Amar calls on Netanyahu to quash military conversion bill


Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he will no longer be responsible for any state conversions if the Knesset passes a bill requiring the recognition of all military conversions.

In a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, Amar called on the prime minister to prevent the bill from passing, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Amar has charged a committee to look into legal and halachic issues surrounding the military conversions. He asked Netanyahu to allow the committee to conclude its work before allowing the legislation to go forward.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” Amar’s letter reportedly said. “This is to inform you, that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to take care of all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”

The haredi Orthodox Shas Party also called on Netanyahu to quash the bill, telling him Tuesday that it is a breach of coalition agreements with Shas, Ynet reported,

The bill to protect Israeli soldiers who have converted to Judaism through military conversion courts from having their conversions annulled was approved Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs. It would force all state agencies, including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars to accept the converts as Jews.

In September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court, during a court hearing to address the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage, that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

Jews in the Military: High Holidays Under Fire


Who shall live and who shall die.
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not.

Ralph Goodman recited those words in a hillside tent in southeastern Belgium. Warren Zundell’s “shul” was a patch of no-man’s-land somewhere in North Korea. For Robert Cirkus, it was a jungle clearing in the bug-infested Central Highlands of Viet Nam. And for Lee Mish, it was Saddam Hussein’s former palace.

The four men have never met, but they share an uncommon bond. They represent four generations of Jewish servicemen for whom the High Holidays — and their signature Unetanah Tokef prayer — took on new meaning.

For all Jews, the words of the emotionally charged Unetanah Tokef are a powerful reminder of mortality. All the more so for Jews serving their country in wartime — such as Goodman, Zundell, Cirkus and Mish — where every day is Judgment Day and where prayer, righteousness and repentance can’t always avert a decree of death.

Here are the stories of these American servicemen who observed the High Holidays not in conventional synagogues, but on far-flung battlefields. The worship services they participated in were often improvised and incomplete. But the jarring juxtaposition of war and prayer, faith and fear, continues to resonate with these men.

A Tent on the Side of a Hill
A Tent on the Side of a Hill
Fays, Belgium
September 1944

“Colonel, the Jewish community wants to observe Yom Kippur. What can you do to help us?”

Ralph Goodman, attached to the 1st U.S. Army’s Headquarters Commandant in Belgium, was unable to celebrate Rosh Hashanah because his unit was traveling.

But Yom Kippur was fast approaching, and the 24-year-old enlistee from Pittsfield, Mass., was determined that the Jewish servicemen, now encamped at a temporary base near Verviers, Belgium, be given a place to pray.

He had already approached the 1st Army’s chief chaplain, who offered nothing except a few prayer books. But Goodman’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Harry F. Goslee, was more accommodating. He ordered a large blackout hospital tent set up on a hillside, with chairs and a portable electric generator.

On Yom Kippur, Sept. 27, 1944, about 25 soldiers and airmen congregated in that tent. Two Orthodox laymen acted as cantor and rabbi.

Goodman sat by the tent flap opening, his gun on his lap. He was juggling several different prayer books, trying to find the correct pages for Unetanah Tokef. He finally located the prayer and recited the words. But what he really was saying that day was, “Please, God, bring my buddies and me home.”

Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see a chaplain he didn’t recognize, a fresh-faced, sandy-haired man about 30, who asked permission to address the troops.

“How lovely are your tents, Oh Jacob,” he began, intoning the words to a prayer Jews say each morning.

He talked about five minutes, thanking the men for allowing him to speak and commending them for assembling a service.

Goodman, who still lives in Pittsfield, thinks about that service often, proud that he and his buddies were able to make it happen. He wishes he could share another Yom Kippur with them.

But 62 years later, he still regrets that he never asked the name of that fresh-faced Christian chaplain who reached out to a group of Jews on the holiest day of their year.

“God bless that man,” he said.

Above the 38th Parallel, North KoreaAn All-Jewish Convoy
Above the 38th Parallel, North Korea
October 1951

Warren Zundell, an orthopedic surgeon with the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Wonju, South Korea, wasn’t eager to attend Rosh Hashanah services. It meant traveling 40 miles on an unpaved, mountainous road to 10th Army Corps headquarters, over the border into North Korea. Zundell, 27, had a baby daughter back in Fall River, Mass., whom he had never seen, and he didn’t want to risk encountering snipers or land mines.

But Zundell was the unit’s only Jewish officer, and the Catholic chaplain on his base was insistent that Zundell escort the convoy.

“There are about 30 Jewish boys around here who want to go,” said the priest, who planned to remain in Wonju at the hospital.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 30, 1951, in the priest’s jeep with a white cross painted on the hood, Zundell led the way. A few truckloads of Jewish soldiers, all heavily armed, followed. Perhaps the only all-Jewish convoy ever to travel into North Korea, they arrived safely several hours later at the camp, a war-scarred patch of ground that sported some tents and housed perhaps a few hundred soldiers.

The next morning, a rabbi conducted services in a large tent, with about 300 soldiers, many who had traveled there from other units, sitting on the ground or on boxes. There was no ark, no Torah and no prayer books, except for the rabbi’s.

“I just sat there and listened,” Zundell recalled. “I didn’t think about where I was.”

After services, he traveled back to Wonju with the same soldiers.

Even less enthusiastic about observing Yom Kippur, Zundell was again induced to return to the prayer site. On Yom Kippur day, the convoy again traveled above the 38th Parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea. The scene was identical to what Zundell remembered from Rosh Hashanah, except, instead of 300 soldiers in the tent, there were now 150.

“Where are the other boys?” Zundell asked the servicemen sitting near him.
“Heavy casualties during the week,” one of them replied.

Zundell doesn’t remember his exact reaction; he imagines the service was pretty sad. Afterward they loaded up the trucks and headed home.

Since then, every Rosh Hashanah, the Coral Gables, Fla., resident sits in temple and remembers Korea.

“It never leaves my mind,” he said. “I think about those boys who didn’t make it back for Yom Kippur.”

Central Highlands, Vietnam

A Jungle Clearing
Central Highlands, Vietnam
September 1966

While stationed in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry, Army Spc. 4 Robert Cirkus often didn’t know what day it was. But somehow the 21-year-old draftee from Passaic, N.J., knew the High Holidays were coming. And he knew he wanted to attend services.

A rabbi was dispatched to the forward base camp in the Central Highlands where Cirkus was working as a weapons repairman. Around noon on Rosh Hashanah day, Sept. 15, 1966, Cirkus, three infantrymen and a medic, all strangers to one another, gathered together in a cleared-out jungle area.

The rabbi set up a small ark on a bench in the back of his open Jeep. Inside was a traveling Torah. Cirkus and the others sat on the ground in the hot sun, the air muggy and bug-infested. He wore a tallit over his uniform, holding his submachine gun and his prayer book on his lap.

Cirkus, who now lives in Clifton, N.J., remembers that the service was truncated and that he and the others were not really at ease. They were praying, but they were also alert to every sound, especially gunshots off in the jungle. He knows he wasn’t thinking about life and death. Or about Judgment Day. He didn’t want to think about what was really going on.

Afterward, the rabbi handed out cans of tuna fish, bread, wine and kosher C rations.

“We sat, we chitchatted and we went our separate ways,” he said. “But we knew we were all Jews.”

