Waxman faces Bloomfield in redrawn 33rd

Sitting in his recently rented campaign office on West Third Street in Los Angeles one afternoon in late August, Rep. Henry Waxman listed — one by one, from memory — some of the coastal and South Bay neighborhoods and cities that are included in the newly redrawn 33rd Congressional District where he’s running for reelection in November. 

“El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, part of Hawthorne — and then there’s the whole Palos Verdes Peninsula,” Waxman said.  

Waxman is on unfamiliar ground this year, literally and figuratively. The district where he’s running stretches from Malibu all the way down the coast, incorporating a few inland neighborhoods along the way, including the chunk of the Westside where his campaign office sits. It’s a big change for Waxman, who used to represent a lot more of the Westside, including West Hollywood, Beverlywood and Pico-Robertson. By his count, 45 percent of the voters in the newly drawn 33rd District are people he’s never represented. 

And this year, Waxman, the fifth-most senior Democrat in Congress and dean of the chamber’s Jewish members, who has won his last five elections with at least 65 percent of the vote, faces a challenger unlike any he’s faced before. 

Bill Bloomfield, an independent, is a retired businessman who has never held public office and was, until relatively recently, a lifelong Republican. 

At a time when Congress has an all-time-low 10 percent approval rating, Bloomfield’s reform-minded campaign slogan — “He’ll fix Congress” — should have at least some impact. Bloomfield spent more than $1 million in the run-up to the June primary, coming in second in a field of eight candidates, with about 24.6 percent of the vote. He said he’s willing “to spend what is necessary … and not a dollar more” in order to get out his message of reform — a pledge that anyone with a mailbox in the district probably believes. 

Waxman, meanwhile, spent about $200,000 leading up to the primary and took 45.3 percent of the vote in June. But even though he expects to be outspent in the race — as of June 30, he had just over $1 million in cash on hand — Waxman is confident that he can beat Bloomfield, especially since registered Democrats, who make up 44 percent of the district’s voters, outnumber both Republicans (29 percent) and independents (22 percent). 

“I just have to make sure that he doesn’t outspend me so much that I don’t get my message out,” Waxman said. 

Waxman’s message focuses on a legislative record that stretches back nearly four decades. Since he first began serving in Congress in 1975, Waxman, now the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has passed legislation addressing the problems of air pollution, preserving safe drinking water and cracking down on the marketing of cigarettes aimed directly at minors, among other matters. He’s also been a staunch Israel supporter throughout that time. 

Waxman is determined to continue serving in Congress, in part to pursue new legislation — he’d like to address climate change, perhaps by instituting a tax on carbon emissions — but also because House Republicans lately have made efforts to roll back existing laws protecting the environment. 

“This past year, the Republicans in the House voted to repeal most of what’s in the Clean Air Act by trying to stop regulation of pollution in a number of different areas,” said Waxman, who was one of the primary authors of the reauthorized Clean Air Act in 1990, which for the first time addressed air toxins, acid rain and ozone depletion.

With Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, Waxman said he knew such efforts would not succeed. “I worry a great deal what will happen in the next couple of years if we don’t have President Obama and have Republicans in control of the Congress,” he said.

Bloomfield, for his part, professed having great respect for Waxman and said he would never let his opponent’s signature piece of legislation be overturned. 

“I like clean air,” Bloomfield said. “I like the fact that the Santa Monica Bay is cleaner than it was.” 

Instead, Bloomfield is running a campaign that focuses less on replacing Waxman in particular and more on reforming Congress in general. 

“I am not running because of how liberal he [Waxman] is, although he’s a lot more liberal than I am,” said Bloomfield, who is a co-founder of No Labels, a two-year-old nonpartisan organization that aims to reform Congress. “I’m running because of how partisan he is, because the institution is not working.” 

Partisanship, for Bloomfield, is the problem in Washington — yet until recently, his own record of campaign donations appeared to be that of a devoted and generous adherent to the Republican Party. 

Bloomfield spent a year working as an unpaid volunteer with Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and has been a major contributor to Republican candidates. 

In the two years leading up to the 2010 election, Bloomfield donated $140,000 to the California Republican Party, more than $50,000 to Republican gubernatorial candidates and another $39,000 to other Republicans seeking statewide office, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. 

He also donated at least $24,000 to individual Republican House and Senate candidates outside California and $30,400 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

But in March 2011, Bloomfield switched his registration, becoming an independent. He said he didn’t know that he’d be running for Congress when he dropped out of the GOP (which he now calls “my former party”), and Bloomfield explained his decision to reregister as a reaction to the frustration with Congress’ “hyper-partisanship.”

“You’ve got people in congress who basically think that their job is to politick 24/7,” Bloomfield said. “The hyper-partisanship is causing the gridlock.”

In a video posted on his Web site, Bloomfield calls Waxman “10 times more partisan than the average Democrat.” But Waxman contends that he has worked across the aisle many times over his long career. 

“I believe in compromise,” Waxman said. “Unfortunately, we have the extreme right wing in the Republican Party right now in control and everybody else in the Republican Party is so co-opted that they think compromise is a bad word and something that should be avoided at all costs.”

If Waxman blames Republicans for Congress’ dysfunction, Bloomfield assigns roughly equal measures of responsibility to both parties. 

“It takes two to fight,” the former Republican said. 

There’s a double irony to Bloomfield’s running as a reformer. Not only did Waxman himself get elected as part of a crop of reform-minded “Watergate babies” in the wake of Nixon’s resignation in 1974, but Bloomfield’s current bid is a direct result of two recent reforms to California elections he has backed financially. 

He gave a combined $150,000 to support two ballot measures in 2010: One took control over drawing California’s congressional districts away from elected officials and handed it to an independent commission; the other established the “top-two” system of primary elections, in which all voters are given a ballot with every candidate on it, regardless of party. 

Both passed, and as a result, the 33rd Congressional District, as drawn by the independent redistricting panel, is more competitive than Waxman’s former district, and the new so-called “jungle primary” system is far friendlier to independent candidates, especially those with deep pockets. 

But if Bloomfield makes clear his aim is to reform Congress, it’s unclear how he’d vote on specific issues, should he manage to unseat Waxman. 

During an hour-long interview with the Journal, Bloomfield avoided picking sides on a number of issues that have divided Congress over the last two years. On the fiscal front, Bloomfield praised the Bowles-Simpson debt-reduction commission, whose conclusions were rejected by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and were not fully embraced by the Obama administration. He bemoaned the Democrats’ passing the Affordable Care Act without any Republican votes, but also assailed Republicans for wasting time passing legislation repealing Obamacare, knowing that such efforts wouldn’t move in the Democratic-controlled Senate. 

Asked what he would have done had he been a member when the health-care reform bill came up before the House, Bloomfield declined to say how he’d have voted, saying only that he wanted “to improve it.” 

Bloomfield also declined to say who he’d be voting for in the presidential race this fall. 

“The problem with answering that question is I get labeled,” said Bloomfield, who in early 2011 donated a combined $7,500 to Republican nominee Mitt Romney and a pro-Romney PAC. “I will support whoever the president is when I think he’s right, and I will be totally against him when I think he’s wrong.”

The growth in the numbers of “decline-to-state” voters and the shrinking number of Californians who are registered Republicans, coupled with the top-two primary, gives moderate Republicans like Bloomfield an incentive to run as independents. 

“The party label ‘Republican’ in California — and especially in a district like Henry Waxman’s — is absolutely toxic,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles and a Jewish Journal columnist. 

Bloomfield qualifies as a moderate Republican — he drives a Prius, believes that climate change is caused by human activity and voted against the ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage in California — and as such, he’s “much more threatening to a Democrat than conservative Republicans are,” Sonenshein said. 

Still, Sonenshein added, “I’d be beyond shocked if Waxman lost.” 

Waxman isn’t resting on his laurels. Waxman’s campaign manager recently held a conference call with leaders of about half a dozen synagogues around the South Bay, looking to plan ways for the congressman to reach out to the community. The South Bay could take on an outsized importance in this campaign, particularly as two candidate debates already scheduled will both take place in Palos Verdes. 

In the parts of the 33rd District that are new to him, Waxman might have some ground to make up. Rabbi Yossi Mintz, the director of Chabad of the Beach Cities in Redondo Beach, said he’d received many Bloomfield campaign mailers in the recent months but hadn’t gotten anything or seen any signs pushing voters to choose Waxman. 

Mintz said he’d met Bloomfield once, and that although he hadn’t yet met Waxman, Mintz said he knew the congressman’s reputation. 

“I know about his support for Israel, which is very important to me,” Mintz said. “He’s a person that other people look up to on how to vote. That’s a very powerful thing.”

In August, with the election less than three months away, the Waxman campaign office didn’t yet have the lived-in feeling of Bloomfield’s larger, more well-worn headquarters in Manhattan Beach. A neat stack of “Waxman for Congress” signs sat in the entryway.

Waxman said he was working the phones that day, soliciting donations from supporters in a way he hadn’t done in years past. 

“I’m calling people, telling them that I’ve never asked for their help in the past,” he said, “and this is a time when I really need it.”

Altschuler concedes to Bishop in suburban N.Y. race

Randy Altschuler conceded the congressional election in a suburban New York district to incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop.

Altschuler, a Republican, is trailing the Democrat Bishop by 263 votes, unofficial counts show in the eastern Long Island district.

In his concession Wednesday, Altschuler said he concluded that a hand recount of 200,000 ballots was unlikely to change the result and would be overly burdensome on district taxpayers. Altschuler would have joined Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the incoming majority leader, as the second Republican Jewish lawmaker in Congress.

