could not forgive her grandfather for having misunderstood History, for having made the wrong choice — and so, having thrown Tamar from the current of History.” 

“A Taste of Ashes” is rich with incident, recollection and conversation, a memoir of the author’s long endeavor to understand in human terms the ideas and events that are the raw material of intellectual history. Every page is alive with face-to-face encounters between Shore and her friends and colleagues. Ultimately, however, a dark fatalism suffuses the whole effort, and the hard truth is captured in a conundrum that she hears from a man who once edited a prominent Yiddish newspaper in Warsaw: “You already know too much,” Chaim Finkelstein told her, “too much and not enough, and nothing.”

I carried a copy of “The Double Eagle” by Stephen Brooks on my recent travels in Prague, Vienna and Budapest, a travel memoir that was written shortly before the fall of communism and has something in common with “The Taste of Ashes.” Next time, however, it will be Shore’s book in my carry-on, a masterpiece that will enrich the experience of being there precisely because the author looks both forward and backward in time, and because she offers a glimpse of history as seen through the eyes of the people who lived it.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. His latest book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris” (W.W. Norton/Liveright), published in 2013 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kirsch can be reached at

Obama pledges commitment to Israel, unity against Iran

President Obama said the U.S. commitment to Israel's security “must not waver” and that the world must unite against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

“Our commitment to Israel's security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace” Obama said to cheers Thursday night, accepting the Democratic Party's nomination. “The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions.”

The party's convention here has been dogged this week by headlines reviving reports of tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Democratic platform removed language recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and then restored it at Obama's behest.

Reports out of Israel suggest that its government is more exercised than ever by what it sees as Obama's refusal to make clear to Iran the consequences of not ending its suspected nuclear weapons program, including a possible military strike.

Barak: U.S. deployment against Iran ‘impressive’

Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, called the recent deployment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf “impressive” and suggested that the United States is prepared to deal with Iran.

“Israel reserves the right to make sovereign decisions, and the U.S. respects that, but no mistake should be made regarding the impressive scope of the American preparations to deal with the Iranian challenge on all levels,” Barak said Thursday at a political gathering, according to Haaretz.

Barak made the comments after he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were briefed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon regarding U.S. preparations for a possible confrontation with Iran.

Last month Donilon presented Netanyahu with the details concerning the strengthening of U.S. forces in the Gulf, according to Israeli media.

Barak said Thursday that while there are differences between the Israeli and U.S. points of view on Iran, “the U.S. is our most important ally. The intelligence cooperation and security backing Israel receives at present is exceptional in its scope.”

Debunking myths on Israel and U.S. foreign policy

Nowhere are the urban legends and mythologies more enduring and destructive than those that currently surround Israel and U.S. foreign policy.

Here are five of the most popular myths that are worth unpacking and discrediting.

Myth #1: Obama is Hostile to Israel

Obama’s critics and Romney’s supporters have to get real on this issue. So does Mitt Romney himself who recently declared at the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay that Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus.”  That’s ridiculous. No American president ever has or would.

That the personal relationship between Netanyahu and Obama isn’t good and that Obama lacks an instinctual pro-Israeli sensibility shouldn’t mask the deepening institutional bonds, particularly on the security side, that have occurred during the Obama presidency.

The Administration has delivered to Israel unprecedented levels of foreign military financing – covering roughly one-fifth of Israel’s budget; it has provided the Israelis with advanced technology; deepened counterterrorism cooperation; and equipped the Israelis with sophisticated weapons such as the fifth generation stealth joint strike fighter.  And nowhere has cooperation been closer than on missile defense. The Administration has helped fund Iron Dome, a component of a more comprehensive approach to help the Israelis develop a multidimensional missile defense system including maintaining an advanced U.S. X-band long range radar system and positioning American Aegis BMD ships in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Administration has also worked closely with Israel on various initiatives to counter Iran’s capability to create nuclear weapons by imposing some of the toughest sanctions ever and cooperating intimately on cyber warfare. It has also worked hard to prevent efforts by the PLO to push the statehood issue at the UN, to oppose one-sided resolutions there, and to counter efforts to isolate Israel in the international community.

Myth #2:  Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush

Obama’s supporters have to get a grip and stop pretending too. Obama isn't Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel – he’s not even close. Those guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too; but unlike Obama they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the Israeli narrative and, as a consequence, they could make allowances at times for Israel's behavior, even when it clashed with their own policy goals.

Obama really is different. Part of it is generational. He grew up after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in a university environment where the Arab-Israeli conflict wasn’t portrayed by Paul Newman in the movie Exodus and where the Arabs were the Indians and the Israelis were the cowboys.

Combined with a tendency to see the conflict through the more detached unemotional filter of American national interests, Obama doesn’t have the instinctive emotional attachment to Israel of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He’s not in love with the idea of Israel as the others were.

If Obama is emotional when it comes to Israel, he's hiding it. Netanyahu obviously thinks he's bloodless. But then again, the U.S. president can be pretty reserved on a number of issues. Obama doesn't feel the need to be loved by the Israelis and perhaps not by American Jews either. Combine that with a guy who's much more comfortable in gray than in black and white, and you have a president who sees Israel's world in much more nuanced terms, which is clearly hard for many Israelis and American Jews to accept. In Obama's mind, Israel has legitimate security needs, but it's also the strongest regional power.

As a result, he believes that the Israelis should compromise on the peace process, give nonmilitary pressures against Iran time to work, and recognize that despite the uncertainties of the Arab Spring, now is the time to make peace with the Palestinians.

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that's the point: He probably won't have the chance. If he gets a second term, he'll more than likely be faced with the same mix of Middle East headaches, conflicting priorities, narrow maneuvering room, and the swirl of domestic politics that bedevils him today.

If the U.S. president fails to get an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it will be primarily because the Israelis, the Palestinians, and Barack Obama wouldn't pay the price, not because the pro-Israel community in America got in his way.  

Myth #3: A President Romney is Israel’s Salvation

No American president is. And while there’s no doubt that the personal relationship would improve and the rapport between Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu would be much warmer, there’s no guarantee that the relationship would be tension free or all that different in substance.

On certain issues, Romney would clearly not push the Israelis. In particular, he’d probably give more slack on the issues of settlements and the peace process. But who’s to say – assuming there were legitimate opportunities to be pursued – that a hands-off policy actually serves either Israeli or American interests.

On Iran, Romney would be personally sympathetic to the notion of bombing before accepting an Iranian bomb. But he’d also be a new president who would have to listen to his security, military, and intelligence experts who’ll be much more cautious. Still, regardless of who becomes president, the U.S. will face a big decision later this year, or early next on what to do about the Iranian nuclear program.

Let’s also not kid ourselves here. Republican presidents have generally been much tougher on Israel than the Democrats. Even Ronald Reagan —who was instinctively as pro-Israel as any America president ever was — wrestled with Israeli Prime Minister Begin on Lebanon and the peace process. He actually withheld the delivery of F-16 fighter aircraft over Israel’s decision to extend administrative law to the occupied Golan Heights. Nixon threatened sanctions too and Bush 41 denied Israel loan guarantees because of settlements.

The fact is, with the exception of the peace process that isn’t right now, Romney’s policies toward Israel would be much more rhetorically supportive but not that much different than Obama’s. The tone of the relationship would change — more warmth and good cheer — but I would bet that within a year Netanyahu would find some way to begin to annoy even his best friend Mitt Romney.

Obama may have wanted to reset the US special relationship with Israel, or at least make it less exclusive. He couldn’t. Romney may want to become the most pro-Israeli American president ever. That’s not going to happen either. Chances are Romney would follow in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps on this one: A combination of strong pro-Israeli sentiments and convictions on Romney’s part will confront regional realities, Israeli willfulness and the need to protect American interests. And in the end, it will be a close relationship with more than a few large potholes and bumps in the road.

Myth #4: The Peace Process is Dead

True, it’s in really bad shape. But it’s not beyond being revived.

What keeps the peace process alive isn’t the American government, the pleading and persuasion of the Jewish community or some idealized desire for peace; instead, its durability lies in reality. Israelis and Palestinians are living on top of one another. The current status quo will come apart at some point. Sadly, there may well be an explosion or some event that changes the calculations of both Israelis and Palestinians. Until such a game-changing development occurs, the parties aren’t likely to be convinced of the urgent need for a settlement.