Until 10 years ago, Cirkus was too traumatized to discuss his Vietnam experience at all. Even now, he can’t talk about all of it. But he’s able to look back on that Rosh Hashanah in the Central Highlands, where, for a short time, five Jews who didn’t know each other sat around together with a rabbi praying.

“I don’t want to say it like it’s jerky, but you felt like you were being watched by God,” he said.

Saddam's Palace

Saddam’s Palace
Tikrit, Iraq
September 2004

September 2004 was a tense time in Tikrit, Iraq, where Special Agent Lee Mish was stationed. Roads were impassable, bridges were blown up and food and water were rationed. Plus, with flights grounded, the rabbi assigned to Tikrit couldn’t leave Baghdad.

Despite these obstacles, erev Rosh Hashanah services were held on Sept. 15. And Mish, 27, a Conservative Jew from Sharon, Mass., who enlisted in the Army nine years ago, walked to Saddam Hussein’s former palace, now under control of the U.S. military.

There, in a large room with marble floors and ceilings and a gold chandelier, a room once used by Saddam’s servants, Mish encountered three other Jews. They included a captain who served as the Jewish lay leader, a sergeant and a civilian contractor.

Wearing kippot, the uniformed men sat around a card table on folding chairs, their guns by their sides. For about 20 minutes, they read from prayer books sent by Hebrew school students in Wisconsin. Mish doesn’t remember the specifics, but he recalls saying prayers for all the soldiers and being aware of Rosh Hashanah’s message of mortality.

“When you’re in a situation where your friends are dying, where people all around you are dying, any time you pray, it hits home more,” he said.

Afterward they shared a bottle of wine and ate some “normal food,” including bagels with jelly. They also read Rosh Hashanah cards that the students had decorated with honey pots and apples and inscribed with messages such as “Be safe” and “Hope you come back soon.” Inside the holiday cards, the students had placed prepaid phone cards.

Despite its informality, that service resonated with Mish, now stationed in Wurzburg, Germany. Rosh Hashanah had always been important to him, a way of confirming his Jewishness. But being in Iraq had given him more time to reflect on death and destruction, and he was feeling more religious while stationed there. Also, he had recently learned from his Iraqi translator, who was born and raised in Mosul, Iraq, that during Saddam’s reign, the Jews in that area were barred from observing holidays in public and were forced to celebrate secretly in their homes. That day, however, Jewish soldiers were praying openly in Saddam’s palace.

“I felt honored,” Mish said.

Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino.

To learn more about today’s Jews in uniform, visit Jews In Green, the”ultimate resource for Jewish service members.”

Saddam Hussein’s palaces have also been the site of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Pesach and other Jewish celebrations, as this Jewish Journal story from 2004 relates.

Final Reckoning — Israel’s Defeat


However hard Ehud Olmert tries to spin it, the U.N. ceasefire that began this week is a disaster for Israel and for the war on terrorism generally. With an unprecedented green light from Washington to do whatever necessary to uproot the Iranian front line against Israel, and with a level of national unity and willingness to sacrifice unseen here since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, our leaders squandered weeks restraining the army and fighting a pretend war.

Ehud Olmert
Only in the two days before the cease-fire was the army finally given the go-ahead to fight a real war.

But, by then, the U.N. resolution had codified the terms of Israel’s defeat. The resolution doesn’t require the immediate return of our kidnapped soldiers, but does urgently place the Shebaa Farms on the international agenda — as if the Lebanese jihadists fired some 4,000 rockets at the Israeli homefront over the fate of a bare mountain that the United Nations concluded in 1967 belonged not to Lebanon but Syria. Worst of all, it once again entrusts the security of Israel’s northern border to the inept UNIFIL.

As one outraged TV anchor put it, Israeli towns were exposed to the worst attacks since the nation’s founding, 1 million residents of the Galilee fled or sat in shelters for a month, more than 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed along with nearly 1,000 Lebanese — all in order to ensure the return of U.N. peacekeepers to southern Lebanon.

This is a nation whose heart has been broken: by our failure to uproot the jihadist threat, which will return for another and far more deadly round; by the economic devastation of the Galilee and of a neighboring land we didn’t want to attack; by the heroism of our soldiers and the hesitations of our politicians; by the young men buried and crippled in a war we prevented ourselves from winning; by foreign journalists who can’t tell the difference between good and evil; by European leaders who equate an army that tries to avoid civilian causalities with a terrorist group that revels in them; by a United Nations that questions Israel’s right to defend itself; and by growing voices on the left who question Israel’s right to exist at all.

At least some of the disasters of the past weeks were self-inflicted. We forfeited the public relations battle that was, in part, Israel’s to lose. How is it possible that we failed to explain the justness of a war fought against a genocidal enemy who attacked us across our U.N.-sanctioned international border?

It’s hard to remember now, but we began this war with the sympathy of a large part of the international community. Some Arab leaders, for the first time in the history of the Middle East conflict, actually blamed other Arabs for initiating hostilities with Israel.

That response came when Israel seemed determined to defeat Hezbollah, but, as the weeks dragged on and Hezbollah appeared to be winning, moderate Arabs adjusted accordingly. They didn’t switch sides because we were fighting too assertively but because we weren’t fighting assertively enough.

Even before the shooting stopped, the reckoning here had already begun. There are widespread expectations of dismissals for senior military commanders who — when finally given the chance to end the Hezbollah threat they had been warning about for almost 25 years — couldn’t implement a creative battle plan. But demands for accountability won’t be confined to the army alone.

Journalist Ari Shavit, who has taken on something of the role of Motti Ashkenazi — the reservist soldier who led the movement to bring down the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War — wrote a front-page article in Haaretz calling for Olmert’s resignation. And that is only the opening shot.

Even Maariv’s Ben Caspit, one of Israel’s most pro-Olmert journalists, published an imaginary Olmert speech of apology to the nation. A cartoon in Maariv showed Olmert as a boy playing with a yo-yo inscribed with ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES. None of Israel’s wars was ever fought with greater micromanagement by a government, and no government was ever less qualified to manage a war as this one.

Just as the post-Yom Kippur War period destroyed military and political careers and eventually led to the collapse of the Labor Party’s hegemony, so will the post-Lebanon period end careers and perhaps even the short-lived Kadima Party experiment.

A long list of reckonings awaits the Israeli public. There’s the scandal of the government’s abandonment of tens of thousands of poor Israelis who lacked the means to escape the north and were confined for weeks in public shelters, their needs largely tended to by volunteers.

There’s the growing bitterness between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, many of whom supported Hezbollah in a war most Jews saw as an existential attack on the state. And there’s the emergency need to resurrect the military reserves, which have been so neglected that a majority of men over 21 don’t even serve anymore and those that do tend to feel like suckers.

Still, in the Jewish calendar, the summer weeks after the fast of the Ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple, are a time of consolation. “Be consoled, be consoled, my people,” we read from the Torah on the Sabbath after the fast. And so we console ourselves with the substantial achievements of the people of Israel during this month of war.

First, our undiminished capacity for unity. My favorite symbol of that unity is the antiwar rapper, Muki, whose hit song during the era of Palestinian suicide bombings lamented the absence of justice for the Palestinians but who, this time, insisted that the army needs to “finish the job” against Hezbollah.