“I plan to stay active in politics and continue to speak out on the issues that affect the residents of Suffolk County, our state and our nation,” Altschuler said in a statement Wednesday. “Those issues include high taxes, runaway spending and an ever-growing deficit.”

Altschuler had spent $2.8 million of his own money on the race.

It was the last contested result in an election in which Democrats lost the U.S. House of Representatives to Republicans, who hold a 63-seat margin over Democrats in the 435-member House.

Bush’s Middle East legacy

Iran, Israel and the 2008 election

When presidential candidates compete in an election with an open seat in the White House, they are prisoners of events. The White House controls the agenda, and the candidates must adapt.

Vice President Richard Nixon was badly hurt by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s refusal to stimulate the economy in 1960 and lost the election to Sen. John F. Kennedy, who had promised to “get the country moving again.” Vice President Hubert Humphrey nearly beat Nixon in 1968, but only after a stubborn President Lyndon B. Johnson finally signaled a change in Vietnam policy near the end of the campaign. President Ronald Reagan’s recovery from Iran-Contra and numerous agreements with a Democratic Congress and with the Soviet Union immeasurably helped Vice President George Bush win the presidency in 1988.

And so it will be. The Republican Party has a two-sided albatross around its neck, an unpopular president who is trying desperately to keep an unpopular war going past Election Day so that its disastrous ending can be on the next president’s watch. The chemistry of this election is toxic for Republicans. To hold the Republican base, the candidates have to be upbeat about both the war and Bush, as the country increasingly turns against both.

Bush is unlikely to change policy in Iraq unless forced to, and he is most likely to only hint at troop pullbacks before the election. But will Bush temporarily change the chemistry by launching an attack on Iran?

The Bush world tends to follow its own quirky calendar. August is the month for gathering themselves together, the famous Bush vacations. Unfortunately for us, one of those vacations fell in August 2001, and therefore the warnings of an imminent attack were ignored. By Sept. 12, though, Bush was a national hero.

The Iraq War push started in September 2003, and as Bush adviser Andrew Card noted, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Right now, September is looking very bad for the administration, with negative reports from Iraq and festering anger at the war on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans.

Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be mobilizing his forces in a skeleton administration depleted by resignations toward confrontation with Iran. The neoconservatives, so hell-bent in their rush to war with Iraq, are now on the Iran warpath. So now we have a new Hitler-for-a-day. (Remember when Saddam Hussein was Hitler, or was it Kim Il Sung?)

What will be the reaction of congressional Democrats, especially Jewish Democrats who are deeply concerned about Iran’s threat to Israel? Does one support an administration that has managed to at least identify a serious enemy but can’t be trusted to do anything sensible about it?

The Bush administration is counting on these Democrats to be at least ambivalent about an attack on Iran. Tired of being called Defeatocrats, top Democrats would be tempted by a confrontation they could wholeheartedly endorse, at least in theory, especially one that is sold as bolstering Israel’s security. Unlike with the administration’s invention of the prewar Iraq threat, there is bipartisan agreement that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a major strategic danger.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) demand for a congressional vote on war over Iran is unlikely to impede Bush. In fact, if the White House calls that bluff as it did on the Iraq War, the vote might pass, and those Democrats who voted against it would be vulnerable. The party will once again split between its anti-war base and its leadership.

Leading Democratic presidential candidates will have a difficult time flat-out opposing an attack on Iran. They have been placing themselves to the right of the administration on Iran for some time and now may find it hard to backtrack. The two top candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have been criticizing Bush for not being firm enough with Iran.

They would instead raise tactical questions or call for diplomacy, arguments that were easily dismissed in the run-up to the Iraq War. The most compelling and credible case against war with Iran will likely be made by military leaders disturbed by the state of American forces as a result of the Iraq War.

For the Republican presidential candidates, an attack on Iran may help in the near term, but they should be careful about what they wish for. Right now, the Iraq War is long past the rosy beginning stage and into full fiasco mode.

Anything that changes the chemistry will seem better than where they are now. The start of war is generally popular and causes a rallying effect around the incumbent and his or her party. But having another war to defend in November 2008 cannot be good for Republicans. War and fear of terrorism got them through in 2004, but voter fatigue is palpable. What won in 2004 may destroy their 2008 prospects.

From Israel’s standpoint, there must be a sense of vertigo. All along, Israel has seen Iran on the horizon. Israelis are now putting out the word publicly that they warned Bush not to attack Iraq and urged him to instead keep his focus on Iran.

Israel has the same dilemma as Jewish Democrats in the United States. Now that Bush and Cheney are focused on the right challenge, can they be trusted not to make the same hash of this that they have of everything else? Like the Democrats, having so long said that Iran was a greater threat than Iraq, what leverage do they have to influence how Bush deals with it?

Israel is also very concerned about the United States being seen as fighting a war for Israel, given how quickly American domestic opinion changes. That concern may underlie the release of its earlier warnings about Iraq. While Israel wants Iran weakened, it does not want to be blamed by American voters for another failed military adventure. Bush and Cheney, meanwhile, have an interest in using the protection of Israel as a way to de-fang potential Democratic opposition.

The Bush administration may or may not attack Iran. It foolishly invaded Iraq but after years of saber-rattling, made a deal with North Korea. In the long run, it would be better for the Republican ticket if the administration found a way to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions without war. It would be even better if Bush wound down the Iraq War before next November. Voters have short memories and can be forgiving when the main irritant is removed. Those two steps would make today’s one-sided Democratic edge a thing of the past.

Jews still have big role in changing L.A. political scene

It was not so long ago that Los Angeles City Hall and the Los Angeles Unified School District school board were filled with Jewish elected officials. The first winning Jewish
candidate of the 20th century, Rosalind Wiener (later Wyman) was elected to the council in 1953. From then on, Jews translated their high degree of political interest, disproportionate turnout at the polls and generally progressive politics into remarkable electoral success.

At one point, as many as one-third of the City Council members were Jewish. During the height of the school busing controversy in the late 1970s, the leadership of the anti-busing movement, as well as the most active whites in favor of busing, were Jewish and fought each other over school board seats.

Today, Jews remain a key constituency in Los Angeles politics and generate plenty of strong candidates. The dramatic rise of Latinos in local politics, though, has carved out another niche for minority candidates that once largely belonged to African Americans.

On the City Council, three seats (Districts 8, 9 and 10) are likely to remain African American for at least a while longer and then may shift toward Latinos. Another four (Districts 1, 6, 7 and 14) are likely to be Latino seats. Of the remaining eight seats, Jewish candidates have good chances to be elected but are only certain to be elected in one, the 5th District.

Jewish candidates also have an excellent chance at citywide races for mayor, controller and city attorney. On the school board, the Westside and Valley seats and maybe one more are still fair pickings for Jewish candidates.

The City Council’s 5th District stretches from the Fairfax district to Bel Air and Westwood on the Westside and into the near portions of the San Fernando Valley. It was Wyman’s seat, and then it fell to Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer and now Jack Weiss.

The 5th District is roughly one-third Jewish in a city with a 6 percent Jewish population. It regularly turns out the highest number of voters in city elections. (As one measure in the recent city elections, there were 185 precincts in the 5th District, compared to only 59 in the working-class Eastside 1st District. The more registered voters, the more precincts.) It has the highest level of education among the voters of any L.A. City Council district.

It’s a very tough seat to win, because there are so many strong Jewish candidates in the area. Those who win it have a good chance to move up. Edelman and Yaroslavsky became L.A. County supervisors. Feuer was nearly elected city attorney in 2001 and just won a state Assembly seat. Weiss has just announced his candidacy for city attorney in 2009. His candidacy opens up the 5th District seat in the same year.

Term limits in Los Angeles create the usual game of musical chairs. Until last year, all the elected officials were limited to two terms. In November, Measure R scrambled things by adding a term for City Council members, while leaving the three citywide offices at two terms. So Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Controller Laura Chick and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo are all termed out in 2009.

City Council members who thought they would be termed out now have another term. Even with that extra council term, the citywide openings will draw some like Weiss to give up their seats to go for the gold. Chick is thinking of running for the 5th District seat, and the popular controller would be a strong candidate.

Weiss has collected the endorsements of two popular mayors, Villaraigosa and Richard Riordan. He is hoping to preempt major competition early on. A strong challenger would be Bob Hertzberg, who can draw on the Valley Jewish base, which outnumbers the Westside Jewish constituency.

The mayor’s endorsement may keep major Latino candidates out of the race, a relevant factor, given Delgadillo’s upset victory over Feuer, another 5th District City Council member with even more endorsements. Having endorsed Villaraigosa early in the mayoral campaign, Weiss earned that crucial mayoral support. Chick is closely allied with the mayor, having helped his campaign with tough investigations of former Mayor James Hahn and having formally endorsed him.

The school board elections offer another window into the changing Jewish role in Los Angeles. Jewish voters are immensely and intensely interested in public education, even when their children are grown or in private schools. As in the school busing controversy, Jews are on both sides of the power struggle between the school board and the mayor.

Marlene Canter, the school board president, has been the strongest critic of the mayor’s plan. David Tokofsky managed, sometimes narrowly, to hold onto his Eastside seat against Latino challengers but finally stepped down this year to be replaced by a mayor-endorsed Latina, Yolie Aguilar. At the same time, the mayor’s potential control of the school board likely comes down to a Jewish candidate endorsed by the mayor in the Valley’s 3rd District.

