Spain suspends arms sales to Israel over Gaza operation

The Spanish government “provisionally suspended” arms sales to Israel over its operation in Gaza.

The country’s Interministerial Regulatory Board on Foreign Trade and Defense made the decision last week in Madrid, the Spanish daily El Pais reported Monday.

Spanish arms sales to Israel are limited, and were more than $6.5 million in 2013, or just over 1 percent of total Spanish exports. The arms included missile components, all-terrain vehicles, grenade fuses and optical systems.

The suspension will be reviewed in September at the next meeting of the interministerial committee, which is made up of of representatives of the ministries of the presidency, economy, foreign affairs, defense and finance. In the last year, Spain also has suspended arms sales to Egypt, Ukraine and Venezuela.

Spain’s minister of foreign affairs, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, in a speech to the Spanish Congress the same days as the arms sales suspension described as “shocking” the numbers of victims in the bombing of Gaza.

Garcia-Margallo recognized “the right of Israel to protect its citizens, but conditioned the principle of proportionality and respect for civil protection they deserve, which is nothing but a manifestation of international humanitarian law.”

UCI upholds sanction on Muslim Student Union

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has upheld its decision to sanction its Muslim Student Union (MSU), though it cut short the group’s yearlong suspension to four months. The group may not officially use university facilities during the fall 2010 quarter, recruit new members or raise funds, all part of the fallout for what school officials deemed the MSU’s violation of university codes of conduct related to the repeated disruption of a speech on campus in February by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Campus officials disclosed last week the outcome of an appeal, which the MSU launched in the spring after administrators recommended the group lose its registered status for a full calendar year.

The MSU will be on probation for two years—from Jan. 3, 2011 to Dec. 9, 2012—following the suspension. During that time, its president and three members will be required to attend at least 10 meetings with the director of student conduct. Members must also collectively complete 100 hours of community service before the group can request reinstatement. In its original decision, the UCI disciplinary committee had ordered a one-year probationary period and 50 hours of community service.

“This has been a difficult decision,” UCI Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Manuel N. Gomez, who adjudicated the appeal, said in a prepared statement. “But in the end, this process demonstrates the University of California, Irvine’s commitment to values, principles and tolerance. Although this has been a challenging experience for all involved, I am confident that we will continue to move forward as a stronger, more respectful university community.”

Incoming MSU Vice President Hadeer Soliman called the suspension a form of collective punishment in a Sep. 3 news conference. The suspension applies to the MSU as a group but not to individual students.

UCI officials launched an investigation into the actions by the MSU in February after students heckled Oren at least 12 times and booed him repeatedly before leaving the student center in protest. Oren, whose speech was sponsored by the university, walked off the stage after the first few interruptions, leading UCI officials, including Chancellor Michael Drake, to urge the protestors to stop disrupting the speaker or risk disciplinary action. Oren returned to the auditorium after nearly 30 minutes only to be interrupted again by students shouting anti-Israel vitriol.

Campus police arrested 11 students, eight from UCI, including the MSU president, and three from the University of California, Riverside, all of who were later released. Although their case was forwarded to the Orange County District Attorney’s office, no charges were filed against them.

On May 27, Lisa Cornish, senior executive director of student housing, notified the MSU that campus officials had found that the group and its authorized signers had planned and coordinated the disruption of Oren’s speech at the UCI Student Center. The investigation revealed evidence obtained through social networking sites and personal observations of what officials called a “detailed game plan” for disrupting the speech that identified “disruptors,” and created “scripted statements” that some hecklers read from index cards.

MSU members publicly insisted that the students had acted independently and that their actions constituted free speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment.

In his Aug. 31 letter to the MSU, Gomez disagreed, stating that the protests deprived Oren of his right to free speech and exceeded the students’ free speech protections afforded by both the First Amendment and campus policies. Public actions taken by group members in this matter gave the appearance of MSU sponsorship of “serious violations of campus policies and First Amendment protections,” he added. 