The Iranian nuclear issue is sucking up every bit of oxygen in the room. And it’s hard to imagine any Israeli government pursuing a conflict ending accord until there’s more certainty on that front. There’s no mystery here. Israelis and Palestinians can achieve an accord if they have leaders who are willing to pay the price, some urgency that impels them to do so, and a mediator that has the trust and confidence of both sides. Trying for an end game solution without these things will almost certainly fail.

Myth #5: Israel is Doomed

If you listen to many American Jews on both the left and right, you get the sense that Israel is all but doomed. Let’s recite Kaddish now and get it over with. On the left, the trope is that Israel will be overrun by Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox; on the right, Israel’s end will be delivered by an Iranian nuke and/or facilitated by American perfidy.

I, for one, certainly don’t want to trivialize the threats and challenges the Israelis face.  The Israelis have major demographic, security and political problems. It’s even possible, without worst casing matters, to worry about the future survival of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

But states just don’t disappear and collapse. The risk in worst-casing the Israel story is that we infantilize the country – assume that it’s a transient entity headed for a disaster and that there are no options to divert the terrible end.

Life just doesn’t work that way.  If I would have told you thirty years ago that Israel’s GDP per capita would be in excess of $21,000 a year; that it has more start-ups per person that anywhere else on the planet; that by 2017 it might be a net exporter of natural gas as result of massive finds in the Mediterranean; and that the peace treaty with Egypt would still be intact after the murder of the man who signed it and the election of a president aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, who would have believed it?

Jews worry for a living; their history impels them to do so. But if you asked me the bottom line, I’d conjure Dickens: it will be both the best and worst of times; Israelis will keep their state, prospering in certain areas, but not in others. And the Arabs will probably never let them completely enjoy it.

Aaron David Miller, an Israel Policy Forum contributing fellow,  is distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  He was an advisor on Arab-Israeli affairs for six Secretaries of State and is the author of the book “The Much Too Promised Land.”

Canada closes embassy in Iran

Canada has closed its embassy in Tehran, listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and expelled all Iranian diplomats from Canada.

“Canada’s position on the regime in Iran is well-known,” John Baird, the country’s foreign minister, told reporters while in Russia for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summit. “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”

He added, “The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime” in Syria and “refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program. It routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide. It is among the world’s worst violators of human rights and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups, requiring the government of Canada to formally list Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Alluding to speculation about an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations, which Tehran refuses to open to international inspectors, he added, “Unequivocally, we have no information about a military strike on Iran.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu applauded the decision.

“The determination which Canada demonstrates is extremely important so that the Iranians understand that they cannot continue in their race to achieve nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a statement, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “This practical step must serve as an example to the international community [as regards to] moral standards and international responsibility.”

American Jewish groups also applauded the move. American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said, “Other democratic countries should follow Canada's laudable example and also break ties with Iran.”

Iran hasn't had a full ambassador in Canada since 2007. That followed a breakdown in relations in the wake of an Iranian-Canadian photographer being tortured and killed in Iran in 2003.

U.S. military official’s secret visit to Israel is revealed

The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James Winnefeld, is in Israel to discuss security and defense issues.

Winnefeld's visit, which was revealed Thursday by Israeli's Army Radio on the last day of the meetings, reportedly was kept secret due to tension between Israel and the United States over the issue of an attack on Iran's nuclear sites.

The visit came days after the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he did not want to be “complicit” in such an Israeli strike.

Winnefeld reportedly is in Israel at the invitation of his counterpart, Brig.-Gen. Yair Naveh. The Israeli Defense Forces did not confirm the visit.

The commander of the 3rd Air Force, U.S. Air Forces Europe, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, is expected to visit Israel next week in order to prepare for next month's Austere Challenge 12, the joint ballistic missiles exercise between the IDF and the U.S. Army.

African migrants remain trapped at border following hearing

A group of African migrants remain trapped at the border with Egypt after Israel's Supreme Court decided to hold another hearing next week on their situation.

The decision to hold a second hearing was made at a court hearing on Thursday. The hearings are in response to a petition filed by the We are Refugees, an Israeli NGO. The petition calls for Israel to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees.

Also Thursday, Israeli police and troops blocked a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights from visiting the trapped migrants.

The 20 African migrants have been trapped for a week between Israel's border fence with Egypt, and Israeli soldiers have been ordered not to let them in.The soldiers reportedly are providing water to the migrants, who include a pregnant woman and a teenage boy. The migrants have refused to be sent back to Egypt.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday evening released a statement saying that Israel is not obligated under international law to allow the migrants to enter, since they do not face persecution in Egypt.

Also Wednesday, the envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, William Tall, called on Israel to allow the refugees to enter Israel and apply for asylum.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants.

Art Modell, ex-owner of NFL’s Browns and Ravens, dies

Art Modell, former owner of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, has died.

The 87-year-old Modell, a pioneer of the National Football League’s partnership with television networks, died Thursday of natural causes at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Modell was well-known for his philanthropic activities and had been a supporter of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He also chaired a $100 million drive to build a cardiovascular tower for the Johns Hopkins Heart Institute. He and his wife, Patricia, donated $3.5 million to renovate the city’s Lyric Opera House, which is now named for its benefactors.

“He really cared and cared deeply whether for Jews, Catholics or the plight of cities,” Marc Terrill, president of the Associated, told JTA. “He simply cared about people, and his actions revealed his admirable character and he’ll be missed.”

Modell grew up in an Orthodox neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1920s and 1930s as the son of an electronics dealer who lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash. With his family destitute, Modell dropped out of high school to work as an electrician’s helper at a New York shipyard, making 45 cents an hour.

After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he returned to New York and rightly identified the nascent television industry as a strong growth market. He eventually moved from TV production to advertising

In 1960, while working at a Madison Avenue advertising agency, the avid sports fan learned that the Cleveland Browns were for sale. Modell, then 35, jumped at the opportunity. He put down $3.93 million for the team and moved to Cleveland.

He was soon negotiating contracts for the NFL with television networks — serving as head of the NFL’s television committee for 31 years — and pushed for the creation of “Monday Night Football.”

In 1996, Modell broke the heart of Browns fans by moving his team to Baltimore and changing its name to the Ravens.

The city of Cleveland went to court to block the move. The case ended with a $12 million settlement from Modell, including the promise that Modell would allow a new team to play in Cleveland with the Browns name and records.

Ironically, the Baltimore Colts had been taken from the city to Indianapolis by owner Robert Irsay in 1984, breaking the hearts of Baltimore fans.

In 1999, due to financial difficulties, Modell sold a minority interest in the Ravens to Steve Biscotti, who eventually bought the controlling interests in 2004.

Patricia Modell died last October at 80.

ADL slams Democrats invoking Holocaust analogies

The Anti-Defamation League decried three recent reported Nazi analogies used in political debate, all by Democrats.

“Earlier today, South Carolina State Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian reportedly evoked Eva Braun when discussing Gov. Nikki Haley's press briefing from a basement studio at the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” the ADL said in a statement Wednesday.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte, N.C., where the Democrats are having their party convention. The Republican Party has set up an opposition publicity operation in the Hall of Fame. 

Harpootlian reportedly said, “She was down in the bunker a la Eva Braun.”

“This analogy to Eva Braun only serves to trivialize the Holocaust and is deeply offensive to Jews and other survivors, as well as those Americans who fought valiantly against the Nazis in World War II,” the ADL said in its statement.

The ADL noted that this week, the chairman of California Democrats compared Republicans to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, and a top Kansas Democrat reportedly did so as well.

“Politicians and their supporters and surrogates should stop invoking Hitler and trivializing the memory of the six million and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust,” the ADL said.

The ADL in the past also has singled out Republicans for using Holocaust and Nazi analogies. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) repeatedly has likened Democrats to Goebbels, inviting ADL outrage on at least three occasions.

Agreement reached on African migrants at Israeli border

Israel said it will allow two female African migrants — one who is pregnant — and a teen to enter the country, and turn over more than a dozen other refugees who have been trapped at its border to Egyptian authorities.

Thursday's decision by the Israel government came hours after the Israeli Supreme Court decided to hold another hearing on the migrants' situation on Sunday. The hearings are in response to a petition filed by We are Refugees, an Israeli NGO, that calls on Israel to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees.

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office called the decision a humanitarian solution to the problem of the 20 African migrants who have been trapped for a week between Israel's border fence with Egypt, The Jersusalem Post reported.

Later Thursday, an Israeli official told the French news agency AFP that the agreement was reached between military commanders from both Israel and Egypt, along with the migrants, who had refused to be sent back to Egypt.