Second, our middle-class children, with their cell phones, iPods and pizza deliveries to their army bases. In intimate combat, they repeatedly bested Hezbollah fighters, even though the terrorists had the advantage of familiar terrain.

This generation has given us some of Israel’s most powerful images of heroism, like the soldier from a West Bank settlement and father of two young children who leaped onto a grenade to save his friends, shouting the Shema — the prayer of God’s oneness — just before the grenade exploded.

Along with the recriminations, there will be many medals of valor awarded in the coming weeks.

But the last month’s fighting is only one battle in the jihadist war against Israel’s homefront that began with the second intifada in September 2000. Israel won the first phase of that war, the four years of suicide bombings that lasted until 2004. Now, in the second phase, we’ve lost the battle against the rockets.

But the qualities this heartbreak has revealed — unity and sacrifice and faith in the justness of our cause — will ensure our eventual victory in the next, inevitable, bitter round. Such is the nature of consolation in Israel in the summer of 2006.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a foreign correspondent for The New Republic and senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Reprinted with permission of The New Republic.

News Briefs from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Technion Gets $25 Million Gift From Californian

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

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

U.S. Teachers Union Backs Israel

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

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

Initiative Aims to Boost Israeli Tourism

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

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

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

Jewish Lawmakers Honor Israeli Air Force

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

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

Saudis Warn of War

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

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

Turkey Would Consider Lebanon Role

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

Ukrainians Hold Pro-Israel Rallies

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

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

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

Poll: Canadians Back Israel

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

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

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

Israeli Children Get Donated Toys

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

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Entebbe’s Message Resonates 30 Years Later


Last month, we airmen and veterans of Squadron 103, one of the oldest units of the Israeli air force, bid farewell to a comrade, Lt. Col. Moshe Naveh. His untimely death shocked us all, and as I drove to his funeral memories of our joint service came to mind.

It was on the third day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Since families were evacuated from the airbases, Moshe invited me to stay with him at his home. I returned from a long night flight, and when he opened the door his eyes were filled with tears: Just hours earlier, his elder brother Issachar, an F-4 Phantom pilot, was killed while trying to land his badly damaged aircraft.

Less than three years later, Moshe was part of one of the C-130 Hercules aircrews who flew to Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue the hijacked passengers of Air France flight No. 139. He never talked about it, but I felt that in his own silent way, he was proudly carrying on in the footsteps of his fallen brother.

Now Moshe is gone too. As I entered the graveyard, I saw his mother. I started to mumble my condolences when this old woman, a survivor of Auschwitz, gave me a stern look.

“Spare your words,” she said dryly. “It’s between me and God.”

What could I possibly say to this woman, who had lost all her family in the Holocaust, who married another Holocaust survivor, started a new chapter in Israel and gave birth to two sons — only to lose them as well as her husband, who died heartbroken after Issachar was killed?

Nevertheless, when my turn came to give a eulogy, I addressed Moshe’s mother directly.

“When you were in the death camp,” I said, “there were Allied bombers flying over your head, yet their navigators didn’t mark on their maps a target called Auschwitz. Jews were murdered, while no one cared enough to drop even one single bomb on the gas chambers to stop their massacre. However, less than 30 years later, Jews were in danger again, but this time there was a Jewish state, and there were Jewish airmen flying to save their brothers and sisters. And your son, Moshe, was one of them, with Entebbe boldly marked on his map.”

She took my hand and her eyes softened.

Indeed, the Entebbe raid, carried out 30 years ago on July 4, 1976, touched the raw nerves of every Jew.

When the Air France plane landed in Entebbe and the hijackers started to separate the Jewish passengers from the others, it brought back dark memories of the selection in Auschwitz, where Joseph Mengele singled out Moshe’s mother for life while sending hundreds of thousands to their death.

But times have changed, and Jews are not helpless anymore. With the creation of the State of Israel, they regained not only their sovereignty but also the capability to defend themselves.

In December 1942, Dolek Liebeskind, one of the leaders of the Jewish resistance in the Krakow Ghetto, led an attack on a German cafe.

“We are fighting a lost battle,” he told his comrades. “All we are fighting for is three lines in the annals of history.”

The Entebbe raid won its much-deserved lines in the history books, but it wasn’t a lost battle at all: It was the daring act of a self-confident Jewish state, determined to rescue Jews whenever and wherever they’re in trouble.

As these lines are being written, Israel has unleashed its army again to bring home a soldier — Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, who was taken captive when Palestinian gunmen stormed an Israeli army base just outside the Gaza Strip.

The Entebbe raid, however, did more than just fill the heart of every Jew with pride — or, to use the saying after the 1967 Six-Day War, “make every Jew an inch taller.” It also highlighted the sensitivity embedded in the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.

When enemies of Israel are incapable of hurting her, they pick more vulnerable targets — Jewish targets abroad. Indeed, in 1994, after an Israeli attack in Lebanon, the Hezbollah terrorist group — likely with the assistance of Iranian intelligence services — took its revenge on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people in a bombing.

In other words, all of us Jews are in this together.

The Entebbe raid also set a high moral standard, and reminded us that military means should be used first and foremost for saving lives. Now that Jews are armed again, they should be very cautious in using their power. The means should never become ends in themselves.

Finally, the planes returning the freed hostages from Entebbe to safety carried a sad message as well: Liberty can’t be won without paying a price. In one of the aircraft lay the body of Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, commander of the elite unit, who was killed in the raid.

The best of us go while serving the Jewish cause: Yoni Netanyahu during the Entebbe raid; my friend Moshe Naveh 30 years later.

Uri Dromi flew in the Israeli air force between 1966-2003. Today he is director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute.

 

Wandering Jew – We Shall Pursue


As I drove my children home after school last week, how many men, women and children were fleeing from their homes in Darfur? As I tucked my children snuggly into their beds, how many mothers crept out of their refugee camps at night to gather firewood to keep their children warm in Darfur? As I flew to our nation’s capital to rally for our government’s commitment to justice in Sudan, how many villages were burned to the ground by the Sudanese government-backed militia, the Janjaweed, in Darfur?

On Saturday evening, in the shadow of the Jefferson Memorial and with the Washington Memorial just across the Basin, we ended Shabbat. Bimheira v’yameinu yavo eileinu, im mashiach ben David — speedily in our days, may (Elijah the prophet) come with the messiah, son of David.

These are the words we always sing as we usher in the new week. Hoping, praying that this will be the week that will see the coming of the messianic time. This week is different. We, who stand more than 200 strong, are thinking of a people thousands of miles away who truly need that peace and need it right now. The victims of the genocide in Darfur are so very present in our hearts as we pray together.

A military helicopter flies directly over us and we pay no attention. If I were a woman in Darfur, that very same helicopter would strike fear within me. A military helicopter in Darfur signifies not safety, but the beginning of a raid by the Janjaweed. How fortunate I am, O God, to be 1,000 worlds away. And how ashamed I feel to even utter those words.

I sleep fitfully. What am I doing here? What real impact will this gathering really have? Even thousands of people gathering on the Mall cannot end the suffering (see story on page 17). Our tradition gives us only two instances where we are actively commanded to seek out opportunities to fulfill a particular commandment. They are “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15) and “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Rodef. To pursue. To be one who pursues peace. One who pursues justice. Pursue — it is such an active word. During the restless night, I realize that my presence here is not merely a symbolic act nor should I view it as an act of passivity. Rather, by being here and joining my voice with many others, I have become a rodefet. I have become one who pursues.

