Hezbollah building up weapons in Lebanon, leader says


The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, whose backers Syria and Iran are at the center of heightened regional tension, made a rare public appearance on Tuesday marking the Shi’ite Muslim festival of Ashura and said his group was building up its arsenal.

Surrounded by armed bodyguards, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah walked through a crowd of Shi’ites in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah’s stronghold, and greeted tens of thousands of supporters from the podium before disappearing for a few minutes to give his speech via a giant screen.

Hezbollah, which fought an inconclusive 34-day war with Israel in 2006, sees serious problems facing both Syria, where a crackdown on anti-government protests has provoked mounting violence, and Iran, whose nuclear program has led to Western sanctions and increasing isolation.

Nasrallah, who has been in hiding for fear of assassination since 2006, struck a defiant note in his speech, giving no sign that his allies’ troubles were affecting Hezbollah, which has an armed wing and a political movement.

“Every day we are growing in number, our training is getting better, we are becoming more confident and our weapons are increasing,” he said. “If anyone is betting that our weapons are rusting, we (say) no, we replace our rusting weapons.”

Nasrallah told the crowd his public appearance was a message to those “who believe they can threaten us.”

He reiterated his support for his Syrian ally, President Bashar Assad, described his government as a “resistance regime”. The eight-month-old revolt against Assad’s rule has resulted in some 3,500 deaths, according to U.N. estimates.

Hezbollah was formed nearly 30 years ago to confront Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon.

The border area, inactive for more than two years, was jolted last Tuesday when a rocket was fired from south Lebanon, damaging two buildings in northern Israel and drawing return fire, but there was no claim of responsibility

Hezbollah believes the West is working to reshape the Middle East by replacing Assad with a ruler friendly to Israel and hostile to itself.

Predominantly Shi’ite Iran, Hezbollah’s other main backer, is being squeezed by Western sanctions imposed because of suspicions that its nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons, though Tehran denies this.

Shortly before Nasrallah’s speech tens of thousands of men, women and children marched in the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs carrying Hezbollah’s yellow and black flag and banners bearing religious slogans.

Beating their chests in a sign of grief at the killing of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, at the battle of Karbala in 680 AD, their chants ranged from “O Hussein” to “We will never be humiliated” and “Death to America, death to Israel.”

The mourning festival of Ashura commemorates the death of Hussein and most of his family, leading to the division of Islam into Sunni and Shi’ite sects, a split that continues to plague the Islamic world.

Addtional reporting by Laila Bassam, writing by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Tim Pearce

Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality


 

As the furor over the election dies down, with unseemly whining from sore losers and unseemly gloating from sore winners, certain stereotypes of Bush voters continue to command currency among disgruntled liberals. One of them is that Bush supporters, and conservatives in general, are dumb, ignorant and out of touch with reality.

This notion has been bandied about with quite a bit of smugness. Some on the left, taking an ironic cue from the widely reported comments of a “senior Bush adviser” to reporter Ron Suskind, have begun calling themselves “the reality-based community.”

The idea that Bush voters are reality-challenged is based partly on surveys showing that a large percentage of Bush supporters believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or a program to develop them. Many also persist in the belief that Iraq had substantial ties to the Al Qaeda. Other Republicans who support tougher environmental and labor standards incorrectly assume that Bush favors these positions as well.

Is this a damning indictment of Bush voters and conservatives?

George Mason University law professor David Bernstein, a libertarian who was highly critical of both candidates in the past election, points out on the Volokh Conspiracy blog that in other surveys, Republicans have on average scored higher than Democrats on knowledge of political issues than Democrats — although voters across the board tend to be woefully ill-informed. Bernstein speculates that in the more recent polls, ignorant Bush supporters were likely to pick answers flattering to Bush, while ignorant Kerry voters did the opposite.

Is it possible that Republican voters are likely to fall for the administration’s spin on the issues? Of course.

But is there any evidence that Democratic voters are less likely to fall for their own side’s spin or to buy into their own side’s myths? Not really.

I’m willing to bet that if you asked people whether it’s true or false that Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water after he took office (a charge made in a MoveOn.org ad), many more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters would have said it was true. Yet this claim has been conclusively debunked as a lie by New Republic writer Greg Easterbrook, who is no conservative and no Bush supporter.

Democrats, I suspect, would also be much more likely to believe that if the Florida recount in 2000 had not been halted by the Supreme Court, Al Gore would have won the state and the election. In fact, a 2001 review of the Florida ballots by a media consortium concluded that both the recount in several Democratic counties that Gore had requested and the statewide recount of undervotes that was actually under way would have given a victory to Bush (although Gore could have won under some other recount scenarios).

And, no doubt, far more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters believed Kerry’s groundless claim in a campaign stump speech that 1 million African American votes weren’t counted in Florida.

A particularly amusing instance of the “Americans voted for Bush because they’re so dumb” trope occurred in a post-election discussion in Slate. Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, noted that “the United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending.”

In fact, comparisons conducted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that only four countries — Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Norway — spend more per pupil on primary and secondary education than the United States. We also spend a higher percentage of our gross domestic product on education than most other industrialized nations.

But Kipnis’ statistic — for which she was unable to provide a source, saying that she used it in her last book but currently had no access to her notes — fits neatly into the stereotypes of American stupidity and greed.

In other news, a poll conducted on Nov. 3 showed that 13 percent of all voters believed Bush had stolen the election. That adds up to about a quarter of Kerry voters.

Another 10 percent believed that he had won it “on a technicality.” After Salon, a strongly anti-Bush online magazine, published an article debunking various election fraud theories, the author, Farhad Manjoo, was deluged with e-mails asking if he was on the Republican payroll.

“Reality-based,” indeed.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe.

 

Spy vs. Spy


Over the past few weeks, as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approached, the FBI and the Department of Justice, along with investigative reporters at CBS, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, have focused their resources on what they must figure is a real threat to American security: the folks at AIPAC.

"Israel Has Long Spied on U.S., Say Officials" screamed a front page Sept. 3 headline by Times’ writers Bob Drogin and Greg Miller.

The article played catch-up to a report on CBS that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobbying group, is the focus of an ongoing federal investigation. According to the news reports, an indictment was imminent against lower-level Pentagon analyst official Larry Franklin for passing confidential documents regarding America’s Iran policy to two AIPAC officials, who then funneled them to the Israelis.

In June the Pentagon revoked Franklin’s security clearances, and the FBI has been tracking two AIPAC Iran analysts, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. I suppose that’s just in case they try to enroll in flight school.

What is going on here?

No one I’ve spoken with believes this purported investigation will uncover serious wrongdoing. That’s not to say no one may have crossed lines, lines that are often blurry to begin with. The office of Doug Feith, the undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is under at least two separate investigations that don’t concern Israel, as is the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which was responsible for some of the dubious intelligence regarding pre-invasion Iraq. But as for the Franklin investigation, a Washington investigator told me, "We’re not even close to Jonathan Pollard territory here."