Israeli soldiers have been ordered not to let in the refugees but reportedly have provided them with water.

“It is important that everyone understand that Israel is no longer a destination for infiltrators,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Thursday evening after the agreement was announced. “We are determined to stop the flood of infiltrators that has been here. We built this fence and it has already lowered the number of infiltrators by 90 percent. We will intensify steps against those who employ illegal infiltrators, and we will continue the effort to return infiltrators to their countries of origin.”

Also Thursday, Israeli police and troops blocked a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights from visiting the trapped migrants.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday evening released a statement saying that Israel is not obligated under international law to allow the migrants to enter, since they do not face persecution in Egypt. Also Wednesday, the envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, William Tall, called on Israel to allow the refugees to enter Israel and apply for asylum.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants.

Putting the brakes on runaway shopping carts

On a recent Friday afternoon, Mariz Mosseri went shopping for groceries, as she does on most Fridays. She trolled the aisles of Elat Market and Glatt Mart, Pico-Robertson’s two largest kosher supermarkets, which sit side-by-side on Pico Boulevard. 

Mosseri bought meat, vegetables, sliced bread and other necessities for Shabbat, and when she finished at the checkout, she pushed her black-metal shopping cart, brimming with plastic bags, out into the street and continued with it down the alley that runs behind the markets, and then turned onto Wooster Street. 

After speaking to this reporter, she headed home with her cartful of goods. Twenty minutes later, the cart was sitting empty in the driveway in front of her apartment. 

“They have a truck, they pick it up,” Mosseri explained. 

These days, Mosseri’s actions are standard practice in the neighborhood. 

But talk to the grocers, who typically spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars each month retrieving carts from around the neighborhood, and also shell out even more to replace dozens that go missing each year, and you’ll learn that they wish they could find a way, perhaps using technology, to keep those same carts from leaving their stores’ premises at all. 

These stores face a problem that larger groceries do not — parking is seriously limited in their lots. So they’ve tolerated the practice of people walking off with the carts — and paid dearly — to accommodate their customers.

In May, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance sponsored by Councilman Tony Cardenas mandating that no new stores will operate the way these stores do. The ordinance requires that all newly built and significantly remodeled stores with six or more shopping carts implement a retention system to keep them on site, and a spokesperson from Cardenas’ office said the city plans to study whether and how to expand the law to include existing stores as well. Such a plan could force the Pico-Robertson markets to change their shopping-cart usage policy. 

For now, however, well-dressed people pushing shopping carts up and down sidewalks, and leaving those carts on the streets, are as common a sight in this densely populated and very Jewish neighborhood as the temporary booths that will pop up on lawns when Sukkot arrives in October. 

The carts get picked up quickly, so what in other neighborhoods might immediately become unwelcome urban blight, in Pico-Robertson is more likely a potential hazard to a parked car’s paint job.

What for regular customers at the four major kosher grocery stores in Pico-Robertson is a welcome convenience is, for the owners, one more cost of doing business. New shopping carts go for about $100 apiece, and the owners know what the current “release and retrieve” system is costing them. 

“This is the biggest problem we have in the store,” said Kevin Novin, who has managed Elat Market since it opened more than 25 years ago. He estimated that over that time he has spent more than $1 million for carts, and that he spends about $100,000 a year just on cart retrieval. 

The owners of the other supermarkets in the heart of the neighborhood — Glatt Mart, Livonia Glatt Market just a few blocks to the west, and Pico Glatt Mart, which is about a mile away — told much the same story. 

“I’m supposed to have 40 [carts], but every six months, I usually have to purchase 20 more,” said Farzad Kohanzadeh, owner of the 2,300-square-foot Livonia Glatt Market. 

The missing carts often don’t turn up — Kohanzadeh said he once saw an unfamiliar truck come through the neighborhood late at night, picking up carts off the street, never to return. 

But when missing carts do reappear, it can be in very unlikely locations. 

“We have people who call us from the Hollywood Hills, ‘Come and pick up your shopping cart,’ ” Glatt Mart owner Meir Davidpour said. “We had one by Dodger Stadium.”

For now, the “one-way rental” of a store’s shopping cart has proved popular among customers, so much so that all four of the stores have hired an independent contractor to retrieve the carts from around the neighborhood, at a cost of $2 a cart. 

On a Tuesday afternoon, a beat-up truck pulled up to the driveway of Elat Market laden with carts collected from driveways, alleyways and doorways, as well as sidewalks, front lawns and street curbs. The carts sat on the truck’s wide, low flatbed, held in place by a mixture of straps and chains. 

The driver pulled the carts off the back of the truck, one by one. 

“Twelve,” he called out to Mordechai when all the yellow-handled carts were on the pavement. 

Mordechai, who gave only his first name, manages the market’s loading dock (which doubles as rear entrance) on a part-time basis; he made a note on a sheet of paper, and the truck, which also unloaded a couple of Glatt Mart’s red-and-black carts, turned back into the street, away from Glatt Mart, to continue its rounds. 

All the stores’ regulars know about the cart-collecting truck. 

Mermell Nicholas, 93, travels by bus from his apartment in Beverly Hills to shop at the kosher markets twice a week. On a Tuesday afternoon, he was sitting on a bench near a bus stop at the intersection of Pico and Robertson. Next to him was a Glatt Mart cart with a few bags inside. 

He said he’d seen the cart-collecting truck the previous week, and said that watching the workers lift the heavy steel carts onto the truck’s flatbed was “amazing.” 

“You push it down, the back wheels, and the front end flies up,” Nicholas said. 

Of course, not everybody likes the truck — or the carts it collects. 

“The only time we have peace is Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning. Other than that, you park your car at your own risk,” said Lisbeth Caiaffa, who has lived three doors down from the Elat Market parking lot since 2003. “It’s a war zone during the week.”

Spotting a reporter taking notes, a few neighbors stopped for a moment in front of Caiaffa’s lawn. 

“They’ve hit my car,” a broad-shouldered man wearing a baseball cap said, before continuing down Wooster. “Those trucks are wide.” 

But if the trucks and the carts are an annoyance to some, the biggest complaints from the neighbors relate to parking. Caiaffa expressed frustration at having to compete for street parking with the customers from Elat Market and Glatt Mart. 

Some will even park a cart in the street, “as a strategy to block off a parking space,” Caiaffa said. 

She is just as annoyed with customers who idle in their cars in the middle of the street, waiting to make the turn into the Elat or Glatt parking lots. 

“The LAPD needs to come down here and start ticketing people for blocking the street,” said Brooks Thomas, who lives on Wooster. 

Paul Neuman, director of communications for Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the district, said that some neighbors have contacted the office. 

“There have been some constituent calls and comments, but they have lessened a bit as of late,” Neuman said, adding that the markets had increased their staffing of their parking lots recently. 

The new city ordinance doesn’t apply to existing stores — although the city has instructed its planning department to conduct a study on how to apply the requirement to keep carts on grocery properties. And, if that requirement were implemented, it could require the owners of the Pico-Robertson markets to hire additional staff to escort every shopping cart that went out their doors, no matter whether the customer wanted assistance or not. 

The stores already do some of this, to varying degrees. Moreover, in addition to paying the independent cart collector for his services, the groceries’ owners also periodically instruct their staff to pick up any carts left outside in the area immediately surrounding their stores. 

But the other “containment systems” — physical barriers and electronic wheel-locking mechanisms — aren’t options for these grocers. 

For one, all four stores have parking lots that are not immediately adjacent to their buildings, which means customers must cross city-owned or private property — streets and alleys, for example — so erecting a physical barrier to prevent the carts from leaving the stores would also cut off customer access to the parking lot. Furthermore, according to Elat Market’s Novin and Glatt Mart’s Davidpour, the city will not allow the grocery store owners to install the electronic perimeters that are necessary to run a wheel-locking system that would cross those city-owned sidewalks or alleys. 

And as for the truck that currently trolls the streets in Pico-Robertson, that wouldn’t satisfy the new ordinance as written. 

“That’s not a containment system. That’s a retrieval system,” said Tom Rothmann of the Los Angeles City Planning Department. “The point is to not let them go off the site.”

Rothmann said that the future for Pico-Robertson shoppers might look something like other cities, where folding carts — “granny wagons” — are sold at the register “for a nominal fee.” 

“People in New York walk more than half a block with their groceries,” he said. 

