UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics

Like Moses upholding the Tablets of the Law, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller stood on the steps of UCLA’s Ackerman Union last week, his outstretched arms grasping a large, hand-lettered cardboard sign, which proclaimed:

Peace for Israel
Peace for Palestine
Share the Hope

Milling near the solitary UCLA Hillel director were Arab and Jewish students with competing exhibits, but to reach them a visitor had to pass through a colorful marketplace of causes up Bruin Walk.

The largest crowd was listening to the deafening rock band, Moving Units, anchoring a gauntlet of tables, leafleteers and displays urging students to participate in the Inaugural Bruin Cardboard Boat Race, engage in Christian Bible studies, fight drug addiction, play volleyball and so on.

At the end was a large photo collage of men and women of different races and nationalities, each asserting “I am a Palestinian” to indicate international solidarity for the cause. The announced Apartheid Obstacle Course, presented by the Guerrilla Theatre, was running an hour late.

The Bruin Walk display was one of the events organized by Muslim, Arab and supporting students as part of the weeklong “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace” program.

The low-key theme appeared to be an attempt by the sponsoring Students for Justice in Palestine to lend a respectable scholarly touch to the anti-Israel demonstrations.

If this approach indicated a higher level of sophistication by the sponsors than in previous years, so did the Jewish response, organized by Bruins for Israel.

Bruin Walk was dotted with graphic pro-Israel posters aimed at different campus constituencies.

“Where in the Middle East Can Gay Officers Serve Their Country?” asked one poster, answering, “Only in Israel.” Other posters, with the same bottom line, queried, “Where in the Middle East Can Arab Women Vote?” and “Where in the Middle East Are Daughters Valued as Much as Sons?”

Smack in front of the Palestinian display stood 21-year-old Michael Smoyman, a yarmulke on his head and holding a sign inscribed, “Obstacle to Peace: Suicide Bombing.”

As Seidler-Feller’s arms grew tired of holding the peace poster, he was approached by George Malouf, an Arab graduate student from Gaza, who took over the rabbi’s sign and post.

When the “apartheid wall” finally arrived, it lead to a mind-bending face-off between Arab students dressed as Israeli soldiers manning roadblocks, and Jewish students dressed as suicide bombers and carrying such signs as, “If I were a Palestinian suicide bomber, you would be dead now” and “If I were your neighbor, you would want a fence, too.”

Two campus cops on bicycles were on hand to break up a threatening scuffle, but on the whole the week’s mood was largely nonconfrontational.

It was quite a different story a week earlier at UC Irvine, which for the past three years has witnessed militant anti-Israel agitation during Palestine Week.

Instead of UCLA’s benign “Obstacles to Peace” slogan, the theme of the UCI Muslim Student Union was “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” featuring lectures on such topics as “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”

Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a Black Muslim imam and veteran rabble-rouser given to bloodcurdling threats against Israel and “Zionist Jews” spoke at both UC campuses.

While he pulled out all the stops at an UCI outdoor rally, at UCLA he spoke to some 70 people in an indoor auditorium in a considerably calmer and less vituperative voice.

Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the regional American Jewish Congress chapter, monitored the UCI events and, shocked by the hostile atmosphere, said “I now understand what it’s like to be a Jew in pre-war Germany or an American Embassy hostage in Tehran.”

Jeffrey Rips, the Hillel executive director at UCI, said that while there was general agreement that free speech should not be abrogated on campus, the administration had the right and duty of exercising its free speech by publicly condemning anti-Semitic demonstrations and hate harangues.

This point represents a long-standing demand by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and some UCI faculty members, who protested this year’s events to Chancellor Michael V. Drake.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is currently investigating charges by the Zionist Organization of America that the UCI administration has failed to take a stand against anti-Semitism and to prevent harassment of Jewish students on campus.

To balance the dour campus picture, Rips said that except during Palestine Week, there was little tension between Muslim and Jewish student the rest of the year.

While some Jewish students, especially freshmen, were intimidated in the past by the militancy of Muslim students, who outnumber Jewish students, “now you see students wearing kippot and ‘I’m Proud to be Jewish’ T-shirts, and we also had a large sukkah on campus,” he said.