All along, the seriousness of the charges and the way they unfolded doesn’t square. If AIPAC were really the target of a two-year government investigation approved by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, wouldn’t it have been radioactive by now? Would Rice herself have spoken to the group several times last year, and maintain her commitments to speak to it again in the coming months? Would she have allowed her boss, President Bush, to speak to AIPAC’s annual meeting on May 10? And would members of both parties have swamped AIPAC events in New York and Washington?

Is this affair about some nefarious pro-Israel spy ring that reaches from the Century Plaza AIPAC banquets to the halls of Congress to the neocons at the Pentagon to the White House? Or are the accusations volleys in a turf war over administration policy in the Middle East, from Israel to Iraq to Iran? The administration’s weak and incoherent Iran policy has pitted the State Department and CIA against the Department of Defense, and leaking a spy story is one way to discredit the latter. There is plenty of fault to be found with administration neocons, but smearing them with insinuations of dual-loyalty hurts Israel and American Jewry as a whole.

In all this, the press has been a willing accomplice. The Sept. 3 Los Angeles Times article lacked only a photo of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to make it more sensational. The damning headline rested — if you read through the piece — on a few unnamed officials. Other than printing some pro-forma Israeli denials, the writers don’t bother to investigate the details of the accusations themselves. It’s Swift Boat Veterans for Truth-style journalism: print the accusations, let others sort out the truth. Meanwhile, the looney left and Buchanan right go off on an Internet posting binge of anti-Israel conspiracy theories.

The Los Angeles Times piece offers no context — zero — as to what kind of spying other allies engage in, or to what extent the United States does the same. It doesn’t detail the harm — if any — to America’s security that such a vast network may have caused. And, like any good spy information, it self-destructs toward the end: The unnamed former officials say, "The relationship with Israeli intelligence is as intimate as it gets," and "They probably get 98 percent of everything they want handed to them on a weekly basis." So Israel and AIPAC have an intensive, politically suicidal, ongoing spy network against Israel’s life-sustaining ally in order to snag that extra 2 percent?

Franklin has not been charged yet, but there are reports indictments are forthcoming. They are expected to be minor. But they will cast a major pall on the operations of an organization that has been critical to Israel’s well-being. I’ve often disagreed with AIPAC when it has appeared to act as a hand puppet in the lap of Israeli governments whose policies sometimes defied logic or decency. Even then I know it has sometimes served as a truth-telling intermediary to Israeli prime ministers who needed to face difficult facts.

In Los Angeles, home to a financially and politically active network of AIPAC supporters, no one is even thinking of jumping ship. That would change in a heartbeat if what looks like reporters getting spun turns out to be bona fide espionage.

"It would be a dealbreaker," said one AIPAC supporter, who preferred to go unnamed.

In the meantime, we can only hope the folks at State, the FBI and the press are working as hard to uncover our enemies as they are to discomfit our friends.

Edwards Garners Jewish Praise


U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) doesn’t need to represent a state with a lot of Jews to understand the needs of the Jewish community, supporters say.

"In a lot of ways, John Edwards transcends North Carolina," said Lonnie Kaplan, a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who backed Edwards when he sought the Democratic nomination for president earlier this year.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who defeated Edwards to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president earlier this year, named the trial lawyer-turned-legislator as his running mate Tuesday.

Speaking to supporters in Pittsburgh, Kerry described Edwards as "man whose life has prepared him for leadership, and whose character brings him to exercise it."

The much-anticipated announcement didn’t trigger the same elation among Jews that Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s selection did four years ago when the Connecticut Democrat became the first Jewish name on a national ticket.

But there is seemingly solid support among Jewish Democrats hoping that Edwards’ selection will help bolster Kerry’s bid to unseat President Bush.

The National Jewish Democratic Council called Edwards "an outstanding friend of the American Jewish community and a powerful supporter [of the positions] held by the vast majority of American Jews."

As the number of candidates dwindled in the Democratic primary last winter, several significant Jewish contributors became enamored with Edwards. Activists like Kaplan, who initially backed Lieberman, found in Edwards a solid supporter of Israel and someone able to connect with Jewish voters on issues of importance.

"His basic instincts are in line with the community," said Ryan Karben, a Jewish state assemblyman in New York who represents an area with several Chasidic communities. "That’s reassuring because it doesn’t come across as contrived or gleaned from years of meetings."

Karben brought Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, to a meeting with the New York Board of Rabbis when she was campaigning for her husband for the state’s primary. At the time, Elizabeth spoke of her belief in a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship, participants said.

The Jewish community has had a lot less contact with Edwards than with Lieberman or other candidates who came to national campaigns with decades of Washington experience.

But supporters and Jewish analysts say Edwards has warm ties with Jews in his state.

Edwards was a highly successful trial lawyer in North Carolina seven years ago when he sought a seat in the U.S. Senate, largely financing his own campaign. That meant Edwards didn’t spend as much time as other aspiring lawmakers courting support and dollars in the Jewish community, both in and out of his state, North Carolina Jewish activists said.

"He didn’t seek out the Jewish community," unlike others who "go from candidate event to candidate event begging for money," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a Democratic political consultant from North Carolina who made a failed bid for Congress in 1994. "Because he was self-financed, he could avoid a lot of that."

Edwards nonetheless has earned Jews’ respect. He has a solid voting record on Israel, pro-Israel lobbyists say, and he emphasizes issues that resonate with many Jewish voters: health, education and poverty.

Edwards visited Israel with colleagues from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2001 and was there when a suicide bomber attacked a Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem.

"I think the trip left on him an understanding," said Randall Kaplan, a Greensboro businessman who is a board member for AIPAC. "He really gets the strategic issues, the existential issues."

In a statement during his presidential bid, Edwards said he would, as president, increase U.S. engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the appointment of a senior envoy to the region.

He said he supports a two-state solution, with the Jewish State of Israel and "a legitimate, democratic and territorially viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace."

And he signaled support for Israel’s anti-terrorism tactics, including the security barrier Israel is erecting in the West Bank.

"As long as the Palestinian leadership fails to end terror, Israel has a right to take measures to defend itself," Edwards said. "Such defensive measures are not the cause of terrorism — they are the response to terrorism."

As part of the rollout of Edwards as a candidate for vice president, Kerry’s campaign took note of his foreign policy experience, including meetings he has had with Middle East leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; former Prime Minister Shimon Peres; Ephraim Halevy, who heads the Mossad intelligence service; Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Jordanian King Abdullah II.

On the domestic front, Edwards said that he supports faith-based charities delivering social services "in a manner consistent with the First Amendment," but did not specify whether he supports federal funding for such charities.

But in contrast to the Bush administration’s plan that allows religious charities to receive federal funds while allowing the hiring of individuals of a specific religion, Edwards said the charities should follow anti-discrimination standards.

