Israel Can’t Ignore Divestment Threats


 

American Jewish leaders see it as a dire threat, but in Jerusalem, the current push for divestment by mainline Protestant groups eager to punish the Jewish state is a nonissue — so much so that at a recent conference, Israel’s foreign minister admitted he didn’t have a clue about the raging controversy.

Israeli officials may be making a big mistake — one more complication for Jewish leaders here who see divestment as a full-fledged emergency.

In recent weeks, there has been progress in the anti-divestment battle waged by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, among others.

The Episcopal Church, while not forsaking divestment, has indicated a willingness to keep talking to Jewish groups. Other churches have reacted cautiously to talk of divestment, and an attempt to get the liberal National Council of Churches to join the campaign was unsuccessful.

But the threat is far from over.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), which ignited the divestment firestorm with a resolution at its convention in July, continues to plan for economic sanctions against companies that “contribute” to Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Other churches still see divestment as one possible remedy for an occupation that they regard as immoral.

The potential economic damage to Israel is a relatively minor threat. Much more ominous is the way the open talk about economic sanctions boosts the notion that there is something fundamentally illegitimate about the Jewish state. At the heart of that threat is the devastating comparison to the apartheid system that once made South Africa a pariah among nations.

These Christians remember that it was strong economic sanctions, pushed aggressively by the churches, that helped bring down a system in South Africa that was almost universally reviled. Other countries suffered worse human rights abuses during the apartheid era, but South Africa stood out, because segregation and inequality were written into law and woven tightly into the culture, and because of its isolation in the world community.

Some Americans on the secular and religious left see Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank through the same lens. They believe Israel’s settlements and the tangle of bypass roads and checkpoints point to a permanent system similar to apartheid. And too often, Israeli officials seem to confirm their worst suspicions.

Israel’s planned Gaza redeployment is the product of a confluence of factors. But every time an Israeli official suggests the pullout is really intended to solidify Israel’s hold on the West Bank, it confirms to many their suspicion that it’s merely a ruse to impose a kind of Bantustan system (black enclaves in South Africa that have a limited degree of self-government) on the Palestinian territories.

So, too, does the image of Israel’s security fence, which was built to stop terrorism after Palestinian officials recklessly refused to do so. However, it also creates damaging images of Palestinian communities encircled and cut off. Bolstering that connection is renewed talk about Israel’s controversial ties to the former South African regime and its role as an arms supplier.

At a time when many Palestinians and their foreign sympathizers are threatening to abandon support for a two-state solution and demand a binational, democratic and non-Jewish state encompassing Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, the apartheid comparison is particularly invidious.

Israeli officials feel that they can ignore the challenge, because their country enjoys such strong support from the current administration and from its Christian right base. They should heed the lesson of the former South African regime, which was certain Ronald Reagan would protect it from the worldwide sanctions push — an expectation that came crashing down in 1985, when Reagan abruptly changed U.S. policy.

The Bush administration’s support for Israel’s current government could change as international pressures mount and political realities here shift as the president begins his last term.

The religious right, while still growing in political influence, is far from omnipotent; the mainline Christians represent millions of Americans, many politically influential. And the political influence of the evangelicals could wane, or their support for Israel could be diluted by the internal divisions to which their movement is prone.

Israeli leaders also seem oblivious to the domestic political implications of the divestment crisis.

Groups like the Presbyterians, while persistent critics of Israel, are among the Jewish community’s most reliable coalition partners on a wide range of domestic issues, starting with church-state separation and social justice concerns. In contrast, the religious right is a fierce opponent of the American Jewish majority on those same issues.

Israeli officials may dismiss the entire controversy as too trivial for their attention, but Jewish leaders here understand that they have to find some way to correct the terrible bias of the Protestants on Israel without mortally wounding coalitions that Jews need for domestic security interests.

Their job is complicated by Israeli officials, like the top Sharon aide who suggested that the Gaza plan is meant to put broader peace efforts into “formaldehyde.”

American Jewish leaders are determined to broaden support for the Jewish state. Israel’s right-wing leaders believe their support from the American religious right will protect them from the mainline Christians, not understanding how the former group is a flash point for bitter controversy in this country.

Israeli officials have often misread American domestic political realities. Their indifference to the divestment undercurrent could prove a particularly costly error.

 

Whose War?


A friend of mine opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. He predicted it would lead to a deadly morass; that it would create more terror and more terrorists; that President George W. Bush had neither the moral or mental gravitas to prosecute such a war. Over the weekend, he asked me if it was true that the Jews were behind the war. I looked at him dumbfounded. After all, he is Jewish.

In the months leading up to the war, polls showed that American Jews supported it in the same percentages as other Americans. Recent polls have shown a majority of Jews dissatisfied with the way the president has handled it.

But so many pundits and analysts are going around blaming Jews or people-who-happen-to-be-Jewish for the war, you’d think it was downloaded directly from www.eldersofzion.com. No wonder my friend is confused.

