What’s a dollar a month worth?

People love the Jewish Journal. They love picking it up, at a shul or deli or cafe or market, and flipping through the stories of the Jewish world. There’s nothing quite like it in Los Angeles — a gathering place where all the voices of our community can be heard.

I can’t tell you how often I hear: “I love the paper. I’m hooked. It’s my weekly read.”

That kind of response gratifies me to no end, because I think good journalism is essential to the Jewish future. Where else would Jews regularly connect to their world and their community if not in a community paper? What other Jewish institution can claim to build as much Jewish connection, every week in print, and every day online — at no cost, and with access to all?

Some of you already know that in addition to my obsession with the Los Angeles Lakers, I’m obsessed with Jewish unity. Not Jewish uniformity, but unity within diversity — the idea of Jews of all colors and denominations coming together and uniting in a spirit of exchange, where we can learn and receive from one another.

I love being at the Shabbat table of a Persian friend and tasting a new cuisine, or seeing Sephardic Jews singing Chasidic nigguns at the Happy Minyan. This is a privilege my ancestors didn’t have. During the centuries that they lived in Morocco, how often did they get to meet Jews of different traditions?

I can walk down Pico Boulevard on a Shabbat afternoon and, in one block, encounter more Jewish diversity than my grandparents experienced in a lifetime. It’s true that sometimes that diversity can get on our nerves. Human beings prefer the familiar. I get that.

But it’s worth appreciating this grand family reunion that is now happening in the Jewish world.

After so many centuries of being mostly in our own bubbles, here we are in this great, amorphous city called Los Angeles, where we can discover each other. Persian Jews learning about Russian Jews, South African Jews learning about Tunisian Jews, Israeli Jews dancing with Latino Jews.

Our wish is that by Thanksgiving 2016, we will have tens of thousands of readers becoming patrons of the community paper they own and love, in whatever amount they’re comfortable with, even a dollar.

This is unity within diversity, and I think it’s a major reason why people so love the Journal. We cover it all. We inspire curiosity. We inspire connection.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. It costs a lot of money to hire reporters, to print and distribute thousands of papers each week, and to stay current on the Web. So, to use our CFO Adam Levine’s favorite question: “Are you sure we can afford all this?

Well, that depends on you — which is why I’m writing this Thanksgiving column.

As many of you know, the Journal is a nonprofit. It is distributed free because we don’t believe in charging for Jewish connection. We’re fortunate that we can cover a lot of our expenses through advertising —  but because advertising hardly covers it all, we’ve always depended on donations to help us continue to serve you.

This year, because we are a community paper that belongs to the community, we want to give everyone a chance to chip in. So, we are asking 100,000 readers and fans to join the Jewish Journal family and help keep us strong with a monthly donation of $1 or more. 

We have about 150,000 readers a week in print in Los Angeles, and another 3 million worldwide each month at jewishjournal.com. If 100,000 of our readers each chip in $1 a month, that will cover our printing costs for the whole year — all 52 issues — and will enable us to continue growing and serving you. If 50,000 readers chip in $2 a month, or 10,000 readers chip in $10 a month, we also reach our goal, and so on.

We call it our “One dollar or more” campaign. Our wish is that by Thanksgiving 2016, we will have tens of thousands of readers giving back to the community paper they own and love, in whatever amount they’re comfortable with, even a dollar.  

To make your tax-deductible donation now, choose the amount below and then click on the “Donate” button below. Or, if you're old school, call Adam Levine at (213) 368-1661, ext. 131.

What will you get in return? The satisfaction of contributing to the Jewish institution  that keeps us all connected — week after week.

I think that’s worth being grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

*Your tax-deductible donation to the Jewish Journal provides high-quality, independent journalism that connects, informs and inspires the community. We can't do it without you!

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Gallup shows split in backing for Israel in Gaza war, with younger Americans unsupportive

A Gallup poll shows that support among Americans for Israel during the Gaza Strip conflict is divided, and is low among younger Americans.

The poll posted on the pollster’s website Thursday showed a statistical dead heat between those who believe Israel’s actions against Hamas are justified, 42 percent, and those who believe they are unjustified, 39 percent. The difference was within the poll’s margin of error of four percentage points.

Reactions to Hamas were lopsided, with 70 percent calling the group’s actions unjustified and just 11 percent describing them as justified.

Older Americans were much likelier to say Israel’s actions were justified: 55 percent of those over 65; 53 percent of those between 50 and 64; 36 percent of those 30-49 and just 25 percent of those 18-29.

There were other dramatic differences in how subgroups measured support for Israel, with 65 percent of Republicans calling Israel’s actions justified and just 31 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Independents saying they were justified; 50 percent of whites said Israel was justified, while just 25 percent of non-whites agreed with that characterization; 51 percent of men agreed and 33 percent of women.

The poll was based on 1,018 phone interviews conducted from July 22-23.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 after an intensification of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. More than 820 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since then, as have 36 Israelis, including 33 troops.

Rabbis join Obama support group

Some 613 American rabbis, ranging across all denominations, have signed up as supporters of Rabbis for Obama, it was announced Tuesday by the Obama for America campaign.

The new figure represents more than twice the number of supporters than when the organization was launched in 2008, said Ira Forman, Jewish Outreach director for the Obama campaign.

California leads the list of states with 116 signatories, or 18.9 percent of the total, followed by New York state with 97 rabbis.

The organization is led by Rabbis Steven Bob and Sam Gordon, both of Illinois, and Burt Visotzky of New York City.

Among the organization’s co-chairs are Los Angeles scholars Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the American Jewish University and Rabbi Richard N. Levy of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The Los Angeles area is represented by 46 signatories.

In his online announcement, Forman said, “The list of rabbis represents a broad group of respected Jewish leaders from all parts of the country. These rabbis mirror the diversity of American Jewry. Their ringing endorsement of President Obama speaks volumes about the president’s deep commitment to the security of the State of Israel and his dedication to a policy agenda that represents the values of the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community.”

Romney would support Israel strike on Iran, senior aide says

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would support an Israeli decision to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, a senior aide said on Sunday.

Romney met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on the second leg of a trip show display his foreign policy credentials in his race to unseat President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election.

Shortly before talks with Netanyahu, Romney’s senior national security aide, Dan Senor, told reporters travelling with the candidate:

“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

The comment seemed to put Romney at odds with Obama’s efforts to press Israel to avoid any preemptive strike before tough Western economic sanctions against Iran run their course.

Senor later expanded on his remarks, saying Romney felt “we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course”.

It was Romney’s “fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so” and “no option should be excluded”, Senor said, adding that “Romney recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it”.

Standing beside Netanyahu at the Israeli leader’s office, Romney said only that Iran’s effort to become a nuclear power “is one which I take with great seriousness”.

The failure of talks between Iran and six world powers to secure a breakthrough in curbing what the West fears is a drive to develop nuclear weapons has raised international concern that Israel may opt for a go-it-alone military strike.

Netanyahu issued his customary call for stronger measures behind the sanctions to curb Iran’s programme, which Israel sees as a threat to its existence. Iran says its project is for peaceful purposes.


“We have to be honest that sanctions have not set back the Tehran program one iota and that a strong military threat coupled with sanctions are needed to have a chance to change the situation,” Netanyahu said.

Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state, has warned it is only a matter of time before Iran’s nuclear programme achieves a “zone of immunity” in which bombs will not be able to effectively strike uranium enrichment facilities buried deep underground.

Though Washington has been pressing Israel not to launch a solo strike on Iran, Obama has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to curb Iran’s nuclear drive.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Sunday that Obama’s national security adviser had briefed Netanyahu on a U.S. contingency plan to attack Iran. A senior Israeli official denied the report. [ID: nL6E8IT0P2].

In an effort that appeared timed to upstage Romney’s visit to Israel, Obama signed a measure on Friday to strengthen U.S.-Israeli military ties and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit Israel later this week.

Romney’s overseas tour got off to a rocky start, when he angered the British by questioning whether London was ready for the Olympics, a statement he was forced to clarify after a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron.

His visit to Israel gives him the opportunity to appeal to both Jewish voters and pro-Israel evangelical voters and contrast himself with Obama, who has a strained relationship with Netanyahu.

Romney has sharply criticised Obama’s handling of Iran as not being tough enough.

According to excepts of a speech Romney was to deliver on Sunday evening, the former Massachusetts governor planned to say that an aggressive approach to Tehran was needed to protect against a threat to the very existence of Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the turbulent Middle East.

“When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve – or worse – will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric,” the text of the speech included.

“Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defences. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way.”

“My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country,” the text said.

After his meeting with Netanyahu, Romney met with President Shimon Peres, opposition head Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He then headed to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most revered site.

Wearing a black Jewish skullcap and surrounded by a determined throng of security personnel who cleared a path for him, Romney carefully navigated his way through hundreds of worshippers, some of whom shouted out cries of support.

Romney ends his trip on Monday with a fundraiser for a crowd of mostly Jewish Americans who live in Israel.

The Romney campaign initially had declared the fundraiser off limits to reporters, but on Sunday said it would allow press coverage after journalists complained the campaign was reneging on a prior agreement to open more of its finance events.

Echoes of Lebanon civil war as Syrian turmoil spreads

Tit-for-tat kidnappings by Syrian rebels and Lebanese Shi’ite gunmen have escalated tensions in Lebanon, where the specter of contagion from Syria’s conflict is alarming the fractured and war-scarred Mediterranean nation.

Despite government efforts to insulate it from turmoil in its once dominating neighbor, Lebanon has seen armed clashes in its two largest cities, and last week authorities said they uncovered a Syrian plot to destabilize the country.

The sight of masked gunmen in Beirut on Wednesday claiming the capture of 20 Syrians, and the kidnapping in broad daylight of a Turkish businessman near the airport, was another dramatic sign of Syria’s crisis spilling over into Lebanon.

While they may not herald an imminent slide towards conflict in Lebanon, the incidents highlight the weak and tenuous authority of Lebanon’s state institutions and point to future instability in the country of four million.

“This will have a negative impact on state authority, the military and the business environment in Lebanon” said Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group consultancy. “The likelihood of civil war right now remains low, but reaching this stage is a very alarming development”.

To the outside world, kidnapping foreigners was a defining feature of Lebanon’s civil war, and the brazen public appearance by the masked gunmen this week – unchallenged by security forces – echoed the chaos of the 1975-1990 conflict.

“This …brings us back to the days of the painful war, a page that Lebanese citizens have been trying to turn,” said Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose policy of ‘dissociation’ from Syria’s conflict next door has come under growing strain.


Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, heads a government in which Shi’ite Muslim militant movement Hezbollah and its Shi’ite and Christian allies – all supporters of Assad – hold half the cabinet seats.

Hezbollah, the only Lebanese armed faction not to disarm after the civil war, is the most powerful fighting force in the country. Its opponents have repeatedly and unsuccessfully called for it to put its mighty arsenal under state control.

Those long-standing sectarian tensions have been re-ignited by the mainly Sunni Muslim revolt in Syria against Hezbollah’s ally President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite community is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. Shi’ite Iran, a rival to Sunni Arab powers like Saudi Arabia, sponsors both Hezbollah and Assad.

Most of Hezbollah’s opponents, including Mikati’s fellow Sunnis, are solidly behind the Syrian rebellion. In Sunni Muslim border areas of northern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, arms have been smuggled to the rebels since the start of the uprising.

Tensions over Syria led to deadly street clashes three months ago in the mainly Sunni northern city of Tripoli, home also to a staunchly pro-Assad Lebanese Alawite minority.

The kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi’ites in northern Syria in May also triggered street protests in Beirut.

Five days ago Lebanese authorities issued an indictment against a top Syrian security official and a former Lebanese minister whom it accused of forming an ‘armed gang’ that planned to detonate bombs to incite sectarian fighting in Lebanon.


Assad’s woes have already emboldened some of his opponents in Lebanon, and Sunni Muslims might seek to press home political advantages against a weakened Hezbollah if he were to fall.

But analysts say that all sides in a potential Lebanese conflict know they have much to lose from all-out confrontation, an awareness which has helped them step back from the brink during several political showdowns in recent years.

Notable among such crises was the assassination in 2005 of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and its aftermath. The still officially unsolved killing of the Sunni billionaire with close ties to Saudi Arabia saw suspicion fall on Hezbollah and Syria.

A major escalation of violence now would be likely to draw in Gulf Arab countries, strong supporters of Lebanon’s Sunnis, against Hezbollah. Israel, which fought an inconclusive war with Hezbollah in 2006, could also get sucked into such a conflict.

Faced with that prospect, Lebanon’s divided political leaders appear keen to avoid escalating friction.

“All the evidence of the last seven or eight years has been that all the parties in Lebanon will do all they can to prevent the country shifting into all-out civil war,” said Beirut-based political commentator Rami Khouri.

Still, this week’s kidnappings by a group apparently beyond the control not only of the state but also the main political leaders on its own side of the divide, serve as a warning that street violence can build a momentum of its own.

“The Lebanese state is not a powerful centralized state,” Khouri said. “You have people outside the control of the state, whether it’s Hezbollah or small groups like these family-based militias that operate in society.