He is a former co-sponsor of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, legislation that has languished in Congress for years and would give employees the right to seek accommodations for their religious practices. While Edwards has not put his name to the legislation this year, Jewish organizational officials say he is expected to support the legislation if it moves forward for a vote.

A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Edwards has called for changes to the USA Patriot Act, which some say strips away civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.

He also has actively backed hate crime legislation that would expand federal authority for prosecuting hate crimes.

He has a high rating from abortion rights activists but was absent from Senate votes on the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.

While he was running for president, Edwards emphasized his experience growing up poor in the South and how that helped shape an outlook that makes him attractive to groups that see themselves as outsiders scrambling to get in.

"I feel such a personal responsibility when it comes to issues of civil rights and race," Edwards told voters at a New Hampshire restaurant last December, shortly before the state’s primary.

In his stump speech, Edwards said the color of one’s skin or any other circumstances of birth "should never control your destiny."

"I’ll never forget when I was in the sixth grade — I was living in Georgia at the time — my sixth grade teacher walked into the classroom at the end of the day and said he wouldn’t be teaching next year because they were about to integrate the schools, and he wouldn’t teach in an integrated school," Edwards told high school students attending a forum at the Nashua Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire. "He unfortunately didn’t use the language that I just used."

Born in South Carolina on June 10, 1953, Edwards and his family soon moved to North Carolina, where he spent most of his childhood. He was the first in his family to go to college, graduating from North Carolina State University in 1974. He received a law degree from the UNC at Chapel Hill in 1977.

Edwards’ specialty in law was personal-injury cases involving children. He won a record-setting verdict for Valerie Lakey, a girl who was severely injured by a faulty swimming pool drain in 1993.

He was apolitical until the 1996 death of his eldest son, Wade — who was killed at age 16 in a car accident — changed Edwards’ life.

"When John walked out of the church for Wade’s funeral, all he said was, ‘Something good has got to come from this,’" said Fred Baron, who was the co-finance chairman of Edwards’ presidential campaign and a former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. "You saw a transformation."

Edwards withdrew completely for six months, friends said, and walked away from his law practice.

"He decided at that point that he wanted to do something other than the strict practice of law," said Ken Broun, a former dean of UNC’s law school. He wanted a larger mission, and he chose to challenge incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth, a Republican.

"When he decided to run for political office, it made incredible sense to me because of his incredible talent to connect with people," said Bill Cassell, a longtime Edwards friend and former Jewish federation campaign chairman in Greensboro.

Kaplan, the Greensboro businessman, remembers early meetings Edwards held with Jews in the community.

"When he first started considering the Senate race, he was a great listener," Kaplan told JTA earlier this year. "He was as knowledgeable as someone can get when they first run for office but didn’t have first-hand experience."

Upon his election in 1998, Edwards continued listening.

"A lot of times you go into a Senate office and they just repeat back to you the party line," Kaplan said. "With John, he would really listen and you could tell he was really thinking about it."

Edwards, a Methodist, has a good grasp on the religious politics of his state, friends say.

"Up until the last 15 years, this was a fairly lonely place for Jews and Catholics," Broun said. "I think he understands that."

In a statement Edwards wrote for JTA, he said, "Faith is enormously important to me personally and to tens of millions of Americans."

Edwards’ friends say the candidate is privately spiritual. Cassell said that Elizabeth Edwards "wouldn’t let him be any other way."

The couple, married in 1977, have three living children. Their eldest daughter, Cate, is a recent graduate of Princeton University. They have another daughter, Emma Claire, 6, and a son, Jack, 4.

Baron described Edwards as someone with "a great deal of inner peace."

"I’ve never seen him look troubled or act troubled," he said. "If he has a bad day, he just moves on to the next one."

Is It Safe?


Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch famously used to greet fellow citizens with an enthusiastic handshake, shouting out, "How’m I doing?"

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, now into his third year in office and facing what is shaping up as a tough re-election bid, is not that kind of pol. He is friendly enough, but otherwise aloof and detached. When I’ve seen him at events, banquets and the like, he seems to prefer going only lightly noticed, a strange trait for the mayor of the second-largest city in the most populous state of the most powerful country on earth. Los Angeles, City of the Stars, has a mayor who shrugs off the spotlight.

Starting this week, it seems, he will have even more reason for discomfort. All week, rumors swirled that former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg will announce his candidacy for the mayor’s office. I called Hertzberg on Wednesday as we were going to press, and asked if the rumors were true. He said he’s making no announcements until next week, probably Wednesday.

Charismatic and well-known in Westside political circles and in the San Fernando Valley, Hertzberg, a Democrat, has been an adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Hertzberg runs and the popular Republican governor stumps for him, swing voters will start swinging and the free publicity will help neutralize Hahn’s considerable campaign war chest. City Councilman Bernard Parks — the former chief of police, whose ouster Hahn publicly sought — is also in the race, and is expected to siphon votes out of Hahn’s black base. State Sen. Richard Alarcón (D-Van Nuys) will cut into Latino support. The brutal competition could chew up the coalition of black and Valley suburbanite voters who put Hahn in office.

"Conventional wisdom says multiple candidates will split the anti-Hahn vote, ensuring at least a runoff," Sherry Bebitch Jaffe wrote in The Los Angeles Times. "But if Hahn’s base is nibbled away, he could find himself below the top two finishers."

What’s worse, the ballot is filling up as charges of untoward ethical practices over at the Airport Commission and the defection of top aides becloud the mayor’s administration and create the appearance, if not of impropriety, then certainly of fecklessness.

So it was no surprise when Hahn’s office called me to set up a private breakfast meeting with the mayor.

"That’s smart," a caustic observer of the downtown scene told me when I mentioned My Breakfast With Jim. "He needs friends."

We met a couple of weeks ago in a corner booth at the Denny’s on Sunset Boulevard near the 101.

Hahn takes hits — such as those I just leveled — for not being a more potent presence as mayor. But it seems that Hahn has done at least two muy macho things in his first term. He stood up to Valley secession. True, he could have opposed the movement more quickly and boldly — and if it succeeded, it’s not as if its supporters would be able to vote for him anyway — but the move alienated many of the white Valleyites who helped elect him.

He also came out against a second term for then-Police Chief Bernard Parks, working to insert William Bratton as the top cop. His popularity among his crucial black supporters plummeted after that.

"I knew going in this would not sit well with the political base that had supported me throughout my political career," he told me, "but on the other hand I realized I had gotten to this place where I was the chief executive officer of the city, and I had to do what needed to be done. People elected me to make tough decisions, and it was clear to me that we had to make a change of direction, and we had to make it no matter what the cost to me, or we risked having a police department continue to slide and shrink and continue to see crime go up."

Hahn is clearly proud of Bratton’s accomplishments, reducing the homicide rate 20 percent in the past year and adding 400 officers to the LAPD.