Incumbent Jon Lauritzen is being supported by the teachers union and is under heavy challenge from Tamar Galatzan, who is supported by the mayor’s reform coalition. Before joining the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, where she is a deputy city attorney, Galatzan was Western states associate counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. In the primary election, Galatzan outpolled the incumbent, 44 percent to 40 percent, setting up a tight race in the runoff.

So why are Jews on both sides of the school debate? Jews have long ties to the school board and to the teachers union. But on the other side, there is a long tradition of supporting reform in all its varieties, and Jewish voters provide the city’s most reliable bloc of pro-reform voting.

Valley Jews especially were friendly to Riordan, who has strongly backed Villaraigosa’s moves on education. And warm views of Villaraigosa himself, who has long cultivated the Jewish community, add to the mix. If Galatzan is elected, Villaraigosa will have his school board majority.

So as the rise of Latinos has moderately edged out the role of Jews in one way, the linkage to Villaraigosa (for Weiss, Chick and Galatzan) has brought Jews another advantage in a way akin to the Bradley alliance. This is, of course, typical of Los Angeles politics in that nobody makes it on their own anyway, but only in alliance with other groups.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

Many guests at AIPAC event, but one is unwanted — Iraq

AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., is truly a come-one, come-all event, with a “roll call” at the gala dinner announcing the hundreds of VIPs in attendance. But this year, one uninvited guest kept turning up — the Iraq war.

No matter how hard the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tried to keep the 6,000 activists at its conference focused on the consensus issue of Iran’s nuclear threat, Republicans and Israeli officials kept bringing up what is likely the most divisive issue of the day.

The equation promoted by those who support continuing the war is simple: Israel’s security requires a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, and questioning President Bush’s policy is tantamount to undermining Israel and the United States.

“When America succeeds in Iraq, Israel is safer,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said late Monday in a live satellite address from his Jerusalem home that capped the gala dinner. “The friends of Israel know it, the friends who care about Israel know it. They will keep the Americans strong, powerful and convincing.”

Vice President Dick Cheney was even more blunt.

“Friends owe it to friends to be as candid as possible,” he said. “My friends, it is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace that is posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave Israel’s best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened.”

The equation infuriated Democrats.

The sniping on Iraq — at one point it devolved into scattered boos for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives — ran counter to AIPAC billing that the event would be an unmatched show of bipartisan support for Israel.

But a spokesman for the pro-Israel lobby powerhouse said the Iraq issue did not detract from the conference’s focus.

“Our focus is on the things we’re lobbying on,” Josh Block said.

The March 12 gala dinner drew half the U.S. Senate and more than half the House. It featured addresses by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), its minority leader.

The next morning, Pelosi and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, headlined the traditional Tuesday-morning sendoff to the Capitol for a day of lobbying.

McConnell and Boehner also attempted to build support for the administration’s recent deployment of more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) made it the centerpiece of his speech.

“There is something profoundly wrong when, in the face of attacks by radical Islam, we think we can find safety and stability by pulling back, by talking to and accommodating our enemies, and abandoning our friends and allies,” Lieberman said to a group that he likes to call “family.”

“Some of this wrong-headed thinking about the world is happening because we’re in a political climate where, for many people, when George Bush says yes, their reflex reaction is to say no,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”

Democrats, speaking on background, said they were unsettled by how Iraq kept intruding into an event dedicated to securing Israel.

Some top AIPAC officials also appeared appalled by the advocacy for Bush’s plan to increase troop levels in Iraq.

Amy Friedkin, a past AIPAC president who is close to Pelosi, stared stonily at Cheney’s back as he delivered his warning.

The reception to Cheney’s speech was lukewarm at best; he earned no more than three standing ovations, and applause was mostly polite.

The attempt to force the Iraq issue into the AIPAC conference appeared coordinated in part by the White House. AIPAC closed Lieberman’s session Monday to the press, though it had been touted as being open. That kept his message of support for the troop surge out of the headlines — for 24 hours.

Lieberman’s office distributed the remarks Tuesday, and within minutes they were forwarded to Jewish leaders by the White House liaison to the Jewish community with a note labeling them as “important.”

It did not help AIPAC’s case for bipartisanship that the lobby this week successfully pressed for the removal of a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have required the president to get congressional approval for war against Iran.

Many Democrats favored the provision because it reasserted Congress’ constitutional role in declaring war, which some charge Bush has eroded in Iraq. AIPAC and some other Democrats close to Israel feared the clause would restrain Bush as he pushes Iran to come clean about its nuclear program.

“I don’t know that you need to put in a supplemental budget bill that you believe in the U.S. Constitution,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a Jewish congressman who supported leaving out the Iran provision. “That should be obvious.

“If you’re trying to get a terrorist rogue regime to give up its weapons,” he said, “you should get them to think maybe we’re as crazy as they think we are.”
California Democratic Reps. Howard Berman, Henry Waxman, Brad Sherman and Jane Harman echoed similar sentiments during a session with state AIPAC delegates.

In total, 1,200 Californians attended the AIPAC conference. The Los Angeles delegation drew 750 attendees, up 50 percent from 2006, said AIPAC Western States Director Elliot Brandt, who added that it was the largest single-city delegation in the country.

On Monday night, Olmert appeared to be making a pitch for removing the Iran provision.

“President George W. Bush is the only leader and the United States is the only country that can be of enormous influence on what the Iranians will do,” he said. “They are the only ones that can confront effectively the aggressiveness of the Iranians in their plans to build up nuclear capacity.

“I know that all of you, friends of the State of Israel, well-wishers of the State of Israel, all of you who are concerned about the security and the future of the State of Israel, understand the importance of strong American leadership addressing the Iranian threat, and I am sure you will not hamper or restrain that strong leadership unnecessarily.”

It’s official: Jimmy Delshad elected new mayor of Beverly Hills

After a cliffhanger vote count, Jimmy Jamshid Delshad is preparing to claim two titles at his March 27 inauguration — mayor of Beverly Hills and top Iranian-born public official in the United States.

The milestone is being celebrated not only by his compatriots in Beverly Hills but also by the extended Iranian Jewish community of 30,000 in the Los Angeles area.

Delshad, 66, marked his all-but-certain victory on Saturday morning by attending services at three synagogues to thank congregants for their support. The first stop was at Sinai Temple in Westwood, where he had cut his political teeth by serving as president of the prestigious Conservative and traditionally Ashkenazi congregation from 1999 to 2001. He also visited Congregation Magen David of Beverly Hills and the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center.

Once the remaining absentee ballots were counted on Wednesday, Delshad hadreceived 22 percent of the ballots cast, overtaking his closest challengerby 171 votes. The Beverly Hills city clerk will certify the election resultsby next week, and Delshad will be inaugurated as mayor on March 27.

Beverly Hills is governed by a five-person City Council, which in turn annually rotates the job of mayor among its members in order of seniority. The mayor presides over council meetings, but the city’s chief executive is the hired city manager.

Delshad was initially elected as a city councilman in 2003 and this year served as vice mayor of Beverly Hills.

In the current election, voters had to choose among six candidates, half of them Iranian Jews, to fill two council seats, with Delshad assured of the mayor’s post if he placed first or second.

When the polls closed March 6, Nancy Krasne, a city planning commissioner and board member of the National Council of Jewish Women, was the top vote getter. However, since she has less seniority on the City Council than other members, she is not yet in line for the mayor’s job.

Delshad was in second place, ahead of incumbent Mayor Steve Webb by a mere seven votes. After the partial count of absentee ballots, Delshad had widened his lead over Webb to 86 votes.

At that point, Webb conceded and Delshad declared victory.

“I feel blessed to have been chosen by the people of Beverly Hills,” Delshad said in a phone interview. “As a Jewish youngster in Iran, I was a second-class citizen and kept running into closed doors.

Through my example, I hope to open doors in America for other people like me.”

The English-language Tehran Times, published in the Iranian capital, reported the election as a straight news story. Delshad said he had received congratulatory e-mails from some Muslims in Iran, especially from former neighbors in his native city of Shiraz.

Beverly Hills was an early destination for wealthy Iranian émigrés after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Today, Beverly Hills counts some 8,000 residents of Iranian birth or descent, primarily Jewish, among a population of 35,000, according to Delshad.

However, global and Middle Eastern issues played no part in the election campaigns, with Delshad and other candidates running on such local preoccupations as traffic tie-ups, water conservation and bringing advanced computer technology to city government.

Like every previous immigrant group, the Iranian newcomers were met with some suspicion and incomprehension upon their arrival, and not all frictions have been resolved. Veteran residents frequently complain about Iranians who buy large, handsome homes, only to tear them down and replace them with huge “Persian palaces” to accommodate the social needs of large, extended families.

Another flashpoint came during the election itself when, for the first time, ballot forms were printed in Farsi, in addition to English and Spanish. The city clerk’s office was deluged with complaints, with one resident sneering that the new ballot “looks like a menu from a Persian restaurant with an English translation.”

In both the housing and ballot controversies, Delshad has played his characteristic role as mediator, trying to explain the viewpoints of the Anglo and Iranian communities to each other.

Delshad has come by his American success story the old-fashioned way, by initiative, enterprise and hard work.

One of three brothers, Delshad left Iran as a 16-year-old in 1956, more than two decades before the shah’s downfall, lived in Israel for 18 months, returned to Iran and left his native land for good in 1959 to settle in the United States.