This month, the chorus of voices blaming the Jews got a significant lead singer, retired Marine general and former Middle East mediator Anthony Zinni.

In interviews with "60 Minutes II" and elsewhere, Zinni blamed the war on neo-conservatives within the administration who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel. They include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; Former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle and other. These political ideologues, in Zinni’s words, hijacked American policy in Iraq.

This charge is older than the war. But what makes it "60 Minutes"-worthy is who is saying it. Zinni is a former chief of the U.S. Central Command, in charge of all American troops in the Middle East. A Republican and a former Bush supporter, he served as the president’s special Middle East envoy in the winter of 2002 and 2003. In the gathering storm of former Bush supporters now turned critical of the president’s Mideast policy — former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, and, um, current Secretary of State Colin Powell — Zinni was as close to the eye of the storm as any of them.

Here’s what Zinni said: "I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody — everybody I talk to in Washington — has known and fully knows what their [the neo-conservative’s] agenda was and what they were trying to do…. And one article, because I mentioned the neo-conservatives who describe themselves as neo-conservatives, I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it. I certainly didn’t criticize who they were. I certainly don’t know what their ethnic religious backgrounds are. And I’m not interested…. I know what strategy they promoted. And openly. And for a number of years. And what they have convinced the president and the secretary to do. And I don’t believe there is any serious political leader, military leader, diplomat in Washington that doesn’t know where it came from."

Zinni believes he can say such things and not feed the fantasies of conspiracy kooks. But Jews cannot hear such things and believe the anti-semites don’t lap them up.

Obviously sensitive to the charges, Zinni can do more to lessen their anti-Semitic appeal. Here’s how:

•Hold the leaders, not a group of their advisers, responsible. Bush, Cheney and Powell led the nation into war. Whether you agree with the intent or accept the outcome, responsibility rests with these men. On this anniversary of the D-Day invasion, it’s useful to remember Supreme Allied Commander’s Dwight Eisenhower’s last act on the eve of the invasion: he penned a note in which he took full responsibility should the operation fail. In this administration, the idea of such a note, much less the note itself, is passed about like a hot potato.

•Address the Israel issue head on, and fairly. If you want to point fingers at the neo-cons within the Bush administration — and they are fair game –then don’t pretend it doesn’t matter that they many are Jewish, and that they are fierce supporters of a safe and secure Israel. But to say that getting rid of Saddam in order to secure Israel was their chief motive, or even among their top three, is insupportable. The international community had long established Saddam as a regional threat. Sept. 11 was a reminder of how vulnerable America could be to internal attack. And the neo-cons believed U.S. military action could spur positive reform in the Arab world. Agree or disagree with any or all of these assumptions, but Israel doesn’t figure into them. Bob Woodward’s book "Bush at War" (Simon & Schuster, 2003) makes clear that Saddam had long been in the president and vice president’s sights for reasons that had little or nothing to do with Israel.

•There are Jews, and there are Jews. Understand that the media, especially the international media, by now translate neo-con as "Jew." Face it, and address it. Be clear that you are not speaking of a Jewish cabal, and that, in fact, most Jews oppose the president’s handling of the war. Jews were among the war’s most vociferous critics at the start. If the war were wildly popular, no doubt The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, playwright Tony Kushner, and essayist Susan Sontag would be accused of forming a "Jewish cabal" against it.

The latest Pew research poll shows Jews would vote against President Bush in November by the same margin they voted against him four years ago. That is certainly a strange way to reward a man whom others believe — quite ludicrously — is doing your bidding.

How Will Saddam’s Capture Affect Vote?


What does the capture of Saddam Hussein mean for Jewish
voters in 2004? Will it shift the preferences of Jewish Democrats as they weigh
the party’s presidential contenders? Will it push Jewish
voters closer to supporting President Bush for re-election?

The heartfelt connection that most American Jews feel for
the State of Israel overlaps with the broadly progressive, Democratic loyalties
that characterize most (though of course not all) American Jewish voters to
create a volatile mixture of instincts when foreign policy comes into play. The
spectrum runs from Jews who back Bush because of his staunchly pro-Israel
policy, to those who support Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Democratic
version of pro-Israel politics, to those who support Howard Dean’s blistering
critique of Bush’s foreign policy. And many Jewish voters at this stage are
trying to decide among their choices.

From the perspective of those who care deeply about Israel,
the Iraq War becomes quite complicated. While there was little credible
evidence that Iraq posed a threat to the security of a United States more
immediately threatened by Osama bin Ladin, Saddam may have been a more serious,
direct threat to Israel.Â

He was in a position to define himself as the Arab world’s
leading edge against Israel. He had launched missiles into Israel during the
first Gulf War, and after his capture, information emerged that Israel had
trained commandos to attempt to assassinate him.