In fact, if Hahn were looking for his own Koch-like catchphrase, he might want to co-opt Lawrence Olivier’s question to Dustin Hoffman in "Marathon Man": "Is it safe?"

As we spoke, it became clear that his re-election campaign will present Hahn as the answer to that question, that security is job one for the mayor.

"We’re a lot safer than we were prior to Sept. 11," he said.

He pointed to coordinated security exercises and the purchase of Raytheon equipment that allows emergency responders to communicate with each other effectively in the field as examples of his work toward preparedness. He said he’d like to see the Bush administration carry through on its promise to send federal money for such measures to Los Angeles. Every time the Department of Homeland Security declares an orange alert, the city bleeds an extra $500,000 per day in preparedness expenses.

"Our airport has stayed at yellow-orange," Hahn said. "Thirty-five percent of all container cargo in America comes in through the Port of Los Angeles, and port security is way behind airports. We’re in a war against terrorism. This isn’t a public works project, it isn’t a pork barrel project, we should be trying to protect [ourselves from] the greatest threat."

The city has only received a fraction of the $12.4 million made available to it as part of the Urban Area Security Initiative.

"We’ve received $3 million in actual checks. We’re still almost getting as much as Houston," Hahn said, archly. "We don’t have leverage, we’re just trying to make our case."

The redesign of Los Angeles International Airport is another area that Hahn sees, or at least is selling, as primarily a security concern. The costly and controversial plans for expansion are, he said, a matter of urgent public safety.

"There’s a lot of people who are in the mindset of you can’t make it 100 percent safe, so why try to redesign the whole thing?" he said. "I’m trying to assess what the biggest threat is, and to my mind it’s the vehicle bomb. And we’re trying to design something that protects the central terminal area where all the gates are, which means taking private vehicles out."

Hahn said he would back any federal initiative that would make extra funds available for high-probability terror targets such as synagogues and Jewish institutions.

"I would be very supportive of that," he said.

As for what Bratton has called "domestic terrorism," the violence that wracks many neighborhoods in the city, Hahn said he wants to see the murder rate reduced even more. He supports peeling officers off other details to place them in areas of high gang activity, and he supports Sheriff Lee Baca’s proposal for a 1/2 cent sales tax increase on the November ballot that will fund (by some estimates) an additional 1,200 LAPD officers.

Hahn took office in the midst of fiscal crisis at every level of government, but decided that the conventional wisdom, which blames crime on poverty and a poor economy, is wrong.

"It’s exactly the opposite," he said. "Bratton proved this to me. New York’s economy was in shambles, but they concentrated on making the city safer. As they made the city safer, the economy improved. People wanted to invest, they wanted to come in to New York City."

The mayor has worked to increase affordable housing and for other economic gains, but his primary focus, he said, "is freedom from fear. If we can actually achieve that in neighborhoods that have been terrorized by fear, that’s better than a new library or park or swimming pool. I would like to get as far as we can toward that goal of making neighborhoods in this city that have been plagued by crime for years free from that. We make the city safer and other things start happening, but first things first."

The mayor’s critics fault him for not bringing back more money from Washington for homeland security funding; for not being more outspoken on issues ranging from the grocery workers strike to public transportation to education. The mayor’s actual power in these areas varies, but, say his critics, Hahn is not taking advantage of the bully pulpit his office offers.

"Public safety is really important," said one such critic, L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss. "It’s the most important function of local government, but the other part of the job ought to be vision and imagination and energy."

Whether Angelenos want a war mayor to match our self-described war president is an open question. But Hahn is clearly betting that hunkering down and focusing on crime and security is the way to keep the city — and his job — safe.

Who Has Kerry’s Ear?


Now that he’s running for president, Sen. John Kerry’s openness to a broad range of Jewish opinion is making some in the pro-Israel community nervous — and others hopeful.

The very quality that attracted Jewish voters to him as a longtime Massachusetts senator is now earning the candidate closer scrutiny across the Jewish spectrum.

Kerry’s Jewish supporters accurately cite his solid voting record in the Senate and his frequent readiness to meet leaders of Washington’s main pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

They also say he emulates President Clinton’s activist philosophy when it comes to Middle East peacemaking, an approach that won broad Jewish support during the Clinton presidency.

Detractors inevitably — and just as accurately — mention Kerry’s closeness to critics of U.S. foreign policy who say U.S. Middle East policy is a dog wagged by Israel’s tail. They include the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson.

The variegated palette of advice Kerry has drawn upon over the years — and the fact that he ultimately keeps his own counsel — has made pinning down the candidate’s positions that much harder.

It’s one thing to see all sides of a question when you’re one voice out of 100 in the Senate, some pro-Israel officials in Washington say. When you’re the Democratic frontrunner, it’s another.

Now, as Kerry’s views, both foreign and domestic, are put under the microscope, the question abounds, as one pro-Israel official put it: "Where is he getting his advice?"

On the one hand, Kerry’s campaign has recruited Wilson, who has likened the legality of Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990 to that of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Wilson also has said that close U.S.-Israel ties hinder U.S. engagement in the Arab world.

On the other hand, Kerry’s top foreign policy adviser is Rand Beers, a former top Bush counterterrorism adviser who made headlines last year when he quit because he said the war in Iraq was doing major harm to the war on terrorism.

Beers’ views on Israel are unknown, but he has said he believes the Saudis should do much more about support in Saudi Arabia for terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

And Kerry’s closest adviser, according to a profile published over the weekend in The New York Times, is his younger brother, Cameron, who converted to Judaism two decades ago when he married Kathy Weinman. Weinman’s family is active in the Detroit-area Jewish community and remains active in the Boston Jewish community.

Both Kerry brothers said they were surprised and pleased to learn last year of their own Jewish connections — through their paternal grandparents.

"The pattern of how he does things is to get as many opinions as he can," says Candy Glazier, a Kerry supporter from Longmeadow, Mass., who also is on AIPAC’s executive committee.

"He’ll listen to every side of the story, and he’ll make the final decision."

Seeking such diversity of opinion is in stark contrast to President Bush, who is much more likely to make foreign-policy decisions by relying on his advisers. These advisers include security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney — all of whom are seen as solidly in the pro-Israel camp.

Israel advocates across the political spectrum are quick to say that Kerry’s voting record is "stellar."

On the domestic issues Jews care about, Kerry’s record is unchallenged. He actually may be one of the few leading legislators who excites Orthodox and Reform Jews alike.

"He’s very good at navigating the waters of the diversity of the Jewish community — the Orthodox, the Reform, the Jewish defense organizations," said Nancy Kaufman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in Boston.

On his Boston staff, Kerry employs Joan Wasser, a graduate of the city’s Jewish day school system who is well-respected among Jews and who runs Jewish community outreach for Kerry. Her formal responsibilities are policy advice on education and senior issues, both areas of pronounced concern to the Jewish community.

Kerry’s record on church-state issues lands him solidly on the liberal side of the Jewish community. He opposes government aid to religious schools and for faith-based charities.