After working for some time in a small Minnesota town, “where there were hardly any Jewish girls to date,” he and his brothers bought a car and drove west, with no final destination in mind. The trip ended with his enrollment at CSUN, where he earned an electrical engineering degree.

To put themselves through college, the brothers formed The Delshad Trio, with Jimmy playing the santur, a dulcimer-like Persian stringed instrument. The trio played at bar mitzvahs and weddings, performing “Israeli music with a Persian touch,” said Delshad, who still plays the santur for recreation.

After graduation, Delshad joined a fledgling computer firm and then formed his own company, specializing in computer hardware for backup systems. He sold the company in 1999, when he was elected president of Sinai Temple. When his civic duties allow, he does consulting and has established an import company for food packaging materials.

Delshad and his wife, who was born in Kfar Vitkin while her American parents were staying in Israel, have a son and daughter, both graduates of Jewish day schools and now in college.

“Being Jewish is part and parcel of my life,” Delshad said.

Jewish Journal Contributing Writer Karmel Melamed contributed to this story.

Faith-based foreign policy faces perils ahead

Ideology is fine for campaigners, bloggers and talk show hosts, but it often wreaks havoc in the real world, where effective policy requires flexibility, not rules dreamed up in think tanks and advocacy groups.

That lesson has defined Israeli policy for decades, but it is being eroded by Jerusalem’s acquiescence to a U.S. administration that has implemented a foreign policy based more on faith than pragmatism.

A stubbornly ideological administration has put the United States in a deep hole in the international arena — and a vulnerable Israel could pay a big price for playing along with the true believers in Washington.

While Israel has always taken a hard line on terrorists and front-line adversaries, it has traditionally remained open to peace feelers, however tenuous.

It wasn’t just U.S. pressure that caused the hard-line Yitzhak Shamir government to start talking to a blood-drenched PLO or to engage in the Madrid peace process in the early 1990s. Yitzhak Rabin, a celebrated general who could hardly be called a peacenik, signed the Oslo agreement and shook Yasser Arafat’s hand in 1993, not because he believed the old terrorist leader had suddenly developed a love of Zion but because of a conviction that Israel’s future was dependent on finding some way to talk to its enemies.

Syria has long been a fomenter and supporter of terrorism and a source of regional instability. But the Jewish state has never shrunk from talking to Damascus whenever its leaders believed there was even a glimmer of hope to advance negotiations and avoid war.

Israel has even maintained backchannel contacts with Iran, despite the fanaticism of its leaders, in the belief that such contacts could someday pay important dividends.

Israeli governments representing both the left and the right understood that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends, and that in the Middle East, every chance for peace is a long shot. That has been the U.S. view of the region as well — until now.

An administration driven by rigid ideology expects Israel to play by the same rules. Current U.S. doctrine says you never talk to terrorists or terror-sponsoring countries; therefore Israel must do the same, regardless of its very different circumstances.

When Syrian president Bashar Assad sent out tentative peace feelers last year, the Bush administration laid down the law to Israel: don’t respond, even though some analysts in the Israeli government believed there might be slight shifts in the Syrian position that were worth exploring.

Last week, those instructions became even more explicit; according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her recent Mideast visit, demanded that Israel avoid even exploratory contacts with the Assad regime.

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not particularly inclined to start new talks with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but there, too, the Bush administration has made its demands clear: don’t give Hamas or anybody connected to it the time of day.

Israel is in a straitjacket of American design, barred from employing its traditional hard-headed pragmatism, prevented from exploring possible new routes to peace. It is treated as a client state, not an ally; its politically weak leaders, afraid of angering a senior partner in Washington that believes talking to enemies is tantamount to endorsing them, meekly complies with U.S demands.

Jerusalem should look more closely at what these policies have done to U.S. interests and influence around the world.

President Bush’s black-and-white, good-versus-evil view of a complex world and his refusal to negotiate with those he deems unworthy have left the United States with almost no allies and little credibility.

That isolation has undercut U.S. efforts to deal with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of extremists and increased, not decreased, the armies of terrorists eager to lash out against enemies real and imagined.

The Iraq war he started on the basis of ideology, not intelligence, has spread instability across the Middle East and strengthened Iran, according to U.S. intelligence estimates.

Washington’s refusal to talk to Iran hasn’t slowed its quest for nuclear weapons, and may have rallied a restive populace behind an increasingly unpopular leadership. It’s refusal to talk to Syria hasn’t changed Syrian behavior for the better, and may have pushed Damascus deeper into the Iranian orbit.

So shouldn’t Israel’s leaders be alarmed that on key matters involving their nation’s security they are being dictated to by a government in Washington whose ideology-driven foreign policy has undercut vital shared priorities and added to the dangers Israel faces in a seething Middle East?

Faith-based foreign policy hasn’t worked for Washington, and now it threatens to compound the problems facing a Jewish state that once based its foreign policy on tough pragmatism, not theories and beliefs. Israel can’t afford to thumb its nose at its only real ally — but there could be a big cost to continuing to follow the dictates of an administration that remains pure in its beliefs but increasingly alone in its policies.

Undressed up

One day last month, Barack Obama was having dinner with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. Hillary Clinton was on the floor of the Senate. And Tom Vilsack? He was at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Burbank, with me.

That's when I knew his campaign was in trouble.

Vilsack entered alone, schlepping a carry-on. He ordered his lunch — coffee with milk and a lemon poppy-seed muffin — and sat down at a small corner table with me, after 17 cities in 14 days, too tired even for small talk. Vilsack, a popular former two-term governor of Iowa, is tall, solid, a character out of “Our Town.” Our meeting was yet another reminder that while incumbency is wholesale, speaking to millions, campaigning can be depressingly retail, one on one on one.

I could quickly see why Vilsack thought he had a chance. His centrist politics, his mature demeanor, his life story were all compelling. Abandoned by his birth parents, he was raised by loving but troubled parents — an alcoholic and abusive mother, for starters. Vilsack went on to earn a law degree and reach the statehouse. He won every race he ever entered, as he liked to remind supporters.

He was a two-term Democratic governor in a solidly red state. He opposed the Iraq War from the start, and he left office with a solid surplus after inheriting a severe deficit. Though not flashy or overly charismatic, he is amiable and straightforward. Maybe not the guy you'd want to have a beer with, but definitely good for a muffin and coffee.

I sought out Vilsack because, of all the candidates so far, he had a detailed plan for achieving energy security — he had made it the cornerstone of his campaign.

In fact, that was another clue that Vilsack's days were numbered: When the media crowns you the winner of “the idea primary,” as the Washington Post did, that's like being named “Greatest Maimonides Scholar” at the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest. Nice skill, wrong contest.

Vilsack was unafraid to get specific on energy independence, in part because he had a track record, in Iowa, of achieving it.

Under his leadership, Iowa built six new state-of-the-art coal and natural gas power plants (the first in 20 years); became the leading state per capita in wind generation; and became the No. 1 producer of ethanol and soy diesel. Leading from the center, involving powerful industry and farm interests, he turned Iowa's energy economy around using clean technologies and creating a record level of employment.

Vilsack's campaign was built on doing the same for America.

Energy was Vilsack's key platform, because, he told me, energy is key to America's economic, environmental and national security. Solve the energy problem, he said, and you've made America safer, cleaner and more secure.

His platform detailed a range of federal incentives to increase the production and consumption of renewable fuel and energy; to sharply raise vehicle emission standards; to research alternative energy sources and increase conservation; to address the true costs of nuclear and coal-powered generations.

None of this was just bumper sticker slogans to Vilsack.

While governing a state basically known for growing corn and MFA's in creative writing, Vilsack correctly realized that corn is not the most efficient way of producing ethanol. He called for switching to other crops and in the meantime removing the tariff on Brazilian ethanol, which is made from sugarcane and whose importation corn growers have long opposed.

I asked Vilsack how that idea played among Iowa farmers.

“This campaign lacks a lot of things,” he said, “but guts isn't one of them.

“Look,” he said. “There's nothing easy about what I'm proposing about energy security. This is a significant commitment to changing our economy and changing our approach to the rest of the world. It has to be done.”

The line from Iowa wind to Brazilian sugarcane to Israel was clear to him.

“A substantial reduction in our reliance on Middle Eastern oil puts us in a position where we have greater independence from that part of the world,” he said, “because we aren't as beholden to Saudi Arabia, for example. Nor are we directly funding countries like Iran that wish to do us harm, and wish to do Israel harm. It's extremely important from a national security standpoint and from a global security standpoint that we become ultimately independent from that foreign source of oil.”

Anyway, never mind. Vilsack's name might get floated for vice president or, more likely, for secretary of energy. But as far as Campaign 2008 is concerned, he's through. Last week, Vilsack pulled out of the race, citing his inability to compete with high profile money-raisers like Clinton and Obama.

How appropriate that the presidential race is gearing up now, just as we mark the Purim holiday. To get even close to winning, the candidates must simplify their personas, or adopt different ones.

Either way, we end up voting for the mask, not the man or woman.

But Vilsack came out early, without the mask. It may be that some other candidate, Republican or Democratic, will pick up on Vilsack's plan and run with it. I hope so. But for that candidate such a policy may end up being part of the mask, not the core, as it clearly was for Vilsack.

“There's only one person in this race who actually created a renewable energy economy,” Vilsack reminded me, “and that's me.”

We spoke for an hour. His cell phone rang once or twice, then a very young aide came to take him away. The candidate's biggest media close-up was to occur in an hour, when he would appear on The Tonight Show. Jay Leno had made so much fun of Vilsack's last name, he invited him on for a couple of minutes in the name of good sportsmanship.