This is to be a family reunion of sorts. I am joined by my mother, my brothers, my sister, one of my sisters-in-law and her cousin. Completing the Amado-Einstein-Schorr group is my young cousin whose mother introduced me to activism two decades ago by encouraging me to write letters on behalf of the Refuseniks, Jews not permitted to leave the Soviet Union. How proud I am to stand with more than 100 Jews from Los Angeles, an effort coordinated by Jewish World Watch and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. And our group stands among groups from congregations, day schools, Hillel students, Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish groups from all across North America. More than 15,000 people. Young and old, we have come together with a unified purpose.

Jews marching for Jews. Self-explanatory. But Jews marching for African Muslims? Why? Why stand up for a group of people whose lives have no impact on mine?

Because my faith demands it of me. Because I cannot be angry at the world for allowing 6 million of my people to be slaughtered if I am not willing to raise my voice in protest for the Darfuris.

The association of Darfur with the Shoah is a natural one for us. When we hear phrases such as “ethnic cleansing” and “relocation,” we know all too well what these euphemisms are concealing; the organized destruction of a people.

Many of the signs at the rally reflect our natural instinct to draw connections between the realities of Darfur and the memories of our recent past. Signs bearing the slogans “Never Again,” “Never Forget” and “Save Darfur” are in English and Hebrew. And there are others. A refugee from Liberia, with the Texas flag draped over his shoulders, carries a sign declaring “I saw it, I escaped it, stop it now!” Three coeds from the University of Iowa drove all night to hold signs that say “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.” A high school student from Boston wrote the words “Schindler’s List, The Killing Fields, Hotel Rwanda. Don’t wait for the movie.”

Now what? What do I do now that the March is over? I don’t have the international respect of Elie Wiesel whose mere presence here is a reminder of what can happen when the world remains silent in the face of evil. I don’t have the political clout of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) whose impassioned words elicited great cheers from the crowd. Nor do I have the celebrity of George Clooney, whose recent visit to Darfur will do more to forward this cause than a dozen marches.

What I do have is the desire to see the genocide brought to an end. I can write to President Bush. I can make responsible choices in the voting booth. I can stand in front of the consulates of NATO and African Union nations, Russia and China between now and June 2, a day that corresponds this year with Shavuot, the day we celebrate God’s revelation at Mount Sinai.

How fitting that these visits, as suggested by Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, will “be taking place during the counting of the Omer, in which we move from the freedom given us at Passover to the responsibility that came with accepting God’s laws at Sinai.”

I can receive regular e-mail updates from the Save Darfur Coalition and American Jewish World Service. I can encourage my colleagues to join with the more than forty Southern Californian congregations who have already become active members of Jewish World Watch. And I can continue to talk about Darfur with my friends, congregants and neighbors.

Speedily in our days, O God, speedily in our days may this nightmare end and may our brothers and sisters in Darfur know enduring peace. May this be Your will.

Rebecca Yael Schorr is a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley.

 

Rabbi Ending Long Hitch in Military


Losing Rabbi David Lapp to retirement is “like losing someone on the battlefield, someone who suffered the mud and the pain and the loneliness with you,” said Maj. Rabbi Carlos Huerta, the Jewish community chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy.

Lapp is retiring as head of the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council after 24 years. The father of three and grandfather of 10 will remain at his post until a replacement is found.

Lapp’s proudest service achievement, he said, is his transdenominational prayer book, first produced for the U.S. Army in 1982. Before then, “there was a siddur that the armed forces produced, but it had sections for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox,” he said. Lapp collaborated with rabbis from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University, on it.

That’s part of Lapp’s modus operandi of supporting all Jewish chaplains in the military, and through them, Jewish soldiers — no matter their denomination. There are 28 chaplains on active duty in the Army, Air Force and Navy and 43 reservists — a number that has held steady for the past decade.

During his stint at the Chaplains Council, Lapp helped the Army provide ready-to-eat kosher meals for soldiers in the field. Before 1990, kashrut-observant soldiers had to make do with regular military rations, Lapp said, eating what they could, swapping the rest with other soldiers when possible.

Fellow chaplain Huerta, who performed the first Passover service in Baghdad in 2003 after Saddam Hussein was ousted, recalled that “Lapp got me my wine, matzah and gefilte fish for the seder.”

Born in Austria in 1931, Lapp recalled that after the 1938 anschluss restrictive laws were quickly placed upon Austria’s Jews. Lapp was first transferred to a Jewish school, then taken out of school altogether when it became too dangerous. His father was forced to work in a labor camp.

After the November 1938 Kristallnacht — the rioting against Jews and especially Jewish merchants — his American relatives, including his father’s sister in Brooklyn, sponsored the family’s visa.

Lapp was 9 when his family arrived in the United States. He went on to study political science and religious education at Yeshiva University and was ordained at the Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1957. He studied chaplaincy at the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., and the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

After receiving a commission in the Army Chaplain Corps in 1958, one of his early assignments was as an assistant chaplain in Munich. There, along with providing programs for Jewish personnel in Munich, Augsburg and northern Italy, he served as stockade chaplain at Dachau.

Lapp said it was strange to return to the region: “On the one hand, I wanted to be there to show that the Nazis didn’t get rid of me as they wanted. On the other hand, I wanted nothing to do with them. But after a while, you realize they aren’t the same people, they’re the children.”

During Lapp’s chaplaincy, he said, “we had conferences with just kosher food just because we could — to show we’re here.”

Another coup during Lapp’s stint in Germany was a Jewish conference held in Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountain retreat. The Army converted one of the buildings into the Gen. Walker Hotel, where Lapp held a gathering for Torah study, attended by about 500 Jewish men and women.

Ten years later, he returned to Germany as 1st Armored Division chaplain at Nuremberg. There he supervised 33 chaplains, managed religious programs of all faiths for eight communities and served as budget administrator for religious activities of the division.

Lapp served in Vietnam in 1966-67 as deputy field force chaplain, ministering to troops assigned to two divisions in II Corps Highlands Area. He retired from active duty in 1982 with the rank of colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit by the Army.

Huerta described the chaplains’ need for Lapp: “As a chaplain, I talk to soldiers, but who do I talk to? Without Rabbi Lapp, we would have gone by the wayside.”

 

AF Academy’s New Religion Rules Hit


The U.S. Air Force last week introduced revised guidelines on religious tolerance and practices at its training academy, and they are widely regarded as a step backward.

A number of Jewish leaders say their efforts to change the Air Force Academy’s position on Christian proselytizing were overmatched by the evangelical community, which fought any move to restrict religious discussion on campus. Critics have accused the academy of imposing a Christian environment on campus and allowing proselytizing by senior officers and cadets.

Some see the new guidelines as more permissive of religious discussion than were the interim guidelines issued last August. Air Force officials acknowledge that the guidelines were revised following an angry response from Christian groups and from 72 members of Congress who sent a letter to President Bush last month.

“We didn’t like what came out in August, but this is a public retreat from where they were before,” said Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate who is suing the school for allegedly violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Jewish leaders said more efforts are needed to counterbalance the evangelical Christian community.

“We have not galvanized Congress, but we will have to,” said Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League national director

Others, however, say the new guidelines contribute toward ridding the military of religious intolerance.