Rips blamed the tenser atmosphere at UCI, compared to UCLA, on a more radicalized Muslim student group, which takes its cues from Malik Ali, and the fact that UCI has become the main media focus for national Arab-Jewish campus tensions.

General and Jewish papers ran extensive stories on UCI’s Palestine Week; UCLA’s was covered only by the campus daily.



Back when I was working at a newspaper in New York, my editors and I tried to come up with a teen-sounding headline for a story on voting for our new teen section.

“How about ‘Gettin’ Out the Vote’?” my editor offered.

As if dropping a “g” off the end of the word is all one needs to do to appeal to teens.

I knew then, and I know now, that to really speak to teens, you just have to be one.

Adults can affect any sort of teenish language they want; they can claim to understand how the teenage mind works, to get the issues teens are thinking about. But teens know a fake when they see it.

That is why The Jewish Journal has decided to hand this page over to teenagers. Once a month, we will choose columns, feature articles or news stories submitted by teens in grades 9-12.

As you can see on this page, Natalie Goodis, a junior at Marlborough High School, has inaugurated the page with a column about how her experience in Eastern Europe and Israel changed her.

Here’s your chance. Write an article about what a teenager has to weigh when deciding whether to date only Jews. Send us your thoughts on evolution vs. creationism. Tell us about what you think about Ariel Sharon, about this country’s hurricane response, about your grandmother. Describe an event at your school that moved the whole student body to action.

The topics are up to you; the voice is yours.

We hope the monthly page is just the beginning. We want teens to talk to us — to have some input into what their peers should be writing about. That is why we are creating a Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee. (How would that look on a college resume?) The committee will meet several times a year to determine what topics you want covered in these pages, and to get your feedback on where things should go.

Being a teenager is intense. It is when you form your values, you solidify lifelong relationships, you choose a path for your future. Most teens are profoundly aware of just how pivotal these years are, and a lot of teens have something to say about it.

If you’re one of them, we’re waiting to hear from you. This is your chance to help more than 100,000 Jewish adults get a glimpse into your world.

Action Items:

  • Articles: First-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words — submitted as an attachment to an e-mail.
  • Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee: Send your name, age, school and up to 200 words on why you should be on the Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee.

Ground Rules


Discussion Difficult

Bernard Goldberg’s response to Rob Eshman’s critique turns out to be a fine example of why some conservative voices make intelligent discussion so difficult (“My Work Is Not to Blame for Jew-Haters,” Aug. 5).

Goldberg starts out with, “Usually I only respond to fair and thoughtful criticism, but I’ll make an exception in this case, because people I respect tell me that Rob Eshman … is both a smart and decent guy.”

Let’s look at that sentence. Despite the begrudging “smart and decent,” Goldberg reveals that he really does not believe Eshman’s criticism to be “fair and thoughtful.” In that case, why is he sending in a response?

He goes on to whine, “It never occurred to me to count people by their religion. It’s my friends on the left who love to put people in groups…. Liberals love diversity — just not the intellectual kind.”

He says that liberals love to put people in groups — not some liberals, not even most liberals, just liberals. The man has just put all liberals into a group.

His book includes one or two conservatives like Michael Savage, whose ravings are so maniacal that even Goldberg cannot stomach them. But aside from these exceptions, it is clear that the “people who are screwing up America” are the liberals. Another prime example of those conservatives who think that those who do not agree with them are unpatriotic and anti-American.

Lou Charloff

Junk Science

In the fossil record, many forms of complex life all of a sudden explode on to the scene. There is not a smooth transition from one species to another (“Junk Science,” Aug. 12).

Darwin’s theory is one that believes in gradual changes. In fact, in Darwin’s book, he pleads with the reader to ignore the fossil record. The more of the fossil record that is unearthed, the more it disproves the theory of evolution as Darwin proposed it.

The idea of intelligent design is just as valid as the theory of evolution. To believe in evolution takes just as much blind faith as believing in intelligent design. To teach evolution as if it is a proven fact is junk science.