“We would love to set up barriers,” Glatt Mart’s Davidpour said. He and his co-owners also own Cambridge Farms, a kosher grocery store in Valley Village, and there they use a wheel-locking system for the store and its adjacent lot, Davidpour said.

“We have about 300 shopping carts and we haven’t lost a single one in the last four years,” Davidpour said.  

According to a leading manufacturer of cart-retention systems, what Los Angeles won’t allow has already been done in other cities in California, including Sacramento, San Francisco and Long Beach. 

“It’s a matter of what the particular design calls for — where the perimeter stopping point is to be placed — and what are the city’s proclivities,” John French, the founder and CEO of Carttronics, said. His San Diego-based company has installed 3,000 cart retention systems in 35 counties. “In the case of L.A., I would think that they would be willing to be accommodating.”

In the meantime, many customers appear to be doing what they can to make sure that the carts don’t go missing. One Friday afternoon, I saw a woman heading toward Pico Glatt Mart pick up a cart on her way to the store and push it down the block, into the store. 

And it turned out that Mermell Nicholas, the 93-year-old on the bench at the neighborhood’s eponymous intersection, wasn’t waiting for the bus that stops on the south side of Pico. He got up, took his bags out of the shopping cart and carried them across the street to the stop for the bus that heads north on Robertson. 

Nicholas explained that pushing the cart across Pico would make it more difficult for the cart to make it back to the store. 

But was it really necessary to take the cart down the block in the first place? 

Nicholas — who was carrying 20 pounds of fruit and vegetables, not to mention eggs, soup mix, and some other items — put it this way.

“Every bit helps.”

Israel steps up recognition of Jewish refugees

Naim Reuven was only 8 when he left Baghdad more than 50 years ago, but he still remembers going with his father to catch fish in the Tigris River.

His dad worked in a laundromat, a middle-class father of six and one of Iraq’s more than 100,000 Jews. Baghdad’s Jewish community suffered a pogrom in 1941, but Reuven, born a year later, has only fond memories of his childhood there — until Israel declared independence in 1948.

“When Israel was established it began, there was hate,” said Reuven, now 70. “We had a neighbor we got along with, and then there was hate.”

He still remembers the fear when grenades were thrown into his family’s synagogue.

In 1951, after three years of increasing animosity and persecution, the Reuvens moved to Israel, where the government placed them in an immigrant absorption camp and gave Reuven’s father agricultural work. Reuven now lives in Tel Aviv’s low-income Hatikvah neighborhood, retired after a career in construction.

More than 800,000 Jews lived in the Arab world at the time of Israel’s founding. Virtually all of them left, fled or were forced out of their homes after Israel’s birth, with more than three-quarters moving to Israel. The once-thriving communities they had established in places such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia shrank and, in some cases, virtually disappeared. In many cases the emigrants were forced to leave behind much of their property.

As part of an effort to have those Jews recognized as refugees and demand compensation for their lost property, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) will be hosting a conference in Jerusalem in mid-September focused on “raising the flag of rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries,” according to WJC Secretary General Dan Diker.

Then, on Sept. 21, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Israeli Foreign Ministry will host a similar conference at United Nations headquarters.

“It’s important that the world accept and recognize that most of them were forcibly exiled and subjected to the worst kind of anti-Semitic assault,” which included Jews being “attacked, assaulted, killed, robbed,” Diker said in an interview. “This issue has been largely ignored by Jewish leaders over the past number of years. They were resettled, so it wasn’t perceived as an acute bleeding.”

In addition to the WJC efforts, the Israeli Knesset is slated to vote soon on a resolution to establish a day commemorating the history of Jews from Arab lands and to found a museum focused on that history. The U.S.-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries also advocates for the refugees’ rights. 

While the campaign for the Jewish refugees ostensibly is aimed at winning some recompense for Jews from Arab countries and their descendants — known in Israel as Mizrahim, Hebrew for Easterners — it’s also part of a political effort to create a Jewish parallel to Palestinian refugee claims from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Advocates want the Jewish refugee issue to serve as a counterbalance to the Palestinian refugee issue in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and they want recognition and monetary compensation for Jewish refugees to be a part of any final-status deal.

While no mechanism for such compensation exists now, Diker envisions an international fund that would resolve claims for Jewish and Palestinian refugees. Meir Khaolon, chairman of the World Organization of Libyan Jews, which is collaborating with the WJC in its campaign, says Mizrahi Jews have listings of 80 percent of the property left behind in Arab countries.

“It restores parity to Arab-Israeli diplomacy,” Diker said. “That narrative has become distorted in recognizing and advancing the narrative that the Palestinian Arabs are the sole aggrieved party in this conflict.”

The issue of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is not new, but Diker said it has risen in prominence now because of a parallel effort by Knesset members to celebrate Mizrahi history and culture in Israel. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who is leading the effort and introduced the resolution in the Knesset two months ago to memorialize Mizrahi communities, will speak at the upcoming WJC conference along with other Israeli and international politicians.

“All those Jews wanted to be part of the Jewish rebuilding” of Israel, Ayalon said. “But the fact that they were harassed, that they were killed, that they were robbed of their dignity as human beings is something that has never been recognized.”

Most Mizrahi Jews who moved to Israel did so because they faced persecution in their home countries, according to Maurice Roumani, a professor at Ben-Gurion University and an expert on Libyan Jewry. While Jews had lived under Muslim rule for centuries with restricted rights, their situation became increasingly precarious during the years leading up to Israel’s founding. When Israel declared independence, Jews across the Arab world lost rights and in many cases citizenship, and expulsions followed in the years and decades following 1948. 

“The claim that Jews left on their own is not reflecting the truth of history because the true history shows that Jews could no longer continue living there without having their lives threatened,” Roumani said. “Jews from Arab countries had been living in continuous insecurity for generations. If their lives had not been so insecure, few of them would have left.”

Reuven said he does not see himself as a refugee from Iraq.

“I’m Israeli for everything,” he said.

Clara Yona Meshumar, whose parents left Libya for Israel in 1947 and 1950 before marrying, said her family left not under duress but “out of religious faith. They always said, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ ”

“From my parents’ stories it was the fulfillment of the dream,” said Meshumar, who also serves as the academic director of Kedma, an Israeli nonprofit that in part promotes the teaching of Mizrahi history in Israeli schools. “They were not Zionist in the European sense, but they were Zionists. The moment that legal immigration became possible, most people went.”

While the Palestinian refugee community places its refugee status at the center of its identity, Meshumar and other Mizrahi Jews said their families made no formal effort to preserve the memory of their former homes or commemorate their exodus from Middle Eastern countries beyond telling stories or performing Mizrahi Jewish rituals during holidays.

By contrast, Palestinian families retain mementos of their former homes in present-day Israel, such as keys or land deeds, and annually commemorate losing their homes during Israel’s establishment, which they call the Nakba — the “catastrophe.”

Israel and the Palestinian Authority haven’t negotiated directly since 2010, but Diker said that creating parity between refugees could allow the parties to resolve their respective refugee claims separate from negotiations on borders and security.

“You don’t need a final status agreement in order to solve the refugee problem,” he said. “We’re not adding a claim. We’re recognizing a claim.” 

German state of Berlin declares circumcision legal

The state of Berlin declared circumcision legal.

Berlin became the first of Germany's 16 states to declare the practice legal following a Cologne court ruling in June that non-medical circumcisions on children amounted to a criminal offense, according to the German news agency DPA. National legislation is pending to legalize circumcision.

The state of Berlin has authorized only doctors, and not mohels, to perform circumcisions; the national legislation could authorize mohels. The state also required that parents be informed of the procedure’s medical risks before consenting, and that doctors do everything possible during the procedure to reduce pain and limit bleeding.

June’s court ruling has led many doctors to stop performing circumcisions in order to avoid being prosecuted. Two rabbis have had complaints brought against them based on the ruling, though one complaint was dropped last week.

Why did Jerusalem reference disappear from the Democratic Party platform?

Jerusalem has many mysteries, but none may be as perplexing at present as its disappearance from the Democratic Party platform.

Several people involved in the platform’s writing who spoke to JTA said they did not know how it happened.

Republicans launched a full-force offensive Tuesday morning, just hours after the Democrats released their platform Monday night, when they discovered that boilerplate references to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that have appeared in Democratic platforms for decades were no longer there.

“It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, said in a statement. Romney called Jerusalem Israel’s capital during his visit to the city in July.