The academy has been under scrutiny since reports surfaced of an overtly Christian environment that permitted Christian prayer and proselytizing by senior officers and did not accommodate minority religious practices. The new rules allow for public prayer, stating only that it “should not imply government endorsement of religion and should not usually be part of routine official business.”

The previous guidelines outlawed public prayer in official settings but allowed for a “brief nonsectarian prayer” at special ceremonies or events.

The new guidelines also focus on reaffirming senior officers’ rights to free exercise of religion, while warning that superiors need to be “sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official or have undue influence on their subordinates.”

“There is enough leeway in these guidelines to permit proselytizing,” Foxman said.

August’s guidelines went further toward highlighting the need for sensitivity from senior officers.

“The more senior the individual, the more likely that personal expressions may be perceived to be official statements,” the former guidelines read.

Maj. Gen. Charles Baldwin, the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, told the Washington Post that the new guidelines came about as a result of criticism from evangelicals. Several organizations flooded administration officials with complaints, calling the August report a violation of freedoms of speech and religion.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said the guidelines had been augmented after feedback, especially where the “original language had been misunderstood.”

“After a reasonable amount of time, the secretary will likely deem this set of guidance as the final version, but the Air Force will need experience with how the guidelines work in practice before deciding on the finalization date,” Jennifer Stephens wrote in a written response to questions.

The Jewish community’s view on the new guidelines is not unanimous. The American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism issued a joint press release Feb. 9 commending the Air Force’s effort to address problems of religious accommodation.

 

Rolls of Veterans Groups Dwindling


Seymour Goldman spent World War II with an Army cleanup crew handling mustard gas drums in India.

“It was a terrible job,” said the 83-year-old, a retired TV repairman who lives in Culver City. “When I got out, I just didn’t want anything more to do with it.”

For Goldman and millions of other veterans — Jews and non-Jews alike — service in World War II was not a grand struggle, but exhaustive work.

Of the estimated 12 million to 13 million American men and women in uniform during World War II, only 1 million to 2 million of them saw actual combat. While Thursday’s Veterans Day services brought out many veterans who have vivid memories of fighting the Nazis, scores of veterans served in support positions, which left them with little interest in remembrance or nostalgia.

“I had no illusions about action. We were quartered in mansions,” said the Brooklyn-bred Goldman, whose unit was composed of himself, another Jewish soldier and 26 non-Jews, all from Texas.

The paucity of Jews serving on front lines may explain the dwindling numbers of members belonging to Jewish war veteran organizations.

Other reasons for the fewer members in the organization include the graying of the membership, and the fewer younger Jews serving in the military — and therefore joining — local Jewish veterans groups.

The San Fernando Valley’s Jewish War Veterans Post 603 has 325 members, but that is a decline over the past decade. The post is part of California’s 20,000 members who make up the Jewish War Veterans 110,000-member national roster, once dominated by World War II veterans.

Navy veteran Si Prussin, 81, spent most of the war in San Diego, waiting to be shipped out as a motor machinist on a landing craft.

“I wouldn’t have avoided going into the service; there was a feeling that it was an important and useful thing to do,” said Prussin, who later used the G.I. Bill to go to college

Prussin, raised in the Bronx, received an advanced degree from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University. He has had a long career in metallurgy and semiconductor engineering and still teaches electrical engineering at UCLA.

He briefly joined a veterans group for a short time, but then dropped out. “It was not my atmosphere,” he told The Journal.

Prussin and other Jewish veterans who did not see combat said they didn’t need to belong to veterans groups, with Prussin noting that no combat means no nightmares.

Yiddish translator Hershel Hartman, 75, also didn’t serve on the front lines in the Korean War — but not by choice. The Army kept him at New Jersey’s Ft. Dix for 15 months, because he was considered a security risk due to his memberships in left-wing, communist-allied groups.

“I refused to sign the loyalty oath,” said Hartman, who was trained at an Army radio school but never was sent to Korea while he and his family were being investigated.

What Hartman remembers most of his service is not combat but tragedy. With Ft. Dix being close enough to New York, Hartman traveled to Manhattan for a rally on the day in 1954 that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed as Soviet spies. “I remember that day very well.”

There are other Jewish veterans who saw terrible events, and do participate in Veterans groups. But Jewish veterans from World War II and Korea are aging and their memories are slipping, which is why it’s important to the groups to attract younger members.

At 32, U.S. Army Capt. David Sellen is the youngest member of Jewish War Veterans Post 603. The Valley Glen resident was an infantry officer in Afghanistan and now serves as a civil defense operations officer at Missouri’s Ft. Leonard Wood.

“I think the next guy is in his early 60s or late 50s,” said Sellen, whose mother is a nursery school teacher at Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom. “There are more Jewish soldiers at least known today, and so I think more of it has to do with getting the word out. I didn’t know it existed.”

Why don’t younger Jewish war veterans join organizations?

“They don’t have the time to get into organizations,” he said. “They save most of the [free] time for their families.”

Iran Nuclear Cooperation Must Be Pushed


The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has given the Islamic republic of Iran a firm warning to cooperate on its nuclear issue or face trouble. After running a nuclear program in secret for 20 years, Iran has been put under the spotlight.

Last month, a resolution approved by the 35-member board of directors of the agency clearly expressed unease with Iran’s foot-dragging in meeting its Nuclear Proliferation Treaty obligations. Most important is that the warning comes from a broad consortium, including European countries not considered particularly in line with U.S. Middle Eastern policies, notably France and Germany, with Russia and China going along with the others.

Externally, the clerics ruling Iran tried to split the ranks inside the IAEA with no success. They even were not able to count on American internal conflicts, with Sen. Ted Kennedy pointing on June 22 to the “real threat of Iran’s nuclear program,” adding that John Kerry “has pledged to make preventing nuclear terrorism an absolute priority.”

Internally, Iranian clerics try to play at the same old game of the region. Acting in concert, prominent leaders of the regime, including the spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami and Chief Justice Mohammad Shahroudi, have insisted that they were not going to abandon their “legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

Occasionally, lower-ranking mullahs go a bit further, claiming that while Israel keeps a big stockpile of nuclear weapons, Muslim countries such as Iran should have the right to do the same. Both approaches are mainly for domestic use, but none has gained any significant momentum inside.

When the government tried to organize “popular” demonstrations around nuclear research centers to show popular support for such projects, the whole issue did not gather more than a hundred Bassij — paramilitary forces of the regime — students in the city of Arak to cry out old, rusty anti- Western slogans.

On the other hand, on June 22, a general strike broke out at the very controversial Bushehr nuclear center under construction by the Russians. Although internal difficulties concerning payments and union rights were put forward by the regime as the reason, the mere fact showed there were no patriotic or nationalistic feelings toward the nuclear program.

Generally speaking, the regime’s nuclear endeavor has very little, if any, support among the Iranian people. In fact, the whole secret program came to light in August of 2002, thanks to the Iranian opposition, which, for the first time, revealed precise information of the then-unknown — now well-known — Natanz and Arak enrichment and heavy-water facilities.

Just compare this cold-shoulder attitude inside the country to the million-strong demonstrations in Pakistan in May 1998, after the nuclear arm-wrestling between Pakistan and India, when Pakistani nuclear scientists were greeted by the people as “national heroes” challenging “infidels” in the nuclear arena.