Dr. Sabi Israel
West Hills

Gaza Disengagement

I am loath to understand why Jews should be prohibited from residing in areas under Palestinian control, when almost 1.3 million Arabs live in Israel proper (“We Must Show Unified Pullout Support,” Aug. 12). Why must it be that to establish peace and live in harmony with Arab neighbors, their territory must be Judenrein. No Jews allowed?

The very idea of establishing policies which preclude even one Jew from living in even one place unearth historic realities that are painful.

Rabbi I.B. Koller
Richmond, Va.

The matter of Israel’s expulsion of Jews from Gaza keeps many of us up at night, uncertain as to the efficacy of such a policy. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether or not it’s a good idea.

The letter from Dr. Aryeh Cohen (“Letters,” Aug. 12) is a disturbing example of an illogical argument used to support a policy of which many Jews are wary.

Cohen uses the specious, context-free logic employed by those who wish to destroy the State of Israel — just point out some statistics, and it seems obvious that Israel is “mercilessly oppressing” the Palestinian people, who are being “denied” their “rightful” homeland.

Cohen’s flawed argument in support of “disengagement” from Gaza assumes that there’s no history — that the United Nations has not been backing the maintenance of the Palestinian refugee camps all these years, that the Palestinians have not purposefully murdered innocent civilians for their own political ends and that the Palestinians have not missed numerous opportunities to make peace.

If I buy Cohen’s argument, we may as well withdraw from all of Israel proper right now to avoid any chance of ever being an “oppressor,” and then go heal ourselves by “re-engaging with morality.” By insinuating that the Israelis are the only ones who have acted immorally, Cohen undermines his own position.

Time will tell whether Israel’s expulsion of Jewish settlers from Gaza was wise or not. Cohen’s use of the flawed logic of our enemies to defend what may be a reasonable position is more appalling than deluding ourselves that we are as blameless and innocent as he posits the Palestinians to be. That such an argument comes from a professor at our distinguished University of Judaism is more appalling still.

I hope and pray that something good will come out of this heart-wrenching decision by the Israeli government. Am Yisrael chai.

Gary Lainer
Los Angeles


Thank you for Toby Klein Greenwald’s thoughtful piece (“Barbed Wire Fails to Separate Hearts,” Aug. 12). Although I am sadly baffled by the pro-expulsion view of the Southern Californian Board of Rabbis, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee (don’t they read “From Time Immemorial” by Peters or arutzsheva.com?), I find it quite telling that The Journal’s “Losing Faith” (Aug. 12) headline really refers more to the Peace Nowniks’ unfortunate lack of faith, understanding in the Torah and vision of Yisrael.

Joshua Spiegelman


Rabbi Harvey Fields and David Pine mischaracterize support for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Gaza Strip as support for Israel (“We Must Show Unified Pullout Support,” Aug. 12). Those who truly support Israel oppose that gift to our enemies over which they have prepared a celebration.

Anything those would-be genocides of our people celebrate is cause for our mourning. They have made no secret of their intent to use every parcel of our land they grab as a base for grabbing all the rest of it, “from the river to the sea.”

There is nothing “courageous” in surrender, particularly when the enemy is militarily and morally inferior. No relief can be expected when we give them control over their air, sea and land conduits for re-armament.

The dream of a Palestinian Muslim state as a “peace-seeking neighbor” is contrary to all their propaganda, their declarations (in Arabic), their education in the schools and their actions throughout the generations.

That Jews occupy 18 percent of the land and use 75 percent of the water in the strip is indeed a shame: Both numbers should be 100 percent, as the ancestors of the present Arab occupiers, when first they invaded from Arabia, themselves were calling all the land “the land of the Jews.” They are imperialist settlers in our country, and have no right to be anywhere in it.

Despite that, we have generously allowed full Israeli citizenship to those of them that want it. What would the writers say had Israel made any province of the country Arabrein? Is there any place in the world outside of our homeland that they think should be Judenrein? Is there any other people they think should not be allowed to live in certain places?

Louis Richter

Independent Mind

I am a Jewish voter, and I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he runs again for governor, I will vote for him again (“Schwarzenneger Is Losing Jewish Votes,” Aug. 5) .

However, I vote as an individual and not as a member of religious or ethnic mindthink. This article states that Jews vote alike on a platform of democratic values, and are all pro-choice and advocates of reform.