The problem for Israel is that while anything might be
better than keeping Saddam in power, removing his regime will not be enough to
guarantee Israel’s security. Unless the Bush administration shows greater
wisdom than it has so far in administering Iraq, who knows what kind of regime
will emerge and whether it will be even more hostile to Israel?

Placing Israel’s security in the hands of an American
administration that is blundering through its glorious experiment in
imperialism is hardly reassuring. But neither will Israelis and many American
Jews (and indeed most Americans) take comfort in the notion that there was no
value in removing Saddam from power.

So where does this tangle leave Jewish voters?

Some polls taken right after Saddam’s capture and
Lieberman’s harsh attack on Dean are showing a slight revival in Lieberman’s
fortunes, but it seems doubtful that he can emerge as the nominee of a party
whose active base wants a full-out assault on Bush. The most likely Democratic
candidates to win unstinting Jewish support are probably Gen. Wesley Clark and
Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, but they must still make credible showings in the
upcoming party contests.

Dean continues to move ahead but has not closed the deal. He
will have little trouble winning the votes of the most liberal Jews, but moderate,
middle-of-the-road Jewish Democrats may require considerable wooing on Middle
East issues. His early call for “balance” in the Middle East set off emotional
exchanges that finally ended with an eloquent letter from Dean to the
Anti-Defamation League outlining his pro-Israel views.

One of the interesting dynamics of the presidential
election, as the Washington Post’s Laura Blumenfeld noted in early December, is
that both Arab Americans and Jews have become slightly unmoored from their
traditional partisan leanings by the Iraq War. Many Jews have been gratified by
Bush’s strong support of Israel and believe that an America strong in world
affairs is good for Israel.

Many Arab Americans, a bloc of whom had voted for Bush in
2000 after he promised to be extremely sensitive to their civil liberties, have
been outraged by the USA Patriot Act and are ready to vote against Bush in
2004. If, however, Democrats try to win Arab American votes by softening
support for Israel, they will lose Jewish voters and perhaps win only a few
Arab Americans. But there may be an area of common ground between the two
groups, which is opposition to the violations of civil liberties in the USA
Patriot Act.

What does the Democratic nominee, whoever that may be, have
to do to hold the critical support of Jewish voters in light of Saddam’s
capture?

For those Jewish voters who are closely attuned to how
Israel viewed Saddam’s Iraq, it would be worth remembering that there can be
some good outcomes from even an ill-advised, dishonestly presented war. The
Bush administration’s harebrained “neo-cons” may have a ridiculously overblown
confidence in their ability to redraw the map of the Middle East around
American hegemony, but at least they factor Israel’s security into their
schemes.

The Democratic nominee must go beyond supporting the peace
process, as valuable as that is, to concretely address Israel’s long-term and
short-term security needs. That candidate must also remember that one can
oppose the Bush administration’s foreign policy approach without having to become
its opposite.

The alternative to hard militaristic unilateralism is not
just soft diplomatic multilateralism but a firm, resolute, tough foreign policy
that builds on and cherishes historic alliances. Â


Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton.

Holy Gifts for a Good Cause


Jonathan Koch was trying to decide between two pairs of shoes when he happened to notice that one pair was made in Israel. That sealed the deal for him.

Koch figured that others would choose to buy Israeli products if given an opportunity. So the self-described "serial entrepreneur," together with Russ Pechman and Howard Felson, founded LittleIsrael.com, a Web site that sells Israeli toys and clothing to children in the United States.

As Israel’s economy continues to founder with a weak technology sector and the violence of the Palestinian intifada, buying Israeli products has become a popular way for Diaspora Jews to support the Jewish state.

Web sites like LittleIsrael.com, Shopinisrael.com and Israeliwishes.com cater to the U.S. Jewish consumers’ desire to help Israel’s economy.

The Web site launched officially in October.

"Buying Israel shouldn’t be a sacrifice," Koch said. "It’s about buying products at a good price and supporting Israel at the same time."

Amid e-commerce ventures that sell Israeli artwork, beauty products and jewelry, LittleIsrael.com has found a niche in the children’s clothing and toy market.

The site features more than 200 Israeli-made products geared to infants through 6-year-olds, ranging from blocks to baseball-covered pajamas to a bath toy that lets children fish for foam sea creatures in the tub. The merchandise on the site sells for anything from $10 to $300.

LittleIsrael.com’s products are not necessarily Jewish in nature. They’re simply an alternative to the average toy store that allows buyers to benefit Israel, said the site’s founders.

Besides promoting Israelis’ wares online, LittleIsrael.com donates 10 percent of its profits to several Israeli charities, including the Alyn Pediatric Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled, the Jerusalem Post Toy Fund and OneFamily, the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund.

While Pechman says the primary goal is to help the Israeli economy, he acknowledges the positive effect it could have on kids’ impressions of the Jewish state.

Young children absorb negative associations from violence and problems they hear about Israel, Pechman said. "By getting a gift from Israel, it’s almost creating a new positive association [about Israel]."