A couple of gags and a week later, and Vilsack was out of the race.

Tommy, we hardly knew ye.

Happy Purim.

Olmert-Rice-Abbas summit meets low expectations

No one expected this week’s tripartite American-Israeli-Palestinian summit to make any startling breakthroughs. For days, spokesmen for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been lowering expectations.

Rice initially envisaged the Feb. 19 summit as a grand festive opening of three-way talks on the establishment of a Palestinian state. But the agreement between the radical Hamas and the more moderate Fatah to establish a Palestinian unity government that probably won’t overtly recognize Israel altered the focus.

Rice and Olmert used the summit to make clear to Abbas that the United States and Israel will boycott the new Palestinian government unless it meets the international Quartet’s three benchmark conditions: recognition of Israel, acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renunciation of violence.

Still, the summit was not without its achievements: It clarified what the Palestinian side needs to do to get the yearlong international economic boycott lifted; it broached new ideas for advancing the peace “road map”; and it made clear that peace talks with Abbas, a Fatah leader who does accept the three benchmark conditions, would continue even if the new Palestinian government does not follow his lead.

What happens next will depend on how skillfully the parties maneuver in trying to advance their often disparate agendas. For example, how far they are able to move along the peace road will depend to a large extent on how the new power-sharing arrangements between Hamas and Fatah play out.

Will Fatah be able to use Hamas’ support of the unity government to move the process forward, or will Hamas be able to exploit a Fatah fig leaf to have international sanctions lifted without making any political or ideological concessions? Will Abbas be able to move the talks toward the two-state final peace deal he wants, or will Hamas limit him to no more than the long-term cease-fire it seeks?

In cutting the national unity deal with Fatah in Mecca in early February, Hamas had two major priorities: ending weeks of dangerous internecine fighting with Fatah before it escalated into full-blown civil war and getting the international boycott on the Palestinians lifted.

For Hamas, the problem is how to get the boycott lifted without making ideological concessions — like recognizing Israel. The solution has been to give Abbas a free hand to negotiate in the hope that progress will entail at least a gradual easing of the sanctions. But what will Hamas do if there is a diplomatic breakthrough, come on board or try to spoil it?

The classic Hamas strategy is based on the assumption that time is on the side of the Palestinians. Hamas leaders argue that the regional balance is tilting against Israel and that, over time, the Palestinians will prevail. Therefore, they oppose a two-state solution and seek a long-term cease-fire, or hudna, which they hope will lead to the lifting of the international boycott and enable their group to build up its power for another round against Israel.

Some Fatah spokesmen, however, detect a looming transformation in Hamas thinking. They argue that the Mecca agreement heralds a movement toward Abbas’ position that violence against Israel is counterproductive and that Hamas might be ready, under certain circumstances, to consider the merits of a two-state solution. And, if that is the case, Abbas may be given license to go all the way.

In any event, Abbas hopes to use the negotiations to transform the everyday life of Palestinians and so restore Fatah’s political dominance. His goal in the ongoing talks with Israel and the United States is to get a negotiation framework for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in place so he can offer the Palestinian people a “political horizon.” He also wants Palestinian prisoners released and Israeli army roadblocks in the West Bank lifted.

In Monday’s summit, Abbas reiterated the importance of these gestures in the struggle for Palestinian opinion and, in return, promised that the new Palestinian government would do all it could to release the abducted Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and stop Kassam rockets being fired over the Gaza border.

By improving his image among the Palestinian people, Abbas hopes he and Fatah will be able to win new elections. When they come, he wants to be able to say that Fatah can deliver on statehood and large-scale foreign investment, whereas Hamas can only offer more suffering.

In this situation, the American game has been to adopt a carrot-and-stick policy to convince the Palestinians to move on the two-state track. To encourage the Palestinian side during the summit, Rice suggested discussing all aspects of the road map simultaneously, including statehood, but implementing the stages sequentially — from cease-fire to Palestinian mini-state to full-fledged Palestinian statehood.

“The road map does not say that it is not possible to talk about the destination even if you have many, many conditions on both sides that need to be fulfilled before you can get there,” Rice told the daily Ha’aretz.

But in an implied criticism of the Palestinians’ lack of readiness for serious engagement, Rice told the Palestinian daily al-Hayam that she was not sure there could be a Palestinian state before President Bush’s presidency ends in January 2009.

Israel’s approach has been to use international support for the three benchmark conditions to pressure the Palestinians to accept them. But even if they do not, as is widely expected, Olmert remains interested in a political process to revive his flagging political fortunes.

Olmert is skeptical about the chances of resolving final-status issues like Jerusalem or refugees. Indeed, he maintains that discussing them prematurely could do more harm than good. So, ironically, like Hamas, the Israeli prime minister also prefers a long-term cease-fire without the trappings of Palestinian statehood.
Given the newfound unity on the Palestinian side, this might just be doable. Until now Abbas, despite his good will, has been largely impotent, unable to deliver on a cease-fire or on Shalit’s release, never mind Palestinian statehood or final borders.

The new Hamas-Fatah unity government, however, represents a very wide segment of Palestinian opinion and would have the moral authority to sanction compromises with Israel. Indeed, with its backing, Abbas might be able to make a deal that sticks. Especially if, like a long-term hudna, it is one Hamas backs anyway.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

CAT scan of Jimmy Carter’s heart

Despite past sparks, Al-Marayati wants Jewish dialogue

It’s a Saturday morning, and Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), is playing basketball with a group of friends. He pounces on loose balls, wrestles away rebounds and knows just when to feed a teammate a perfectly telegraphed pass for an easy layup.

“He gives it 110 percent and leaves everything behind,” said his friend and occasional teammate, Ramsey Hakim, who also serves on the MPAC board. “He’s quite the competitor.”

Al-Marayati’s game, marked by a kind of intensity and focus rare among weekend warriors, reveals the kind of guy he is — in his work as a leader and spokesman of the local and national Muslim community — and as well as in his play. Simply put, he plays to win.

Over the past two decades, the Iraqi-born, American-reared Al-Marayati, 46, has helped grow MPAC from a start-up advocacy operation founded in 1988 by Dr. Maher Hathout, past chair of the Islamic Center of Southern California, into one of the country’s leading Muslim political groups, with offices here and in Washington, D.C. He has traveled the country, met with the president and other political leaders and written opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Washington Post and other publications, advocating a more moderate vision of the Muslim world, and, in particular, of American Muslims.

He talks of a faith that encourages equality between the sexes, of Muslim integration into American society and of respect for and partnerships between Jews and Christians. Al-Marayati has also fought to combat what he calls “Islamophobia” wherever it crops up.

“I want my children to have a future of hope, a future where they can contribute positively to American society as Muslims,” Al-Marayati said. “I don’t want a future of prejudice, fear and victimization.”

In the process, Al-Marayati has become “one of the major mainstream American Muslim leaders,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group.

Al-Marayati has met with President Bush three times, as well as with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, on the subject of counterterrorism, and he has testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on the need for the government to work with, rather than shut down, Islamic charities aiding poor Muslims around the world. On Jan. 8, Al-Marayati and other Muslim leaders conferred with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in his Washington office about the need to counter anti-Islamic sentiment so as not to alienate young Muslims.

“I told Attorney General Gonzales that the way to discourage radicalization is to promote integration, which is a joint responsibility of government and community-based organizations like ours,” Al-Marayati said in the deep, sonorous voice that is one part of what makes this rising star of the Muslim community sound statesmanlike.

During an interview at MPAC’s L.A. office, Al-Marayati comes across as serious and even a bit distant. With the din of ringing phones and staff members’ voices in the background, he maintains eye contact at all times. Dressed in a well-tailored suit, the trim Al-Marayati eschews small talk and answers questions deliberately, choosing his words with care. He cites as inspirations Green Bay Packers’ legend Vince Lombardi’s commitment to winning and teaching, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dedication to civil rights and fairness.

Al-Marayati’s biggest influence, he says without hesitation, is the Prophet Muhammad, whom he calls the “epitome of compassion, mercy and justice.”

Despite Al-Marayati’s commitment to interfaith dialogue and his open-door policy, even to critics, many in the Jewish community remain deeply suspicious of him.

On Sept. 11, 2001, just hours after the terror attacks, Al-Marayati hypothesized on a radio program that Israel might have orchestrated them “because, I think, this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories, so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”

Months later in April 2002, Al-Marayati appeared on the CNBC show, “Alan Keyes Is Making Sense.” During the interview, he told the host that “the country that introduced terrorism in the region is Israel. The root cause of terrorism is the illegal Israeli settlements.”

Although Al-Marayati said he subsequently personally apologized to many Jewish leaders for his Sept. 11 remarks, the damage had been done: The multiorganizational Muslim-Jewish Dialogue that Al-Marayati had helped create just a few years earlier lay in ruins, with other participants outraged by his remarks and remaining suspicious of him ever since.

“I won’t work with him, because I don’t trust him,” Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood, said last week in a phone conversation. Rosove was among those who quit the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue soon after Al-Marayati made his initial Sept. 11 remarks.

Al-Marayati does have some friends in the Jewish community. Among them is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who is Jewish. Schiff has worked with Al-Marayati for years on interfaith issues and said he has found him to be a dedicated partner.
“We both believe that by sharing insights and strengthening voices of tolerance, we can find common ground in improving the quality of life for the entire community,” the congressman said.