While this may or may not be true, this is no different than the person who claims the African American vote is unilateral, and all African Americans think and vote alike. I personally find this not only a racist concept, but an offensive one. Jews, like all people, vote according to their own personal beliefs, and not part of a Jewish conspiracy.

I am also offended by the comparisons to the AM radio crowd, as if all who listen are again part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I stand as woman, a Jew and a person who is capable of making up my own mind on how to vote, who to vote for and on what issues are important to me, a citizen of the United States, a resident in California and of independent mind.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Valley Glen

Vote No on 57, 58: They Erode Duty

One of the central tenets of our Jewish political and ethical tradition is that cities and states are communities of obligation. Citizenship in these communities is defined by responsibility, and the most basic responsibility is to care for the neediest among us. Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas articulated this same fundamental truth in the concept of “humanist urbanism.”

Unfortunately, over the past quarter century, this core value has been eroded in California — dating from the abdication of communal responsibility embodied in the 1978 passage of Proposition 13. Because they continue and exacerbate this pernicious trend, Propositions 57 and 58 on the March 2 state ballot deserve to be defeated. However, two other ballot measures — Propositions 55 and 56 — merit the Jewish community’s wholehearted support.

Proposition 57, which seeks authorization for a $15 billion bond to pay off the state’s accumulated General Fund deficit as of June 30, 2004, violates California’s constitutional requirement that bonded indebtedness be incurred only for a “single object or work” — such as the educational facilities whose repair and restoration is provided for in Proposition 55. Even worse, repayment of this enormous bond will be based upon one-quarter cent of the state sales tax — the most regressive form of governmental taxation.

More fundamentally, since this proposed bond will take between nine and 14 years to repay, Proposition 57 simply passes the burden for current spending onto future generations and raises the overall debt burden beyond what is fiscally prudent, costing an average family more than $2,000. This is akin to taking out a second home mortgage in order to pay monthly living expenses.

Balancing the state’s budget on the backs of society’s weakest segments is also unethical. During their administrations, both Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson raised income taxes on the state’s highest earners. We would have expected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to do likewise — as well as to abrogate his unilateral reduction of the existing vehicle license fee — in order to ease the current economic crisis, and thereby protect education and social services.

Increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco products should also have been given careful consideration. Instead, the governor (with the Legislature’s complicity) opted to evade responsible action in the present and risk having the neediest disproportionately shoulder an enormous future burden.

Proposition 58, whose fate is tied directly to Proposition 57’s adoption, purports to require the enactment of a balanced state budget. However, it in fact permits short-term borrowing to be used to balance an unbalanced budget, thereby undermining this measure’s avowed goal of ensuring that a balanced budget will actually be enacted and implemented.

Moreover, although Proposition 58 purports to prohibit all future deficit-financing bonds, it cynically exempts the $15 billion bond called for by Proposition 57. To do so, Proposition 58 temporarily repeals existing provisions of the California Constitution that prevent the issuance of such a bond.

By contrast, Proposition 55 presents the archetypal purpose for incurring bonded indebtedness. Safe, modern and uncrowded schools are vital to the educational achievement of our children — a core Jewish value. Proposition 55 authorizes the state to sell $12.3 billion in general obligation bonds for the construction and renovation of K-12, as well as higher-education, facilities. Especially important, this measure makes a total of $2.44 billion available for use by districts with schools that are considered critically overcrowded.

Proposition 55’s strict accountability requirements should ensure that these funds are spent only on school rehabilitation and building costs, and these bonds will not raise taxes. Even the conservative California Taxpayers Association believes that Proposition 55 is a fiscally responsible way to finance school repairs and construction. The California Chamber of Commerce likewise supports Proposition 55 because it invests in our economy and in our future work force.

Finally, past experience proves that state budgetary gridlock harms those who are most vulnerable — the poor, the sick, the disabled, children and the elderly. To avoid the recurrence of this phenomenon, Proposition 56 permits the Legislature to enact budget and budget-related tax appropriation bills with a 55 percent vote, rather than the two-thirds majority vote currently needed.

A 55 percent vote still requires a larger majority to pass our budget than 47 other states and the federal government. Arkansas and Rhode Island are the only other states that currently require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.