Orange County Jewish groups expressed disappointment with the university’s decision to shorten the suspension. Calling the sanction “merely a slap on the wrist,” the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, whose 2008 report documented longstanding physical and verbal harassment of Jewish students at UCI, expressed concern that the university’s actions would not deter future incidents of anti-Semitism on campus.

“While the Task Force appreciates that UCI seems to be recognizing that anti-Semitism is a major problem at UCI by maintaining the suspension of the MSU, there clearly exists a lack of courage and moral conviction to fight hatred on campus by the UCI administration,” said a task force statement issued to The Jewish Journal.

“The only way we will know that this decision has been effective is if there is a systemic change in the action and conduct by the MSU and a turn to more thoughtful dialogue that befits a university campus,” said Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County in a statement.

Free Speech or Harassment?

When UCLA librarian Jonnie Hargis this month sent out an e-mail to everyone on the library’s list, he had no idea the chaos he’d cause on campus.

Hargis wrote in his e-mail that United States taxpayers "fund and arm a state called Israel, which is responsible for untold thousands upon thousands of deaths of Muslim Palestinian children and civilians." He ended his message with: "So, who are the ‘terrorists’ anyway?"

Library officials promptly suspended Hargis from work for a week without pay because his e-mail was in violation of university library policy, which prohibits unsolicited messages containing political, religious or patriotic messages to be sent to library department lists.

"Your recent e-mail, which was distributed to the entire unit, demonstrated a lack of sensitivity that went beyond incivility and became harassment," Lorraine Kram, head of reference and instructional services at the library, wrote Hargis in her letter of suspension: "Your comments contribute to a hostile environment … for your other co-workers."

The incident brought to the forefront the issue of free speech on campus.

A student backlash broke out, and the eruption also became an impetus for further anti-Israel sentiment. Angry students wrote letters to the Daily Bruin denouncing Hargis’ suspension and supporting his views on Israel.

"Many people in the United States over the years have been persecuted for expressing displeasure with the United States aiding and abetting the Jewish State," wrote student Tom Moran. "This is just one more example of the spiteful campaign against anyone who dares to tell it like it is about Israel," he wrote.

As UCLA students tried to make sense of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the administration, during a UCLA memorial service, urged students to refrain from blaming ethnic communities and discriminating against them. While discrimination against the Muslim and Arab American populations at UCLA was mentioned in particular, verbal attacks on the Jewish population and the policies of the United States toward Israel also received attention.

UCLA for some years has been a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment and activity, escalating last year with the start of the al-Aksa Intifada. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) held a weeklong student government-sponsored anti-Zionist campaign offering propaganda that equated Zionism with racism, hatred and murder. Billboards all over campus gave statistics on Palestinian death tolls and compared Israel to apartheid South Africa. Despite protests from UCLA’s Jewish population that these rallies — paid for by student money and upheld by student government — were not only anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic, nothing was done because of free speech issues.

This year, MSA has been quiet on the topic of Israel, concentrating instead on hate crimes directed toward Arabs and Muslims, and generally keeping a low profile. Hillel at UCLA, which usually responds to anti-Israel propaganda from the MSA by promoting educational programming and holding discussions on the situation in Israel, does not anticipate much anti-Israel activity, says its director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller.

That situation is mirrored nationwide. "Hillel directors at universities throughout the United States report a quieting of anti-Israel rhetoric in recent weeks," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently reported.

Bruins for Israel, an advocacy group associated with American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), plans to address the issue of anti-Israel sentiment on campus this year by trying to educate students. Bruins plans a pro-Israel week and hands out fliers daily to help Jewish students become knowledgeable enough to respond to anti-Zionist propaganda.

While instances of anti-Israel activity are not nearly as abundant as those in previous years, the question arises: At a public university, where should the line between free speech and discrimination be drawn?

UCLA has always and without exception strongly upheld the right of free speech, said Albert Carnesale, UCLA’s chancellor. "Academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society. Through open debate, discourse, and study, more speech, not less, is a way in which all views may be explored and argued," Carnesale said.