Politically, Iran has clearly moved toward a more radical, hardened and conservative rule of the clergy. Last February’s parliamentary elections turned into the goodbye party for President Khatami’s supporters, the man once seen as West’s favorite in Iran.

The die-hard Revolutionary Guards Corps, set up more than two decades ago as a counterweight to the regular army inherited from the shah, has obviously acquired a lot more authority in the country. This seems more a lineup for confrontation, not concession.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton told U.S. lawmakers that “the government of Iran has informed the United Kingdom, Germany and France that it is resuming production of uranium centrifuge parts.”

The mere resolution by the board, although a positive step, is not sufficient. Iran should clearly be told that the issue would go beyond the U.N. Security Council for the harshest possible sanctions.

There is more to the issue than just making a rogue state comply. On the international scene, this is an unprecedented occasion for the world community to make international treaties work.

With the Iraqi experience not yet having played out to its full extent, unilateral military action can hardly be considered a solution for such problems. Contrary to President Bush’s belief that military action in Iraq will intimidate Iran’s clerics into compliance, the presence of U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq has left the United States vulnerable to Iranian efforts aimed at sowing instability in Iraq.

Back at home, the Iranian people see this peaceful challenge as a first step for containing a regime which has no respect for its own people and internationally recognized conventions on a variety of rights.

Unlike the Iraqi situation before the war, there is worldwide consensus on standing firm in the face of the regime’s wrongdoings. The world should not let the dangerous 20-year pattern continue, with the cunning mullahs slipping away, albeit with the bomb.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.

Israel Growing as Arms Dealer


To every black cloud, they say, there is a silver lining. Under constant threat from terrorists and hostile neighbors, Israel has become an expert in security — and that expertise is generating huge profits.

Israel has been one of the world’s big arms sellers for more than a decade, yet it really joined the major leagues this week when the government approved the $1.1 billion sale of the Phalcon command-and-control radar system to India.

Israel’s annual sales of weaponry worldwide total about $30 billion. Figures released by the Defense Ministry during the Phalcon presentation to the Cabinet on Sunday show that with about 10 percent to 14 percent of the world market, Israel is the fifth-largest exporter of weapons systems after the United States, the European Union, Russia and Japan.

Aside from the moral issues raised by arms sales, there are some practical problems of realpolitik.

For one, the sales sometimes bring Israel into direct conflict with its closest ally, the United States, which has its own geopolitical interests — as well as a domestic arms industry that it wants to protect from competition.

For another, selling Israeli know-how to other countries means some of it could wind up in enemy hands, neutralizing key advantages Israel might need in a future battlefield.

On Sunday, the government gave the go-ahead for what will be Israel’s single biggest export deal to date: the sale of three Phalcon airborne early-warning systems to India for $1.1 billion.

Though the Phalcon does not have any American components and was developed entirely by Israel, the Israelis sought and received American permission for the sale last August.

That followed Israel’s embarrassing cancellation of a similar deal with China in July 2000 after strenuous American objections. Washington argued then that giving the Chinese such sophisticated systems could make things far more difficult for the United States in any future air battle with mainland China over Taiwan.

Israeli officials claimed that the American objection had more to do with a desire to keep Israel out of the competition for lucrative early-warning system contracts.

The Americans only approved the India deal after they were convinced that it would not destabilize relations between India and Pakistan.

In 2003, Israel signed contracts for weapons sales amounting to $3 billion. The target this year is more than $4 billion.

Israel leads the world in a number of systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, small spotter planes that fly over territory and send back data on troop and other movements; a sophisticated system for analyzing air battles, and electronic systems for fighter planes.

A partial list of current sales gives an idea of the scope of the Israeli operation. Israel sells UAVs to South Korea; the Phalcon, electronics, a sophisticated radar system, UAVs and missiles to India; anti-tank missiles to Poland; UAVs to Finland, Belgium, France and Switzerland; the system for analyzing air battles to Finland and Holland; a system for pinpointing fighter plane targets to Spain and Greece; and night-vision systems to Denmark.

Israel has upgraded tanks and fighter planes for Turkey; has sold naval systems to Australia; and has sold armor for personnel carriers, UAVs, fighter-pilot sights and the system for pinpointing fighter plane targets to the United States.

Paradoxically, Israel’s big advantage over other countries is its dire security situation, which turns the country into a laboratory for arms development. Israel has to keep developing new weapons to survive. Often, because of the conflict with the Palestinians, the systems are tested and proven in battle conditions.

Some critics question the morality of such sales, saying they hardly fulfill the vision that Theodor Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement, would have hoped for — though he probably also wouldn’t have expected to find Israel still under existential threat 55 years after its founding.

Spokesmen for Israel’s military industry often justify the sales by arguing that if Israel didn’t provide weapons to various countries, someone else would.

Moreover, they say, arms sales are not necessarily immoral; they sometimes can prevent wars by deterring would-be aggressors.

The Israeli sales, however, sometimes lead to strained relations with the United States. In addition to the tension over the Chinese Phalcon sale, there have been other cases of the United States stifling Israeli initiatives: Washington put pressure on Britain not to buy Israeli "Spike" anti-tank missiles and to purchase American "Javelin" missiles instead.

The United States also forced Israel to accept American-made radar in the state-of-the-art, F-16I fighter bombers Israel recently received from the United States — rather than the Israeli Elta system that Israeli officials consider to be better.

Israeli officials recognize that the more weapons they sell, the greater the risk that Israeli systems could fall into Arab hands. If that happened, the systems could be dismantled and analyzed, and crucial battlefield advantages could be nullified.

Officials already fear that some military technology they shared with the United States has reached the Egyptian army, which is supplied by the United States — and such snafus could happen on a wider scale if Israel sells weapons to less trustworthy clients.

Israel could increase its already large share of the world weapons market if projected sales of the Arrow anti-missile system are allowed to go ahead.

India is one of several countries that has expressed interest. The United States, which funded much of the Arrow’s development, so far has blocked any sale, arguing that the Arrow could destabilize India-Pakistan relations by tilting the balance of power too strongly in India’s favor.

Some U.S. Congressmen have suggested that the United States deploy the Arrow until its own anti-missile defense system is operational, but so far Washington has not shown any interest in buying Arrows from Israel.

Israeli officials say Israel gladly would forego the billions of dollars it earns in arms sales if peace with the Arabs could be achieved and military development could be de-emphasized.

Until that happens, however, the byproduct of Israel’s own defense needs is likely to be a thriving defense industry, conducting an ever-growing export trade.

Pollard Lawyers Get Day in Federal Court


Sept. 2 is going to be a big day for Jonathan Pollard: The American Jewish spy is going to get another day in court.

Pollard’s lawyers will have 40 minutes in a federal courtroom to explain why they should be permitted to continue efforts to rescind the life sentence he received 18 years ago for committing espionage for Israel.

Years of tenacious motions by attorneys Jacques Semmelman and Eliot Lauer either have been vigorously opposed by government attorneys or allowed to languish in the court.

Now U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan has granted a hearing to Pollard and his attorneys — who are working on the case pro bono. Semmelman and Lauer will get 30 minutes to argue why they should be permitted to appeal, the government can take a half hour to respond and then Pollard’s attorneys will be granted 10 minutes for the last word.