For some customers, shopping Israeli online is simply the most feasible way to show their support.

"I don’t have the opportunity to get on a plane and visit right now, but as American Jews we have an obligation to support our homeland in any way we can," said Yonni Wattenmaker, who bought toys for her niece and nephew on LittleIsrael.com.

A visit to LittleIsrael.com lets consumers shop by age category and product type. For shoppers struggling for ideas, the site also promotes the most popular items — a multitoy crib addition, costing $39.95, was recently featured.

Koch envisions selling computer software and other product categories in the future.

For now, LittleIsrael.com focuses on buyers getting their products from the purchaser as fast as possible. LittleIsrael.com only sells Israeli products that have U.S. distribution centers, because waiting three weeks for a toy is not acceptable to today’s consumer, the company said.

Many customers are pleasantly surprised to hear they will get their purchase within days, said Pechman, who recently attended an Israeli goods fair to promote LittleIsrael.com. But "people were like, ‘As long as it gets here before Chanukah, that’s enough.’"

California Dreamin’


By the time you read this, our state’s budget crisis will already have a solution. It may not be official, it may not be complete, but it will be in the works. And you can credit Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) for that.

Issa is the state legislator who has launched the recall drive against Gov. Gray Davis. Many people, not just Democrats, think the idea is cynical and debilitating. This week, Democratic businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad joined Republicans like Intel founder Arthur Rock and venture capitalist John Doerr in writing a letter to the Los Angeles Times opposing the recall.

If they can agree on anything, the letter writers said, it’s that ousting a sitting governor who has committed no crime in the midst of a terrible budget crisis is bad for California and bad for democracy. Why punish Davis for California’s problems, say the Democrats. And why punish California for Davis’ problems, say the anti-recall Republicans.

The pro-recall Republicans are following the playbook of Newt Gingrich. They have yet to figure out a way to solidify state power, so, like the Young Turks in the 1994 Congress, they are setting fire to the house hoping the voters will call on them to put it out. It worked fabulously well for Gingrich in the short term. But President Bill Clinton outmaneuvered Gingrich, and now, just a few years later, the former House speaker is on Comedy Central hawking his B-list novel. Be careful what you wish for.

Along those lines, one of the unintended consequences of the recall campaign is that it will motivate a solution to this year’s budget crisis. In other words, Issa’s plan, designed to sink the Democrats, might actually save them.

This week’s July 1 deadline for a state budget came and went without Democrats and Republicans agreeing on a way to balance their way out of a projected $38 billion deficit. Sure, before the budget crisis is officially solved you’ll see more editorials calling on our legislators to just say yes or just say no to new taxes or new service cuts. And sure, you’ll read more dire predictions about cutoffs in services, plummeting bond ratings and stop-payments on payroll checks. Some of this might actually have to happen in the short run, and it’s serious and unconscionable. But cooler minds are prevailing even as we speak, thank heavens, and here is why:

With the recall vote looming, the Democrats don’t want to give voters any more reason to believe they can’t take charge. Meanwhile, the Republicans don’t want voters to see them as playing politics with the state budget in order to make Davis look bad. In other words, one close observer of the mess said, "The recall is causing the budget gap to close."

The Republicans can have a budget crisis or a recall crisis, but not both. The Democrats can hang on to their governor or their half-cent tax hike, but not both. Compromise is the order of the day. And for that you can credit Issa, the great unintentional peacemaker.

If the recall is a bit of moderating leverage working in the favor of those of us who are about ready to declare a pox on both houses, it also raises a profound question about our state: Why is California such a mess?

Why must we endure, at each budget cycle, this whirligig of confusion, threats, hopelessness and name-calling? Why do service providers — from inner-city schools to the indispensable Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda — have to wonder if, come July 2, there will be enough money to feed seniors or educate juniors?

One reason is that too many (though not by any means all) of our legislators get elected at chicken dinners, play chicken with our budget, then act chicken when party leaders like Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) threaten to defeat them if they don’t toe the party line. A hard look at the inadequacies of term limits and redistricting may help get better, tougher men and women who will, when conscience and good sense call, fly the coop.

Another reason is that this great state, the seventh-largest economy in the world, trods with a beggar’s bowl through the halls of Congress. California sends $48 billion more to Washington each year than it gets back. That’s right, California is the San Fernando Valley of America. Faster than you can say taxation without representation, we shell out billions integrating wave upon wave of new immigrants into this country — treating their illnesses, caring for their infants and elderly, educating their children. Eventually those very immigrants return the investment by fueling our growth, and our nation’s.

But in the meantime, Washington doesn’t send near enough federal dollars our way to help foot the bill — not for immigration, not for education and not even for homeland security.

One solution might be taking some of the state’s private and public investments and spreading them around in congressional districts from Alabama to Vermont so that senators and representatives there might not be so quick to vote against California’s economic well-being.