“The worry is that these incidents can escalate and get out of hand. Then you end up with armed conflict in the street.”

Editing by Alastair Macdonald

There’s more than one way to support the Jewish state

In the landscape of American Jewish organizations, The New Israel Fund (NIF) has long occupied a prominent place on the left side of the aisle. Back in 1979, almost three decades before the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street was established, when Peter Beinart was still in elementary school, NIF began supporting Israeli-based non-profits that advanced the Jewish and democratic identity of Israel.

In the years since, NIF has donated more than $200 million to civil- and human-rights organizations in Israel. Its current list of grantees includes groups advocating for women, Palestinian Israelis, Ethiopian-Jewish Israelis, and Reform and Conservative Jewish practice, to name a few. 

The Journal caught up with NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch, formerly the founding executive director of the Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance, to discuss changes he’s seen in Israel, how NIF is advancing its mission in the Jewish state and how he manages to stay optimistic about the future.

Jewish Journal: You lived in Israel in the 1990s; how has the country changed since then?
Daniel Sokatch: I went to Israel in 1994 to go to rabbinical school. I realized pretty quickly that what was exciting to me was less the rabbinate than it was Israel. I dropped out of rabbinical school and stayed in Israel for a year and a half, working and soaking up what was a completely golden age, and went back to the United States in September 1995, just about five weeks before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Today, [Israel is] a very different place in terms of the hopes and aspirations that people there feel are realistic. It’s a very different place in terms of the demography. The situation of the Arab-Israeli sector was quite different than what it is today. Many of the fractures and schisms that are so apparent in today’s Israeli society were less exacerbated then.

JJ: Benjamin Netanyahu, both in his time as finance minister and now as prime minister, seems to have really transformed the country.
DS: Netanyahu led a series of economic shifts that have transformed the country in ways that have resulted in great prosperity for some and — as we saw this summer, when almost half a million people took the streets — massive amounts of discord for many others. But it was a mélange of factors that caused this transformation, and it’s an ongoing transformation.

JJ: Your organization recently launched a new campaign with an ad in The New York Times focusing on extremism and the treatment of women in Israel. It was inspired by one NIF supporter’s trip to Iran, and his concern that there might be parallels between the situation of women in Iran and Israel. Did you worry about that comparison?
DS: The ad doesn’t mention Iran at all. Murray Koppelman — this is a pillar of the New York Jewish community [who traveled to Iran and pledged to match all contributions to NIF for the new campaign, up to $500,000] — wasn’t afraid Israel was turning into Iran. He worried, though, because he saw things that reminded him of developments in Israel that have been unsettling to him in recent years, like the segregation of buses, like the removal of images of women in the public sphere, like the attempted crackdown on human rights or civil rights organizations to do their jobs. These things disturbed him, and he came home and said, ‘I don’t want to see my beloved Israel go down that path.’ That’s what the campaign is about.

JJ: NIF will have a booth at this year’s Celebrate Israel festival in Los Angeles and representatives of the group will be marching in New York’s Celebrate Israel Parade, even as there have been some calls for NIF to be banned, calling the group anti-Israel. What’s it like to be at the center of that contention?
DS: These are charges made either by extremist right-wing organizations who have vowed to — to use their terminology — “delegitimize” any organization or any individual that doesn’t subscribe to their definition of what it means to be pro-Israel. But we don’t have anybody who gets to dictate what it means to be pro-Israel, and I’m deeply gratified by the response of the Jewish establishment of this country — for the most part — in refusing to blacklist organizations like NIF.

JJ: You brought up the Jewish establishment, so I have to ask you about Peter Beinart.
DS: I knew you were going to ask me about Peter Beinart.

JJ: Is there something that you usually say when people ask you about him?
DS: (Laughing) No, but I’ll say this. I think that our community prides itself on being a big tent. And lots of people say things and put forth ideas. If they do it with good intentions and civility and respect for the opinions of others, I think that we’re crazy not to encourage them.

JJ: How do you hold onto your idealism?
DS: One thing I picked up when I was in rabbinical school was the belief that there are two Jerusalems: Yerushalayim shel ma’alah and Yerushalayim shel mata — in the rabbinical tradition, a heavenly aspirational Jerusalem and a real, actual city where people live. One day, I was walking home and I looked up at the sky when I heard the roar of a jet. There was a big airplane, which flew from the east over Jerusalem, circled the city twice, and flew back to the east. This is 1994, when you can’t do that without violating some enemy country’s airspace.

When I got home, I learned it was King Hussein of Jordan in the plane, the flight was to signal the surprise signing of the peace accords between Israel and Jordan, and Rabin had been in the control tower at the airport talking to him. At that moment, I saw the coming together of the heavenly and the actual Jerusalems. I saw what’s possible, I tasted it — we all did. I just don’t think that’s dead or over; I just think it’s a long hard road to get back there.

Poll: Little support in Israel for solo strike on Iran

A wide majority of Israelis either oppose an Israeli strike on Iran or would favor an attack only if it was carried out with U.S. agreement, an opinion poll showed on Thursday.

The survey by the University of Maryland and the Israeli Dahaf Institute was released before talks next week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama on Iran’s nuclear program.

The poll found that 34 percent of the 500 people surveyed believed that Israel should not strike Iran and 42 percent said it should attack only if the United States backed the decision.

Only 19 percent believed Israel should attack even without the support of Washington, which said on Wednesday that diplomacy and increased sanctions to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions have time to work.

Netanyahu and Obama are to meet at the White House on Monday amid U.S. concern that Israel, which has cautioned that time is running out for effective military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, could attack them.

Though both Israel and the United States have not ruled out the use of military force against Iran, U.S. officials have said such action would be premature and could destabilize the Middle East.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, not to build a weapon. Israel, widely believed to be the region’s only atomic power, has said a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence.

Writing by Maayan Lubell

Newt’s bombshell

“The Palestinian people does not exist,” exclaimed the politician. The audacity of the statement shocked me, because it came from the mouth of Zahir Muhsein, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, in a 1977 interview with a Dutch newspaper.

“The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity,” Muhsein continued. “In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.”

When Republican candidate Newt Gingrich made similar remarks last week, calling the Palestinians an “invented people,” it caused a major uproar. Gingrich didn’t go as far as Muhsein — who claimed that the very reason for “inventing” the Palestinians was to wage war on Israel — but Gingrich still dropped the kind of bomb you rarely hear in polite company.

The real question is, so what? So what if the Palestinians are an invented people who keep fudging their narrative to make us believe their cause is as old as God? So what if they keep undermining the Israeli narrative to make us believe that the Jewish connection to the holy land is only as old as the Holocaust?

The point is, don’t we still need to make peace with them?

As my friends on the left argue: “The facts of history are not as important as the reality. The Palestinians are here to stay, and we must deal with this reality.”

For the past 20 years, this reality has been driven by one idea: Israel must reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians, or it will be forced one day to choose between being Jewish or being democratic — an impossible choice.

This scenario has created a virtual obsession with getting an agreement. Infused with pragmatism, peace seekers from the left and the right have generally ignored the importance of history and downplayed “inconvenient truths” such as a chronic inability on the Palestinian side to make peace with a Jewish state.

But pragmatism could get us only so far. The more concessions Israel made for peace, the further it got from an agreement. And the further it got from an agreement, the more pressure it got to make more concessions.

So, what went wrong?

In terms of the dynamics of negotiations, here’s my theory: When you allow the other side to undermine your narrative and to distort their own, you corrode the very process of negotiations. No amount of pragmatism can offset this corrosion.

Just look, for example, at the distorted narrative that Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) were “stolen from the Palestinian people.”

This kills any incentive for the Palestinians to make concessions. Why? Because if you believe something was stolen from you, what is there to negotiate? A thief must return what he stole — no questions asked. And if you’re the thief who must return the land, what “concessions” can you offer that would have any value?

Had Israel and its supporters clearly established the Jewish state’s historical claim to Judea and Samaria, this would have given real value to any Israeli concession regarding that land. Israel would be giving up land for the sake of peace, not giving back land because it is stolen.

Similarly, had Israel and its supporters clearly established the historical fact that the movement for a Palestinian state was a modern “invention” that began in earnest after the Israeli capture of Judea and Samaria in 1967 — and that the “Palestinian people” never asked for their “freedom” during the previous 19 years, when they were “occupied” by Jordan — this would have given real value to Israel’s concession of recognizing the very existence and nationalist rights of a Palestinian people.

Also, had Israel and its supporters pushed back against the Palestinian lies that undermine the 3,000-year Jewish connection to the holy land — and shown that they were deeply offended by these lies — they would have laid the foundations for mutual respect and improved the prospects for mutual reconciliation.

Instead, Israel chose to abandon history and focus on security, thus leaving the emotional high ground of historical justice to an enemy who has worked tirelessly to delegitimize the Zionist enterprise.

It’s noble to say, “Let bygones be bygones,” and, “Let’s put history behind us,” but that only works if both sides do it. If your rival uses distorted history as a weapon to undermine you, you must push back and assert your own narrative and your own rights; otherwise, all hope for mutual respect crumbles.

It’s also easy to say, “Each side has its own narrative, and they are equally valid,” but as Shlomo Avineri recently pointed out in Haaretz, it’s important to distinguish between narrative and historical truth. 

When Gingrich had the audacity last week to challenge the Palestinian narrative with historical truth, he got skewered for being out of touch with reality. But what reality are we talking about? The reality of a peace process that is virtually dead and of a Palestinian society that has so little respect for the Jewish connection to the holy land?

You can skewer Gingrich all you want, but as The Journal’s new senior political editor, Shmuel Rosner, acknowledged on his blog, Rosner’s Domain, at least Gingrich got his “facts right.” And facts do matter.

Maybe the most practical thing we can do at this stage of the peace process is begin a debate that will hold all sides accountable for blatant lies and distortions.

If the peace process hasn’t set us free, maybe the truth will.

Sarkozy meets French Jewish leaders over Israel support

French president Nicolas Sarkozy met with leaders of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF to reassure them of his support for Israel.

The meeting comes following reports that Sarkozy called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” during a conversation with President Obama at the G20 conference earlier this month.

Sarkozy “responded to a lot of our concerns,” said Francis Kalifat, CRIF treasurer, who attended the intimate lunch that also included CRIF President Richard Prasquier, and France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppé, among others.

Those concerns include Israel’s security, France’s recent vote in favor of Palestinian UNESCO membership, and also reports of a private conversation between Sarkozy and Barack Obama, in which journalists overheard Sarkozy calling Netanyahu a “liar.”

“The President reaffirmed his friendship and support for the state of Israel from the very beginning of our conversation. He wanted to remind us that throughout his political career, he has had a profound attachment to Israel,” said Kalifat.  Sarkozy also spoke of his “strong, long relationship and friendship with Netanyahu and his family,” and “expressed his firm desire to move beyond the misunderstanding following an off-record conversation.”

Kalifat said Sarkozy gave the group “certain explanations,” for the recent conversation with Obama, in which both leaders didn’t realize they were speaking into microphones that were turned on, allowing several journalists to hear three minutes of the conversation in an adjoining room. But Sarkozy asked that the group do not repeat that explanation. Sarkozy has said his words were taken out of context.

“We told him about our questions and preoccupations, notably concerning France’s UNESCO vote, and we talked about the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership,” said Kalifat, who explained that French Jews were especially worried about the status of Jewish cultural sites on Palestinian territory, which they hope will remain accessible, and “not transformed into mosques.”

The French president, “said in a firm manner, that there was no question France would accept that kind of thing,” said Kalifat.  “They would do everything to block any downplaying of the Jewish presence and characteristic” of cultural sites, such as Rachel’s tomb.

Concerning a Palestinian bid for U.N. membership, Sarkozy said France would only support the idea of a “non-member observer state” status for the territories, but under strict conditions that included Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a return to bilateral negotiations without preconditions, recognition of Israel’s security requirements, and a promise not to submit lawsuits against Israel in international courts.

Polls show strong U.S. support for Israel

Two new polls show a majority of Americans have favorable views of Israel.

A survey by the Anti-Defamation League, which it commissions every two years, found that 49 percent of those polled have greater sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians, a slight increase from the 45 percent figure reported in the previous survey. Only 18 percent favored the Palestinians.

A similar figure was reported in a separate survey commissioned by the pro-Israel media group The Israel Project. That survey found that 60 percent of respondents believed the United States should favor or strongly favor Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. The figure was even higher — 67 percent — among so-called “opinion elite,” a designation based on a respondent’s engagement with foreign policy issues, education and income.

Both surveys were released Nov. 10.

The ADL survey, conducted by Martilla Strategies, polled 1,754 adults in mid-October and has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent. The Israel Project survey was performed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and polled 800 registered voters over four days ending Nov. 2. Its margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.

Obama’s Middle East speech draws ire and support [VIDEO]

In his speech at the State Department on Thursday, President Barack Obama addressed the rapidly changing situation in the Middle East and put forward Israel’s pre-1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations that would yield a future Palestinian state.