But his status as a powerful Democrat who has taken on teachers’ unions as overly powerful endears him to Orthodox Jews who advocate for greater parental voice in the schools.

Most outstanding for all sides has been Kerry’s lead role in trying to push through Congress the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which encourages employer flexibility in areas of religious observance. For Jews, this translates into easing Sabbath and holiday observance, and promoting acceptance of religious attire, such as yarmulkes, in the workplace.

"He has shown great sensitivity toward religion and religious minorities and religious observance," said Abba Cohen, who heads the Washington office of Agudath Israel of America, an organization that awarded Kerry its Religious Freedom Award in 2000.

Cohen said he was especially impressed that Kerry took on the workplace freedom initiative himself, not at anyone’s behest.

The senator was outraged after reading in a local newspaper that two devout Roman Catholic women were forced to work on Christmas.

"It’s definitely worthwhile saying he introduced the legislation on his own," Cohen said.

Yet it is that notion — on his own — that is now unnerving some pro-Israel activists who wonder how Kerry comes to his policy decisions.

For example, Kerry’s vision of how to jumpstart the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process has taken some in the pro-Israel community off guard. Particularly, Kerry cites negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 as a starting point for returning to the table.

"That’s not where we want to be," said one Jewish organizational official in Washington.

Taba represented the last-ditch effort by the Clinton administration and Israel’s Ehud Barak government to salvage the peace process after the launching of the Palestinian intifada.

The outline for a deal envisioned there, which would have set Israel back to its pre-1967 borders, alarmed many. It was vague about the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and critics said that it gave away too much to the Palestinians as a starting point for negotiation, rather than its culmination.

Another concern for pro-Israel activists is that, in private, Kerry is reported to have expressed dislike for Ariel Sharon, Israel’s two-term prime minister.

Some worry that Kerry might be taking advice from Yossi Beilin, the left-wing Israeli politician whose informal peace proposal, the "Geneva accord," mirrored the Taba talks.

People close to Beilin say the Geneva negotiators have met with Kerry no more than any other leading U.S. legislators — and they note that Kerry did not sign onto a non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution this session that cites the Geneva proposal as positive.

Still, supporters of the Geneva initiative give Kerry high marks and note with approval the closeness to his campaign of Alan Solomont, a top Boston Jewish philanthropist who raises funds for Kerry and who is prominent in the Israel Policy Forum, which backs greater U.S. engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"An engaged president and an engaged United States is what would provide the greatest amount of security to Israel," said Ken Sweder, a past president of the Boston JCRC, who accompanied Kerry on a visit to Israel in 1986

For his part, it is likely that Kerry — who demonstrates an impressive command of foreign-policy issues — arrived at Taba as a launching point on his own.

That tendency to go it alone worries some admirers who wonder if Kerry will heed their advice as president.

"He has made statements that have been disturbing and indicate a lack of real understanding of some of the issues relating to Israel," said Cohen of Agudath Israel. Nonetheless, he calls Kerry’s record of support for Israel "exemplary."

Kerry’s suggestion that he would consider former President Carter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker as Middle East envoys has especially worried some in the pro-Israel community. Both Carter and Baker are unpopular among many pro-Israel activists. A top Jewish Kerry supporter, New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, told the Forward recently that Kerry has backed down from his intentions on appointing the pair envoys.

That has not stopped anonymous opponents from circulating e-mails citing the Baker and Carter references as a reason not to support Kerry.

Kerry’s supporters say the candidate will survive such attacks as it becomes clear that while he listens to a broad range of opinion, in the end he relies mostly on pro-Israel opinion, diverse as it is, in his assessments of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

"I’m one of the people who call on his office," said Glazier, of AIPAC, "and he’ll come and meet with us personally. Most people will send their foreign policy adviser, but John takes quite a lot of time to take questions."

Fervid Moderation


The horrifying images on Israel’s Channel 10 were probably the most graphic I had ever seen on television. A suicide bomber, a Muslim religious teacher from Hebron — himself the father of young children, had blown up a Jerusalem bus filled with ultra-Orthodox men, women and children on their way home from worship at the Western Wall. Twenty-one innocent people were murdered, scores were wounded and maimed, many of them — so many of them — children. The following morning, the mass-circulation Yediot newspaper ran front-page photos of some of the victims, a heart-breaking picture of a 5-month-old baby girl in intensive care and the opening paragraphs of four Op-Ed pieces, including one by Israel’s most famous author, Amos Oz.

“The Islam that has lost its mind,” Oz wrote, “can be healed only by moderate, sane Islam…. Moderates, by their nature, do not tend to be fervid defenders of moderation … [but] maybe what is needed is a bit more fervid moderation — on all sides.”

Many Israelis, I believe, would second Oz’s assessment. It is crucial for the sane, silent center to overcome the demoralization that is inevitably sown by new waves of violence and terrorism. The great majority of Israelis, and their leaders, still believe in territorial compromise. But when people lose faith in the prospects of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fringe ideas start to find a place at the table.

A few weeks ago, many Israelis were rattled by an article by influential Ha’aretz journalist Ari Shavit that ran in the paper’s Friday supplement. Its title, “Cry, the Beloved Two-State Solution,” may seem awkward or cryptic if you don’t pick up the tragic allusion: “Cry, the Beloved Country” is the title of Alan Paton’s classic, lyrical novel of South Africa, published in 1948. Shavit’s piece consists of two monologues, woven from separate interviews, by two veteran leftists, Haim Hanegbi and Meron Benvenisti, both native-born Israelis of mixed Ashkenazi-Sephardi lineage, older men looking back on a lifetime of political activism.

For Hanegbi, the more radical of the two, Jewish sovereignty in this land is predicated on the “dispossession” of another people. In his view, Israel finds it so hard to dismantle West Bank settlements — a prerequisite of any two-state solution — because such a concession casts a “threatening shadow” over every other part of the country as well.

“Maybe in the end,” he told Shavit, “we have to create a new, binational Israel, just as a new, multiracial South Africa was created.”

Benvenisti stresses the demographic dimension: “[I]n the end, we are going to be a Jewish minority here. And the problems that your children and my grandchildren are going to have to cope with are the same ones that de Klerk faced in South Africa. The paradigm, therefore, is the binational one. That’s the direction. That’s the conceptual universe we have to get used to.”

The idea of a binational polity in the Land of Israel is not a new one, of course. Back in the 1920s, a circle of Jerusalem intellectuals launched a movement known as Brith Shalom, which sought to persuade the Zionist leadership that coexistence in Mandatory Palestine was more vital than Jewish sovereignty. Philosopher Martin Buber was a member of the Brith Shalom chapter in Berlin. In 1972, the great kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem, a founding member of the Jerusalem group, told an interviewer that the central tenet of Brith Shalom was “that the Land of Israel belongs to two peoples, and these peoples need to find a way to live together.”