But until then, we have our own fiscal and political house to get in order. One reason these budget debacles are cyclical, the Sacramento insider told me, is that deep down everyone believes any bust will be followed, shortly thereafter, by a boom, and that the hard choices won’t remain difficult for long.

"That’s the California dream," he said, "no matter what, we can weather these things."

As shameful as it is to acknowledge such things in a state with such promise, it looks like we’ve weathered this crisis, too, by the seat of our pants — and Issa’s.

Funds Combat ‘Who Is a Jew’ Wars


In 1997, stimulated by the controversy over whether non-Orthodox converts would be registered as Jews by the Israeli government — the latest battle in the "who is a Jew?" wars — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles began making funds available to what it calls "pluralism" projects. The projects are programs and activities aimed at stimulating religious pluralism and supporting "alternative" forms of Judaism in Israel, as well as increasing Jewish knowledge among Israel’s secular population.

In all, 15 pluralism projects are currently under way, funded directly from Los Angeles (not through the Jewish Agency) at a cost of about $425,000. While the projects are separate from the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, some are in Tel Aviv schools, providing an overlap of services — and possibly effects — with the partnership.

Pluralism projects also differ from partnership activities in that The Federation provides money but does not help to run the programs. While The Federation is careful to assert that pluralism money goes to programs, not movements, the distinction may be academic, because some of the programs funded are run by denominational institutions.

A representative sampling of last year’s pluralism grant recipients are:

  • Beit Daniel, a Reform synagogue and school that provides workshops and teacher training, especially before the holidays, in 15 secular Tel Aviv-area schools.
  • A Conservative movement bar/bat mitzvah training program for special-needs children.
  • The Kelman Center for Jewish Education at Tel Aviv University that helps teachers write their own curricula to bring Jewish texts and identity issues into the classroom.
  • The Reut Institute, an outgrowth of the coed Orthodox Reut School in Jerusalem, that develops curriculum and trains principals in pluralistic Jewish education.
  • Midreshet Iyun, a Conservative Learning Center, that runs a joint project with Tel Aviv University’s Jewish studies department, in which teachers study for master’s degrees in Jewish studies.
  • Bat Kol Bamidbar, which trains informal educators to teach Jewish values and heritage in Negev and Arava schools.
  • Orh Torah Stone Colleges, which prepares religious women to serve as advocates for women clients in Israel’s rabbinical courts.
  • The Tali Educational Fund, which provides Jewish studies in secular public schools.
  • Yesodot of Beit Morasha, which teaches the compatibility of traditional Judaism and democracy in Orthodox public schools.

Chains of Support


Two days after her radical breast cancer surgery last May, Missy Stein hit that moment where all the emotional and physical implications of her condition came crashing in on her.

But then she remembered Sari Abrams’ words.

In a phone call before the surgery, Abrams, who had a similar surgery four years before, had warned Stein that there would be one day that would be tougher and bleaker than any before it. Just get through that day, Abrams told her, and you’ll be fine.

“It was really so helpful having the preparation and knowing what was coming, so I didn’t have that fear of the unknown going in,” said Stein, a 36-year-old mother of five from Aberdeen, N.J.

Stein and Abrams found each other through Sharsheret (Hebrew for chain) a year-old organization that sets up links between young Jewish women with breast cancer so they can offer support and knowledge gained through experience.

“I strongly believe in the positive effect of social support on the outcome for cancer patients,” said Abrams, who was diagnosed at 30 and again at 33, and had a baby boy when she was 37. “It’s so helpful to know that others are going through the same thing and have gone through it and survived and come out of it OK. I feel like this is my part in this chain, being part of the so-called sisterhood of breast cancer survivors.”

The match between Stein and Abrams is one that Sharsheret founder Rochelle Shoretz holds up as a remarkable success. Not only did the two have similar diagnoses and treatments, but both were the wives of rabbis.

Abrams, the wife of B’nai David Judea’s Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, answered many of Stein’s questions about the surgery and helped quell some of Stein’s fears about how to tell the community while keeping some measure of privacy when so many people wanted to help. The rabbis also spoke directly with each other.

Shoretz, an Orthodox mother of two, came up with the idea of Sharsheret after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28, when she was a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

“When I was diagnosed, one of the first things I wanted to do was to speak to someone my age with my background who was experiencing what I was experiencing, and it was very difficult for me to find another young Jewish woman with whom to speak,” said Shoretz, who lives in Teaneck, N.J. Eventually friends put her in touch with Lauryn Weiser, who now serves as Sharsheret’s link coordinator.

“We talked about everything from the side effects of chemotherapy to community support to coping with parents and children and husbands. I used her as a resource for everything I was about to experience,” Shoretz said.

Doing more research, Shoretz found that while there were organizations that linked cancer patients with each other, mostly based on diagnosis, none met the specific needs and experiences of young Jewish women.

“We ask women who call in what their biggest concerns are, what their biggest fears are and what they would like to speak to someone about and we do our best to find them a match,” Shoretz said. “Some women just want to draw religious strength from one another.”