Even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set to meet with Obama in Washington on Friday, released a statement disputing most of what Obama said about the Israel-Palestinian situation,  the immediate reaction among American Jewish leaders and Israel-related organizations to the speech was mixed. Groups on the left applauded the president’s outline while hoping for further action. Some right-leaning organizations expressed surprise and disappointment at the president’s promotion of the pre-1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations—even as they praised Obama’s clear opposition to the Palestinian plan to seek a declaration of statehood along those same borders from the United Nations’ General Assembly in September.

The pro-peace advocacy group J Street, which was founded to push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, applauded the president’s speech. “The overall tone and overall framing of the current urgency of the situation we were very, very pleased with,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in an interview.

The plan that Obama outlined would treat the 1967 borders as a basic outline for a Palestinian state, and calls for mutually agreeable land swaps to achieve both security for Israel and a sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state. “That’s exactly the approach that J Street called for in December,” Ben-Ami said.

In an advertisement that appeared in Israeli papers this week, 18 Israeli generals, 5 former ambassadors and many others signed a similarly themed statement. “Recognizing a Palestinian State Based On the 1967 Borders is Vital for Israel’s Existence,” the English version of the ad read. With the help of $65,000 raised from over 1,000 donors, J Street reprinted the ad in the New York Times on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu called the 1967 lines “indefensible,” and many American Jewish organizations echoed Netanyahu’s assessment in their remarks.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, called the plan a return to “1967 Auschwitz Borders,” and took strong issue with Obama’s call for basing negotiations on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, with mutually agreed upon land swaps. Hier called such a possibility, while Hamas shares power in the Palestinian territories, living in a “fantasy world.”

“We have all these diplomats all around the world trying to force Israel into a deal with Hamas, when Hamas this very day and this very week has made clear they will never, ever recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel. So who are we kidding?”

Hier said the Auschwitz reference came from a 1969 statement by Abba Eban, then foreign minister of Israel. Eban told Der Spiegel: “We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. For us, this is a matter of security and of principles. The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz.”

“I don’t like to use the Auschwitz terminology, I don’t like to make that comparison,” Hier said. “I use it here to point out that Israel’s borders have to be defensible.”

Story continues after the jump.

Video courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University, called the Auschwitz reference a “cheap and offensive trivialization.” Berenbaum said he is a good friend of Hier’s and respects him, but emphasized Hier “knows better.”

“The entire modern Jewish history since the Holocaust has been toward the empowerment of the Jewish people. And if we are to perceive even for a moment that we are as disempowered as the Jews were at Auschwitz, we are denying all of our post-1945 Jewish history, and that is an insult to everything the Jewish community has achieved in terms of military, political and economic power,” Berenbaum said.

“Answer one question,” Berenbaum added. “How many tanks did Jews have at Auschwitz? How many planes? Missiles, bombs, troops?”

Bnai B’rith International also issued a statement commending the speech while expressing concern at the President’s reliance on pre-1967 borders, but other Jewish organizations did not share those reservations.

“We support the President’s vision of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement with strong security provisions for Israel, and a non-militarized Palestinian state,” read a statement issued by Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “We appreciate his direct rejection of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and his understanding that the Hamas-Fatah agreement poses major problems for Israel.”

The ADL statement commended Obama’s affirmation of the moral and strategic connections between Israel and the United States, and said the speech was a welcome measure of Obama’s Israel barometer.

“This Administration has come a long way in two years in terms of understanding of the nuances involved in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace and a better understanding of the realities and challenges confronting Israel.” Almost exactly two years ago, Obama made his first speech, in Cairo, on the Middle East, which was seen as an overture to the Muslim world, but enraged many supporters of Israel.

The Israel Project, a pro-Israel education organization which has called the Palestinian plan to unilaterally seek recognition of a state on the 1967 borders in the United Nations’ General Assembly in September “a clear attempt to delegitimize and attack Israel,” found much that was praiseworthy in Obama’s speech.

“He told Palestinians that they should return to negotiations rather than seek empty declarations at the U.N. that will gain them nothing. That is an important marker that the United States will oppose that effort,” Israel Project Senior Director Alan Elsner said.

Elsner also expressed appreciation for Obama’s assessment of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and which recently entered into a unity government with the Fatah faction that controls parts of the West Bank. “President Obama’s recognition that Israel should not be expected to negotiate with an organization dedicated to its destruction was constructive,” Elsner said.

There was disagreement among American Jewish political leaders about whether the president’s speech put the onus for future action on the Israelis or on the Palestinians.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, said that the president’s speech “undermines our special relationship with Israel and weakens our ally’s ability to defend itself.”

“By keeping the burden and thus the spotlight on Israel, the President is only giving the Palestinian Authority more incentive to carry on its unhelpful game of sidestepping negotiations and failing to put an end to terrorism,” Cantor said in an emailed statement. “Creating another Palestinian terror state on Israel’s borders is something that none of us want.”

California Congressman Howard Berman, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, came to the exact opposite conclusion. He said the president’s speech “puts the ball squarely in the Palestinian court.”

“The Palestinians must resolve their Hamas problem once and for all: either jettison Hamas or do the seemingly impossible and change them into a respectable, anti-violence organization that recognizes Israel and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements as the basis for going forward,” Berman said in a statement. “The Palestinians must show they’re serious about peace-making. That means no games at the UN, no partnership with terrorists, no threats to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, and no boycott of negotiations. When the current phase of Palestinian posturing ends, we can begin to address some of the serious issues the President and others have raised.”

For its part, Americans for Peace Now put a statement on it Web site from the group’s President and CEO Debra DeLee welcoming Obama’s “pragmatic” approach to the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. 

“It is indeed incumbent on the Palestinians to provide a credible answer to those who suggest that Israel cannot negotiate peace with a unity government. As we have long argued, any Palestinian government should be judged by its actions and positions, not it composition,” DeLee said.

While many felt the president didn’t say much that was new regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what was significant was that he laid out policies and motivations clearly.

“It’s an important shift in the articulation of American foreign policy, which has rested on the belief that the 1967 border is the basis for a two-state solution, but has not been formally declared in this explicit fashion,” said David Myers, chairman of UCLA’s history department. “At the same time, it must be noted that every serious peace proposal rests on this very proposition, so it is not new in that regard. Moreover, it is not clear whether it will make any difference unless the President makes clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that it’s no longer possible to sit on his hands and do nothing.”

Obama’s speech urged the Israelis and Palestinians to solve territorial and security issues first, even though the “wrenching and emotional” disputes over the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees remained unresolved.

Netanyahu took issue with this, saying that the U.S., under President George W. Bush,  had committed in 2004 to a solution that would “ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel.”

“Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel,” Netanyahu’s statement said, “no territorial concession will bring peace.”

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, said he believes the speech was addressed not toward the Middle East, but toward the Washington establishment that needs to understand “we are working against the clock.”

“His message was that America needs to understand the moment in history that we are all witnessing in the Mideast,” Al-Marayati said, “and unless we catch up with where events are taking the region, we are going to be left out in terms of being of any relevance in the region,” Al-Marayati said. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is “probably going to be one of the last things resolved or addressed vis a vis the Arab Spring,” he continued. “As we see more dictators being toppled, there is going to be more of a desire by the people of the regions to see a resolution to [the conflict with Israel], and the United States and the Israeli government are both going to be faced with difficult decisions.”

The Arab Spring has proven that the power lies with the people, Al-Marayati said, and he believes “the will of the people has been determined—to have change without resorting to political violence. And anyone that continues to use ideological violence as an instrument of change in time will also be irrelevant.”

That is why he believes Hamas will be marginalized “unless they come to grips with reality – a two-state solution,” Al-Marayati said.

Obama’s will speak at the annual AIPAC conference next week, where he is likely reveal more details about how he will back up the policies he articulated Thursday at the State Department.

Argentinian Cabinet head expresses Israel support

The head of the Argentina cabinet expressed support for Israel during a Holocaust Memorial Day program.

Anibal Fernandez, one of the main spokesmen for President Cristina Fernandez, spoke Monday before a crowd of nearly 2,000 at an event in Buenos Aires organized by DAIA, the umbrella organization for Argentinian Jewish institutions.

Fernandez cited the anthem of Jewish partisans from the Vilna ghetto during World War II in expressing his support for Israel and its right to exist.

Obama relays condolences to Netanyahu, pledges support

President Obama conveyed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his condolences over recent terrorist attacks and reaffirmed “unwavering” commitment to Israel’s security.

“President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today to convey his condolences over the terrorist attack in Jerusalem yesterday, which killed one person and wounded many others, and to express his concern about the recent rocket and mortar attacks against Israel from Gaza,” a White House statement said on Thursday. “The President reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

The statement said Netanyahu “appreciated” the call and that the leaders “agreed to remain in close touch on a range of regional security issues.”

Israel has been seeking American reassurances in the wake of a wave of uprisings in the Arab world.

Robert Gates, the defense secretary, on Thursday met with Ehud Barak, his Israeli counterpart, and said advancing peace talks with the Palestinians was more critical than ever because of regional turmoil.

“The Israelis have a very deep strategic interest in getting out in front of the wave of populism that’s sweeping the region,” Reuters quoted a senior U.S. defense official as saying.

Federations to dole out $2.4 million in fire aid

The Jewish Federations of North America said the federation system will distribute $2.4 million to help Israel recover from the Carmel Mountain fire.

JFNA, the umbrella organization of the more than 150 Jewish federations in North America, made the announcement Monday.

The fires last week killed 44 people, scorched more than 10,000 acres of forest and burned 100 homes and structures, including much of the Yemin Orde Youth Village.

JFNA, said it will allocate $550,000 to the system’s partners on the ground in Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israel Trauma Coalition. The umbrella group deployed an initial round of $340,000 on Monday for immediate relief efforts.

It is unclear how much of the $2.4 million was raised from individual donors responding to the fire and how much is coming from the reserves of individual federations. The response campaign received an early boost when the JUF-Jewish Federation of Greater Chicago pledged $500,000 of its own money just after the fire broke out two weeks ago.

The initial money will help pay for activities during the wildfires, such as relief for evacuees, respite activities for youth, and trauma relief and professional support. These programs included the Jewish Agency for Israel’s respite day camps for 4,700 children from the Carmel Forest region; and Israel Trauma Coalition’s direct care of bereaved and injured families and first responders.

JFNA has set up a special Carmel Wildfire Allocations Committee that will research program proposals to address mid- and long-term needs created by the fire, such as programs of the JDC, Jewish Agency and the Israel Trauma Coalition, and will announce additional allocations based on those needs in the near future.

Jewish Dems press AIPAC on START

Top Jewish Democratic senators are pressing AIPAC to back the new START arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Four Jewish groups already back Senate ratification of the treaty as a means of cajoling Russia into isolating Iran. Another has suggested that it could prove helpful, and one group opposes it.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee rarely backs such initiatives publicly, but what’s been notable in this case is that it has not taken a position behind the scenes either.

The treaty is “an opportunity to improve relations with Russia, a nation that has provided considerable support for U.S.-led efforts to pressure Iran,” Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote AIPAC director Howard Kohr in a letter Tuesday that was obtained and published by Politico. “Last spring, Russia voted in favor of the U.N. Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Iran. This fall, Russian President Medvedev agreed not to fulfill a previously agreed-upon sale of air defense missiles to Iran.”

Schumer has ambitions of becoming his party’s leader in the Senate; Levin chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The decision by a handful of GOP senators to block START came after the election, in which the Democrats lost the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republicans.

The Obama administration noted that the treaty had been approved in committee, with GOP support, and accused the party of political gamesmanship.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, has blasted the GOP senators for blocking it, saying it undercuts his dealings with his Russian counterparts.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who has led the opposition, says that upon review the treaty lacks sufficient verification mechanisms and would unnecessarily reduce the U.S. profile in Europe.

The White House reportedly has pressured Jewish groups into lobbying for the treaty.

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Council on World Jewry, the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have backed ratification. B’nai B’rith International has said it would be worthwhile if it helps isolate Iran.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs on Monday vigorously opposed it, saying “there is no reason why the United States should be required to sacrifice its own defense capabilities to inspire Russia to a greater degree of diplomatic fortitude. If Russia is indeed concerned with a nuclear-armed Iran to its immediate south, it should need no extra incentive to take the action necessary to stop it.”

President Obama on Tuesday met with Republican senators, and after the meeting a number of the GOP senators said they were shifting toward some support.

Jewish support of Obama is dropping, AJC survey finds

Jewish approval of President Obama is dropping, a new national survey found.

Some 49 percent of U.S. Jews approved of the Obama administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to a just-completed American Jewish Committee survey, and 45 percent disapproved.

An AJC survey conducted in March gave Obama a 55 percent approval rating to 37 percent disapproval.

It was the first time the AJC commissioned two surveys in the same calendar year.

In contrast, the view of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is handling U.S.-Israel relations has improved. Some 62 percent of American Jews approved and 27 percent disapproved, according to the new survey. In March, 57 percent approved and 30 percent disapproved.