Mostly lost in the debate over the Democratic platform was that Republicans also altered the language on Jerusalem in their document, removing a specific reference to the city as Israel's “undivided” capital and a promise to move the U.S. Embassy there.

Initial statements from the Democratic National Committee in Charlotte, where the party's convention is being held, suggested that the intention indeed was to bring the platform in compliance with White House policy. The statements noted that it has never been the policy of any president , Republican or Democrat, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The Obama Administration has followed the same policy towards Jerusalem that previous U.S. administrations of both parties have done since 1967,” the statement said. “As the White House said several months ago, the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians — which we also said in the 2008 platform.”

The reference to final-status negotiations did in fact appear in the 2008 platform, but the plank also included a statement saying that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”

So why did it disappear in 2012?

JTA spoke to three people directly involved in shaping the platform, and a number of others who had consulted with the party. The short answer: No one knew.

“There was no discussion on it,” said Robert Wexler, a member of the platform draft committee, and a chief Jewish surrogate for the Obama campaign. “It’s a good question.”

Wexler said that those shaping the platform were not focused on final-status issues, which include Jerusalem. The former Florida congressman said he did not know if there was a directive from the Obama campaign to avoid such issues, but said it was fair to “deduce” that there was.

Instead, said Wexler — the only person involved in shaping the platform who agreed to speak on the record to JTA — the campaign wanted the draft committee to focus on security issues in its Israel section, an area that the platform makes clear is a priority.

“A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, but also because we share common values,” the 2012 platform reads, listing defense assistance, missile defense cooperation and maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. “The President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”

A separate section on Iran breaks new ground by making more explicit than in previous platforms that a military strike is an option to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“President Obama believes that a diplomatic outcome remains the best and most enduring solution,” the platform says. “At the same time, he has also made clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options — including military force — remain on the table.” The 2008 platform refers only to “keeping all options on the table.”

Frustrated Democrats said the Jerusalem flap obscured the enhancements of language guaranteeing Israel’s security.

“We focused the platform on President Obama’s undeniable and unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, and we described the president’s unprecedented record in this regard,” said a statement that the DNC attributed to a spokeswoman. “This is just another attempt by the Romney campaign to turn our support for Israel — which has always been bipartisan — into a partisan wedge issue by playing politics. This is both cynical and counter-productive to Israel’s security.”

Such answers still beg the question of why nine words appearing in the 2008 document — “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” — did not reappear four years later.

Wexler, who insisted that he did not have inside information beyond the broad campaign directive to focus on security, speculated that the omission reflected the difference between a nonincumbent candidate, who has greater flexibility, and a president who has established policies.

“Jerusalem is a final-status issue,” said Wexler, who delivered a fiery pro-Israel speech Tuesday during prime time. “There's nothing about settlements or ‘67 lines or borders in here.”

Obama, after 2 1/2 years of pressing such final-status issues, has instead made Iran his Middle East focus over the past 18 months, in part because tensions between Iran and Israel over Iran's suspected nuclear program have intensified and threaten to erupt into war.

“It's not the issue of the day — there aren’t peace negotiations right now,” Wexler told JTA. “The issue of the day is Israel's security, how will we stop Iran's nuclear program.”

There are traditionally twin exigencies in shaping platforms: Reflecting a presidential agenda and deferring to interest groups. When they clash, the candidate may defer to interest groups whose platform submissions contradict his own, with the knowledge that presidents ignore platforms at little political cost; or the candidate may intervene to head off interest groups, if the inclusion of their claims in the platform poses the risk of reverberating beyond the convention.

Romney exercised both options in his treatment of this year’s Republican Party platform. He allowed in a pro-life platform plank that opposed abortions with no exemptions for rape and incest while noting that his administration would support such exemptions. Conversely, his surrogates intervened to head off an attempt by Republicans with ties to settler groups to remove references to a two-state, Israel-Palestine solution from the platform.

It’s not clear what role, if any, pro-Israel groups played in the removal of the Jerusalem language from the Democratic Party platform, or if they tried to keep in the language.

A Jewish official speaking on background said that at least three American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials were present during the entire period when the platform was drafted last month in Minneapolis. Other Democratic and Jewish officials confirmed AIPAC’s participation in the process. Wexler said he had consulted with AIPAC officials on parts of the platform but had not discussed Jerusalem with them.

A source close to AIPAC said the group never saw the full platform language, and that AIPAC officials were not in the room when the platform was being drafted. The source noted that AIPAC in its written submissions had made the case for including a reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but also noted that AIPAC regarded the final draft Israel sections of both party platforms as “strong.”

The Anti-Defamation League included language referencing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in its written submission to both platform committees; the American Jewish Committee did not.

Republican language on Jerusalem also shifted between 2008 and 2012. The '08 platform included the following sentences: “We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine,” and “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

A slightly rewritten version of the first sentence appears in the '12 platform, but the second sentence disappeared — an omission notable because Republicans four  yeas ago made much of how Obama the candidate pledged an “undivided” Jerusalem to the AIPAC policy conference and then retreated the next day after pushback from critics.

The Romney campaign referred questions about the GOP platform to the Republican National Committee. RNC officials did not respond to several requests for comment.

Wexler: Obama best bet for Israel’s security

Robert Wexler, a former congressman who is a chief Jewish surrogate for President Obama, told the Democratic National Convention that reelecting Obama was the better choice for a secure Israel.

“Now is the time to support Israel as a thriving, democratic, and secure homeland for the Jewish people by reelecting Barack Obama as president of the United States,” said Wexler, whose appearance Tuesday evening was announced at the last moment.

Wexler, a former Florida congressman who was among the first Jewish lawmakers to endorse Obama in 2007, cited increased U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation and intensified efforts under Obama to isolate Iran and keep it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Democrats have been pushing back against Republican claims that Obama has distanced himself on Israel.

Earlier Tuesday, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, blasted the DNC for not mentioning Israel's claim to Jerusalem in its platform for the first time since 1988.

“It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Romney, who has said he regards Jerusalem as Israel's capital, said in a statement.

No president has recognized Israel's claim to Jerusalem as official U.S. policy, although Congress in 1995 legislated such recognition.

A benediction for the Democratic National Convention

Ribono shel olam, Dear God–

We are grateful that our nation is founded on the highest principles of freedom and resourcefulness and creativity and ever renewed strength.  And we understand that those worthy ideals stand alongside the commitment to compassion, to goodness, our sacred covenant to care for those who are bereaved and bereft, who are frightened, who are hungry, who are bewildered and lost, who seek shelter from the cold.

As Your prophet taught us: shiftu yatom, rivu almanah — defend the orphan and fight on behalf of the widow.

We know that our lamp is lifted not only to illuminate our way but to serve as a beacon to others – that here, this land, is a place where the dreams of a weary world flourish and endure.

Ours is a holy charge: a single moment, a touch, a glance, a word, can change a life; our children look to us with aspirational eyes, with the hope that their world will be kinder, sweeter, smarter, than the one we have known. 

Each of these changes touches us all: for You have taught us that we must count on each other; that our country is strong through community, and that the Children of Israel on the way to that sanctified and cherished land, and ultimately to Your golden, capital city of Jerusalem, did not walk through the wilderness alone.

“Rachmana,” Merciful God, may we be guided by Your wisdom, and so become more understanding of the convictions of others; may our souls be enlarged by empathy and uplifted by leaders and thinkers and teachers who believe in strength of soul and wild, wonderful visions; so together, with Right and Left worshiping the same God, our nation, this strong, blessed nation, filled with spirit and called to noble cause, will become more passionate, more purposeful, more burnished and bright through the warmth of Your embrace and the extraordinary power (Dear God) of Your love.

David Wolpe, Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, delivered this benediction at the conclusion of the second day of the Demorcatic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on September 5, 2012.

Migron evacuation: A look back and a look ahead

The evacuation of all 50 Jewish families in Israel’s Migron outpost was completed on Sunday evening without major incident. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the successful and peaceful evacuation—but vowed that his government would continue to strengthen Jewish communities in the West Bank.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the opening of the new Lod District Court, Netanyahu said, “We are committed to following the rule of law in this country. This is a clear line that I follow, even on sensitive days like these. We honor court orders and we also strengthen the settlements, there is no contradiction between the two. I welcome the fact that the Migron issue, like that of Ulpana before it, ended through dialogue and responsibility and without violence while honoring the court ruling. That is how it needs to be and that is how it will be.”