Because Proposition 56 further mandates that the Legislature and governor permanently forfeit their salaries, per diem allowances and expense reimbursement for each day the budget is late, accountability is assured and the likelihood of partisan gridlock significantly minimized. Proposition 56 also has broad support from a wide array of education, health, public safety, disability rights, environmental protection, religion, business, labor and community groups.

Douglas Mirell is the immediate
past president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and currently chairs its
executive committee. He may be contacted at dmirell@pjalliance.org


Will U.S. Jews Keep Pace With Israel?

Publicly, most Jewish organizations support the "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace that President Bush is promoting in his Middle East travels this week and at his summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

But privately, there is much skepticism about what will transpire in the coming weeks and months, with fears that Israel will be forced to make too many concessions or that Palestinians will get a state without first cracking down on terrorism. The goal, many say, is to make these concerns heard quietly, while not standing in the way of progress.

Mainstream Jewish leaders who have reservations say they are not worried that they will be viewed as impediments for peace. Instead, they say they are on the same wavelength as Israel’s government, supporting the process — hesitantly.

"The center, I am convinced, has already shifted in support for Sharon and Bush," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "If it’s good enough for Sharon and good enough for Israelis, then the American Jewish community will embrace it."

But to some, supporting the Israeli government means more than backing what is said publicly.

Some Jewish leaders feel it is up to them to say what many in Israel, including Sharon, are thinking but are not saying. They say political pressure may have forced Sharon to back something he truly does not believe in, and it is the Jewish community’s job to balance the support Israel is expressing with voices of caution.

This is not the first time the organized American Jewish community faces the prospect of suddenly embracing a peace process after years of echoing hard-line Israeli positions with respect to the Palestinians. When the Oslo process evolved in the mid-1990s, some prominent Jewish organizations, including the umbrella Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were accused of not fully backing the process the Israeli government had adopted.

Supporters of Oslo called it the "Diaspora lag" — the fact the American Jews were not supporting something that was being viewed positively in Israel.

American Jews can become more pessimistic than some in Israel because they do not see the violence up close each day, said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and therefore are not as pragmatic about the need to embrace any movement in the peace process.

"Maybe the fact that we don’t live it as acutely as Israelis do, sometimes we have a tendency to be less pragmatic or more idealistic," he said.

This time around, some Jewish leaders say they are once again skeptical. But the difference is, some say, that skepticism is shared by Israel.

"Everybody is hesitant," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. "A lot of people have reservations because they see this as a very risky approach."

Hoenlein and others say the 14 reservations about the road map that Israel submitted to the United States last month mirror the concerns they have been expressing for months, and there is still strong concern that Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, retains much of the control of the security system in the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, an Israeli Cabinet minister, Limor Livnat of Likud, meanwhile, told American Jewish leaders Tuesday that "your role now is to stand very firm" and to make sure that the Israeli government does not make concessions until the Palestinians have uprooted terrorism.

"You need to make sure [that Bush sticks to his ideology to uproot all terrorism in the world] including, of course, the Palestinian infrastructure," Livnat, who abstained from the Cabinet vote endorsing the road map, told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents.

There’s a decade’s worth of experience that makes American Jews fear the worst.

"If it’s hard for the community to be on board, it’s for good reason," said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I don’t think the Jewish community will be that much ahead or behind Congress and public opinion."

That worries some more dovish Jewish groups, who fear Jewish leaders may be reluctant to embrace a new process, when the last one burned Israel.

"The concern I have is if groups get wrapped up in the opposition to any talks of a return to diplomacy, and too tightly wound around denigrating the other side," said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

He fears that Jewish groups, while technically on board, will not expend any political capital on supporting — and pushing — the peace process.

The question, others say, is whether Abbas and the Palestinians will follow through where they have not in the past. If progress is made by the Palestinians, with terrorism especially coming to an end, there would be almost universal support among American Jews for a revived peace process, they say.

Even hawkish groups like the Zionist Organization of America say they will "openly and publicly support negotiations" if the environment is right, said the group’s national president, Morton Klein. He said they would need to see Palestinian arrests of terrorists and other requirements before they would support the process.