Buber, Scholem and company were roundly scorned and politically marginalized even before the rise of Hitler greatly amplified the urgency of creating a sovereign state that would be a refuge for the world’s Jews. And if binationalism ever comes to pass here — which is not unthinkable, if Palestinian Arabs deprived of political and civil rights become a majority population in the greater Land of Israel, and the rest of the world increasingly views Israel as another South Africa, and pressures us accordingly — it would spell the demise of the Jewish State. Just imagine a democratic state of Israel/Palestine in which Arabs outvote Jews.

But the story doesn’t end here. As we speak, some members of the Israeli right wing, and their supporters abroad, are doing the same math and arriving at the same conclusion — that there can be only one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Of course, the one state they envision is rather different. Tourism Minister Benny Elon, a West Bank rabbi and head of the Moledet party, has been spending a good deal of time in the United States lately, aiming to promote his plan, cleverly dubbed “The Right Road to Peace,” among sympathetic Americans, most specifically Evangelical Christians, including leading figures in Congress. “This plan,” as described on Elon’s Web site, “is founded on the fundamental historic and biblical truth that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”

For Elon, a “two-state solution” means “two states for two nations on either side of the Jordan River.” In other words, Jordan, whose population is already mostly Palestinian, becomes Palestine.

Elon’s analysis of today’s hard realities — with a few rhetorical adjustments — could have come from the lips of a card-carrying binationalist: “Without the complete destruction of Israel, Palestinians Arabs can only be offered a state-like entity, unable to sign international agreements, without an army and made up of a number of small and overcrowded fragments of territory. This quasi-state would not have natural borders. Rather, population centers on both sides will straddle the border, perpetuating continued friction between Israelis and Palestinians…. From every aspect — geographic, economic and demographic — it is clear that it will be impossible to resolve the problem within the small, overcrowded area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea…. It is clear that what is needed is a paradigm shift.

For Elon, it’s all so clean and simple: “As part of the plan to end the conflict and create a new and stable map in the Middle East, the border between Palestine and Israel must be drawn at the Jordan River, and all the areas west of the Jordan must be formally annexed to the State of Israel.”

Somehow, the Jordanians will agree; Palestinian terrorists and inciters will be deported; refugee camps will be “dismantled”; large numbers of Palestinians will move to Jordan — nowhere is the unpleasant word “transfer” mentioned in Elon’s plan, merely “resettlement” or “relocation” — and those who remain in the West Bank and Gaza will be citizens of Jordan, not Israel.

When Jewish babies are blown up by Palestinian bombers, and the “road map” and Camp David and Oslo look like the debris of yesterday’s hopes, a wand-waving panacea like Elon’s may appear attractive, even to reasonable and decent people. Morality and democracy and feasibility aside, however, would such a scenario be good for Israel? Imagine the United States — for who else could make it happen? — imposing this plan on Jordan and the Palestinians. The toxic mix of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism that swirls today through the Arab world and Europe (and elsewhere) would surely be intensified. Unless, of course, Jordan becomes Palestine as a result of a devastating, map-smashing war — an unimaginably awful prospect for all concerned.

But Benvenisti and Elon are both correct about one thing: We do need a paradigm shift. Nothing revolutionary, just a passionate reaffirmation of Scholem’s conviction that we are not engaged in a zero-sum game, and that the two peoples in this land have no choice but to learn to live together. There is still time for leaders of vision and courage in Israel, Palestine and the United States — “fervid moderates,” in Oz’s phrase — to bring about a historic, life-saving compromise.


Stuart Schoffman is an associate
editor of the Jerusalem Report and a columnist for the JUF News of Chicago. His
e-mail address is stuart@netvision.net.il
.

Mothers’ March


A single mother’s 120-mile hike to protest Israeli government cuts in social welfare benefits has captivated public and media attention and spawned similar pilgrimages in the country.

The growing tent encampment set up by Mitzpe Ramon resident Vicky Knafo and her comrades on the sidewalk across from the Finance Ministry building in Jerusalem is becoming a site for supporters and well-wishers. Some observers, though, question whether the single mothers will be able to translate their campaign into a political force capable of affecting economic policy.

The protests are in response to budget cuts pushed by Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The cuts are aimed at liberalizing and jump-starting Israel’s economy.

The economy — hurt by nearly three years of violence with the Palestinians — has shrunk 1 percent annually the last two years, and unemployment is approaching a record 11 percent.

Knafo, a 43-year-old mother of three, embarked on her weeklong trek from the Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon to Jerusalem to protest government cuts to income supplements, which she said represent the difference between subsistence and starvation for single mothers.

The gravelly voiced, curly headed Knafo said she was propelled by her personal need. Her undertaking inspired other women — and some men — to set off on similar pilgrimages.

Among those who made their way to Jerusalem were Ilana Azulai, an Arad resident accompanied by her 17-year-old wheelchair-bound son, as well as Aliza Ezra, a mother of three, who walked from Shlomi in the Upper Galilee.

Describing the economic hardships the women face, Ezra said her National Insurance Institute allowance last month was cut from less than $800 to under $600. "I don’t know what to pay first, food, electricity, water or the telephone," she told the daily newspaper Ha’aretz.

The number of families who will be affected by the cuts is significant. According to the National Insurance Institute, 112,000 single-parent families, with children up to age 21, live in Israel. About 64 percent receive some form of state support.

Ha’aretz reported that 87,000 single-parent mothers with children up to age 17 live in Israel. About 76 percent of them work outside the home.

As the grass-roots movement gathers steam, the Treasury has tried to stress that the aim of the measures is to shift the emphasis on income support away from welfare and toward job incentives.

Netanyahu recently unveiled a plan aimed at helping single mothers return to work. The proposal included providing grants for up to one year for women who work at least one-third of the time. The plan also calls for generating employment for the single mothers through public works projects. Some of the plan’s most severe austerity measures will be cuts in income supplements for working mothers earning the minimum wage.

Critics said that the grants are only short-term solutions, while the stipends would continue to be cut, and that the job incentives are also temporary.

Knafo, who is employed, rejected what she said were efforts by the Treasury to paint single mothers as parasites who prefer welfare to work.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave his backing July 20 to Netanyahu’s efforts and did not open a Cabinet discussion on the protest. The single mothers did appear to get a sympathetic ear, though, from President Moshe Katsav, who met with a delegation the same day and listened to their plight.

Katsav said he raised the matter with Netanyahu, who repeated his offer to have the ministry’s director general meet with the demonstrators — a proposal the protesters have previously rejected, Israel Radio reported.

The Final Push


In the final days before the Nov. 5 election, secession supporters are facing a tough battle. The latest public opinion poll shows Valley voters backing Measure F, which would create a separate city, by a narrow margin.

A Los Angeles Times Poll earlier this month found only 42 percent of likely Valley voters in favor of secession. However, a more recent study by Survey USA for KABC-TV found Valley cityhood supported by 58 percent of likely voters in the Valley and 40 percent citywide.