Observant women might share experiences relating to mikvah or sexuality. Single women might want to talk about dating after mastectomy. Young mothers may talk about taking care of the children while on chemo. Some callers have been women who don’t have breast cancer but are carriers of the genetic mutation found in many Ashkenazim that can portend breast cancer.

About 60 women, from Chasidic to unaffiliated, have been paired up through Sharsheret so far, and the organization has fielded more than 500 phone calls from people and other organizations who want to find out more.

In its first year Sharsheret raised and spent about $100,000. Aside from a recently hired part-time administrator, the entire staff is volunteer.

The organization has come to occupy an important place in the cancer community. Early on Shoretz formed an alliance with the American Cancer Society, which she has spoken to on several occasions about Jewish issues. Sharsheret is currently featured on the Web site of UCLA breast specialist Dr. Susan Love (susanlovemd.com). This month in New York, Sharsheret is sponsoring its first conference, a symposium on fertility and cancer held at Cornell Medical School and co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the Cornell Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Hadassah.

At the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides walkathon, Sharsheret has a 100-person team walking in Central Park. This month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Shoretz is busy responding to an upsurge in media interest in breast cancer among young women, who face much different prognoses and emotional issues than older women.

About 250,000 women under the age of 40 currently are living with breast cancer, and about 1,300 a year die. Among young women, the disease is often more aggressive, and often caught at a more advanced stage, than among older women.

Missy Stein, whose mother is also undergoing treatment for breast cancer, said Sharsheret’s focus on young women has been important to her.

“We’re all young people with, God willing, long lives ahead of us, and there is a vitality and upbeat attitude that I found in Sharsheret over and over that makes it an important organization for younger women,” Stein said. “To have the opportunity to walk with each other this whole crazy journey is a wonderful thing.”

Rallying Support


Two dozen colorfully dressed fourth- and fifth-graders from the Pressman Academy, waving small Israeli flags, welcomed Israel’s President Moshe Katsav and his wife Gila with Hebrew songs as they arrived Monday evening at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

An hour later, in the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, more than 400 dinner guests stood in silence as 20 candles were lit in memory of the young victims of last Friday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

The alternating moods of Jewish pride and mourning marked the evening, co-hosted by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel.

In the first public event of his three-day visit, Katsav called on American Jews to support Israel, not just with checks but by visiting and living in the Jewish state.

He exhorted his listeners that “we are one family; we have the same heritage and the same history.”

Katsav put the blame for the Tel Aviv killings and other terrorist attacks during the past eight months on Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority.

“Arafat has given so many promises and commitments, and he has never fulfilled them,” Katsav said, “but now it’s the end of the game for him. He can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time.”

Katsav got his political start as the 24-year-old mayor of the development town of Kiryat Malachi, which translates as Town of Angels. It was named in honor of the Los Angeles Jewish community, which helped to establish and develop its struggling Israeli namesake.

Katsav’s schedule also included a visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley and a meeting with former First Lady Nancy Reagan on Tuesday, as well as meetings with the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times, the Spanish-language La Opinion and The Journal.

In a meeting with the president in his hotel suite, The Journal told Katsav that major Jewish groups and schools have cancelled planned trips to Israel following last Friday’s the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. “It’s a mistake,” Katsav shot back. Israel is safe, he stressed, and visits are important. “There is no justification for cancellations. After all, if they want to express solidarity, they can do so by visiting us.”

Much of the president’s cross-country itinerary has been taken up with meetings with the American media.

Katsav gets official reactions to Israel policy from CNN, but these face-to-face meetings have given him a new understanding of how Israel is perceived. “I felt a warm attitude, with sympathy, and a wanting to know more details,” he said. “It surprised me. My impression was that the Palestinians are more powerful among the international media, but it is not so.”

On Wednesday, the president’s last day in town, he attended a morning reception at Mayor Richard Riordan’s residence, during which the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between San Vicente Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue was designated as the Israel-Los Angeles Friendship Plaza.

At noon, he gave an address before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, and that evening, he was honored at a reception at the Iranian American Jewish Center in West Hollywood, followed by a dinner at Sinai Temple.

The president’s visit was of special importance to the local Iranian Jewish community, since Katsav was born in Iran, moving to Israel with his family in 1951 as a 6-year-old boy.

Why I’m Supporting Hahn


Several months before he publicly announced his candidacy, Jim Hahn and I met for lunch. As is typical of our conversations that have spanned the years I have lived and served here, we concentrated on what needs to be done to improve the lives of all our diverse peoples.

It was during that meeting Jim told me that he was seriously considering offering his name as a candidate for mayor, and I urged him to do so. Why? Because I was convinced then, just as I am certain now, that the City of Los Angeles will benefit immensely as a result of his serving as our leader.