The suspension of Hargis prompted many UCLA students to feel that free speech was under attack, while others believed the suspension was necessary in order to end discrimination and make the university a safe place for all.

Carnesale said, "It is my hope that the faculty and staff at UCLA will encourage discourse among those groups who seem to be at odds with one another. It is through discussion and debate that our understanding of one another will allow us to create an environment of both welcome and safety for all of our students."

Establishing Boundaries

For those who look up to the American Jewish clergy, it has not been a good year.
Last week, one of the Reform movement’s most prominent rabbis was suspended from the movement’s rabbinical association for past sexual misconduct.

Shortly after his suspension from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, widely respected as a Jewish thinker and teacher, resigned as president of the movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The news about Zimmerman came on the heels of several other widely publicized incidents involving Jewish clergy:

A Reform rabbi in Cherry Hill, N.J., faces a possible death sentence for allegedly hiring people to murder his wife in 1994.

A Conservative cantor in the Chicago area was arrested over Thanksgiving weekend for alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.

The Orthodox Union has just received a report investigating its handling of allegations that a New Jersey rabbi working for the movement’s national youth group sexually harassed and molested teens. The report’s findings and recommendations will not be made public until late this month.

The wave of incidents is refocusing attention on an issue that has come into public view only in recent years.

In the past, rabbinic misconduct — particularly sexual misconduct — was rarely discussed publicly. Many advocates for victims complained that rabbinical associations were more interested in protecting their members than the people they hurt.

Today there are stirrings of change. Leaders of the rabbinic organizations say misconduct remains rare, but during the past five years, three of the four denominations have developed new guidelines or modified old ones for addressing misconduct.

In addition, some rabbinic seminaries are raising the issues for rabbis-in-training, both before and after ordination.

It is unclear what overall impact such changes are having, since no one appears to be tracking the issue or monitoring how the new guidelines are affecting the number of complaints or the actions taken against rabbis.

While some believe that recent high-profile cases may encourage victims to come forward, others worry that the pendulum may swing too far.

They worry that fear of false accusations or misunderstandings are leading rabbis to become nervous about even innocently hugging congregants in need of comfort or counseling people behind closed doors.

One result from all the publicity is a growing awareness of the issue, which many expect will lead to less tolerance for misconduct.

“The wall of silence around clergy misconduct is being taken down,” said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor of Lilith, a feminist Jewish magazine.

In 1998, the magazine published an article about women who said they were sexually harassed by the late charismatic Orthodox leader, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein, a fellow at the Wilstein Institute in Encino, Calif., who has been an advocate on this issue in the past, said, “People are less skittish and afraid of saying this happens with rabbis and are therefore more willing to deal with it.”

Rabbinic sexual misconduct is an extraordinarily complex issue.

It ranges from more obvious transgressions, such as sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, to more ambiguous cases in which a rabbi has a seemingly consensual relationship with a congregant or staff person, but which is questionable because of the power dynamics involved.

It is difficult to know how prevalent misconduct cases are or what percentage are reported.

As Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA), put it, “I can never guarantee there are not things that happen that don’t get taken care of.

“Obviously someone has to lodge a complaint,” he said. “My office is not a police force, and we’re not on witch hunts.”

It is also difficult to assess how fairly cases are handled, since rabbinic ethics committees — in order to protect both the accuser and the accused — operate in secrecy.

That secrecy “by its very nature makes it difficult to evaluate the process at all,” said Rabbi Shira Stern, chairwoman of the Reform movement’s Women’s Rabbinic Network.

The Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform rabbinical associations have created or modified policies concerning sexual misconduct within the past five years.

The Conservative movement’s guidelines, in the works for several years, have not yet been printed and distributed to rabbis but are expected to be completed in June 2001.

The Orthodox rabbinical association has not modified its procedures in more than 50 years, according to Rabbi Steven Dworken, the group’s executive vice president.

But the group’s president, Rabbi Kenneth Hain, said the process may be re-examined if that is recommended in the Orthodox Union’s new report on the handling of the youth abuse case.