Overall approval of Obama’s performance as president dropped to 51 percent, from 57 percent in March. Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in the presidential election two years ago.

American Jewish confidence in Obama’s approach to Iran also has fallen, with 43 percent approving of the administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue compared to 47 percent in March. Some 46 percent disapproved, up from 42 percent. Some 59 percent supported and 35 percent opposed U.S. military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Some 70 percent supported and some 26 opposed Israeli military action.

A series of questions regarding the Arab-Israeli peace process yielded results similar to previous surveys, showing continuity in American Jewish views of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.

Like the March results, the new survey found that 48 percent favored and 45 percent opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Regarding the dismantling of West Bank settlements as part of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, 6 percent said all should be evacuated, while 56 percent said some should and 37 percent said none should be dismantled.

A majority of American Jews, 60 percent, continued to support a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while 35 percent said Israel should compromise on the city’s status in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

American Jews remained nearly unanimous, at 95 percent, in supporting a proposal requiring Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement. In March and in 2009, the figure was 94 percent.

Divided we fall? A once-united Jewish Los Angeles breaks apart again

Last summer, Los Angeles’ Jewish community stood united. As Hezbollah missiles rained on Israel, 10,000 Jews, including members of groups spanning the political spectrum — from the liberal Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) to the conservative StandWithUs — braved a sweltering July sun to rally for Israel, and, in the process, to show their support for one another.

That cohesiveness lasted for a while. In September, major Jewish groups banded together and nearly succeeded in preventing Maher Hathout, founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and an ardent critic of Israel, from receiving a prestigious award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. A month later, a tidal wave of pressure led the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) to deny use of its headquarters to a UTLA committee that wanted to discuss launching an economic boycott of and divestment from Israel.

But the time for harmony may have passed. As memories of the war in Lebanon fade, and with them the palpable fears about Israel’s imminent destruction, old antagonisms have re-emerged, exposing growing fissures within the Jewish community on Israel.

How best to support Israel is the key issue that divides left, right and center.

As just one example, when the left-leaning group Americans for Peace Now recently co-sponsored an event at the Skirball Cultural Center that featured former Israeli and Palestinian soldiers (see story below), who spoke critically of Israel’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the right-leaning group StandWithUs questioned Peace Now’s decision. Similarly, when the PJA launched a new interfaith project with MPAC, a few other Jewish groups accused them of aiding and abetting a radical, anti-Israel organization.

“We haven’t figured out in the Jewish community, given the pressures on us and Israel’s instability, how to find common ground,” said Steven Jacobs, rabbi emeritus at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. “We are doing ourselves a great deal of injustice by making everything black and white.”

The growing schism between politically liberal and conservative Jews has assumed national proportions. In January, the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) featured an essay on its Web site titled Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, written by Alvin H. Rosenfeld. In the piece, Rosenfeld, director of the Institute for Jewish Culture and the Arts at Indiana University, asks whether some Jews are fanning anti-Semitism by questioning Israel’s right to exist. The New York Times, among other publications, has reported on the fallout, including accusations from progressive groups that Rosenfeld’s true purpose is to curb all criticism of Israel.

On a separate front, the Zionist Organization of America, a pro-Israel advocacy group, just failed in an attempt to have the liberal Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ) expelled from the 31-member Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), a 5-year-old outfit committed to improving Israel’s image at universities. The UPZ’s transgression: sponsoring campus appearances by ex-Israeli soldiers who discuss human rights abuses they allegedly committed, or say they saw committed, against Palestinians in the territories. In protest, another ICC member, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) — a policy advocacy organization that defends Jewish rights internationally — might soon quit the ICC.

What it all boils down to is a question of timing versus free speech, even though there is still general agreement that Israel’s future is being threatened on a variety of fronts: Iran is believed to be developing nuclear weapons; Syria and Iran are said to be rearming Hezbollah in violation of U.N. agreements; and a Hamas-led Palestinian government is refusing to renounce violence or recognize Israel.

In addition, former President Jimmy Carter has written a much-publicized book calling Israel’s handling of the Palestinians “apartheid.” Because of all this, many conservative Jews believe that now is not the time for Jewish groups to stridently criticize Israel, said Rabbi David Eliezrie, president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County, an organization comprised of 20 Orthodox rabbis.

“I think that Jewish leaders have to be careful that their words not be used by our enemies,” Eliezrie said, adding that such “failed” liberal initiatives as the Oslo Accords and the disengagement from Gaza have left Israel more vulnerable.

In this highly charged environment, many progressive Jews believe the right has ratcheted up the pressure to marginalize them, said Lila Garrett, host of the KPFK radio news program “Connect the Dots,” who describes herself as a supporter of Israel.

“If you don’t agree with the right wing; if you don’t agree that all Arabs should be driven out of Israel; if you don’t agree with them politically, then they say you don’t support Israel and are not a good Jew,” Garrett said.

Yet many liberal Jews feel “it’s a religious obligation, a spiritual obligation, an ethical obligation and a family obligation to criticize policies that are self-destructive,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the progressive magazine Tikkun, pointing to what he calls Israel’s “addiction to militarism and domination over others.”

The recent disagreement between the L.A.-based StandWithUs and the local branch of Peace Now reflects the widening chasm separating conservative and liberal Jews here. After learning that StandWithUs had used its Web site to label as anti-Israel an event by Combatants for Peace presented by Brit Tzedek v’Shalom — a pro-Israel, pro-peace outfit, and co-sponsored by Peace Now, David Pine, Peace Now’s West Coast regional director, sent an angry e-mail in protest to StandWithUs. In response, StandWithUs initially dropped the anti-Israel designation, the group’s Executive Director Roz Rothstein said. However, StandWithUs later reinstated it after further investigation revealed that Combatants for Peace, in her words, “paint the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] with a broad ugly brush” and try to “demonize Israel.”

Rothstein said StandWithUs was not trying to intimidate Peace Now, but wanted to warn of what the group saw as Combatants for Peace’s true agenda. Pine responded, in a Jan. 26 e-mail to Rothstein, blasting her for brandishing “your version of a ‘Scarlet Letter’ (‘A’ for anti-Israel).” In a subsequent interview, Pine said he thinks StandWithUs has “missed a major point about the importance of discourse and the fact that differing opinions exist but remain pro-Israel.”

In another example of the growing divide between local Jews, criticism has mounted — especially from the right — of a new interfaith initiative that will be unveiled this month by PJA and MPAC, both of which are Los Angeles-based policy advocacy organizations. As envisioned, the new dialogue would train a fresh cadre of young Jewish and Muslim leaders to move beyond stereotypes, forge friendships and work together to tackle some of Los Angeles’ most pressing social issues, such as homelessness. Liberal and moderate Jews and other clergy have lauded the program.

Hillary Clinton touts tough Israel stand as ’08 race begins

In her first address to a Jewish group since announcing her candidacy for president, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to convince doubters that she’ll stand by Israel in times of peril.

Speaking Feb. 1 at a dinner for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Northeast region, the New York Democrat — the early front-runner for her party’s presidential nomination — sought to answer several of the questions Jewish voters will be asking of presidential candidates over the next year and a half.

Clinton, 59, who was tough on Hamas and Hezbollah, said Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear power, and declared her unequivocal support for the Jewish state.

“I have been, I am now and I always will be proud to stand with all of you as a strong supporter of Israel,” the former first lady said. “We believe that Israelis have the right to live in their country without the constant threat of terrorism, war and rocket fire.”

Though it’s too early to predict who will take the Jewish vote in 2008, candidates are expected to woo Jewish voters because of their traditionally strong support for Democrats and their deep pockets as political contributors.

Observers say Clinton has made strides as a vocal supporter of Israel during her six years as a New York senator, even though she still may be a tough sell to those who have not forgiven her embrace and kiss with Suha Arafat at a November 1999 event in Gaza — just after Arafat had accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian babies.

Clinton claimed Arafat’s comments hadn’t been translated correctly, and she became aware of the allegations only after the event.

Still, her supporters say that those who bring up that incident now — after Clinton has consistently supported legislation in support of Israel — are grasping at straws.

Speaking before a crowd of 1,700 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City, Clinton described the “unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States based on shared interests and rooted in strength.”

Israel, she said, is a beacon of democracy in a tyrannical neighborhood, and the threats it faces from Hezbollah and Iran are threats not just to Israel but to the entire Middle East, the United States and the rest of the world.

Clinton berated Iran and the Holocaust denial conference in December, hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, though she didn’t mention Ahmadinejad’s name.

The conference “was beyond the pale of international discourse and acceptable behavior,” Clinton said, calling it an insult to survivors and Allied solders who bore witness to Nazi atrocities. “To deny the Holocaust places Iran’s leadership in the company of the most despicable bigots and historical revisionists.”

She said the conference only added urgency to the need to deal with Iran.
“U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons,” Clinton said. “As I have said for a long time, no option should be taken off the table” in dealing with this threat.

But the United States should first try to engage Iran in dialogue, she said.
“I’m not sure anything positive would come out of it,” Clinton said, but at least such a dialogue would give the United States more information about its adversary, possibly provide some leverage and — if military force ultimately is necessary — show the world that other options had been exhausted first.

In a speech in which she sentimentally recalled several trips to Israel, Clinton also said Hamas and Hezbollah must give up terrorism and accept Israel as a reality. She called on both groups to return three captured Israeli soldiers without condition.

Clinton, who lobbied for the International Red Cross (IRC) to accept Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response organization, said she had sent a letter to IRC President Jacob Kellenberger asking the Red Cross to make sure the captured soldiers are safe and are released. Two are being held in Lebanon and one in Gaza.

Clinton also said she would do “an event” next week in the Senate to highlight the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric that remains part of the Palestinian educational curriculum.

Though AIPAC does not support political candidates, some of the group’s supporters said before the speech that they were curious to hear what Clinton had to say.

“I think she is going to answer a lot of the questions,” Gail Levine, a Clinton supporter from Greenwich, Conn., said as she walked into the banquet hall.

Some, like Jules Spotts, a clinical psychologist from New Canaan, Conn., were not yet sold on Clinton. He said he was skeptical because Clinton had been a supporter of the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1960s.

“That is a long time to go back, but it is a large shift from where she was then to where she is now,” Spotts said before the speech.

It’s much too early to predict how Clinton will fare with Jewish voters in November 2008, said Morris Amitay, a former AIPAC head and co-founder of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

“There hasn’t even been any debate,” he said. “It’s the earliest we have ever had a presidential campaign start. The only thing you can say about the Jewish vote now is that it’s heavily Democratic.”

Still, debate already has begun among political pundits, said Betsy Sheerr, past president of the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, a political action committee that supports congressional candidates who are both pro-Israel and pro-choice.

While Clinton may be leading in polls now, early front-runners often fade and dark horses can gain momentum later in the race. Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign offers a perfect example of a candidate who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the presidency, Sheerr said.

“At this stage of the game, there are a lot of wait-and-see attitudes and there’s going to be no clear preference in the Jewish community for any of the candidates — except, obviously, their pro-Israel credentials will have to be very solid,” Sheerr said. “I think people are looking to see that they can back a winner.”

Regime Change

I’m at a stunning house in Beverly Hills. The hosts are pillars of the Persian Jewish community. The food is incredible. Milky raw almonds and walnuts floating insilver bowls of ice water. Candied kumquats on gilt platters. Fragrant rice pilafs beribboned with dried cherries and pistachios, and uniformed waiters offering hillocks of grilled lamb chops.

But — and this often happens — the sumptuousness of the food is in direct proportion to the grimness of the topics under discussion.

I’m here with 30 or so other guests to meet Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Some hail him as a visionary, and others dismiss him as a thug for his call to demand loyalty oaths of Israeli Arabs and cut loose Arab areas of the country.

But what interests me tonight is not Lieberman’s idea for disenfranchising 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, a Kahane-esque ploy that would spell the end of American support for the Jewish state. As much as Lieberman, in his heavily Russian-accented English, pitches that dystopian idea, his audience — most of them from the Persian Jewish elite — express more concern over what Israel will do about Iran.

For this group, of course, it’s personal.

They share a language and a homeland with the mullah-run regime in Teheran. They understand the threat a nuclear-armed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could pose to Israel, and they are anxious over the fate of some 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

This group wasn’t even that worked up about the Holocaust denial conference Ahmadinejad was sponsoring beginning that very day. Why focus on the man’s minor lunacies when his main one — his quest for nuclear weapons and his vow to destroy Israel — are so much more urgent? What these very elegant, very serious guests want is the bottom line — what can Israel do now? — to counter the Iranian threat.

Lieberman’s answer was not surprising. He spoke of tough sanctions — which no one in the audience seemed to put much faith in — followed by “harsher measures.” It wasn’t hard to guess what the deputy prime minister meant by that. If Israeli leaders haven’t issued an outright call for a military response to Iranian nuclear threat, they’ve sure been hinting hard.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — all have spoken in Los Angeles recently on the need to confront the Iranian threat immediately and forcefully.

But I’m wary.