Al-Marayati said the hostility from segments of the Jewish community continues to surprise him. MPAC, he said, has gone on record as supporting the two-state solution and has condemned suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism, regardless of the perpetrators.

“I’m committed to dialogue emanating from the best traditions of Judaism and Islam,” Al-Marayati said. “It pains me to hear comments questioning my commitment. As I’ve stated before repeatedly, the door remains open, especially to those who have those criticisms.”

Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a Los Angeles-based social justice organization, said Al-Marayati has repeatedly lent support to him in times of distress. For example, moments after the shootings at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by a gunman upset by Israel, Al-Marayati called him to express his sorrow and concern, Sokatch said. Al-Marayati asked Sokatch whether there was anything MPAC could do to show solidarity with the Jewish community.

“He always reaches out,” Sokatch said.

Box-office politics

Trailer for ‘Suicide Killers.’ Click on the big arrow to play.

The first person I met at the Liberty Film Festival preview was a riled up Asian American man with a pompadour, who quickly explained to me what was wrong withHollywood: It is a vast liberal conspiracy.

“But the founders of the studios were conservative,” I said, thinking of the Goldwyns, the Warners and the Mayers.

“Yes,” he said. “But their children are communists.”

The Liberty Film Festival, now in its third year, aims to present and promote the work of conservative filmmakers who, according to the organizers, are ignored, persecuted and otherwise absent from “Hollywood.”

I put Hollywood in quotes because its meaning, as the evening at the Luxe Bel Air Hotel wore on, was elusive.

The Festival, said Mike Finch, executive director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center that sponsored the event, “is a voice for sanity. [Hollywood’s] not just for the far left. All these viewpoints deserve to be heard in Hollywood.”

For him, Hollywood seemed to mean Westsiders who work in the entertainment industry and read the Huffington Post.

“It’s really important that we have films going out with the conservative viewpoint,” said actress Govindini Murty, who organized the festival with her husband Jason Apuzzo. “Because Hollywood is making a major effort on the left to undermine the war on terror.”

For her, Hollywood seemed to mean documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. But Moore himself railed against “Hollywood” when Disney refused to release his controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”A bit later, Murty referred to “Hollywood’s” love of documentaries “that undermine the military. They are all extremely radical, very anti-Israeli.”

Here she had me stumped. This clearly wasn’t the Hollywood of “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Marine,” which opened this week. And I couldn’t think of any anti-Israel Hollywood films. Which made me think that for Murty, “Hollywood” means anyone who won’t make movies she likes, or, perhaps, that she’s in.

This is the festival’s third year, and it has grown substantially since its founding, last year attracting some 3,500 viewers. This year’s event will be held Nov. 10-12 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

About 100 people gathered at last week’s preview to meet the organizers and get a taste of the 28 films on offer.

If the trailers are telling, I suspect there will be a lot of documentaries and some uneven features with a kind of look-ma-I-have-an-Apple quality. There will be some violence — I saw terrorist body parts splattered in something resembling POM — but no sex or nudity. At Liberty, “conservative” means Christian, and Christian means Family Research Council.

The most promising documentary appears to be “Suicide Killers,” by the Algerian-born Israeli filmmaker Pierre Rehov. The Arabic-speaking Rehov infiltrated a terrorist cell to provide a firsthand look at the people who perpetrate such inhuman crimes.

But the night’s preview was less about these movies and more about why “Hollywood” would never want to make them.

It took me a beat — as they say in Hollywood — but eventually I realized where I’d heard that same complaint: from liberals in Hollywood, from Asians in Hollywood and Latinos in Hollywood. From screenwriters and actors and union members and women and newcomers and old-timers in Hollywood.Heck, I’d even heard it from Jews in Hollywood.

Because here’s the truth: Hollywood doesn’t make anybody’s film.

Zillions of people dream of making a movie. But the studios only release a couple of dozen each year.

Chances are excellent your film — whether it’s about a Chinese lesbian dockworker who stands up to a right-wing corporate conspiracy, or about a blogger from Duluth who brings down a left-wing Washington conspiracy — isn’t going to be one of them.

The five top-grossing films of 2005 were “Star Wars-Episode III,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “The War of the Worlds” and “King Kong.” There’s not a political plotline in the bunch — unless you count Narnia’s Christian polemic.

Hollywood’s primary, overriding focus is on making movies that do big box office. That explains how this week, Paramount Studios tapped Oliver Stone, the bane of the Michael Medved School of Wholesome Cinema, and Cyrus Nawasteh, whom Clintonites despise for writing “The Path to 9/11” to make a movie version of “Jawbreaker,” about the CIA in Afghanistan. Ideology, shmideology — go make us a hit.

But none of this realmovietik puts conservative tushies in the Liberty Festival seats, so Murty and the other speakers resort to victimhood and conspiracy. Several speakers referred to left-wing Jewish billionaire investor George Soros’ reported interest in buying the 59-film library of Dreamworks. “Soros has taken over the Democratic Party,” said Finch, “and is now making a major play to take over Hollywood. But [Murty and Apuzzo] are gonna beat George Soros.”

Since when is buying the DVD rights to “Gladiator” “taking over Hollywood”?

All these ill-defined, overheated intimations of evil Hollywood are where the Liberty folks lose me. They begin to join thematic forces with the Internet cuckoos, for whom “Hollywood” means only one thing: the Jews. For centuries Jews were kept outside society’s gates. But in the industry they created and in which they are still heavily represented, Jews are often the gatekeepers. And though the Liberty folks stand with Israel and against anti-Semitism, their antagonism toward an amorphous, conspiratorial “Hollywood” has a discomfiting resonance.

The conservatives at Liberty should ease up on the rhetoric. The twin gods of Hollywood are talent and a track record. If you have those, you’re in, no matter how repellent your ideology, or your actions. Just ask Mel Gibson.

Labeling ourselves as ‘right’ or ‘left’ limits us

I’m not done.

News Briefs

John Bolton’s tough pro-Israel rhetoric at the United Nations during Israel’s recent crisis has galvanized Jewish support for the once-embattled nominee — and may have helped secure his nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key Jewish opponent of Bolton a year ago, said he now is undecided, principally because of the Israel issue.

“I’m assessing it,” Schumer said on CNN last weekend. “A lot of Democrats are deciding, weighing the positive of Bolton that he’s been for Israel and negative that he has almost an antagonistic, ‘go at it alone’ attitude to the nations of the world, which we need with us to fight a war on terror.”

Bolton has been steadfast in supporting Israel in its crisis in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

Last year, Democrats had the minimum 41 votes in the Senate to block Bolton. This year, Schumer said on CNN, he doubts his party has the numbers for a similar filibuster.

That could be due partly to enthusiastic Jewish lobbying this time around. The American Jewish Committee reversed its policy of not weighing in on nominations, and sent a letter to all 100 U.S. senators urging them to vote yes.

Similar endorsements have rolled in from the Anti-Defamation League, Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel, Zionist Organization of America and Republican Jewish Coalition.

Aryan Leaders Convicted

The two top bosses of the Aryan Brotherhood nationwide prison gang were convicted Friday of murder and racketeering by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana. Barry “The Baron” Mills and Tyler “The Hulk” Bingham were found guilty of ordering dozen of bloody prison attacks, mainly on suspected informers and black inmates, from the their maximum security cellblocks. In the penalty phase of the trial, starting Aug. 15, jurors will decide whether the two men will be executed or spend life in prison.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Mandatory Christian Studies in Ukraine Irk Jewish Leaders

Jewish leaders in Ukraine are criticizing a decision to introduce Christian ethics studies into the nation’s public school curriculum.

Ukraine’s Education and Science Ministry last month made ethics a mandatory subject starting this school year, which begins Sept. 1. The ministry said the move is an attempt to teach middle-school students spiritual and moral values.According to the ministry, students will choose one of three tracks: Christian ethics, philosophical ethics or the foundation of religious ethics. The last means that any major faith may propose a course on its own ethics.

Jewish leaders have yet to propose an alternative for Jewish students — and say it would be better if no religious ethics were taught at public schools.”A chance to decide between the three options is better than just having one option, Christian ethics,” said Josef Zissels, head of the Ukrainian Va’ad, a Jewish umbrella organization.

Australian Police Probe Synagogue Attack

Police in Sydney, Australia, are searching for 10 men who attacked a synagogue in the city’s suburbs. Rabbi Yossi Wernick, 32, who came to Sydney a year ago from New York, was at home with his family when the attack took place. The house, adjacent to the Parramatta synagogue, was also attacked with bricks and lumps of concrete that damaged doors, windows and the rabbi’s car. No one was hurt in the incident, believed to be the work of men of Middle Eastern origin. Wernick told media that it was a “shame to bring the current conflict here.”

Jewish Students Send Petition to Annan

A pro-Israel student petition was delivered to Kofi Annan on Monday. The petition, which garnered more than 43,000 signatures, was organized by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. The document asks the U.N. secretary-general to “join us in clearly and immediately reaffirming the right of Israel to defend its citizens and ensure its security in the face of relentless attacks, killings and kidnappings by Hezbollah.”

Poet, Scholar Fleischer Dies in Jerusalem

Ezra Fleischer, a poet and scholar who shed new light on the history of Jewish prayer, died July 25 in Jerusalem. Fleischer, who taught at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, showed that modern Jewish prayer developed after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. He helped to study the Cairo Genizah, a medieval set of documents found in the late 1800s. Born in 1928 in what is now Romania, he was imprisoned for his Zionist activities after World War II, where he wrote a poem, “Massa Gog,” that won the Israel Prize in 1959. He immigrated to Israel in 1960.