It is his vision that our city must be the best in the world of architecture, art, music, literature, business and sports. He is convinced that we have the climate, the natural resources, the people and the energy to be the city of the 21st century. But he also knows that as we strive to become that city, it’s important to remember the basics — public safety, public education and economic opportunity.

While Jim was in law school, he spent time as a Legal Aid volunteer, helping protect low-income women from their abusive spouses. He witnessed the slow evolution of confidence that comes to women and their children when they begin to feel safe again. Because he has seen the benefits to individuals and society of getting serious about domestic violence, he labored tirelessly as city attorney to make his department’s Domestic Violence Unit one of the best in the nation.

Meanwhile, Jim has seen the power given to people and neighborhoods when their streets and parks are free from gangs, graffiti and abandoned buildings. As a result, he has pioneered the use of the legal weapon of gang injunctions to help people take their neighborhoods back from gangs and stop being victims. Based upon his record on issues such as gangs, domestic violence, graffiti abatement and real penalties for slumlords, he was privileged to receive the overwhelming endorsement of Los Angeles’ rank-and-file police officers during this current campaign.

Jim has told me and others that the most critical public-safety problem faced by the next mayor is the loss of our city’s best police officers to other states and other agencies. That’s why he has devised a plan to put 1,000 new police on our streets. He is also ready to put in place better training and efforts to bolster police morale so that LAPD will retain its best officers.

A key component to building the kind of police force and police officers Los Angeles needs is full compliance to the consent decree, which Jim negotiated on behalf of the city, because it is not acceptable to have renegade police officers violating citizens’ rights. Jim knows that more than 99 percent of Los Angeles police officers are good, decent people who work hard to preserve order and protect the public. They, above everyone, want to rid the department of the few who discredit them all. That’s why Jim fought hard, over Mayor Riordan’s and others’ initial objections, to negotiate a consent decree that puts Los Angeles on the path to real police reform once and for all, police reform that includes a very tough anti-racial-profiling provision.

As many of us know, Jim grew up in South Central Los Angeles and attended public school at Manchester Elementary and Horace Mann Junior High School at a time when many were fleeing the inner city. These experiences afforded him a good education in more ways than one, because he learned the importance of commitment and loyalty to friends and neighbors alike.

Because education is more critical to the future of our children and our city than ever before, Jim has created a plan to build schools to ease the overcrowding and environmental conditions that inhibit a student’s ability to learn. He also wants to keep more schools open after hours, because it is by this means that children will be kept off the streets and out of gangs. As mayor, he wants to be the voice of Los Angeles’ parents. This is more than the promise of a candidate; it is the commitment of a father with two children in L.A. public schools.

Jim acknowledges that economic opportunity includes decent jobs and a tax structure that encourages entrepreneurs. He believes that small business is the engine that drives any economy; it is small businessmen and women who create the jobs and the wealth of a city. That’s why he has proposed a two-year tax moratorium for new businesses in Los Angeles, to give each entrepreneur every opportunity to succeed and to create good jobs.

But economic opportunity and growth also depend on transportation systems that work. Jim paid attention when Steve Soboroff talked about common-sense ideas, such as no road construction during rush hour. Jim has proposed changing MTA priorities to spend more money on fixing our roads and putting more buses on the streets, because a transportation system must connect people to jobs and education, and it cannot isolate poor people from those opportunities.

Jim’s vision is to see Central Avenue renewed as the “street of sounds; “North Hollywood and Hollywood as a live theater center that rivals Broadway; Pico-Union bustling with entrepreneurial commerce; downtown Los Angeles revived as the world’s best convention center; West Los Angeles, the Valley and every part of this city having strong neighborhoods that provide jobs, recreation, arts, school programs and senior citizen services.

Power, Politics And People


J.J. Goldberg writes regularly for The Jewish Journal.

 

The Cities Aren’t Safe

During his bizarre, self-incriminating appearance on the witness stand at the close of his terrorism trial in Brooklyn federal court last month, 24-year-old Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer freely admitted nearly every accusation thrown at him by prosecutors. But not the knife.

Yes, the Hebron-born Abu Mezer said, he came here to “punish” America for supporting Israel. Yes, he built five pipe bombs from supplies he bought in a North Carolina hardware store. Yes, he wanted to kill Jews — “as many as I could take.” And, yes, he had talked with a friend about blowing up a subway line because it was frequented by Jews, though he insisted that he dropped that plan.

But when asked if a knife found in his shabby apartment was meant to “get people away from you when you blew up your bomb,” he gave a flat “No.” The knife, he said, was “just in case, for safety. New York is not a safe city, so you have to keep something with you.”

He should know. When he was arrested with a roommate in a pre-dawn raid on July 31, 1997, Abu Mezer was allegedly just hours away from setting off a cache of deadly bombs that could have killed and maimed scores of New Yorkers. Only a last-minute tip to police by a third roommate prevented catastrophe. Unsafe, indeed.