If the Iraq debacle has taught us anything, it’s to distrust those who promote preemption. The same Israeli and the same Americans who said attacking Iraq was the best option are arguing that now, or soon, is the time to plow our bombs into the bunkers and factories of Iran.

Ahmadinejad has certainly earned the right to be bombed, but is that Israel’s — and America’s — best and only option?

For one, our leaders are perfectly capable of screwing up a military response. If Olmert couldn’t destroy Hezbollah in their Iranian-funded bunkers, how certain is it Israel can destroy Iran’s much more safely guarded nukes? Also, perhaps the Iranian regime is vulnerable in other ways.

“Iran is in a state of upheaval,” the Iranian-born columnist Amil Imani wrote me by e-mail.

“It is prudent that the West does not embark on a trigger-happy policy. The mullahs’ lease on life is just about over. A concerted economic and moral support should be all that is needed for the Iranian people to put an end to the shameful and hate-driven ‘monkey’ and his ilk.”

Imani is a Muslim and an active — and brave, considering the international reach of Iranian agents — opponent of the regime. As much as he hates the mullahs, he doesn’t believe the military option is even necessary at this point. He wants Americans to understand that Ahmadinejad — whom a good portion of the population refers to as “the monkey” — has a less-than-solid grip on power, and the same goes for the mullahs.

But Ahmadinejad can use our saber rattling to rally Iranians around the flag, and extend his otherwise numbered days. Otherwise, their discontent becomes more and more apparent. Local elections throughout Iran on Dec. 16 demonstrated an “overwhelming defeat” for Ahmadinejad and his candidates, Imani said. The winners were a coalition of conservatives and reformers.

Perhaps a better strategy for Americans and Israelis is to do all we can to support Iranian voices of reform and dissent. We’re terrible at that. Seven years ago, on Dec. 9, 1999, thousands of students rallied against the regime. Government troops crushed the spreading protest, killing at least 19 students.

The Disaster of the University Dormitories, as it is known in Iran, received four mentions in major American newspapers, including a small article a week after the fact in the Los Angeles Times. Talk about moral support.

One step we can all take these days is to sign a petition now circulating on the Web calling on incoming U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to hold Iran’s president accountable for inciting genocide under Articles III and IV of the United Nations’ own Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

That’s the least that august body can doAdditionally, both Tel Aviv and Washington can fund television, radio and Internet broadcasts into Iran and offer Iranian dissidents real moral and financial help. Our media can tell stories of these dissidents and track their progress, to enable us not just to gawk at the monkey, but to actually help his opponents.

“Many people have asked me: How long will the present Iranian regime last?” Imani wrote. “No one exactly knows. Who among us expected that when President Reagan said in Berlin, ‘Tear down this wall,’ it would indeed fall within a few years? So, too, it is not possible to tell when change will come to Iran, although it is quite clear that the Iranian people detest the present system and are ready for change.”

Arnold stops at Jewish Home for Aging; Cal GOP says ad campaign worked; North Valley JCC shooting la

One Special Stop on the Campaign Trail

Even when the gubernatorial election was just two days away, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger found time to talk to a large group of senior citizens at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda.

After arriving nearly an hour late, the governor was met with applause and a few cries of “Arnold!” Along with his wife, Maria Shriver, the governor stopped to shake hands on the way to the microphone. Perfectly coiffed and sporting a suit with no tie, the governor seemed relaxed, if rushed, as he told the crowd that he had attended a memorial for the five firefighters killed in the Esperanza fire.Towering over a sea of seated white heads as he spoke, Schwarzenegger recapped his first term in office, talked about the economy and briefly derided the federal government: “They’re all fighting, the Democrats and Republicans, but in Sacramento we all get along now.”

He made a special attempt to bond with his audience as well, reminding them that he was an immigrant to the United States, and that all his successes were due to his move to California. As usual, he found time to mention his past as a Hollywood star, though he refrained from quoting any of his movies. At one point, he did mention Sugar Ray Robinson, a former middleweight boxing champion, as a mentor who gave him $500 at the beginning of his career. Though he talked at length about his own experiences as an immigrant, he never discussed any current immigration issues.

Schwarzenegger also reminded everyone that his first visit outside the country as governor had been to Israel, and that he had attended the pro-Israel rallies, which was met with more applause.

Shriver also spoke, saying that she had been to the Jewish Home on five or six occasions, and that she had brought her children’s schools there on field trips.

The two held a brief Q-and-A session after the 15-minute talk, fielding questions about social security, which the governor said was a matter for the federal government.

As the governor and the first lady exited the room they were besieged by photographers and fans.

The Jewish Home’s residents voiced varying opinions. Tauba Grischkan, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Lithuania shortly after World War II expressed satisfaction with Schwarzenegger.

“I like him,” she said. “He’s a good man.”

Mort Symans, another resident, had some reservations about Schwarzenegger.

“He said some wonderful things, but the only problem is, he is a Republican talking like a Democrat,” Symans noted. “He has a Republican ideology and he’s trying to talk with the mouth of a Democrat.”

— Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer

California Republicans Report Ads Drew New Members

Three hundred new members joined the California Republican Jewish Coalition in September and October, the largest two-month gain in the group’s history, according to Larry Greenfield the group’s director. Membership is now nearly 7,500 members, up from 2,000 just two and a half years ago, Greenfield said.

The membership boost came on the heels of 11 national RJC ads that argued that Democratic support for Israel is weakening. One ad, which ran in The Jewish Journal, suggested that Ned Lamont’s Connecticut primary victory over Sen. Joseph Lieberman reflected a Democratic shift away from the party’s historically strong support of the Jewish state. Another ad spotlighted a number of opinion polls, including one from the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg, which found Republicans more sympathetic toward Israel than Democrats.

The RJC spots have “generated a tremendous response for our organization,” said Greenfield, who, along with RJC California Chair Joel Geiderman, served among Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s statewide re-election campaign co-chairs.

Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and other Democratic leaders have denounced the RJC’s ad campaign for distorting strong Democratic support for the Jewish state and for undermining bipartisanship.

The ads notwithstanding, Welinsky believes that the overwhelmingly majority of Jews have and will continue to vote Democratic, because “the values and convictions of the Democratic Party and American Jews are very much in sync.”— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Suit: Gun Shop Mishandled Shooter

A gun shop did not adequately vet a white supremacist jailed for life after a shooting attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, a lawsuit contends. The family of Joseph Ileto, a Philippine-born postal worker shot dead by Buford Furrow shortly after Furrow’s 1999 attack on the JCC filed a wrongful death suit Thursday against the Loaner Too pawn shop in Seattle.

The family’s lawyer, Mike Withey, contends that the shop failed to require Furrow to fill out a federal form that would have disqualified him from purchasing a pistol because he was a convicted felon who had spent time in a mental institution.

Three children, a receptionist and a teenage counselor were injured in Furrow’s shooting attack on the center. Withey also filed a $15 million claim in August on behalf of families of five children injured or traumatized in the attack against the Washington state corrections authority, which was supervising Burrow at the time.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Two-state solution ASAP only chance for peace

Lebanon held the world’s headlines for much of the summer as Hezbollah and Israel waged sudden, furious battle. On the strength of the internationally brokered cease-fire that
brought a halt to the violence, Israel has now withdrawn the last of its troops and the world is holding its breath, hoping the cease-fire is sustainable.

But in the meantime, the Gaza Strip has continued to fester and collapse, seemingly forgotten. The situation in Gaza has been deplorable since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in August 2005, its population suffering from hunger and growing desperation. Late spring saw further deterioration and an escalation in the violence.

During a June 25 attack on an Israeli army base, two soldiers were killed and Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured.

Since that time, Gazans have been subjected to repeated Israeli attempts to combat terrorism, resulting in enormous loss of life and damage to the area’s infrastructure. Newspaper readers know, for instance, that the war in Lebanon led to the deaths of more than 850 Lebanese and 150 Israelis, combatants and civilians. How many know that since June 25, more than 240 Palestinians, combatants and civilians, have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces?

Meanwhile, Qassam rockets have continued to be launched into southern Israel — far fewer in recent weeks, but still a source of fear and tension for those living within the rockets’ range. Despite an iron-fisted response to the Hamas attack and reports of a possible prisoner exchange, Shalit remains in his captors’ hands.

Most critically, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has gone from awful to far worse. The New York Times reported earlier this month that “it is difficult to exaggerate the economic collapse of Gaza,” and Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, called Gaza “a ticking time bomb.”

Gaza’s economy, health care and social services are near collapse, and there are growing signs of malnutrition. Sixty percent of the population is without electricity, due to Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s only power station.

Border crossings have been open for only a few days over the past several months, leading to drastic shortages in basic human necessities: hospital supplies, essential medicines and food. Seventy-nine percent of households are now subsisting below the poverty line, and the World Bank forecasts that if the current situation persists, 2006 may be the worst year in Palestinian economic history.

As American Jews for whom Israel’s well-being is of paramount importance, we find it impossible to believe that these circumstances will lead to Israel’s security or help bring about a lasting peace. While it is understandable that we focused our attention on Lebanon for many weeks, we now call on the U.S. government and international community to dedicate the resources employed in achieving the Hezbollah-Israel cease-fire to address the looming disaster in Gaza and work toward reviving negotiations for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First and foremost, the United States must work with Israel and the international community to open the border crossings on a regular basis to ensure receipt of desperately needed humanitarian supplies and the establishment of a functioning economy. Indeed, the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, reported early this month that the U.S. Security Coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders that “without the restoration of commercial activity, there will be no security in the area.”

The possible formation of a Palestinian unity government may allow for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority but seeing to it that more Palestinians get enough to eat and can meet their basic medical needs will not be enough.

Ha’aretz columnist Gidon Levy said of Israeli actions: “There is a horror taking place in Gaza, and while it might prevent a few terror attacks in the short run, it is bound to give birth to much more murderous terror.”

The only thing that can bring a final resolution of the conflict, creating economic stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike, as well as the longed-for end to the violence, is a negotiated, two-state solution.

Now that the cease-fire is in place and Israeli troops have left Lebanon, the international community, led by the United States, must turn its attention to Gaza. Continuing to ignore the problem will not make it go away. On the contrary, if the crisis is not addressed soon, Palestinians and Israelis alike will pay dearly as the peace process is further delayed.

Steve Masters and Diane Balser are the chair and co-chair of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s national advocacy committee. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, is a national grass-roots movement more than 35,000 strong that educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Media reporters meet community; Karnit Goldwasser appeals for help

A sold-out crowd of close to 450 men and women attended the Women’s Alliance for Israel Aug. 8 symposium on “Israel and the Media — How Fair the Coverage?” The event at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel included panelists Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project; David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times; Jay Sanderson, president of Jewish Television Network; and Bill Boyarsky, Pulitzer Prize winner, author and Jewish Journal contributing columnist.

For information about Women’s Alliance for Israel please call (310) 281-4711.

A Wife’s Plea

On Sept. 6, the American Jewish Congress (AJ Congress) sponsored an event at Sinai Temple in Westwood featuring Karnit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped Israeli soldier, Ehud Goldwasser. Along with her father, Omri Avni, Goldwasser spoke about the plight of her husband held captive in Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists since July 12.

“I am asking for help from anyone who has the key to show us that Udi is still alive,” Goldwasser said.

Both Goldwasser and Avni urged the audience of nearly 200 to pressure U.S. government officials and the International Red Cross to send on a letter sitting in the Red Cross office in Beirut from Karnit for Ehud. Following Goldwasser’s pleas for financial help to cover the costs of her travels across the United States and the world, Iranian Jewish businessman John Farahi pledged to pay for the expenses for the next six months. Goldwasser and her father have also visited Chicago, Miami, Houston and Washington, D.C., in order to raise awareness about her husband’s captivity (see story page 8).

Gary Ratner, executive director of AJ Congress, said his group would try to get Goldwasser another meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Appointment for Prager

President George Bush recently named radio host and Van Nuys resident Dennis Prager to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The council consists of 55 presidential appointees, in addition to 10 congressional representatives and three ex-officio members from the departments of Education, Interior and State. Prager will complete the remainder of a five-year term that expires in January 2011.

“Dennis Prager’s unique moral voice and dedication to the mission of Holocaust education and remembrance make him an ideal candidate to serve on the council, particularly today as we witness rising global anti-Semitism,” said council chairman Fred S. Zeidman. “I welcome the talent and enthusiasm he brings to the position and congratulate him on joining the council.”

Prager, host of the nationally syndicated “The Dennis Prager Show,” is a speaker, author and film producer. In 2003, Simon and Schuster reissued his work on the history of anti-Semitism, “Why the Jews,” written with co-author Joseph Telushkin. Deeply involved in interfaith dialog efforts, he is a frequent contributor to national publications and regularly offers commentary on many national TV outlets.

For more information, visit “>www.hadassah.org.

An (Israeli-American) Voice in the Wilderness

Jonathan Tasini’s name, in Israel, would be pronounced more like Tazini. It’s related to a command in classical Hebrew that Moses uses with his people: Ha’azinu. That is: You should listen.