Former Chief Rabbi of Romania Dies at 95

Alexander Safran, the former chief rabbi of Romania who tried to save Romanian Jews during World War II has died. He was 95. Safran tried to prevent Romania’s pro-Nazi regime from deporting Jews to concentration camps. He was later the chief rabbi of Geneva and a professor of philosophy.

Australian TV Regrets Program

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation apologized for anti-Israel content on a children’s televison show.

In a letter to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the broadcasting company said the “Behind the News” program, which described Hezbollah fighters as “soldiers” and “refugees” whose “land was taken by Israel,” was biased.

Shabbat in Cambodia

Some 25 people attended a rare Shabbat service in Cambodia. The July 28 event was hosted by two Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis, Motti Seligson and Levi Kotlarsky, who are part of the Chabad Summer Peace Corps.

The corps sends more than 200 young rabbis around the world to make Judaism accessible to Jews in exotic locales.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

For Middle East Women, ‘Cavemen’ Are Not Wanted

Little noticed among the vast media coverage of the latest Middle East crisis were a couple of dispatches by journalists highlighting the actions of an admittedly few
women in Israel.

Given that it is an act of considerable bravery to protest in the streets at a time when their fellow citizens were so up in arms about the Hezbollah rocket attacks, I knew the sentiments of this handful of protesters would be shared by many more Israeli and Palestinian women who could not be there. After all, I had spoken during the past 30 years of covering the Middle East to many of these women — Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, rich and poor alike — who have told me again and again how appalled they have been at the seemingly endless number of wars in the region.

Tamara Traubman and Ruth Sinai-Heruti, both correspondents for the leading Israeli daily, Haaretz, pointed out at the bottom of their July 17 article, “More Than 500 Protest in Tel Aviv Against Israeli Defense Force Raids in Lebanon, Gaza,” that a “woman’s protest was also held Sunday morning next to the central Haifa train depot, where a Hezbollah rocket landed early Sunday, killing eight people.” The women, they added, “said that in the coming days, they would be assembling a new group of Arab and Jewish women against the war.”

Rory McCarthy of the United Kingdom’s Guardian daily, in a dispatch the same day titled, “Israeli City Shaken by Hizbullah Rocket Attack,” noted that “as the sirens continued to sound, a small group of women stood outside the entrance to the train depot to lodge a small protest against the fighting. Yana Knoboba, 25, a psychology student from Haifa University, sat on the pavement holding a banner that read in Hebrew: ‘War will not bring peace.'”

“We don’t want a great war in the Middle East,” McCarthy quoted Knoboba as saying. “We want Israel to negotiate to bring back our soldiers and stop the re-occupation of Gaza. It isn’t about showing strength. I think strength is making peace, not war.”

Three years ago, here in London, I was a guest at the local Quaker meeting house, where a panel of eight women from Israel had been invited to speak. Having spent so much of my life covering “men’s” activities in the Middle East — investment and trade, oil and politics, as well as outright war — I thought it about time I took a look at what women were doing. The panel included four Palestinians and four Israelis, all from divergent backgrounds: a poet, sociologist, historian, social worker, Christian, Muslim and Jew.

There were some quite direct, pointed questions from the audience about where truth, justice and progress lay. Would Israelis be better off without the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza? Would Palestinians agree to end suicide bombings? The answers varied, both among the Palestinian and Jewish women and amongst themselves, whatever their nationality.

But when the moderator asked the final question, “What, in your opinion, do you think is the worst problem you face?” the answer was surprising. One would have expected the Palestinian women to say, “The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel since 1967.” For the Israeli women, one would have thought the answer would be, “Security, a right to live in peace with Israel’s neighbors and, above all, an end to suicide bombings.”

Surprise, surprise. One by one, the eight women stood up, faced the 70 or so in the audience of mostly women and declared: “The militarization of our men.”
For the Palestinians, seeing their sons subjected to the cannon-fodder rhetoric of ignorant sheikhs, the test of manhood their teen sons were exposed to when it came to throwing stones or the death and injury of their fathers, sons and brothers were the key points. For the Israeli women, the brutalization of the men they must live with, their sons, brothers and spouses in the Israel Defense Forces, was the main point.

And, unlike the Palestinians, Israelis are required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces unless they can prove they are conscientious objectors or members of certain Jewish religious denominations.

Shades of Vietnam here? Just as then, members of the peace movement in Israel have highlighted the comments of former members of the Israeli military who have spoken out against the climate of opinion in the forces, which, in their view, disregards the value of civilian life, whatever the faults on the other side may be.

But such sentiments must often be put aside by their fellow draftees, they say, resulting in a dehumanization of the attacker, as well as the attacked. The result: As in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, there is a growing refusal by some Israelis to serve in the military, particularly when it comes to fighting in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

What I wondered yet again the other day was what were the Jewish women in Israel doing and feeling? Were those women at the Quaker meeting house representative of their compatriots? And how had the peace movement there affected the willingness of women, as well as men, to accept conscription into the Israeli military forces?

Further south in Tel Aviv, McCarthy’s article gave me a clue and a sense of what might really be wrong. A quote he published from Abir Kobti, an activist in Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace, who was on the front line in Israel’s capital city when Israeli police broke up their peaceful protest on July 16, said it all:

Is U.S. Silence on Gaza Sign of Friendship or Weakness?

Is U.S. silence in the face of Israel’s massive counterattack on the Gaza Strip a function of friendship or weakness?

The United States largely has refrained from criticizing the Israeli strikes on Gaza that began June 28, days after gunmen affiliated with Hamas, the terrorist group governing the Palestinian Authority, attacked a base in Israel, killing two soldiers and kidnapping a third, Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

One spin on the U.S. restraint is that the Bush administration is hard-pressed to criticize Israel for retaliating against a Palestinian government that seems to recognize no red lines. Another spin says the silence is a signal of U.S. impotence after years of relative inaction in the region — provoking some to wonder whether a more involved Bush administration might have been able to bring about Shalit’s release.

U.S. reticence to rebuke Israel “is disguised as a kind of supreme cooperation and friendship,”said Yossi Beilin, a leading dove and former Israeli Cabinet minister. “But what do you need friends for if they can’t help you at the moment of truth?”

Israel has inexorably upped the pressure on Hamas to release Shalit, destroying a Gaza power plant and several P.A. government offices and establishing footholds in the area for the first time since Israel withdrew from Gaza last summer.

After days of intense Israeli military action, P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh proposed a cease-fire Saturday. “To solve this crisis, we must return to the starting point, to calm, including an end to military actions on both sides,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected the overture, saying, “We will not negotiate with terrorists. We will not negotiate with Hamas. To do so would encourage more abductions.”

At the same time, Palestinian rocket fire continued over the weekend, with more than 20 Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. One of these attacks wounded three Israelis in Sderot.

The U.S. response has been to call on both sides to show restraint — and to make clear that, in U.S. eyes, the party failing to do so is the Palestinians.
“Let’s remember that this began with the tunneling into Israeli territory, the abduction of an Israeli soldier,”U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said July 5.

In an interview with a Turkish newspaper, an assistant to Rice accused the media of misrepresenting Israel, an opinion once almost unthinkable among State Department functionaries who deal with the Middle East. Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told Zaman that Israel’s incursions were conducted with a high regard for civilian life.

“I don’t think many Europeans or Turks understand this, but do you know the number of Palestinians who have been killed in the current Israeli operation as of this morning? Zero. None,”Fried said July 3. “When I was watching CNN or BBC, I had the impression the casualties must have been enormous.”

The comments were made before at least 20 Palestinians, mostly combatants, were killed in clashes on July 6. And on Sunday, a Palestinian civilian was killed in an Israeli strike.

Another sign of U.S.
support came July 6, when John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, signaled he would veto any Security Council resolution ordering Israel to retreat. Bolton said a resolution drafted by Qatar blasting Israel was not only unacceptable as written, it was probably irredeemable.

More significant than such advocacy is what Rice and others are not saying, according to David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Makovsky said the United States has persuaded much of the West to keep quiet about the raids and Israel’s arrests of P.A. Cabinet members from Hamas.

“It’s like the dog that didn’t bark,”Makovsky said. “It’s especially intriguing that international opinion has been muted when it comes to holding the Hamas lawmakers and Cabinet. The international community is grasping that with power comes responsibility”for Hamas. “If you’re a government and not a revolutionary movement, you rein in militants that are striking cross-border.”

Makovsky said the United States believes Israel is not simply trying to retrieve Shalit but may be trying to bring down the Hamas government. But Beilin, who heads the left-wing Meretz list in the Knesset, said U.S. solidarity did little to advance peace or create the conditions that could lead to Shalit’s release.
After years of Bush’s relative disengagement compared to the intense shuttle diplomacy that marked previous administrations, the United States is considered impotent in the region, Beilin said. That’s why Israel turned to Egypt, not the United States, to try to broker Shalit’s release, he claimed.

The United States has virtually cut off Syria, one of the few nations able to influence Hamas, because of Syria’s support for terrorism. Rice revealed this week that she had asked Turkey to ask Syria to intervene with Hamas in the Shalit affair, but the remove only seemed to underscore how distant the United States is from some players in the region.