Indeed, several Jewish leaders said they will be working in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that Palestinians and other partners are keeping the commitments stressed in the road map, because they fear the main problem with Oslo was that Palestinian compliance was not enforced.

"The role for the American Jewish community is to be skeptical and watch and move in when the Arabs are not fulfilling their commitments," Amitay said.

Also on the agenda is setting the scene to entice the Palestinians to fulfill those commitments. AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, last month pushed for a provision in the State Department Authorization Act that would give substantial U.S. assistance to a Palestinian state, once it achieved a thorough peace.

Jewish leaders said the provision, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the leaders of the House International Relations Committee, sent a signal that the new state would have American Jewish support.

"I think our role is to encourage our government to play a constructive role to facilitate an opportunity for peace," Raffel said. That means finding international donors and other financial avenues to support the state. "I only wish that we get to the point where money is needed," he said.

For now, many American Jewish groups say they will take their cues from the Israeli government.

"Some of us sometimes lose sight of the fact that it’s their decision," Foxman said. "It’s not our role to push them or to hold them back."

Prager Mulls Run for Senate in 2004

Prominent nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis
Prager may run for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democratic Sen.
Barbara Boxer, Prager told the Journal this week.

“I’m still only in the thinking and talking stage,” said the
outspoken Republican. “No exploratory committee has been formed. I won’t
announce that until I am close to being certain. I don’t want to disappoint
people who have invested hopes.”

Prager said he’s off to Washington next month to feel out
senators, in order to help him make his decision. Already, he said he has “good
responses” from conservative columnists Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett as well as
his listeners.

When Prager first broached the subject on his show in early
February, his listeners expressed support. “I also have commitments for the
serious kind of money it takes to mount a campaign,” he said.

“The Dennis Prager Show,” broadcast live weekdays 9 a.m. to
noon on KRLA 870AM, reaches 45 cities and is heard worldwide over the Web.
Despite an 18-year history with KABC, Prager jumped ship in 2000 after losing
his syndication deal with Jones Radio Network and signed with KIEV, which later
changed its call letters to KRLA.

Prager covers a wide range of topics on his show and speaks
often about relationships, religion, morality and international relations. An
ardent supporter of Israel, Prager had broadcast live from Jerusalem in the
spring of 2002 and shot a documentary, “Israel in a Time of Terror.”

When it comes to foreign policy, Prager is no isolationist.
“The United States is morally obligated to use force for good,” he proclaims.

Prager maintains that he is a “centrist –Â even a liberal,
in the JFK mold.” He was a Democrat until 1992 and considered running for
Congress, as a Democrat, some 20 years ago.

Prager eschews a descriptive label, and said he is neither a
conservative nor a moderate Republican. “I prefer to ask not ‘what is left and
what is right,’ but ‘what is wrong and what is right.'”

For Prager, one of his motivations in running is to garner a
larger audience — even though he would have to give up the show and his
syndicated column if he won the race. “In the Senate, I would be in an
influential position; people would pay attention to what I have to say,” he
said. “Also, if a Republican can win in a Democratic state like California, he
would have to be taken seriously as a contender for national office, such as
vice president.”

Prager also believes he could be a role model, for Jewish
and non-Jewish Republicans. “I would serve as an example of a politician who
does not have to compromise his principles. And finally, as someone who would
step down from office voluntarily; I do not believe in being a career politician.”

Prager, who endorsed Bill Simon’s bid for governor in 2002,
is targeting Boxer because he and other Republicans feel she is vulnerable.
“Unlike Diane Feinstein, Boxer has not made an impact, except for real
leftists,” he said.

Boxer campaign spokesman Roy Behr told The Journal, “A lot
of ex-candidates have said the same things, all of whom ultimately went on to
lose to Barbara Boxer. The reason is that she represents California’s
mainstream voters. She has stood up for California’s mainstream for 12 years in
the Senate, and this is the only reason that she has been elected and
re-elected by convincing margins.”

Boxer won her second Senate term in 1998 with 53 percent of
the vote.

Prager is also buoyed by political strategist and author
Arnold Steinberg’s contention that he is the one who can beat Boxer.