In the past five months since the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) gave its approval to a ballot measure on San Fernando Valley secession, a war of words has been waged between Los Angeles City Hall and secession proponents such as Valley VOTE. Although the polls indicate a likely victory for those in favor of keeping Los Angeles in one piece, the outcome still appears uncertain, according to some observers.

Part of the unusual nature of the secession vote has been the necessity for candidates for office in the proposed Valley city to also promote the split from the city, without which there can be no offices to fill. A group of candidates running in planned Valley council districts formed the organization United Valley Candidates (UVC) to pool resources and ideas for promoting the breakaway effort. Many commented on the difficulties involved in running dual campaigns for office and secession, especially when it was their first bid for elected office. In addition, for Jewish candidates there has been the problem of overcoming the organized Jewish community’s vocal opposition to Measure F.

A group of prominent local rabbis has taken out newspaper ads — including in The Jewish Journal — urging Jewish community members to vote no on secession. Also, the American Jewish Committee recently came out against secession.

In the nonpartisan Valley mayoral race, a Jewish Republican, 48-year-old Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge, appears to be the front-runner. He has endorsements from the Daily News and Assemblyman Dario Frommer, giving him a slight edge over his nearest competitor, realtor Mel Wilson.

The Democrat-backed Wilson, 49, is a former professional football player, who has served on the Los Angeles Fire Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. Other mayoral candidates include Marc Strassman, 54, an Internet consultant from Valley Village, and Leonard Shapiro, an 83-year-old newspaper columnist.

A high percentage of those seeking spots on the proposed Valley city council are Jewish. Of this group, Scott Svonkin is running the most conventional campaign. The chief of staff for Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) has received a number of endorsements, even from vocal opponents of secession, such as the county Democratic Party.

Aided by a $103,000 war chest, Svonkin has billboards placed throughout the proposed 14th District, which includes Studio City and parts of Sherman Oaks and Valley Village. In addition, he has sent out mailers and aired television ads that emphasize his experience but make little mention of secession.

Other candidates with less funds have sought creative ways to get their names before the public. Stephanie Spikell, also running for the 14th District seat, enlisted the help of her father, Hy Spikell, and five of his friends at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda to make calls to likely voters in the district.

Fellow council hopeful and UVC member Frank Sheftel, running in the 12th District, has been reaching out to seniors in the final weeks of the campaign, handing out fliers and promotional ballpoint pens at the Jewish Family Service’s Valley Storefront in North Hollywood.

Sheftel reported an encounter with one elderly woman whose experience, he said, typified older residents in the area. “She lives in a seniors apartment complex with 200 people, and they don’t have a polling place, so they all vote absentee,” he said. “She said she had gotten mailers from Jewish organizations saying to vote against it [secession] and she did.”

Sheftel echoed the sentiments of other Jewish candidates when he expressed his dismay at the organized Jewish community’s response to Valley secession.

However, Sheftel said he was not going to lose hope. “This is a David vs. Goliath situation, and as I recall, David came out on top,” he said half-jokingly. “It’s not unprecedented that this could happen.”

“People are not buying what the mayor is putting out,” Sheftel said. “Larry Levine [founder of One Los Angeles, which opposes secession] likes to call the whole thing a ‘scheme.’ It is so offensive but typical of the language [the opposition] is using. Things are getting ugly and going to get uglier.”

Similar complaints can also be heard on the opposition side, with people like former Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler pointing out the folly of secessionists demonizing Mayor James Hahn.

“The biggest mistake made by leaders of the secession movement has been to attack the mayor,” Fiedler said. “Even if secession passes, the Valley is going to be heavily dependent on city services for at least a year, and to attack the mayor instead of talking positively about what they will do themselves is just bad politics.”

Secession foes have continued running their now-familiar roulette-wheel TV ads, depicting secession as “a gamble we can’t afford,” along with similar radio ads ending with the tag line, “The devil is in the details.”

Many Valley residents interviewed by The Journal said that despite the battle waged by One Los Angeles and other unity groups, they planned to vote for the breakaway effort, even if they didn’t fully understand all the ramifications.

“Richard Katz makes some impressive arguments,” noted one woman after attending a debate between the pro-secession Katz and former members of the Los Angeles City Council held Oct. 13 by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance’s Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The fact that people are making up their minds based on one debate they attended or one candidate who knocked on their door worries Fiedler. The former congresswoman, a Republican who served from 1981 to 1987, was a longtime proponent of secession and even worked with Valley VOTE up until a few months ago.

However, she said the LAFCO report outlining the financial and legislative impacts of secession changed her mind. Now she is actively supporting the opposition, even giving a speech against secession at a seniors fair promoted by Hahn.

“It’s going to be a disaster for the Valley,” Fiedler said. “The public doesn’t understand the scope of what secession means.”

“The fact that it will be a municipal city instead of a charter city means that a whole host of laws passed by the City of Los Angeles will not be provided in the new city — things like term limits, a living wage, provisions for a city ethics commission and all other commissions, with the exception of a planning commission,” she said. “We won’t even be able to vote for the city attorney or the city controller, because they will be appointed positions.”

On a positive note, Fiedler said, whether or not secession passes, the movement has brought to light the very real problems within the San Fernando Valley that need to be addressed. On that score, at least, both sides agree.

“There’s going to be a lot of cleanup afterwards, no matter what happens either way,” Sheftel said. “It’s not over on Nov. 5, not by any means.”

Torah Outreach Develops Programs for Underserved


The Torah Outreach Program, an independent Placentia-based nonprofit organization, will attempt to offer educational programs for unaffiliated Orange County Jews without the stigma of a denominational orientation.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, the Torah Outreach Program’s first speaker, will discuss "The Committed Life — Priorities to Live By," on Nov. 10 at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. A child inmate of Bergen-Belsen, Jungreis is an author, lecturer and founder of New York’s Hineni Heritage Center.

Torah Outreach Program’s aim is to serve as an educational resource that could be tapped for help by overly scheduled congregational rabbis and to develop programs for those who are underserved, such as the county’s Russian immigrant community, said Rabbi Ben Geiger, 27, Torah Outreach Program’s director.

Geiger, the former associate rabbi of Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation, said the inspiration to establish the program came from three congregation members, Michael Lapin, Basil Luck and Michel Hassan. The trio are the group’s founding board and its principle financial backers.

Five other U.S. communities are also affiliates of Jerusalem-based Torah Outreach Program. Grass-roots supporters independently fund each, Geiger said.

Geiger, who also teaches Tarbut eighth-graders about the early prophets, said he will continue to teach classes on the Torah portion and at lunchtime that were his responsibility at Beth Jacob. "We’re not looking to duplicate; there is a lot of room," he said.

For more information, please call (714) 996-7301.

A Code of Civility in Jewish Public Discourse


One of the most distressing aspects of the recent Middle East conflagration has been the retreat of both sides — Israelis and Palestinians, as well as their supporters — behind towering rhetorical walls.