Israeli police said on Sunday that Jewish residents left Migron quietly for temporary housing in another neighborhood, Givat Hayekev, but eight youths who came to Migron to protest against the eviction were arrested for attacking police. Some 70 Jewish youths ensconced themselves into two buildings at the outpost on Saturday night ahead of the expected evacuation, despite opposition from other residents. Far Right MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) was among those who had to be forcibly removed from the site.

The area has now been declared a closed military zone, and Israeli Defense Ministry staff stayed on site Sunday to pack up the belongings of the residents. Almost all structures at the site—except for those on one lot where the ownership is still being investigated—will be demolished by Sept. 11.

Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now—the group that started the legal challenge against Jewish residents of Migron—welcomed the evacuation and said it “proves that when the police wants to, it can peacefully and quickly evacuate even the largest outpost.”

The next battle in the West Bank is expected to be over the outposts of Amona and Givat Asaf. Israel informed its High Court of Justice that both would be removed by the end of 2012, but the court has not yet presented its final ruling on the matter. The Yesha Council—an umbrella organization of municipal councils in West Bank Jewish communities—therefore believes that the government still has the opportunity to retroactively authorize these outposts, as it did recently with Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim.

The High Court’s ruling last week that Migron residents must leave by Sept. 4 ended a legal saga that dated back to 2006, when the Peace Now movement petitioned the court on behalf of alleged Palestinian landowners who claimed the Jewish community had illegally usurped their property. In August 2011, the court ruled in favor of the Palestinian plaintiffs and ordered the outpost removed by April 2012. Shortly before the deadline elapsed, the residents and government announced a deal to relocate the community, but the court struck it down, saying it would be inappropriate to overturn a final ruling in a case that had been thoroughly litigated. The agreement, which would have allowed the residents to stay for an additional three years, also failed to fully comply with the High Court's decision to remove the homes and left an opening for their future re-occupation by stipulating that the army will get to decide their fate.

In a last-ditch effort, the residents attempted to convince the court that the land had been properly purchased in a recent transaction. In its ruling last week, the court conceded that it could not ascertain the authenticity of the purchase documents, but even if the land had been lawfully obtained, this would not constitute sufficient grounds to overturn the original decision, because the homes were not properly licensed. The court said only one plot in Migron would be spared evacuation, as it may lie on state property.

Netanyahu, who at first wanted to have the Migron evacuation delayed by a few years to placate members of his coalition, said he would comply with the High Court’s ruling while at the same time bolstering the Jewish presence in the West Bank. In Ulpana, June’s orderly evacuation of the roughly 30 families in that community was made possible in large part because of the government’s promise to build hundreds of new housing units in Beit El and other communities in the West Bank.

Migron residents spent their last Shabbat at the outpost over the weekend, holding study sessions and engaging in prayer, alongside special Shabbat meals and related events. “This was a very uplifting Shabbat but also very heart-wrenching,” one resident said on Saturday. “The feeling is that this may be our last Shabbat; it has begun to sink in.”

On Saturday night, residents congregated outside the outpost’s synagogue to discuss what lies ahead.

Binyamin Regional Council head Avi Roeh paid a visit to the community, bringing along with him members of his social service apparatus.

Ahead of the impending evacuation, residents were split over whether to accept the alternative accommodation offered by the Israeli Defense Ministry. There were also diverging opinions on what their conduct should be when the time would come to evacuate, and whether or not they would engage in civil disobedience. However, there was an across-the-board consensus that the residents would not voluntarily leave en masse.

The Israeli Defense Ministry worked around the clock to complete the alternative housing units, consisting of prefabricated homes. All housing units are connected to an electricity grid and have running water and functioning kitchens with gas stoves. The homes were also equipped with air conditioning units. Palestinians who had been hired to prepare the site removed safety hazards, assembling handrails and completing the main road and infrastructure there.

U.S. nears deal for $1 billion in Egypt debt relief, a senior U.S. official says

The Obama administration is close to a deal with Egypt's new government for $1 billion in debt relief, a senior U.S. official said on Monday, as Washington seeks to help Cairo shore up its ailing economy in the aftermath of its pro-democracy uprising.

U.S. diplomats and negotiators for Egypt's new Islamist president Mohamed Mursi – who took office in June after the country's first free elections – were working to finalize an agreement, the official said.

Progress on the aid package, which had languished during Egypt's 18 months of political turmoil, appears to reflect a cautious easing of U.S. suspicions about Mursi and a desire to show economic goodwill to help keep the longstanding U.S.-Egyptian partnership from deteriorating further.

The United States was a close ally of Egypt under ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak and gives $1.3 billion in military aid a year to Egypt plus other assistance.

Obama ultimately called for Mubarak to step down as he faced mass protests in early 2011 but the U.S. president was criticized for taking too long to assert U.S. influence.

Washington, long wary of Islamists, shifted policy last year to open formal contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood, the group behind Mursi's win. Mursi formally resigned from the group after his victory.

Analysts say that one way the United States could influence the direction of policy in Egypt, a nation at the heart of Washington's regional policy since a peace treaty was signed with Israel in 1979, would be through economic support as Cairo tries to stave off a balance of payments and budget crisis.

Obama first pledged economic help for Cairo last year. Obstacles remained to completing the debt relief deal – which is reported to involve a mix of debt payment waivers and complicated “debt swaps” – and it was not immediately clear when an agreement might be announced.

But even as the negotiations proceeded in Cairo, Washington has also signaled its backing for a $4.8 billion loan that Egypt is seeking from the International Monetary Fund and which it hopes to secure by the end of the year to bolster its stricken economy. IMF chief Christine Lagarde visited Cairo last month to discuss the matter.

Egypt's military-appointed interim government had been negotiating a $3.2 billion package before it handed power to Mursi on June 30. Mursi's government then increased the request.

Lagarde said the IMF would look at fiscal, monetary and structural issues, promising that the IMF would be a partner in “an Egyptian journey” of economic reform.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Todd Eastham and Eric Walsh

Berlin police probing second anti-Semitic incident in a week

A second anti-Semitic attack in Berlin within a week has prompted the launch of a state police investigation.

Berlin police said Monday that 13 girls from the Chabad Or Avner primary school were verbally abused with anti-Semitic slogans by four teenage girls fom the neighboring public school before their physical education class was to begin, according to the German news agency dpa. The Jewish school shares the gym with the secular school.

The four alleged attackers, aged 15 and 16, also reportedly photographed the Jewish pupils with their cell phones. Two young men accompanied the attackers.

A teacher tried unsuccessfully to intervene and speak with the teens, but they fled. At least one was wearing a Muslim headscarf, dpa reported.

The incident follows a brutal attack on Berlin Rabbi Daniel Alter, who was beaten by several men after they asked him if he was Jewish. Alter required emergency medical treatment. The attackers also reportedly threatened Alter's 6-year-old daughter.

Reaction was swift from political leaders and the head of the Jewish community in both cases. Following the latest incident Gideon Joffe, the head of the Berlin Jewish community, said that Muslims must confront anti-Semitism within their community.

Some 11,000 Jews officially belong to the Berlin Jewish community, and it is estimated that another 10,000 to 20,000 live in the German capital.

For some Berlin Jews, the incidents are a disturbing reminder of underlying tensions with Arab neighbors.

Ayala Goldmann, who lives in the same neighborhood where Alter was attacked, told JTA that her first reaction was to consider “wearing a silver star of David pendant out of solidarity because I don't agree that Jews should have to hide their identity in public.”

“But then I thought about my 3-year-old son, and the fact that I don't want any trouble with the Arab youth who live in the social housing near the commuter train station. I decided not to follow through on this idea because of [my son]. I just don't want to take any risks.”

Rabbi Josh Spinner of Berlin told JTA that “Taunts and comments from young people of Arab background are regular in the neighborhoods where they live in considerable numbers.” Spinner said he advises his yeshiva students to “exercise caution” in what they wear in certain neighborhoods.

Violent attacks such as on Spinner's friend Alter are “thank God exceedingly rare,” added Spinner, who is executive vice president and CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

The real problem is not “German-ant-Semitism but … Germany's ability to integrate immigrants from Arab countries. In this respect, Germany is in a better situation than much of the rest of Western Europe,” he said. “The problem is the same, but the will to find a response, prompted by the special moral responsibility of Germans to ensure that Jews are treated decently, is far greater than in France or Sweden, for example.”