And at the very least, Tasini wants voters to get a chance to listen to him. He offers himself up as a new kind of Jewish American anti-war candidate for Congress, the only one who, as this summer’s news about the miseries of Iraq merged with that of the Lebanon blow-up, critically addressed both situations. He’s using his small corner of New York’s political stage to speak about these two wars of vital interest to Jews, even as it goes scarcely noticed that Tasini is the closest any candidate has come to being an Israeli American running for the U.S. Congress.

His full name is Jonathan Yoav Tasini, and he’s challenging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York’s Democratic primary on Sept. 12. He’s asked Clinton to debate him — an event that, following Ned Lamont’s win against Sen. Joe Lieberman, would likely be a national story — but so far she hasn’t accepted. Publications as different as The New York Times and the New York Post recently urged Clinton to engage the 49-year-old Tasini, the articulate former head of the National Writer’s Union, saying that a Tasini-Clinton match-up would give her a chance to clarify her muddled position on Iraq.

On Iraq, Tasini — along with a broad range of progressive positions — favors an immediate pullout. On Lebanon, as recent violence surged, he quickly echoed calls elsewhere for a cease-fire and joined in criticism of Israel’s bombing campaign in civilian areas. Tasini spurred a midsummer ripple of controversy with remarks that included his lament of Israel’s “many acts of brutality and violations of human rights.” He didn’t back down, reminding his critics that his comments did not stray from civil rights reports and charges by Israeli leftists.

Still, many people haven’t heard of Tasini, and the Jewish world has barely taken note. His Italian-sounding name stops even some supporters from realizing he’s Jewish, although he’s clear enough about it on his Web site, TasiniforNewYork.org. The New York media — including the Jewish press — have also not covered him with anywhere near the interest accorded Lamont, who bought his share of outsider glamour for $4 million.

Tasini’s raised about $200,000 so far, compared to Clinton’s $22 million. After a recent boomlet of press, he’s polling at 15 percent of New York Democrats. Few think he’ll win. But his positions on the Middle East distinguish him as part of a new generation of Democratic mavericks who reflect this country’s sense of political crisis over Iraq and a measure of disillusionment about Israel’s conduct in the Lebanon War. One could even call his campaign groundbreaking, given the freshness of his views and the novelty of his biography.

“I absolutely view him as an Israeli American,” said Joel Schalit, managing editor of Tikkun Magazine. “He certainly spent enough time in Israel and he certainly has enough connections there.”

Born in Houston, Tasini has two families: an American one from the marriage of his father, Betsalel Tasini, to a woman who lives now in Los Angeles, and an Israeli side, stemming from his father’s second marriage to a New Yorker who emigrated to Israel in 1968. Tasini, a UCLA graduate, lived with his father and stepmother in Israel for seven years and speaks fluent Hebrew.

I recently talked to Rita Tasini, the candidate’s stepmother, by phone as she sat in her home in Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv, a few days after a Hezbollah missile had fallen in Hadera, not far away.

“He has roots in Israel that are very, very deep,” she said of him. “He was here, not last year, but the year before. He was here for Pesach.”

Tasini, she said, “was left wing at 16. He was always left.”

And his support for a two-state solution for the Palestinians, his objections to the Jewish settlement movement reflected familial views.

“Jonathan’s father was against it,” said his stepmother, “and so was I; none of us believed that they should be living over there.”

Tasini’s late father, a computer scientist, was born in Palestine, and fought in the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state army, and its strike force, the Palmach, his widow told me. He lived for a time in the United States during his American-born son’s early years, then returned to Israel. Rita Tasini described how a teenaged Tasini, having joined his father, volunteered in a hospital, helping wounded Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War.

Yet Tasini told me it was the Vietnam War and the perspective of his father, the independence fighter, that largely shaped his anti-war views. “I remember very specifically watching the news of the Vietnam War and every week they’d have the body counts,” Tasini said, as we talked near his tiny office in New York’s West Village. “This one week, the number of Viet Cong killed were more than Americans and I said, ‘Good,’ and my father said, ‘Why is it good?’ I said, ‘It is better that more of them die than Americans,’ and my father said, ‘It is about much more than that.’ He said that no country wants to be occupied by another country, and liberation movements are very strong. My father was not a deep ideological left-winger, but it was based on his history of having fought against the British.

“Gandhi means a lot to me, Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” he added.
While he said he believes fighting is sometimes necessary, and firmly deplored Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the recent crisis, he questions why, given previous deals Israel made to release Palestinian prisoners for captives, it wasn’t done this time.

The openness of such skepticism may make Tasini seem foolishly bold (or boldly foolish) in the context of a New York political race. But it is of a piece with his controversial past as president of the National Writer’s Union, a time that included taking The New York Times to court to win payment to freelance writers for electronic reuse of their work. He won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But critics say he misapplied his chutzpah this summer in the middle of the fighting in Lebanon. In an interview with the political blog, Room 8, Tasini was asked whether he believed Israel was a terrorist state. He answered: “It is painful to say that, but when you fire missiles from sophisticated aircraft on unarmed civilians in Gaza, those are again, the definition to me of….” He paused, searching for the next words.

“Terrorism is a very heavily laden word. But to me, what the key thing is, what are you doing? Are your actions in violation of the international norms of the Geneva Convention, and so on? And I think it’s sad to say, but it’s clear, yeah.”

While he quickly stated, on his campaign Web site, that did not view Israel as a terrorist state, he held to his critical stance. The Clinton campaign denounced the remarks, and several Jewish organizations fired back. The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), a Jewish Democratic group in Washington, called the remarks “outrageous” and “downright offensive.”

I asked NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman what made the remarks so wrong — beyond the “terrorist” label, which was pushed at Tasini and about which he wavered — given that human rights groups have issued reports saying more or less the same things.(Amnesty International has just issued a report critical of the Israeli bombing of civilians during the Lebanon conflagration.) Forman said the comments were “inappropriate,” and then added: “Inappropriate may not be the most accurate statement. The accurate statement is ‘very much out of the mainstream for the American Jewish community.'”

Forman’s objection — he was one of those who said he could not remember another congressional candidate who had as full an Israeli background as Tasini — goes to the heart of what makes Tasini an interesting new presence.

Said Tikkun’s magazine’s Joel Schalit: “If Israel comes across as being more fallible, dysfunctional and morally-in-trouble than previously perceived, then American Jewish opinion is going to have some kind of crisis. I think it is about time that an Israeli American entered the process. His timing couldn’t be better.”

Tasini has a political example to aim for in Los Angeles.

“I thought he was courageous to be critical of the Israeli actions in Lebanon, given Hillary’s gestures to win out the Jewish vote,” said Marcy Winograd, a Jewish anti-war progressive who took 38 percent of the vote in her recent primary run against Jane Harmon in California’s 36th Congressional District.
Tasini called the West L.A. campaign “the model” for his.

Tasini pointed out that critics of the Zionist Left who live in Israel tend to feel stronger in their right to question policies there than American Jewish critics in this country because their devotion to the survival of the state stands beyond reproach.

“American Jews feel they are living here in comfort and protection,” he said, “and they don’t really know what is going on, and they can’t criticize Israel. I have never had that. I can say what I say with authority, and I say it because I have a stake there.”

But interesting positions alone won’t get him into the same room with Hillary Clinton. At campaign stops recently she has dodged reporters who more and more often ask whether she’ll debate Tasini. She would only tell a CBS reporter, “We’ll see how the campaign develops over the next weeks.”

Of course Moses, with whom Tasini shares a linguistic legacy, sometimes had problems getting people to listen. But even he didn’t face the mighty logic of American incumbency — that you can deny an under-funded opponent a chance to be heard, if you simply don’t respond.

Allan M. Jalon is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Beverly Hills TV Agent Casts Himself in Reality Show: Lebanon War

Most American Jews were upset when the conflict broke out between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon this summer. Many felt frustrated and helpless watching the news from so far away, wondering what they could do about it.
Matt Altman knew what he had to do: He had to get on a plane to Israel to volunteer up north.

The 30-year-old Angeleno was not the only American to volunteer during the war — there were a few emergency missions from synagogues and young professional groups, such as Care for Israel, which organized a weeklong trip of 80 people. But Altman went on his own, and he was also not your typical rabbi or synagogue member on a mission: A television agent at Creative Artists Agency, he just took off, using his vacation time from work, despite protests from family and friends.

“A couple of people said, ‘It’s crazy, don’t do this,’ but I had had enough of people saying they were giving money and not knowing where the money goes, and I thought it was important to go there.”

Go there he did, leaving abruptly on Aug. 6 on an airplane that was practically empty and arriving at an airport that was practically empty — especially of arriving tourists — for a 12-day trip.

“I always told my parents that I would have fought if I were in the Holocaust, I wouldn’t have just stood there,” he said. “For me, this was something that was like the Holocaust of my time, and I had to go.”

Altman is not a child of survivors. He grew up Conservative in Newton, Mass., attended Solomon Schechter Day School, became bar mitzvahed in Israel and, until this trip, had only visited the country two other times with his family.
“I think that any Jew is a survivor,” he said in the impassioned tones he uses when talking about Israel.

“I must write to tell you all what is happening right now in Haifa … it is horrible and Hezbollah MUST BE STOPPED!!!!” Altman said on a blog he wrote from Israel, which originally started as a letter to friends and family and then was posted on The Jewish Journal’s blog site, along with his photos of bombed-out buildings, empty cities and attractions, soldiers and people he met and spoke with in the north.

Looking at Altman in his Beverly Hills regalia — a shimmery silver pinstriped suit and thin azure tie perfectly matched to bring out the subtle stripes, his power hair supergelled and spiky short — it’s hard to believe this is the same scruffy guy that appears in the Israel photos wearing jeans and a T-shirt, which was sometimes filthy from his work.

Altman got down and dirty in the trenches, volunteering at a different place each day of his trip, which was coordinated by Dani Neuman, executive director of the Haifa Foundation.

“He was amazing,” Altman said. “He was able to take me to many different places — I was able to work at hospitals, a food shelter, help make packages for the army and help make packages for children. I was able to see a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to see,” Altman said, including a visit to a city hall meeting in Haifa and a meeting with the city’s mayor, Yona Yahav.

Altman rented a studio apartment in Haifa — paying the rent of a student there who couldn’t afford it because of the war’s economic devastation — from where he could hear the sound of war.

“A lot of the missiles were hitting north of where I was staying; you’d hear boom, boom, boom in the distance,” he said.

Like many people on the missions, Altman toured the sites of the devastation — the shelled, caved-in buildings; the cement walls riddled with ball bearings from the rockets. “The whole cement looked like it was torn off. It was a frightening thing.”

But he wasn’t exactly frightened, at first. He visited with soldiers who hadn’t seen their families for weeks, delivered meals to people in shelters who had evacuated their homes and sat with soldiers and civilians hurt in the conflict.
“There was an old Russian woman who went to the post office and her leg got blown up. She was in the hospital and only spoke Russian — no Hebrew or English — and to me that was the most horrible thing, seeing this woman who was already incredibly poor, how her life had changed. She had her leg [amputated], and yet she was still very sweet. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation,” Altman said.

Before he went, Altman also couldn’t imagine being in a situation of war, and many of his postings read like they were from a naive, earnest foreigner.

“Please tell everyone you know that they must get behind Israel now, as Israel is fighting the worst terrorists in the world, and if Israel doesn’t destroy them, we are about to enter World War III. The news media is INSANE, and the fact that they report anything positive about these murders is asinine! [sic] ….Israel NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT NOW MORE THAN EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Altman is not all ideologue, however. Some of his postings are quite funny, such as one from Aug. 11, when he worked at the Koenig Soldiers Center, where the navy puts together boxes for every soldier.

“On this particular day, I happened to be helping when we received a virtual mountain of men’s dress socks with little cartoon characters on them. I joked with the soldiers that if we ran out of bullets, we could always scare them away with the horrible looking socks,” he wrote.

But his humor is mixed with the realities of war.

“One soldier and I went out to take a break, and he told me about his uncle who was driving home from work last week and was killed by a direct hit on his car. It is so maddening to me, as well as him, that nothing was said on TV.”

Most days didn’t turn out as expected. One day he was at B’nai Zion Medical center thinking he was going to visit with the patients but ended up in the kitchen, preparing food because they were short-staffed.

“After meeting the crew of 15 chefs, the crazy Russian chef took a special liking to me. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Armageddon,’ he was exactly like that crazy Russian cosmonaut, except he didn’t speak a lick of English. He was the clown of the group, and he spoke to me the whole time, knowing I didn’t know what the hell he was saying…. I should have listened to my parents when they told me to study at Hebrew school; it would have been very handy in this situation.”

Handy is not really the word for something that could help you in a life-threatening situation.

Altman couldn’t hear anything over the clang of the pots and pans. So when the Russian chef motioned Altman should follow him upstairs, Altman thought they were going to get food.

“The next thing I knew, we were on the roof, overlooking the entire coastline. Sirens were going off, and while everyone in the building was running to the opposite side, we ran up a stairwell.” Alone on the roof, the chef looked at him and said one Russian word Altman did understand: “Katyusha.”