This retreat evokes the verbal wars of the 1970s, when Israel meant racist and Arab connoted terrorist. When trapped beyond such rhetorical walls, we can only imagine, not see, what the other side looks like. And the imagination often runs wild, depicting the enemy in absolute and demonic terms.

These images are back with us in full force. The two sides have mobilized large sums of money and energy, all part of a PR battle to sway the American public and administration to their sides. If public opinion polls and U.S. policy are reliable indicators, then Israel is winning hands down. But some within our community vilify — even call for boycotts against — the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post and other prominent media outlets.

According to their logic, support for Israel — or, more accurately, support for Ariel Sharon’s government — is the sole measure of journalistic objectivity. Of course, many of these critics turn indignant at the prospect of boycotts against Israeli cultural institutions and academics. And so they should. Boycotting Israeli academics only serves to deprive Israel of some of its most enlightened, historically knowledgeable and self-critical voices at a point when such voices are desperately needed to stimulate debate and dissent.

Boycotts are a bad idea. Jews should certainly know this, having suffered from them in the dark days of Nazism and then again in the years of the Arab oil embargo. The call for boycotts against American newspapers reflects a clear sense of Jewish anger and vulnerability. These feelings are understandable in today’s troubling world. And yet, they often manifest themselves in a tendency to divide the world into two neatly demarcated spheres of good and evil. Hence, whereas our side possesses moral virtue, the other side is morally repugnant, a modern-day incarnation of the heretical acher (other) in Jewish tradition. It is easy enough to fit the suicide bomber into that latter category. But what of the young Palestinian child who knows only poverty and deprivation? Can we really regard such a child as evil?

Sadly, the tendency to divide the world into good and evil — the instinct of the ancient Manicheans — pervades our own community. Those who dissent from the position of unequivocal support for the current Israeli government are branded disloyal. Indeed, I have been stunned by the vituperative language issuing from within our community, language that portrays the "other side" — in this case, the few surviving members of the Jewish peace camp — in demeaning and demonizing terms. In an environment in which Jews feel great pain, it is understandable that we should attempt to unite our community. But we should not do so by abandoning all rhetorical restraints against those who differ from us.

Above all, we must strive to maintain decency and civility in our interactions with one another. I know that in my own attempts either to advance positions or defend friends whom I believe to have been wronged, I tend to resort to hyperbolic rhetoric. But as a colleague reminds me, the sages of the Talmud have admonished us: "Wise ones, be cautious in what you say." This is not to deny the fact that we will have disagreements, nor that they will be fierce. Jewish history is rife with such disagreements, from Hillel and Shammai in antiquity to Maimonides and his Jewish critics in the Middle Ages to Chasidim and Mitnagdim in the modern era. But we will neither survive nor profit if we cast our partner in debate as devoid of merit — or in the worst case, as intent on destroying the Jewish people.

We need to adopt a code of civility in our public exchange. It should rest on the recognition that many well-intentioned people, lovers of Judaism and the Jewish people, will arrive at sharply divergent positions. While acknowledging these differences, we should nonetheless make a commitment to avoid demonization, personal attacks and leshon hara (evil speech) toward our opponents. Community leaders, opinion makers and all concerned Jews should sign on to a code of civility as a meaningful indicator of Jewish unity.

Obviously, unity is a good thing. But unity that silences is not. It leads us to hunker down behind our rhetorical walls, stifling dissent, and crafting demonic images of our perceived enemies. Trapped behind these walls, we can barely catch a glimpse of the humanity of the other side. In the process, we sometimes forget our own.


David N. Myers is a professor of Jewish history at UCLA.

‘We Knew We Had to Come’


It was 90 minutes into the community’s largest public mobilization in 15 years, and Jews from around the country continued to stream toward the U.S. Capitol, clamoring to get into the pro-Israel rally.

Within the Jewish family out on the Capitol lawn — organizers put the number at more than 100,000 — emotions ran high. Criticized by both Israeli officials and the Jewish grass-roots for a perceived lack of visibility, the Jewish communal leadership received an overwhelming response to a rally organized only a week earlier.

It drew Jews of all ages, seemingly from all political and religious stripes, with impressive delegations arriving from the East Coast, Midwest and South.

Some 150 Jews from Toronto even made the sojourn south.

"When I grow up and have kids and tell them about the intifada," said Daniella English, 19, of Toronto, "I can tell them I did everything I could to support Israel. I went to Washington."

There had been talk beforehand about what sort of unified message the rally should send Washington and Jerusalem: support for Israel itself or support for the government of Israel.

But even without the relentless heat — which several demonstrators succumbed to — temperatures were elevated. Indeed, after 19 months of the intifada, a spate of suicide bombings, an Israeli military incursion into the West Bank and the killing of at least 450 Jews, the gathering in Washington seemed almost cathartic for some.

"When I read about the rally, I told my wife, ‘I gotta go; it’ll be good for my soul,’" said Alan Geller of Elmwood Park, N.J.

"And she said, ‘Al, you’re 71. You’re too old.’ But 10 minutes later — she always does this — she says, ‘Al, you’re right. Go.’"

The sentiment was echoed across the Capitol lawn.

"We’ve felt frustrated and helpless in trying to show our support for Israel," said Debby Weinstein of Memphis, Tenn. "We knew we had to come here to take a stand, and to say we’re so proud of the support President Bush and his administration are showing for Israel, and for standing up to the rest of the world."

The thousands of placards on display ran the gamut.

They expressed solidarity with Israel — "Wherever We Are, We Stand With Israel" and "Self-defense Is Not Murder" — to denunciations of Yasser Arafat — "Terrorist Bastard" and "Arafat: How Much More Blood Do You Hunger For?" — and of suicide bombers — "Murderers Not Martyrs" and "Palestinians Danced on 9-11."

Some equated the Israeli and American wars on terrorism and urged Washington to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Finish the Job" and "Destroy Arab Terrorism," the posters read.

Many rally participants were in no mood for talk of a "cease-fire" or a "return to negotiations."

Many in the crowd roared their approval when Christian radio commentator Janet Parshall boomed, "We will never give up the Golan; we will never divide Jerusalem. And we will call Yasser Arafat what Yasser Arafat is — a terrorist!" Many in the crowd then booed when Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy defense secretary, referred to "innocent Palestinian victims" and the "future Palestinian state." A lone placard, stating "We Have Faith in Coexistence," up near the front caused an altercation.

An Israeli at the rally said he was sure the messages of solidarity would be well-received back in the Holy Land. "I’m pretty sure the citizens of Israel will appreciate this; it’s coming from the heart," said Jacob, who lives in New York and asked that his last name not be used. He said he "had to" attend this rally after missing a smaller one in the city two weeks ago. "With the terrorism that Israel is facing every day, the least Jews can do over here is to give up one day to show their support," he said.