Jerry Parsky, who ran George W. Bush’s campaign in
California, and Lionel Chetwynd, the White House Hollywood liaison, are also
reportedly backing Prager, according to Dave Berg in The Washington Times on
Feb. 19.

Prager discounts any notion that Jewish voting patterns,
which favor Democratic candidates for national office, might mitigate against
his candidacy. “First of all, I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Jewish
voting pattern in California,” he said. “But if there were, now it would be
different. We are in a new world. There is greater receptivity on the part of
Jews to vote Republican.

“Moreover, I would be an exception to the norm. I have a
record of a lifetime of devotion to Jewish causes, and Israel.”

Prager may be right about shifting voter trends. In 2000,
the Republican ticket received 20 percent of the Jewish vote — more than Dole
won in 1996, and double that of George H.W. Bush in 1992. Perhaps surprisingly,
that 20 percent came despite Jewish excitement about Joe Lieberman’s nomination
as the first Jew on a major party ticket.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew
Brooks said that a survey conducted by his organization shows that 48 percent
of Jews responding indicated they would consider voting for President Bush for
re-election in 2004. More significantly for Prager, the poll also revealed that
27 percent were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices.

According to political consultant Allan Hoffenblum, “Prager
would likely give Boxer a run for her money. He would take away Jewish voters
who are concerned about the situation of Israel in the Middle East. And he is
not a typical right-winger; he is more of a libertarian than a hard-core

Prager would first have to win the battle for the Republican
nomination. Rep. Doug Ose (R-Sacramento), a moderate, is the only candidate so
far to announce the formation of an exploratory committee. Also expected to
toss their hats into the ring are Rep. Daryl Issa (R-Vista) and current U.S.
Treasurer Rosario Marin.

Prager told The Journal he’d run only “If I feel I have a
reasonable chance of winning — in the primaries as well as the general

He insists that in the end, his decision will be swayed by
his belief in not “whether I can win — since there is never that certainty —
but where I can do the most good.

“In the end, it will boil down to answering these two
questions: Am I cut out for this kind of life? And, can a politician run as a man
of his own conscience and not be forced into unacceptable compromises by
running?” Â

Unwanted: City Breakup

If the election were held today, secession would fail — at least among Jewish voters, according to a recent Los Angeles Times Poll.

Jewish voters are strongly against secession, more so than any other religious group, according to the July 2 poll. Out of 1,291 total voters surveyed citywide, 168 identified themselves as Jewish; of those voters, 57 percent stated they were against secession and 34 percent said they were for it. Only 9 percent said they were undecided, which Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times Poll, said was "very low undecideds for this stage in the game."

Jewish voters were more strongly against secession than the total voters citywide. The Times poll found that citywide, 47 percent of all those surveyed said they were against secession. The numbers for Valley voters only were, not surprisingly, more favorable toward secession, showing 52 percent for and 37 percent against. Although the number of Jewish voters was too low to allow for a breakdown of Valley Jews vs. city Jews, Pinkus said even in the Valley, Jewish voters were strongly against the breakup.

Comparing Jewish voters with other religious groups, Pinkus said the polls showed Catholic voters citywide divided on the issue, with 43 percent against and 40 percent for secession, while Protestants were closer in their votes to Jewish voters, with 50 percent against and 35 percent in favor of the breakup. However, unlike the results from Jewish voters, those trends reversed when applied to only Valley residents, reflecting the general population’s leanings.

Jewish leaders, many of whom are themselves against secession, said they were not surprised by the poll’s findings.

"I’m not surprised, but I am pleased to hear the majority of Jewish voters are against secession," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Diamond spent more than a year studying the Valley, Hollywood and Harbor secession proposals as part of a task force for the Council of Religious Leaders.

"The status quo is clearly not working, but proponents of secession would have to make their case that it will significantly improve the lives of residents both in the city and the Valley, and I think they have failed that test," he said. "In addition, as a religious leader I have a special concern for the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised. To date, I have seen no firm data that would demonstrate the folks in favor of secession really have the interests of the poor at heart."

Rabbi Don Goor of Temple Judea, which has campuses in Tarzana and West Hills, said he believes Jewish voters in the Valley would naturally be uncomfortable with the idea of breaking off from the city of Los Angeles.