So pivotal is the hearing that the judge has ordered federal prison officials in Butner, N.C., to shuttle Pollard to the U.S. District Court in Washington for the event. Prison officials said they are uncertain whether U.S. marshals would fly Pollard to the nation’s capital or drive.

"Normally, we drive them for a mere six-hour trip," a prison representative said, "but a high-profile prisoner like Pollard might be flown."

He added that arrangements would be made for Pollard’s kosher meals.

Despite mounds of legal briefs and well-researched citations, Pollard’s hearing boils down to two issues:

  • Was the ex-naval intelligence officer convicted in March 1987 on the basis of a misleading secret 46-page affidavit?

  • Was he denied due process by a defense attorney who declined to file a routine appeal after Judge Aubrey Robinson stunned Pollard and threw a crowded courtroom into pandemonium with an unexpected life sentence? The life sentence violated the prosecutor’s plea agreement to not ask for life in exchange for Pollard’s cooperation.

Then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger submitted the secret affidavit at virtually the last minute at Robinson’s personal request. In the affidavit, Weinberger wrote: "It is difficult for me, in the so-called ‘year of the spy’ to conceive of a greater harm to national security."

The message, backed up with some 20 classified documents, was clear: Give Pollard a life sentence — regardless of the written plea agreement.

Fifteen years later, Weinberger conceded that "the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance." Pressed on why this was so, Weinberger replied, "I don’t know why — it just was."

Attorneys Semmelman and Lauer have been filing motion after motion to see the supposedly secret documents so they can adequately appeal. But their efforts have been denied on the grounds of national security, even though they have been granted the necessary security clearances. Semmelman is a former U.S. attorney. The documents concern sources and methods used two decades ago, before the proliferation of personal computers.

The second question asks whether Pollard was denied due process on account of "ineffective assistance of counsel," according to the motion.

Pollard’s attorney at the time, Richard Hibey, has been widely criticized for inaction. He failed to object when prosecutors violated the plea agreement and asked for life, failed to call for an evidentiary hearing on Weinberger’s secret affidavit and then — to the surprise of most observers — declined to file the routine notice of appeal in the 10 days allotted.

For years, Hibey has dodged all questions on his representation of Pollard.

Despite the hearing, there are few prospects for a Pollard release in the immediate future.

Even if Semmelman and Lauer were granted the opportunity to appeal — consistently denied because Hibey failed to file the 10-day notice — it might take another year or two for any decision.

Pollard already has served far longer than the average for people convicting of spying either for enemies of the United States or it allies.

U.S. Spending Ignores Domestic Deficits


Write the word "fiscal" and know that a hefty proportion of your readers will find something else to read. So, let’s talk about money instead.

Specifically, about the money the states don’t have.

The only thing you need to know by way of background is that almost all states are required, by their own laws, to balance their budgets. They cannot — as the federal government can — spend more money than they have. So when they find that their expenses are greater than their revenues, they must either cut their expenses or raise their revenues or do both.

When the states enacted their 2003 budgets, they had to deal with an estimated shortfall of $50 billion. That estimate turned out to have been about $25 billion light, which means that the states must now find another $25 billion.

And then comes 2004, with an additional $75 billion in new cuts or new revenues required. So, over a two-year period, there is a total of $150 billion in gaps that by law must be closed.

Plainly, most Americans have no way to process such numbers. Here’s one way to think of them: Aggregate state spending runs about $500 billion a year.

So we’re looking at a shortfall of some 30 percent. And you don’t find the money to cover that kind of shortfall without cutting — slashing, really — core programs and/or raising taxes. Not unless the federal government is prepared to come to your aid in a massive way — which this federal government is most assuredly not.

As it is, the federal government has itself moved from very substantial surpluses to a two-year deficit of $732 billion. On April 24, President Bush said, "This nation has got a deficit because we have been through a war."

But when you add up all the costs of the war — including homeland security, Sept. 11 recovery, Afghanistan and Iraq so far, the total is only $160 billion — about 20 percent of the deficit. Tax cuts for the two years come to $510 billion, or nearly 70 percent of the total. But the president’s deceptions are a matter for another time.

For 2004, the president has asked for $399.1 billion for the military — 51 percent of what’s called "discretionary spending," as compared to $49 billion for health and $29 billion for international affairs, more than five times the aggregate state deficit for the year.

What have our military expenditures to do with the state of the states? After all, we are a long way from the guns vs. butter arguments, when we used to show how many new schools or hospitals could be built for the cost of one new aircraft carrier. Approve the recent war or condemn it, it was as swift as it was and caused as few (relatively) casualties as it did in significant part because of that same aircraft carrier, the precision munitions and so forth.

Like it or not, we are the world’s only superpower, and there really are some people out there who seek to do us harm, and there really are some other people out there who need our help if they are to live in anything approximating dignity.

Few people would argue that all domestic priorities ought take precedence over any military expenditures. So the question is: How much is too much? Which is to say, at the outer "edges" of our military budget –say, the last $100 million or $200 million — are we confident that what we are buying is sufficiently important to warrant cutting back on Medicare, education or on any of the other items that comprise the core of our commitment to our citizens?

For example, we have nine supercarrier battle groups, with a 10th under construction. No other nation has even one. We have more advanced fighters and bombers than all other nations combined, and we have two new stealth aircraft types awaiting production. No other nation has any.

One of those new planes is the F-22, designed during the Cold War to counter new Soviet planes that have in fact never been built. The F-22s cost $204 million each, and the cost of the total program is a shade under $70 billion.

The problem here is obvious: Very, very few of us are competent to say that the F-22 is a luxury we cannot afford. When we do, we sound naive or unpatriotic; fearing ineffectuality, we remain silent or grumble privately. But the Pentagon has a virtually endless supply of "experts," and the geographically decentralized nature of defense contracting today ensures widespread congressional support for major military procurement programs.

Many years ago, I developed a definition of personal affluence: Affluence, I decided, was when you could go ahead with your summer vacation plans even after learning that one of your children needed orthodontia.

I still regard that as a reasonable definition and fear greatly that in the current temper and with our current leadership, we first make our travel plans and only then, if there is money left over, turn our attention to our dental needs — and to food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and health care for all. And there is no money left over. None. As the president well knows.


Leonard Fein’s most recent book is “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope (Jewish Lights, Woodstock, Vt, 2001).

A Just War May Be Great Risk to Israel


There are very few people I know who have an unambiguous
perspective on this war. I think we are quite unanimous in our belief that
Saddam Hussein is a bad guy who should go — for the sake of his own
people and all the people in the Middle East.

As a stand-alone goal, the removal of Saddam, even killing
him, is morally justified. From the Jewish point of view, he is a rodef, a
pursuer.

He has, on more than one occasion, brutally killed large
groups of people and is a threat to repeat such offenses. We are commanded to
preemptively kill a rodef before he can kill us.

What complicates the matter of Saddam as rodef is that in
order to accomplish this moral goal, we may have to sacrifice the lives of
many, and we may end up killing as many as the rodef did. That then begs the
question: Would that make us a rodef in the eyes of others? Hence the
ambiguity.

There is another facet of this war, however, that gives a
Jew pause. What will be the war’s impact on Israel?