The movements vary in how explicit their guidelines are about procedures for inquiry and punitive measures. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is Orthodox, and the Reform movement’s CCAR made their guidelines available, while the Conservative and Reconstructionist associations gave overviews but would not distribute actual policies.

All the ethics committees request complaints in writing and give an opportunity for the accused rabbi to respond in writing. They then interview both parties and other sources, where appropriate, in order to ascertain what happened and how to respond.

When rabbis are found guilty, the responses range from a reprimand to suspension to expulsion from the association, depending on the misconduct and the assessment of the ethics committee.

Some of the movements require therapy and a process of teshuvah (repentance) in order for the charged to pursue their rabbinic careers.

In addition, the Reform movement informs any future employers of that rabbi about that rabbi’s past transgressions and rehabilitation process.

None of the rabbinic associations could provide data prior to 1995, but since then, three Reform rabbis have been suspended for sexual misconduct and two Conservative rabbis have been found guilty but not suspended.

Both Conservative rabbis were required to undergo therapy and be monitored by the ethics committee, and one was forbidden from taking any rabbinic post other than teaching adult education courses.

Meyers said the RA’s ethics committee is currently wrestling with a case in which a now 86-year-old rabbi is being accused of something he did 30 years ago, raising the question of whether rabbis should be disciplined for transgressions that occurred long ago.

Officials of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association would not disclose how many cases it has reviewed or what disciplinary action it took, and the Orthodox’s RCA said it did not know of any cases of rabbinic sexual misconduct.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the Orthodox rabbi accused of sexually harassing and molesting scores of youth in the Orthodox Union’s youth group, was not a member of the RCA, which is composed primarily of congregational rabbis.

Some do worry that the movements’ guidelines may be so stringent that rabbis and other Jewish professionals may not be able to do their jobs.

“At my son’s camp, the counselors weren’t allowed to check them for ticks after they come back from hikes,” said Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, assistant dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school.

“Where’s the line? We’re in a world where touching is so dangerous that people are lonely,” Dickstein said.
Another difficulty in preventing misconduct is identifying the type of personality prone to overstepping the boundaries.

“Confidence, willingness to reach out to people — all the things that make people good rabbis also make them susceptible to inappropriate behavior,” Dickstein said.

“When you realize how much power you have with vulnerable people, sometimes you might be tempted to take advantage.”

The added scrutiny on the rabbinate, and the fear that one misstep can ruin one’s career and reputation, may add more pressures to an already demanding career.

“You have to be so many things to so many people — what I call the multifarious P’s: pastor, preacher, pedagogue, politician, public relations expert, pronouncer, priest, prophet and pal,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, spiritual leader of the Community Synagogue of Port Washington on Long Island, N.Y., and author of a recent book on Jewish masculinity.

Salkin, who is Reform, urges his colleagues to seek regular therapy and speak more openly with each other about the issues they face.

“I think rabbis stray because they need intimacy, they need affirmation and more than that, it’s what Judaism calls the ‘yetzer hara,’ the not-so-good inclination that’s within us.”

Rabbi Jacob Staub, vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said most rabbis and prospective rabbis think that “this is someone else’s problem — you have to be bad. But you can be operating from the noblest of motives and from what you think are the best of values, and you still could be tripped up.”

What most rabbis fall into is not “what we’d call pathological or criminal” — sexual harassment, sexual molestation or nonconsensual sex — “but human foible,” said Staub, who coordinates RRC seminars that deal with these issues.

Like the RRC, other rabbinical schools also now offer some seminars in which sexual misconduct and other related issues are addressed.

Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, a law professor and spiritual leader of two Los Angeles-area congregations who has written extensively on issues of rabbinic misconduct, would like to see more.

“We need programs at seminaries and out in the field to remind them that sex and power and excitement are very real. And if you do any counseling at all, emotions are going to be there and, like therapists, we need to be aware of what’s happening and ensure that synagogues remain safe places.”