"We understand the value of being a part of a larger community and believe very deeply in community. In fact, there is a quote from the Mishnah that says ‘Al tifrosh min hatzibur,’ which means, ‘Don’t separate yourself from the community,’" Goor said. "The other thing to consider is that the Jewish community in Los Angeles has been very successful at building coalitions and making sure the values important to us are heard at the citywide level. I would hate for that to be lost."

But secession proponents say the Times Poll results contradict the feedback they receive from Jewish sources.

"The results are contrary to what we hear out in the Jewish community," said Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE and longtime president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. "For my friends and associates who are Jewish, particularly those in the Valley, it is a question of smaller city council districts and more responsive government, and so they favor [secession]."

Regarding Diamond’s comments, Close pointed out that, as noted in a recent article in the Daily News, "The city of Los Angeles gives the least amount of help to its poor compared to any of the surrounding communities like Burbank and Glendale. So I do not think Los Angeles is the city to look to as an example of what we could be doing for the poor."

"There is also more to the issue than just the poor," Close continued. "The middle class is leaving the city and the Valley in droves, businesses are leaving in droves because of inadequate police and paramedic services and because of the poor quality of the schools. If we’re concerned about the poor, we should also be concerned about the middle class."

Still, if the Times Poll is accurate, the majority of Jewish voters would agree with Goor’s analysis of secession.

"I think it’s against our interests politically and against our principles Jewishly," Goor concluded.

Valley Boys Battle for Hertzberg’s Seat

Concern for the future of Jewish political involvement runs high in Los Angeles, but not in the 40th Assembly District. The southern San Fernando Valley district will lose a highly influential Jewish representative when former Speaker Robert Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) is termed out this year. The contest for his seat, however, comes down to two ambitious, young Jewish policy wonks, both of whom seem poised for long careers in elective office.

The difficulty in the Democratic primary race is distinguishing between the candidates, Lloyd Levine and Andrei Cherny. Both are centrist Democrats with well-connected mentors; both grew up in the district, left for school and pursued political careers before returning to the Valley, and both campaigns share a similar focus on education and traffic concerns.

Connie Friedman, a businesswoman and longtime Jewish Republican activist, is also campaigning for the seat. However, registered voters in the district are overwhelmingly Democratic and the Democratic candidate is expected to win the seat.

Cherny, 26, has more experience in national politics than at the local level. Shortly after graduating from Harvard, the son of Czech immigrants went to work as a speech writer for then-Vice President Al Gore. He helped craft the 2000 Democratic Party platform and has written a book on public policy, “The Next Deal.” When he returned to the San Fernando Valley, Hertzberg hired him as a senior policy adviser and has endorsed his candidacy.

Levine, 32, has already written legislation for the Assembly while working on the staff of Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto). His campaign literature stresses his membership in The Executives fundraising group for the Jewish Home for the Aging and his work with The Jewish Federation’s of Greater Los Angeles’ Koreh L.A. literacy program.

Reared in North Hollywood, Levine graduated from UC Riverside and has worked as the legislative director for Longville. Levine’s father, Larry Levine, is an influential political consultant active with the Valley anti-secession group One L.A.

Like Cherny, Lloyd Levine is opposed to Valley secession. He said, “If I wanted to tell people I lived in a little city north of L.A., I’d move to Bakersfield.” Also like his opponent, he is committed to getting the secession issue on the ballot.

Levine and Cherny have substantive differences on some policy issues. For example, Cherny supports using state resources to improve highways and lessen traffic congestion along the 101 corridor, while Levine would focus on bringing rail lines into the Valley to achieve that goal.

Despite such differences, their most heated debate is over who is more of a Valley Boy. Since most of Cherny’s experience is in Washington, D.C., and Levine has spent time in Sacramento working for an assemblyman, each candidate accuses the other of carpet-bagging — moving into the 40th District just to run for the Assembly seat.

When the two met in Woodland Hills for a debate sponsored by The Executives, the breakfast meeting opened with each candidate joining the audience in “Hamotzi.” So whoever wins the 40th District Democratic primary when the man who published “Yiddish for Assemblymembers” leaves his Assembly seat, the Valley will have a qualified Jewish representative to replace him.