New internet censorship in Gaza

Many Gazans have long lamented that there’s not much to do in the Gaza Strip. There are no movie theaters, pool halls or bowling alleys — all of which are seen as “un-Islamic.” And it’s not getting any better. In fact, now, curbs are being extended further – to the Internet.

The Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza issued a new law this week that forces Gaza’s ten main internet providers to block all access to any websites with pornographic content.

“This move is aimed at preserving our morals,” Osama Al-Eisawi, Minister of Communication and Information Technology in the Hamas government said in a statement. “Our social fabric needs protection and we are actually protecting Internet users in Gaza.”

Al-Eisawi said that any Internet provider that does not obey the law will be closed down. He explained that the law is an extension of the one passed in 2008, when the filters to block pornography were put in place, but individual users could still choose to lift them. Now, that choice is no longer available.

Hamas officials say the law is being imposed in response to many requests from parents and what he called “other organizations.”

“We don’t aim at oppressing any freedom or censoring any political websites; we will just block the websites that have a pornographic nature,” Dr. Kamal Al-Masri, the Director General of Licensing at the Ministry of Communications said.

“We will stay in coordination with all the Internet providers in Gaza regarding this law. We have systems and technologies that will help us keep tracking those providers. If any provider breaks the law then they will be prosecuted or face a complete shut down,” Al- Masri concluded.

Some in Gaza worried that the ban on pornography is just a first step to total control, arguing that in the future, Hamas could choose to block political websites. But most say the ban will not be effective, in any case. Gazans are considered to be especially Internet-savvy, some believe because it is so difficult for them to leave Gaza to travel abroad (they need permits from either Israel or Egypt to leave Gaza).

“I would like to think of myself and others as grown-up adults who have the freedom of choice over whether to put filters on our Internet connection or not,” Adam Al-Agha, a student sitting in front of a computer screen at an Internet café told The Media Line. “Youth here are very advanced when it comes to technology –we can easily surpass this barrier using certain techniques.”

Other similar moves by the Islamist Hamas movement have failed to gain traction. Hamas first legislated against pornography with a law in 2008, but backed-off when Internet providers and the public protested. Hamas also tried to ban restaurants and coffee shops from selling hookah (water pipes with flavored tobacco that is popular throughout the Middle East), but the government amended the rule, saying men could smoke hookah in public but not women, for whom it is considered to be immodest. In each case, Hamas retracted the ban after protests. However, one rule that has been mostly enforced prohibits men from cutting women’s hair.

In response to the Internet law, though, some critics say Hamas is a strict Islamist movement that is trying to Islamize Gaza. Others consider the moralistic moves by Hamas to be a way of demonstrating its control over Gaza.

Officials from Pal-Tel (Palestinian Telecommunication Company), who preferred to remain anonymous, said the filters blocking pornography will slow down the Internet connection, frustrating many users.

A statement from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology said there have been complaints that even non-pornographic websites were being censored.

“We are happy to receive any complaints,” the statement said. “Some non-pornographic websites were banned or could not open because of the Internet providers, not because of us.”

He said that some internet providers had technical issues after putting the filters on while others were differed over which websites should be blocked.

We are all working on fixing these little issues,” the statement said. “The filter is very new and it's normal to face mishaps at first.”

The statement ended with a warning: “We will soon issue the names of Internet providers who implemented this law and the names of those who broke it. Those who broke it will face legal charges.”

African migrants stuck at Egypt-Israel border

A group of some 20 African migrants is trapped between Israel's border fence with Egypt and Israeli soldiers who have been ordered not to let them in.

The soldiers reportedly are providing water to the migrants, who as of Tuesday had been there for five days. The migrants, who include a pregnant woman, have refused to be sent back to Egypt.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants. 

Humanitarian organizations have called on Israel to allow the migrants to enter and apply for asylum.

Calif. Democratic Party chair rues any offense with Goebbels analogy

John Burton, the chairman of the Democratic Party in California, apologized to those who took offense at his remarks comparing Republican statements to Nazi propaganda.

Following an uproar over the remarks, which were condemned by Democrats and Republicans, Burton issued a statement on Monday.

“To correct press reports of my recent comments about Republican lies, I did not call Republicans Nazis nor would I ever. In fact, I didn't even use the word,” the statement said. “If Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or the Republicans are insulted by my describing their campaign tactic as the big lie — I most humbly apologize to them or anyone who might have been offended by that comment.”

Speaking earlier in the day to a California radio station, Burton had said of Republicans in general and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan more specifically, “They lie, and they don’t care if people think they lie.” He also said, “As long as you lie, Joseph Goebbels, the big lie, you keep repeating it, you know.”

Goebbels was minister of propaganda for the Nazi Party and was a close associate of Adolf Hitler.

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, criticized Burton for his comments.

“John Burton ought to know better than to bring the Nazis and their victims into our current political debates, but apparently the offense such remarks cause to Holocaust survivors and their families are of less concern to him than the prospect of political gain.”

Also condemning Burton was Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, who said, “That obviously doesn't represent the views of the campaign,” adding, “There's no place for that in the political discourse.”

Late last year, U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) also had likened Democrats to Goebbels, noting, “If Joseph Goebbels was around, he'd be very proud of the Democrat Party because they have an incredible propaganda machine.”

A host of Democrats condemned West's remarks at the time.

Jewish families leave Migron outpost

All of the Jewish families living in the West Bank outpost of Migron reportedly have evacuated. 

Families began moving out Sunday morning, as border police went door to door in the outpost handing out eviction notices. Some of the 50 families living on the hilltop reportedly left Saturday night. At least 40 families had vacated by mid-afternoon.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled last week that the outpost must be evacuated by Sept. 4.

The ruling was in response to a petition filed by the families requesting a delay in the eviction until the modular homes being built for the evacuees are completed. They reportedly will not be habitable for several weeks. The families are expected to go to temporary housing in a nearby college dormitory until the modular homes are available.

The outpost's homes must be razed by Sept. 11, with the exception of the homes of  the 17 families who claimed in a petition to the court that they have purchased or repurchased the plots on which their homes are located. That apartment building reportedly will be allowed to stand, empty, until the claim is investigated.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The families reportedly decided that they will leave the outpost peacefully, though some will wait for police to remove them.

But on Sunday morning dozens of young demonstrators came to Migron and took over a building that had already been evacuated, in a show of protest. Police were removing them forcibly by mid-morning Sunday. Some 70 teens living in nearby settlements were forcibly removed from Migron on Sunday, at least four were detained by police.

Graffiti painted by the settlers on their homes included:  “Migron we shall return” and “the eternal people does not fear the long road,” and “Begin = Sinai, Sharon = Gush Katif, Bibi = Migron. Only the Likud can.”

Repaired Sderot-area home takes second hit from Gaza rocket

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel hit a house near Sderot on Friday morning, but no one was injured.

Israel Radio reported the same house had sustained a direct hit in the past.

Friday’s hit caused some damage to the property, according to the report. Rescue forces treated one person for shock.

The area has seen several incoming rockets in the past few days. The Israel Defense Forces struck munitions depots in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to the rocket fire.

Hamas and other terrorist groups have fired more than 450 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel since the beginning of the year, according to the IDF Spokesman’s Office.

Yaalon: Iran doesn’t see a real military threat

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon fears that mixed messages are leading Iran to believe it does not face a real military threat from the outside world.

“We have an exchange of views, including with our friends in the United States, who in our opinion, are in part responsible for this feeling in Iran,” he told Israel’s 100FM radio station Friday, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“There are many cracks in the ring closing tighter on Iran. We criticize this,” he said, also singling out United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for traveling to Tehran this week. Ban attended the Non-Aligned Movement Summit held in Tehran. During his talk there, he criticized Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rejection of the Jewish state’s right to exist as well as his Holocaust denial.

Israel believes that Iran’s nuclear installations—which are not open to international inspection—are developing a nuclear weapons program. Tehran insists that the research is meant for domestic power means. Recent weeks have seen increased speculation as to whether Israel would launch a preemptive attack against Iran’s nuclear installations, which are scattered around the country.

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Toronto rabbi charged for alleged sexual assault after 40 years

A 71-year-old rabbi in Toronto has been charged with indecent assault for allegedly sexually assaulting a student 40 years ago.

Heshi Nussbaum appeared in court on Wednesday to face the charge, the Toronto Sun reported.

Nussbaum allegedly sexually assaulted a 12-year-old boy at a “private religious school” that he taught at and during a summer camp between 1972 and 1975, according to Toronto Police.

There also may be more victims, according to a statement issued by the Toronto Police on Friday.