What Altman saw next changed his life forever: “FOURTEEN rockets were flying in the air…. To say it was scary was an understatement. He had wanted to show them to me, and that’s why we were running. I was paralyzed. My heart was in my throat, and I nearly sh — myself. It was unreal; I watched rockets come at me, not being able to even move.”

Altman could not stop shaking for the next two hours. “Try serving soup while shaking; most of it lands on the ground,” he writes jokingly.

But the sight of the Katyushas was not all that shook him to the bone. So did the barrage of rockets on Haifa on Sunday, Aug. 6, killing three and wounding dozens and hitting near his apartment.

“When the missiles hit six doors down, I thought I was going to die,” Altman recalls. “It was the largest, scariest noise I ever heard.”

On his blog he wrote, “The first few hits sounded like normal … but then think what the loudest firework you can ever imagine sounds like … one hit outside where I am staying. Then another! Then another! It is complete and utter chaos right now! Sirens are going off everywhere!”

“It’s very real. You could die,” he explained later. Altman cut his trip short — which was a good thing, he said, considering the terrorist plot thwarted in Britain the following weekend. He decided he’d be more use talking about his trip than packing more food for soldiers and families. “I had been there; I had experienced it; I could be more helpful telling people what happened there from a first-person view,” he said.

Altman left Israel on Aug. 16, and he plans to speak to groups at friends’ homes and synagogues to discuss what he saw and learned there, and to raise money for the Haifa Foundation.

“I think it’s something that no one understands. The bomb sirens go off, and you have to go into a bomb shelter and get into between two buildings, it’s pretty scary. It’s amazing and frightening to me. I don’t know how I could do that every day. I don’t know how they could go outside — to me it’s a very hard way to live. That’s why we need peace. These people should not have to live like this. Nobody should have to live like this.”

On Sept. 13, Altman will be at the Israel in Crisis Fund’s winetasting fundraiser in Santa Monica.

During his time in Israel, Altman saw the remnants of war, such as these ball bearings that killed Israelis and inflicted damage on homes.

On Sept. 13, from 7:30-10:30 p.m., Israel in Crisis Fund will be holding a wine tasting fundraiser with an auction and live music at Hamilton Galleries, 1431 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. $25 (in advance), $36 (at the door). For more information, contact (310) 963-5674.

GOP Sees Israel as Way to Woo Democratic Jews

For two decades, Nathan Hochman voted exclusively Democratic: Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Clinton, Gore — the 42-year-old former assistant U.S. attorney cast his ballots for them all. To Hochman the Republican Party represented a right-wing amalgam of pro-business, anti-abortion and pro-prayer-in-school interests.

Sept. 11 changed everything. National security and Israel moved to the top of Hochman’s political priorities, and on both counts he felt the Democrats fell short. Hochman felt that the Republicans, by contrast, seemed to see that peace through strength is the only option in this new era. He was also drawn to the fact that the Bush administration has made Israel’s security a “foremost concern” and consistently sent “the message to the world that Israel’s survival is not a debatable question.”

So two years ago, for the 2004 presidential election, Hochman did the once unthinkable: He switched parties and voted for Bush. Since then, he’s been preaching to friends and family about what he considers the Republicans’ big tent and the party’s unshakeable commitment to Israel.

“I’ve opened up people’s eyes to the possibilities of what the Republican Party can represent,” he said. “At the very least, they’re listening to me.”

At a time when Israel faces a dual threat from Hezbollah and Hamas — groups classified by the U.S. Department of State as terrorist organizations — an increasing number of Jews have become more receptive to the Republican Party’s message of blanket support for Israel and its foreign policy. Put off by what they characterize as a string of anti-Israel positions taken in recent years by Democratic Party grandees, they worry that the Democrat’s often anti-Israel progressive wing will continue its ascendancy. And if it does so, many Jewish Democrats might think about quitting the party entirely. At the very least, they have become more amenable to voting for moderate Republicans, according to Joel Kotkin, Irvine Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.

“It’s going to be harder and harder to be on the left and be pro-Israel,” Kotkin said. “I think many Jews are going to have to choose between their leftism and their Judaism.”

At the same time, Democrats argue that they remain among Israel’s staunchest supporters. Former Rep. Mel Levine, for example, is a stalwart Israel partisan: “Democratic support for Israel remains solid and strong,” he insisted. Attempts by the Republicans to suggest otherwise, Levine and others argue, is nothing less than a cynical ploy to peel away Jewish votes. Despite Republicans’ best efforts, Democrats say, the overwhelming majority of Jews will continue to vote Democratic because of the party’s steadfast support for Israel and its commitment to such core Jewish values as justice, equality and opportunity.
Among the faithful is Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“I keep hearing from the RJC [Republican Jewish Coalition], the Republican Party and commentators that this is the election when the Republicans are going to break Jewish ties to the Democratic Party,” he said. “Well, I’m 38 years old, and it hasn’t happened yet. And I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Recent opinion polls suggest, however, that Democratic support for Israel has slipped, a development that Republicans have wasted no time trying to capitalize on. In August, a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 68 percent of Republicans surveyed said they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, compared to just 45 percent of Democrats. Similarly, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, conducted between July 28 and Aug. 1, found that Republicans favored alignment with the Jewish state over neutrality by 64 percent to 29 percent. By contrast, only 39 percent of Democrats supported alignment, while 54 percent favored neutrality.

“I am very worried that the Democratic Party’s pro-Israel stance will continue to show cracks,” said Paul Kujawsky, vice president of the local chapter of Democrats for Israel, “and that the most [Zionistic] committed Jews will continue to flow to the Republican Party.”

Nobody is suggesting a massive defection to the Republican Party by Jewish Democrats. The historical, as well as philosophical, ties that bind Jews to the party of Truman, FDR and JFK run deep, which partly explains why an estimated three out of four Jewish voters are Democrats.

Still, the Republicans have made some inroads. Nationally, President Bush won at least 26 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004, up from 19 percent in 2000, according to the Los Angeles Times. A socially moderate Republican presidential nominee with a strong record on Israel, experts said, could pull in 40 percent to 45 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 and sweep such key swing states as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Closer to home, the California Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has seen its membership more than triple, to 7,000 from just 2,000 in the past 2 1/2 years, RJC California Director Larry Greenfield said.
On the issue of Israel, Republicans now appear to be scoring higher in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Jewish voter, mostly because of perceived Democratic missteps:

  • In a recent interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, former Democratic President Jimmy Carter said Israel launched an “unjustified attack on Lebanon” and that it lacked “any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon.”
  • At a time when Hezbollah rockets sent hundreds of thousands of Jews in northern Israel fleeing into bomb shelters, the local chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America voted to recommend that the United States cut off military aid to Israel.

    “We don’t see how shipping cluster bombs to Israel, which is going to create generational hatred, is going to help peace in the Middle East,” chapter President Marcy Winograd said, adding that her group also voted to condemn Syria and Iran for supplying arms to Hezbollah. Winograd received 37 percent of the vote in her June 6 Democratic primary race against Rep. Jane Harman (D-El Segundo).

  • To most political commentators, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) lost his bid against peace candidate Ned Lamont in the Connecticut senatorial primary “because he came off as an uncritical supporter of Iraq policy, not because of his deep commitment to Israel,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys).

    Nevertheless, many Jews have lamented that an Orthodox Jew and strong Israel supporter succumbed to a political neophyte who received much of his backing from what they see as the far-left, anti-Israel blogger wing of the Democratic Party. That two controversial former Democratic presidential candidates, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, flanked Lamont at his primary election celebration further discomfited many Jews. Jackson, in 1984, referred to New York City as “Hymietown”; Sharpton is alleged to have incited anti-Jewish violence in Crown Heights in the 1990s and to have referred to Chasidic Jews there as “diamond merchants.”

  • In 2003, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) blamed the Jewish community for pushing the United States into Iraq. “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” Moran reportedly told the Greater Reston Interfaith Peace Coalition, according to the Reston Connection newspaper.

“There’s something terrible going on in the Democratic Party,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C.
Sensing an opportunity to make political hay, the RJC in early August launched an ad campaign in more than 20 Jewish newspapers across the country, including the Jewish Journal, portraying the Democrats as soft on defense and Israel.

Below a photo of a glum looking Sen. Lieberman, the text reads: “Right now, Israel needs all the friends it can get. Sadly, the Democratic Party just took away one of Israel’s best friends.”

David Goldenberg, deputy executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington, D.C., believes that by running such spots, the Republicans are attempting to divide the Jewish community. He argued that the Republicans have no other issue that resonates with Jewish voters and, he said, have resorted to distorting the Democrat’s positions.

“As a party, the Republicans are pro-Israel when it is expedient to be pro-Israel,” Goldenberg said.

Yet there has been a long-term and genuinely heartfelt commitment to Israel among the Christian right, rebuts Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum. The single person who most reflects the Republicans’ commitment is George W. Bush, he said.

But the president’s Middle East policies have, in many ways, left Israel more vulnerable than ever, responded several high-ranking Democrats. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) said the U.S. war in Iraq has diminished America’s ability to respond to the “real threat” in the region — Iran, a country alleged to have nuclear ambitions and which has called for the destruction of Israel. An emboldened Iran, Waxman said, now feels “more able to openly use Hezbollah” forces against Israel to fight its proxy war against the United States.

“I think most thoughtful Jewish supporters of Israel are going to realize that it would be better if [Bush] loved us a little bit less, but would do things on behalf of U.S. and Israelis interests that are competent and successful,” Waxman said.

Political consultant Bill Carrick believes that in the final analysis, Democratic officialdom’s strong support of Israel will keep Jews in the party, regardless of Republican predictions to the contrary.

Indeed, in late July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a bipartisan 410-8 vote, a resolution that supported Israel in its confrontation with Hezbollah.

Expressions of confidence notwithstanding, at least one Democrat operative, who requested anonymity, said the party has failed to inspire an acceptable level of support for Israel among its rank-and-file.

“We have to do a better job of explaining to our constituents why the Democratic Party is pro-Israel and why that’s important,” he said.

How YOU Can Help Israel; Electronic Devices

How YOU Can Help Israel

Kids in Los Angeles can send letters to kids in Israel by e-mailing elka1@jdc.org.il. The letters will be printed out and inserted into “care packages” that are beng sent out to families in shelters in Northern Israel. When you send an e-mail, include your name, age and address.

  • In addition to expressing support, you can write about whatever it is that you, as kids, like to talk about.
  • Ask that the children e-mail or mail you back.
  • It is important that spelling and grammar are correct (have an adult or older sibling read it first), otherwise it can be difficult for the Israeli children to understand.

Remember: Tikkun olam comes in all shapes and sizes.

Kein v’ Lo: Electronic Devices

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about personal electronic devices. Are kids spending too much time on iPods, PSPs and cellphones?

The Kein Side:

  • The obesity rate among children is growing because many are sitting down (or standing still), playing games on their PSPs and texting their friends via their phones and not getting enough exercise.
  • A lot of kids listen to their iPods all the time — even in public — and are not learning to how to interact with people. The headphone volume could also cause many of them to have hearing problems.

The Lo Side:

  • Kids are learning to be technologically savvy — skills that are very important for doing homework and will later be used to get good jobs.
  • By texting their friends and talking on cellphones, kids are socializing all the time. Playing games on PSPs keeps minds sharp because players have to constantly think. Some teachers even use iPod podcasts (streaming video or audio) as learning tools for class.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Pages & Picks

Shabbat candles you don’t have to light? A shofar you can drop and it won’t break? A pyramid that you can build without breaking a sweat? Impossible you say! Not so with Joel Stern’s “Jewish Holidays Origami” (Dover Publications, $5.95). In addition to the step-by-step craftmaking, the book includes background on eight holidays — as well as on the objects for that holiday. And because the crafts come in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, younger kids can make a siddur, while the older ones create a Torah scroll. And the best part? No messy glue — although parents might want to check to see that kids’ report cards don’t turn into a paper hamantaschen.

Letters to the Editor

War Is Not the Answer

To the well-meaning Rachel Ben Dor and like-minded people who think war is not the answer (“War Is Not the Answer,” July 21), consider this: On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese raided our naval base at Pearl Harbor.

I remember the date because it was just before my 15th birthday. The response of the United States to this one attack was to make all-out war on the Japanese, destroying their infrastructure (to say the least!). It culminated with dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. Was this an overreaction? Should there have been a cease-fire negotiated between the parties and a diplomatic solution sought (such as the infamous Munich agreement of 1938)? Maybe we could have avoided war by ceding the Philippines to Japan.

Marshall Giller

I couldn’t agree more with Rachel Ben Dor’s “War Is Not the Answer” in your July 21 issue. Israel should no more want to fight fanatical enemies for whom beheading captives and blowing up buses full of children is the highest expression of idealism than the Allies should have fought the equally peaceful Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Rabbi Josh Grater

How ironic that in an issue of your paper where the supporters of Rabbi Jacob Pressman placed a full page response to the ad hominem attack on him by a purported Orthodox Jew, and in which the concepts of lashon hara, bearing false witness and other violations of Jewish law were explained, Rabbi Grater chose to use his Torah Portion to call President Bush a liar and mount a political attack. He already did that in his letter to the editor — but he nonetheless decided that a double hit in a single issue was needed. You have several sections devoted to op-ed type pieces.