Convicted on July 23, Abu Mezer probably faces life in prison. (His co-defendant, fellow Hebronite Lafi Khalil, 23, was acquitted of the bomb charges, but convicted of immigration violations that could bring five to 20 years.)

Once sentenced, Abu Mezer will become the 20th person imprisoned in this country for plotting or carrying out deadly acts of Middle East-related terror and mayhem here, mostly in New York City. Several more suspects are awaiting trial or deportation. And one of the perpetrators killed himself on the spot.

Some of those implicated are Palestinian, others Egyptian, Sudanese, Pakistani. One is American-born. All are Moslems. Some belonged to Islamic extremist groups. Others appeared to be lone operators.

At least seven such attacks have been planned or executed since 1990, in which the primary motive appeared to be either killing Jews or “punishing” the United States for supporting Israel. The incidents include:

* The 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Toll: one dead.

* The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Toll: six dead, 1,000 injured.

* The planned 1993 bombing of four major sites in New York City, including the United Nations, FBI headquarters and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. Toll: aborted by arrests.

* The 1993 shooting spree by a Pakistani national outside Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Virginia. Toll: two dead.

* The 1994 shooting of a vanload of Chassidic students on the Brooklyn Bridge. Toll: one dead, one maimed.

* The 1997 shooting spree on the observation deck atop the Empire State Building. Toll: one dead, seven wounded, plus the shooter, dead by his own hand.

* The planned 1997 bombing of a Brooklyn subway. Toll: aborted by arrests.

Not on our list are at least 16 Arab Americans in six states — Florida, Texas, California, Illinois, Virginia and New York — under investigation or facing deportation on suspicion of gathering aid in America for overseas terrorist groups such as Hamas. Also not included are at least five Middle Easterners imprisoned here for terrorist acts against Americans abroad.

No, today’s lesson involves just one thing: the deadly war being waged by Islamic militants on American soil against Jews and their American allies.

Most of the incidents have certain common threads. Two of them, the World Trade Center bombing and the 1993 bomb plot, were the work of a single group, the followers of the blind Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. He is now serving a 240-year sentence for his role in the second plot.

Two other incidents are linked more loosely to Sheikh Rahman and his group. Kahane’s assassin, El-Sayyed Nosair, had close ties to the group. Abu Mezer apparently had Sheikh Rahman in mind when he prepared his subway bombing; a note demanding the sheikh’s release was found with the bombs in his apartment.

Standing apart are the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and CIA shootings. All were committed by apparent loners. Two of them, the New York shootings, were treated by police as homicides rather than terrorism. In both, there was clear evidence that the shooters wanted to show support for the Palestinian cause by shooting Jews. Both succeeded.

At the Brooklyn Bridge, a Lebanese cabbie opened fire on a vanload of Lubavitch students a day after the 1994 Hebron massacre. One student was killed, and another suffered permanent brain damage. The shooter reportedly had visited a mosque just before and after the shooting.

At the Empire State Building, retired Gaza schoolteacher Ali Hassan Abu Kamal opened fire on a crowd of tourists, killing a Danish rock musician and maiming his American Jewish bandmate. Abu Kamal left a letter in which he railed against Jews, Israel and Western imperialism.

The incidents have something else in common: They’ve failed to sink in. Except for the World Trade Center bombing, the cases received spotty press coverage in New York — still less nationwide — and have largely faded from memory. The result: each new incident appears as an isolated case rather than part of what is actually a growing series.

To a handful of Jewish activists who track the terror, the low-key reactions reflect reluctance by American leaders to face facts. Steven Emerson, an investigative journalist specializing in Islamic extremism, believes the problem is a “politically correct” unwillingness to single out Moslems. Devorah Halberstam, whose son was killed at the Brooklyn Bridge, believes Washington has purposely muted reactions, to prevent panic and to preserve public support for the Oslo peace process.

The truth may be more banal. News organizations are trained to lead with pictures of blood and gore. Bombs that don’t explode get buried inside. Outside New York, mayhem in the Big Apple tends to run together in a blur. Even the 1996 arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing, went largely unnoticed. For most readers, it was old news.

As for those watchdogs devoted to tracking Middle East terror — from the Anti-Defamation League to Emerson himself — their eyes have been trained on the Middle East for too long to refocus readily. The landmark anti-terrorism legislation passed by Congress in 1996, after furious lobbying by Jewish organizations, ignored terrorism on these shores entirely.

Equally important, the watchdogs have good reason to downplay anti-Israel terror at home. They don’t want voters thinking too hard about the price we might be paying for America’s alliance with Israel. Better to talk of “deranged gunmen” and “anti-Western” plots.

The fact is, as long as there’s an Israeli-Arab conflict, there will be anti-Israel terrorism. It was only a matter of time before it reached these shores. Now that it’s here, there’s precious little that can be done to stop it. And it won’t stay in New York. We’ll all have to learn to live in cities that are, as Abu Mezer said, not safe.