Kipah-wearing teen wows ‘America’s Got Talent’ semis [VIDEO]

Edon Pinchot, a kipah-wearing Jewish day school student, won cheers from the live audience and the judges in the semifinals of “America’s Got Talent.”

Pinchot, 14, of Skokie, Ill., performed One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” on the popular NBC reality show and received a standing ovation from the live audience. Judge Howie Mandel told Pinchot that he is “the best singer of the competition.”

The teen was among 12 acts performing live Tuesday night. Other semifinalists joining Pinchot, a singer and pianist, included singers, a dancer, a dog ventriloquist, an acrobat, a mind reader and a comedian.

The second set of 12 semifinalists will perform Sept. 4.

[Related: The Jewish Channel interviews Edon Pinchot]

Should enough TV viewers cast their votes for Pinchot, he will advance to the finals and a chance to take home the $1 million prize. He has performed an audition, in the Vegas round and in the quarterfinals to reach the semis. His kipah has made him a focal point for viewers.

Pinchot,  who is Sabbath observant and keeps kosher, is the fourth of five children and has been playing piano since he was 9. His grandmother, Ginger Pinchot of Silver Spring, Md., says Edon is “very athletic. He’s one of the stars of his soccer team, and he’s also a straight A student. He’s just kind of an all-around guy.”

The show’s three judges—Mandel, Sharon Osbourne and Howard Stern—are Jewish.

Pinchot will be starting high school soon at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago.


Australian Jews balk at ‘Breaking the Silence’ abuse reports

Australian Jewish officials lashed out at a group of former Israeli soldiers who reported abuses they witnessed while serving in the Palestinian territories.

The front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers on Monday carried a report on the Aug. 24 release of testimonies by 30 former Israeli soldiers who belong to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that has amassed more than 850 testimonies from soldiers about military abuses in the Palestinian territories over the last decade.

It cited allegations of maltreatment of Palestinian children by the soldiers, including “forcing them to act as human shields in military operations.”

The newspaper reports triggered a scathing response Tuesday from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s president, Dr. Danny Lamm, who described it as “crude propaganda” and challenged the testimonies, which he said were “anonymous, non-specific as to times and places, devoid of critical detail and untested by any kind of cross-questioning.”

“Sadly, many Australians … are being left with the false, indeed ridiculous, impression that the IDF is a serious abuser of children’s rights,” Lamm said.

But Dana Golan, the executive director of Breaking the Silence, fired back Wednesday, accusing Lamm of “insidious allegations against us” and scolding his “armchair Zionism” for “questioning our loyalty and integrity.”

“It is precisely because we have been on the front lines that we understand that the future of our country depends on its moral fortitude no less than on its military might,” she said in a statement co-signed by 15 ex-soldiers.

Lamm was backed by Zionist Federation of Australia President Philip Chester; Labor lawmaker Michael Danby and Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, who said it was “profoundly disappointing” to see Australia’s leading broadsheets “so uncritically repeating the latest rehashed propaganda.”

“Even in the unlikely event that the 15 or so incidents of alleged wrong-doing … in this report were fully confirmed, this would not alter the fact the IDF remains probably the most moral army in the world,” Rubenstein said.

Migron must be evacuated in a week, Israel’s high court rules

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the West Bank outpost of Migron must be evacuated by Sept. 4.

All 50 families must leave the outpost, the court ruled Wednesday in response to a petition filed by the families requesting a delay in the eviction until the modular homes being built for the evacuees are completed. They reportedly will not be habitable for several weeks.

The outpost’s homes must be razed by Sept. 11, with the exception of the 17 families who claimed in a petition to the court that they have purchased or repurchased the plots on which their homes are located.

Those families also had asked the court to allow them to remain in their homes—a request that essentially was denied by Wednesday’s ruling.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill.

John Hagee: Christian pastor with a Zionist message

It’s become a standard part of John Hagee’s stump speech, the story of how the evangelical pastor and founder of the 1.2 million-member Christians United For Israel (CUFI) first got started on the path of Israel advocacy.

It began with a trip to the Holy Land in 1978 — “I went to Israel as a tourist and came back a Zionist,” Hagee told the mostly Christian crowd of more than 1,000 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Aug. 26. And then grew into something bigger with the Israeli airstrike that destroyed the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981.

“Israel has done the world a favor, and they should be complimented, not criticized,” Hagee said, recalling his reaction to the negative media coverage that followed the Israeli preemptive strike.

That was the inspiration for the first “Night to Honor Israel,” held in 1982 in Hagee’s hometown of San Antonio. He founded CUFI in 2006; today the rapidly growing organization stages about 40 “Night to Honor Israel” events every month in cities around the United States.

In some cases, the events amount to infusing a regular midweek religious service at a local church with a pro-Israel agenda. But at the Saban, CUFI staged its first “Night to Honor Israel” to take place in a non-church venue in Los Angeles, precisely at a time when Israel might be poised to, as Hagee would call it, do the world another favor.

Consul General of Israeli in Los Angeles David Siegel also spoke: “Iran today represents the genocidal hunter, they are on the prowl and they are calling for the destruction of my people, day in and day out,” Siegel told the crowd. “And after 20 years of trying to deal with this diplomatically, it is time to say, enough.”

Last month, Hagee told The Journal’s senior political editor Shmuel Rosner that he is not satisfied with the United States’ current regime of sanctions against Iran; from the audience’s applause, it appeared Hagee’s supporters in Los Angeles found his tougher stance — which is more closely aligned with that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s — more to their liking.

What the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — a lobby singularly dedicated to supporting Israel — is to the American Jewish community, CUFI aims to be for American evangelicals. Both pledge to support the policies of any Israeli government in power, regardless of party, and, to that end, CUFI does not take an official position on the two-state solution. In Hagee’s view, any decision about creating a future Palestinian state should be made by Israel alone.

“God is angry with every nation that does anything to divide the land of Israel; that includes the United States of America,” Hagee said.

The pastor’s position is even more uncompromising on the matter of Jerusalem.

“President Obama told the Jewish people in Jerusalem they could not build homes in East Jerusalem,” Hagee said. “The truth is, Barack Obama has absolutely no authority to tell the Jewish people what they can and cannot do.”

When the applause from the crowd died down, Hagee continued. “Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for the past 3,000 years. That’s before Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago.”

Given such comments, it’s hardly surprising to find that Hagee has Republican fans.

“I was amazed and impressed,” Ron Plotkin, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board of directors, said as he left the Saban Theatre. “I had heard some great things about [Pastor Hagee]; he lived up to all the expectations.”

Having Jews in the audience at CUFI events is of the utmost importance to this organization, which has taken pains to try to reassure Jews that they do not seek to convert them to Christianity.

The members of CUFI, inspired by the passage in Genesis in which God tells Abraham “those who bless you will be blessed, those who curse you will be cursed,” appear genuinely to want to stand with Israel and the Jewish people.

To that end, CUFI has set up more than 100 campus chapters at colleges and universities across the country, in an effort to “level the playing field,” Randy Neal, CUFI’s western coordinator, said. All the money collected at Sunday’s event was directed to CUFI’s efforts to reach out to college students and impact the debate over Israel on American campuses.

“If they’re going to put a fake apartheid wall up on the quad, then we’re going to put a faux Western Wall up on the quad,” Neal said. “And instead of putting prayers on the wall, we’re going to put up signs that show the incredible contributions that Israel’s made to the international community.”

Neal mentioned Israeli contributions ranging from “agriculture, technology, communication, medical, environment, energy,” but his reference to the Western Wall is telling, as that location clearly holds pride of place, not just in the Jewish psyche, but for CUFI as well.

Hagee calls the Western Wall one of his favorite places in Israel, and one of the few videos shown at the event that featured views of Israel — it played near the middle of the evening, as ushers walked the aisles with silver plastic buckets in their hands ready to collect donation envelopes — made generous use of shots of the Western Wall.

As a Christian rock band on stage played the theme song from the film “Exodus” (“This land is mine / God gave this land to me”), the screen displayed Jewish men at the wall swaying and praying in prayer shawls. They lifted Sephardic Torahs and shook their lulavs.

The scenes at the wall were, as it turned out, the primary representation of contemporary Israel in the video. Most of the rest of its footage had been pieced together from black-and-white reels that appeared to be at least 50 years old, showing haggard-looking Jews kissing the earth and, immediately after, folk-dancing Israelis, moving at the slightly sped-up pace of old-style newsreels.