The fact that WMD were not located does not mean that Bush knew that at the time we invaded. In fact Colin Powell has made the case clearly that faulty evidence may have been used. That does not a liar make…

At a time when our future as a nation is at stake we need to be loyal and grateful to our friends. And the page devoted to Torah should not be used to advance political agendas. There are several important and inspiring themes in the portion that could have been chosen instead and which would not have been offensive.

Selwyn Gerber

Ed. Note: Rabbi Joshua Grater’s letter was written and received before Hezbollah attacks provoked an Israeli response. We regret the confusion.

Cover Photo

Thank you for the cover picture of the Israeli soldiers praying (July 21). It was your best yet. Even Rob Eshman’s column was positive. I hope the trend will continue.

S. Alpert
North Hollywood

Jewish Republicans

Last week (July 21), the Jewish Republicans sponsored a full-page ad in The Jewish Journal lauding and thanking George Bush for his support of Israel. They ought to be ashamed.

Support for Israel transcends party politics. We all stand together in our efforts to insure that Israel will survive. To reduce our solidarity of opportunistic party politics is sleazy. As they did after Sept. 11, Republicans are taking an issue about which we should stand together and dividing us into camps, politicizing what should be a cause that unifies all of us.

We Americans, Jew and gentile, Republican and Democrat, stand with Israel. Let us not weaken this support by promoting fragmentation.

Dr. Allan Pogrund
Huntington Beach

Ha’Am at UCLA

This past week I came across Julie Gruenbaum-Fax’s article of June 30 and caught mention of her work at Ha’Am, UCLA’s Jewish newsmagazine (“It’s Personal, It’s Family and It’s Me”).

I was saddened, although not entirely surprised to see her refer to the publication as dormant. In May 2003, The Jewish Journal printed an article announcing the return of Ha’Am to print after four years on the Internet alone. Now, three years later, the mission of Ha’Am remains the same, to allow for a Jewish student voice on campus, but dwindling student interest and a decreasing advertising base coupled with budget cuts experienced by UCLA’s student media has made it increasingly difficult to go to print. However, with the continued dedication of a small, but hardworking staff, Ha’Am has kept its place on campus and is certainly not extinct.

Hopefully, a continued following and support of the campus and Los Angeles Jewish communities will help Ha’Am back to its former glory at UCLA.

Moshe Moskovitz

Los Angeles Apartheid

Apartheid is alive and well at Sinai Temple. As a 38-year-old woman, it is unsettling to know that in less than a year I will no longer be welcome at Friday Night Live. The sweet little 23-year-old bouncers manning the door at the “ATID Lounge” are certainly only pawns at the hands of Sinai’s “Leadership” committee. I was surprised that they were not asking for identification cards at the entrance.

Since Rabbi [David] Wolpe and Craig Taubman are certainly over 39, I’m wondering why they are still running the service.

You might answer me by saying that the 20-something women were tired of being “hit on” by 50-year-old men, and action needed to be taken. We have all been approached by those we are not interested in, and dealing with that is part of growing up.

It is horrifying to me that such a policy of exclusion is accepted in the L.A. Jewish community

Separate but equal was abolished by the government, but it apparently is being encouraged in Westwood.

Name held on Request


It is unfortunate that Laura Birnbaum’s friends have had to experience discrimination from a people whose religion they have fallen in love with (“Converts’ Hardships Expose Truth,” July 7) . It is, however, somewhat comforting to know that this is not an attitude that is common across the board and that there are people who are ready to embrace newcomers to our religion with love and encouragement.

Josh Cohen
Los Angeles

Groups Rally to Raise Funds for Israel During Crisis

Jewish organizations throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as supportive Christian groups, are shifting their fundraising efforts into high gear to succor civilians and soldiers in embattled Israel.

As in past Middle East crises, community response has been outstanding, according to organizational spokespersons.

In the lead is The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which expects to raise at least $2 million in emergency funds through intensive phone and e-mail drives, plus pledges gathered at last Sunday’s community rally.

The money is earmarked mainly for seniors, whose centers in northern Israel have been closed in the face of rocket attacks, and to ease the lot of children stuck in bomb shelters for extended periods, said the Federation’s Deborah Dragon.Ellen Rofman, regional executive director for American Friends of Magen David Adom/ARMDI, was trying to figure out how to keep her members involved during the traditionally slow summer months, when the fighting started near the Gaza Strip and then in Israel’s north. Now she is in the midst of a $1 million drive on the West Coast to help build a new first aid station in heavily shelled Sderot and provide medical supplies for Israeli residents of border towns near Lebanon.

At parlor and synagogue gatherings, responses have been enthusiastic, said Rofman, citing one example: “I had been working on one man to give $79,000 to buy an ambulance, without making much headway. But last week, he called me to say that the time had come, and he was mailing a check.”

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the United States has launched Operation Security Blanket, with a goal of $3 million. The funds will be used to send endangered children in northern Israel to summer camps, purchase emergency response vehicles and help build bypass security roads along the Gaza Strip. To meet the national goal, JNF supporters in Los Angeles expect to contribute between $500,000 and $1 million, said Israeli emissary Rami Ganor.

“The response has been incredible,” Ganor said. “People are calling in, asking us, ‘What can we do to help?'”

Within five days, the Western region of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces collected more than $500,000, with a target of up to $2 million, said Miri Nash, executive director.

Funds are being directed mainly toward upgrading rest facilities and canteens for Israeli combat soldiers and for providing entertainment for the troops, said Nash, who is also preparing care packages in her spare time.

Explaining her support for the IDF aid drive, Erika Glazer said, “My home is in Beverly Hills, but my heart is in Israel.”

A group of StandWithUs activists is leaving July 31 for a mission to Israel. It will bring along approximately $10,000 worth of gifts for soldiers and terror victims, as well as 200 pieces of baby clothing, said spokeswoman Rebecca Olch.Bea Chenkin, executive director of the local Ameinu chapter (Labor Zionists), said her organization had set up a children’s emergency fund to send youngsters from northern Israel to summer camps and give toys to shelter-bound youngsters.

Holocaust survivors belonging to the 1939 Club are aiming for $50,000 in their current Salute to Israel campaign, with the money going to facilities for Israeli soldiers and disabled veterans, according to the group’s president, William Elperin.

The Rev. Victor Styrsky, California director of Christians Standing With Israel and Christians United for Israel, is planning a series of “Nights to Honor Israel” in Beverly Hills, Simi Valley, San Diego, Bakersfield, Fresno, Berkeley and Sacramento. Funds raised will be given to the Jewish federations in the various cities for Israel-related projects, Styrsky said.

The Council of Israeli Communities is planning future fundraisers and working closely with the Christian support groups, said Haim Linder, a council official.Saundra Mandel, acting director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles chapter, said her group is contributing to a national AJC emergency fund to aid Haifa’s Rambam Hospital and an elementary school in Sderot.

Local chapters of the American Jewish Congress, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Zionist Organization of America and Simon Wiesenthal Center are primarily focused on pro-Israel advocacy, but are urging their members to support the Jewish Federation campaign, various spokespersons said.

The Journal did not receive responses from other Jewish organizations on their present or planned efforts.

Spokespersons for all contacted Jewish organizations stressed that all of the emergency funds will be transmitted in full to Israel, without any deductions for administrative expenses.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match

Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.

The center’s goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

“If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving,” said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. “One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to.”

His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.

The approach seems to be working.

Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union.
“CEJP is revolutionary,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.

“What it is doing,” she said, “is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, ‘What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what’s the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'”

“There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they’re capable of giving,” said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal.”

Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.

“Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward,” said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.

“We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future.”

The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.

Hyman likens the philanthropists “to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists.”

Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.

However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.

“What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people’s philanthropy,” she said. “We don’t provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have.”

Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world – among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group’s advice is objective.

“We felt that he could offer us something that we needed” because Hyman is “not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel,” said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.

Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.

Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he’s donated a “substantial” amount of money to Israel-related organizations – certainly more than he’d have given had he never met Hyman.

He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.

According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman’s center reflects that trend.

“I think we’re going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it,” he said. “This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy.”

Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.

“It’s hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there,” he said. “Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it’s hard to know what would have happened had it not been there.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman’s efforts, but after he demonstrated that “he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder.”

“I think it’s very significant,” Greenberg said of Hyman’s approach. “My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future.”

News Briefs from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Technion Gets $25 Million Gift From Californian

A California philanthropist has donated $25 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The gift from Lorry Lokey, founder and chairman of Business Wire, will be used to create a new combined life sciences and engineering center. The money came through the New York-based American Technion Society, which has raised more than $1.2 billion since its inception in 1940. “I feel that Israel has in the Technion an asset as valuable as MIT and Cal Tech combined,” Lokey said.

Technion Professor Aaron Ciechanover, a who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, will head the center.

U.S. Teachers Union Backs Israel

A major U.S. teachers union passed a pro-Israel resolution. Passed July 21 at the biennial convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Boston, the resolution supports Israel’s right to defend itself and condemns the “bombings, killings and kidnappings by Hezbollah and Hamas that precipitated the current crisis.”

The resolution also calls for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands that Hezbollah be disarmed and calls for negotiations leading to a cease-fire.

Initiative Aims to Boost Israeli Tourism

A major U.S. Jewish umbrella group launched an initiative to bolster tourism to Israel during the conflict with Hezbollah.

The program, launched by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, allows tourists to place reservations, which will be valid for up to a year, in northern Israeli hotels and kibbutzim. It is intended to provide a “continuing stream” of income to Israeli tourism and the people who work in that industry, the group’s executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, said Monday in a conference call with reporters.

Israel’s Hotel Association and the Tourism Ministry are participating in the effort, in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Gaza Development Authority.

Jewish Lawmakers Honor Israeli Air Force

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives attended a July 19 gathering honoring the Israel Air Force Center, an Israeli nonprofit that promotes ties between the Israeli air force and the international community.”There are difficult days ahead for Israel,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo). “I can’t tell you how profoundly grateful we are to the Israeli air force for what it does 24 hours a day. Members of Congress who are friends of Israel are honored and privileged to do our little bit to assist.”

Other Jewish members attending included Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Saudis Warn of War

Saudi Arabia said Israeli actions could bring about a Middle East war.”Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war,” Saudi King Abdullah was quoted as saying Tuesday, in reference to Israel’s offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia championed a 2002 regional peace proposal under which Israel would be recognized by the Arab world if it gave up territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and allowed a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Israel rejected the preconditions, which are seen as demographic suicide for the Jewish state. The chief of Israel’s military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Syria had put its armed forces on high alert and that there was concern in Jerusalem that it could “misread the situation” an apparent reference to Syrian fears that it could come under attack from Israeli or U.S. forces.

Turkey Would Consider Lebanon Role

Turkey would consider a role in a stabilization force in southern Lebanon. “If and when called upon, we will be giving positive consideration to whichever way we contribute, including the stabilization force,” said Burak Akcapar, a counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Turkey is to play a prominent role at talks in Rome on Wednesday hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at ending the Israel-Lebanon crisis. Akcapar said it was too early to consider whether Turkey would take a leading role in such a force, but noted that Turkey had successfully led such forces in recent years in the Balkans and Afghanistan. “We have a major stake in maintaining stability in the region,” he said.

Ukrainians Hold Pro-Israel Rallies

Demonstrators in two Ukrainian cities rallied in a show of support for Israel. An estimated 2,000 people, some of them carrying Israeli flags and banners reading “Stop the Terror,” “Yes, Israel” and “Ukraine and Israel Together” demonstrated Monday in Kiev.

Israeli Ambassador Naomi Ben-Ami, the chief rabbis of Ukraine, and Jewish and Christian leaders took part in the rally. Also Monday, some 1,500 people attended a rally in support of Israel in the city of Dnepropetrovsk.

In a related development, Alexander Feldman, a Jewish member of Ukraine’s Parliament, collected some 50 signatures from lawmakers on a petition urging the Ukrainian leadership to publicly support Israel in the current conflict.Last week, hundred of demonstrators rallied in Kiev and some other Ukrainian cities to protest Israel’s military operation against Hezbollah.

Poll: Canadians Back Israel

Almost two-thirds of Canadians see Israel’s military action in Lebanon as completely or somewhat justified, according to a new poll.

A survey conducted for the CanWest News Service and Global National found that 64 percent of Canadians are sympathetic to the goals of Israel’s counterattack against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Sixty-three percent of the 1,023 Canadians polled said that if any side should be required to make a major compromise to attain a cease-fire, it should be “those who kidnapped the Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli Children Get Donated Toys

Children in northern Israel received toys donated from North America. Canadian philanthropist Gerry Schwartz and his wife, Heather Riesman, along with the Toys “R” Us chain, donated toys worth approximately $50,000 to children in the northern Israeli towns of Nahariya and Shlomi.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.