There are those who suggest that if Saddam is removed, a
major source of support for terror against Israel will be eliminated, a major
destabilizing factor in the Middle East will be neutralized and the
Palestinians will be better able to deal with the radicals in their midst and
in a better position to negotiate with Israel. Some also suggest that if Iraq
can be democratized, it will be a giant first step toward the democratization
of the whole region, and this can only work to Israel’s benefit.

This is what has me worried. I have read commentaries on
both sides of this issue, and I come up with the conclusion that the optimists
in this case are being naïve and are assuming too much with regard to how
ready the Middle East is for democracy.

I also think that if the United States remains in Iraq for a
protracted period, whether it is to wage war or to clean up after the war and
make the country ready for democracy, it will stoke the fires of Arab
anticolonialism, energize the radical Islamists, who constitute the principle
terror groups — Al Qaeda, the ayalollahs, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah —
and heighten, rather than reduce, the level of tension and terror in the Middle
East and around the world.

It will push the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia even further toward
extremism, weaken the regimes of Jordan and Egypt, which are struggling with
the extremists in their lands, and, in the end, put Israel at even greater
risk. And the United States, branded by the Arab world as the colonizer in
their midst, would lose its capacity to be a broker for peace in the region and
would be of no help to Israel as sympathetic friend.

Indeed, the United States might feel the need to assume a
more pro-Arab stance in order to restore its status in the Arab world, and,
discredited in the eyes of Europe because of the chaos that emerges from its
presence in Iraq, the United States would also lose its ability to serve as a
moderating force against European pro-Arabism.

The military might of the United States cannot, by itself,
guarantee any results. The days when Arabs run away at the sound of the
Davidka, as they did in the Israel War of Independence, are over. As we have
seen, the opposite is the case: the radicals glory in attacking the giant and
powerful Satan, because they believe Allah is on their side.

The United States is big enough and strong enough to absorb
such a loss of face. After a while, the world will recognize that it needs us,
and things will be OK.

Israel is not big and strong, and if I am right, then the
destabilization in the Middle East that a prolonged American presence in Iraq
could generate will actually endanger Israel. I am afraid of this outcome, and
because of this, I hope America can find a way to get out of Iraq as quickly as
possible and let someone else assume the responsibility for democratizing the
Middle East. It is a noble goal, but I do not believe that we are the ones to
do it.


Joel Rembaum is senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. This essay is an abridged version of his sermon delivered March 22.

U.S. Courts Israel to Not Join Iraq War


Never have Israel and the United States had such close operational coordination on Iraq. As the anticipated American attack on Baghdad draws nearer, the U.S. military has been showing Israeli officials its detailed plans for preventing Iraqi missile attacks on Israel. But the reason for the U.S. operational largesse is clear: The United States does not want Israel to play any military role in the war against Iraq.

Despite the close coordination, Israel has not promised to stay out of the fighting. Moreover, there are sharp differences between the two sides on how to respond if Israel is attacked with nonconventional biological and chemical weapons.

During Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s mid-December visit to Washington, U.S. officials went out of their way to try to convince the Israeli delegation that the United States would do all it could to defend Israel, and that there would be no need for Israel to get involved in the war. The officials said U.S. forces would take decisive action to prevent Iraqi missile launchers from being moved into western Iraq — from where Israel would be in their range — and to destroy them if they are.

The officials promised that the United States would show Israel its plans for neutralizing the Iraqi missile launchers and allow Israel to comment and offer suggestions. Moreover, the United States said it would send 1,000 soldiers to Israel with Patriot missiles to back up Israel’s Arrow anti-missile defense system.

If, despite these offensive and defensive measures, an Iraqi missile were to get through and hit Israel, the United States — not Israel — would retaliate, the officials said. The problem is that Israel and United States have a number of fundamentally different strategic interests in the context of the conflict with Iraq.

The United States does not want its ties with the Arab world further complicated by direct Israeli involvement in the war. However, Israel has domestic and regional considerations that make it very difficult to refrain from retaliation if the country is hit by Iraqi missiles, as it did in the 1991 Persian Gulf War under fierce U.S. pressure.

If Israeli casualty figures are high or if the Iraqis attack with nonconventional weapons, Israel’s government will feel duty-bound to retaliate — both to satisfy domestic public opinion and, more importantly, to maintain Israel’s deterrent capacity in the region. Mofaz therefore refused to say what the United States wanted to hear and would not commit that Israel would avoid getting involved in the war under any circumstances.

On the contrary, Mofaz made it clear that Israel reserves the right to retaliate if it suffers heavy civilian casualties or if it is attacked with nonconventional weapons. However, Mofaz did promise that in return for U.S. consideration of Israel’s interests, Israel would coordinate any retaliatory strike with Washington. That might be why U.S. military planners were smiling after the meeting.

In operational terms, the Mofaz commitment seems to mean that Israel would clear retaliatory plans with the United States in advance and would not attack unless given flying times, routes and friend-foe air codes. That would seem to make an Israeli strike dependent on U.S. approval. If the United States disapproves of the response, it could withhold the operational information, making an attack virtually impossible.

Israeli defense officials acknowledged that this could present a problem but said they are confident the United States will understand Israel’s needs and will make it possible for Israel to retaliate if it feels it must. Then again, Washington would want to have a say on the scope of the Israeli response, especially since Israel and the United States openly disagree on how to retaliate against a nonconventional Iraqi attack.

Israel would prefer to respond itself — and with great force — to deter other countries in the region from following the Iraqi example. That could mean widespread destruction in Iraq.

"We would want everyone to know it was us, and to realize just what we can do," an Israeli defense official said. The United States, however, would prefer a far more measured response, one that the United States carries out and controls, because it hopes to rebuild Iraq and Iraqi institutions as quickly as possible in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

How serious is the threat of a nonconventional Iraqi attack?

Besides the possible delivery of biological or chemical agents via Scud missiles, Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials believe Iraq will attempt to send "suicide pilots" with cargos of biological or chemical weapons.

Israeli officials recall that in the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq planned a fighter-bomber biological attack, first sending three conventionally armed bombers to see if they could penetrate Israeli airspace. If successful, the plan was to follow up with more sorties, including one by a Sukhoi bomber loaded with biological agents. The plan never materialized because the first Iraqi planes were shot down soon after takeoff.

Since the Gulf War, Israeli air defenses have become even tighter, and defense officials said the relatively slow-flying "suicide planes" would be easier to intercept than Scud missiles.

As for missile attacks, the officials rate these as less likely than suicide-plane missions, because the number of missiles Iraq has and its capacity to launch them have been severely curtailed since the 1991 Gulf War, officials said.

Still, Israel is not taking chances, and plans are being considered to inoculate the entire population against smallpox.

The bottom line is this: Should an Iraqi missile or plane get through, and should the United States urge restraint, Israel would face an acute dilemma, because in addition to its operational leverage, the United States has considerable political and economic leverage.

Israeli officials said their U.S. counterparts have not made any attempt to place conditions on the $4 billion Israel has requested in military aid — to help defray the costs of its deployment against the Iraqi threat — on Israel’s agreement to take a blow quietly.

Clearly, however, if Israel were to retaliate against U.S. wishes, it could find itself forfeiting this aid and being punished by the United States on the Palestinian issue after the war.

If it sits out the war, Israel might just be rewarded. However, it is unclear whether that would make up for physical damages to the Israeli home front and the intangible damage to Israel’s deterrent capacity.

+