Another nation with sway over Hamas is Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, but there is no sign that the United States has approached the Saudis on the issue.
Some see Israel’s actions in Gaza as another sign of decreased U.S. influence. Larry Garber, a former West Bank and Gaza administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, noted that during his years in the region, from 1999-2004, Israeli officials were careful to ask for the coordinates of U.S.-funded institutions in order to protect them during military actions.
The destroyed Gaza power plant, however, could end up costing U.S. taxpayers as much as $50 million, because it’s insured by the U.S. government-run Overseas Private Investment Corp.

“This is taking down the major U.S. investment in Gaza in the last five years,”said Garber, who is now executive director of the New Israel Fund.

Palestinians still hope for U.S. involvement, if only to influence Israel while Egypt and Jordan attempt to broker Shalit’s release, said Samar Assad, executive director of the Palestine Center, a Washington think tank.

“Air strikes and other actions only escalate the situation and do not leave room for the Arab countries to negotiate an end to the crisis,”she said. “If the United States can’t deal with Hamas because of its position on dealing with terrorists, it should allow others enough time to engage in these talks.”

Religious Right, Left Find Political Guide in Bible

The fast-emerging religious left contrasts sharply on many issues — from homosexual marriage to socialized medicine — with its longer-established competitor, the
religious right. Yet these two Bible-citing political movements equally have woken up to the realization that there is something intrinsically American about using the Bible as a guide to practical politics. That’s good news and a blow to secularist orthodoxy.

As I have previously noted, the current debate about immigration signals a major sea change in rhetoric from the left. Against Republicans who want to get tough on illegal immigrants, amnesty advocates like Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) have invoked the Christian Bible image of the good samaritan and Matthew 25 on welcoming the “stranger.”

If Clinton becomes a presidential candidate in the next national election, then 2008 will likely prove to be the year of the Bible. That would please religious left gurus (and best-selling authors) like Rabbi Michael Lerner (The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right), the Rev. Jim Wallis (God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It) and former President Jimmy Carter (Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis).

When I reported in the book industry magazine, Publishers Weekly, on a raft of forthcoming books dealing with the intersection of faith and politics, I found that a large majority — applying spiritual insights to issues related to sex, race, poverty, the environment, you name it — were by religious writers with a definite leftward orientation. “Spiritual,” of course, is not a synonym for good, true or even credible.

Clearly the religious left reads books. Is it prepared to make a difference at the grass-roots level? Well this month, a new outfit, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, drew a thousand activists to a religious left teach-in in Washington, D.C. — not enough to fill a megachurch but still evidence that something important is percolating.

That liberals would contemplate shrugging off their customary secularism is new. But the insight that government and the good book go together may be traced back to the beginnings of the American political tradition.

Our country’s founders were disciples of the 17th century liberal philosopher John Locke, whose major book is the Two Treatises of Government. When Locke’s work is assigned in college classes, the first treatise is usually skipped over. That’s too bad, because it is devoted almost entirely to biblical interpretation, with numerous citations from the Hebrew Scriptures, including learned commentary on the Hebrew language.

Locke’s more pessimistic counterpart in English political theory, Thomas Hobbes, similarly expends about half of his great book, Leviathan, on drawing out the political lessons of the Bible, contrasting the ideal “Christian Commonwealth” with the “Kingdom of Darkness.” He defined the latter as the condition of “spiritual darkness from the misinterpretation of Scripture.”

Locke and Hobbes followed in the footsteps of earlier thinkers, as Israeli scholars Yoram Hazony and Fania Oz-Salzberger have pointed out recently. When Protestant political theory wished to find a way to cut loose from the Catholic Church and its thinking on the relationship between faith and state, English, Dutch and Swiss Christian Hebraists from the 16th century on pointed to the Hebrew Bible as the world’s first and best political text.

Philosophers like Cornelius Bertram, Petrus Cunaeus and John Selden wrote works with titles such as, respectively, The Jewish State (1574), The Hebrew Republic (1617) and Law of Nature and the Nations According to the Hebrews (1640). Christian-Hebraic political thought achieved a practical breakthrough with the English Puritan revolution, which took the Jewish commonwealth described in the Bible as its model. The Puritans later brought these ideas to our shores, declaring that they would found a “New Israel” here. America’s political roots truly lie in the Bible.

Among these thinkers, it was never the intention to simplistically copy biblical institutions like the Jewish high court (the Sanhedrin), the Jewish king, the Jerusalem Temple with its priests and so on. Rather, the idea was to discover philosophical principles in the Scriptures that could be translated into a modern secular government.

Those principles included the superiority of a transcendent moral law to any law the government might invent and the belief that men and women should be held morally responsible for their deeds.

Such ideas, still controversial today, deserve to be discussed openly in public forums, including political ones, with due attention to their source, the Bible, and its proper interpretation. For what separates the religious left from the religious right is precisely what Hobbes warned of, the question of how to read Scripture correctly. Religious conservatives and liberals can agree that it is important to get the Bible’s meaning right, while debating what that meaning actually is.

So let the debate begin.

Lieberman Facing Lose-Lose Proposition in Race

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Jewish candidate for vice president, is in a world of political trouble. Facing a tight race for the Democratic nomination from Ned
Lamont, he has already started to collect signatures to run as an independent, should he lose the primary on Aug. 8.

Lieberman’s friends say he is being scapegoated by the left for his brave foreign policy centrism and support of Israel. He is this generation’s Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, they suggest. And Jews, remembering the old foreign policy battles, should support him.

A Lieberman adviser said, “I find the behavior of a large segment of the Jewish community to be reprehensible and outrageous. When he’s in trouble like this, they all ought to rally to him.”

If this story line were true, a host of Jewish Democrats, centrist on foreign policy, such as Rep. Howard Berman (North Hollywood), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Rep. Jane Harman (Venice), would be under just as much assault, and the party would be on the verge of civil war. They are all doing fine, although Harman did face a strong primary challenger whom she defeated.

And it’s not as if the Democrats have become a party of doves. Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) voted for the war and won the 2004 presidential nomination. Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) supported the war and still leads the field for 2008. Lieberman has received the support of the overwhelming share of Democratic officeholders and party leadership, so he’s hardly an isolated hero in the party’s ranks.
So why Lieberman?

Lieberman seems to genuinely like, admire, support and crave the approval of two men who are anathema to most Democrats: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He might also be one of the last Democratic voters left in America who thinks the Iraq War was a great idea, brilliantly executed by a smart president, leaving America and Israel much stronger than before.

Even those who oppose an immediate pullout have a hard time arguing that the war was a great idea in the first place and that things are going quite well now. Lieberman told the New Yorker, “On Iraq, Bush has it right.”

Last September, Lieberman returned starry-eyed from Iraq with glowing reviews of the president’s Iraq policy, published in The Wall Street Journal. He particularly noted the large number of cellphones, an observation made all the more embarrassing by continuing sectarian violence.

The president then quoted him at length to show the wisdom of his policy and how at least one Democrat gets it. At the State of the Union address, Bush kissed him. That kiss may prove fatal, as Bush, who is much shrewder than Lieberman, noted to Larry King, when asked if he liked Lieberman: “You’re trying to get me to give him a political kiss, which may be his death.”

Lieberman’s identification with the Bush inner circle was obvious as far back as the 2000 election. In the vice presidential debate with Cheney, Lieberman’s body language made it obvious that even if he disagreed with Cheney, it was a mild dispute among mensches of the world, who understood each other. Cheney saw the opening created by the Democrat’s eagerness to please, and he smilingly eviscerated Gore. Lieberman must have loved the post-debate reviews about how gentlemanly he was.

There is a market in the media for centrists who give their own party grief (see Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.]). Not only has Lieberman become Bush’s favorite Democrat, he is also the favored Democrat on Republican-leaning Fox News.
Before the Lamont challenge, he regularly went on the Sean Hannity show, where Democrats are routinely bashed. He angered Democrats by telling Hannity, “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.”

The Bush-Cheney team reviles Democrats of all stripes, whether left, right or center. Bush, however, has a long history of picking out and cultivating individual Democrats, like a wolf culling a weak sheep from the safety of the flock. That way, no concessions need to be made to Democrats, generally, while the impression of bipartisanship remains.

On Medicare, Bush played on Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) ego to get the reform ball rolling, and then cut him out of the negotiations over the final Republican bill. For a while, the tame Democrat was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, until he began to look like a nut case.

And now, the best catch of all has been the eyes-wide-shut Lieberman who, unlike the others, has built a career out of being the wise and thoughtful centrist revered by the media talking heads.

Lieberman seems to be genuinely baffled and indeed petulant that his fellow Democrats won’t let him have it both ways: To say he is a strong Democrat with a largely progressive record and to work hand-in-glove with the White House to denigrate his own long-suffering and battered party.

Try as he might to separate himself from Bush, with secondhand, lame lines like, “I know George Bush. I have worked against George Bush. I have even run against George Bush. But, Ned, I’m not George Bush.” He may still fall victim to the Lamont ad that shows Lieberman morphing into Bush, with the words, “Joe Lieberman may say he represents us, but if it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush, it’s certainly not a Connecticut Democrat.”

In a year that figures to be good for Democrats, Lieberman’s fate is a lose-lose proposition that just has to be endured. Many Democrats can’t figure out which outcome is worse.

If Lieberman wins the primary or wins as an independent, he will be even more insufferable. He might even join the Bush administration as secretary of defense, further hurting his party by leaving a Republican governor to select his replacement in the Senate. If he loses, he will become a martyr available to help the administration bash Democrats on foreign policy.

At least let’s stop pretending that this is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. That is far too elevated an enterprise. This is really about the consequences of Lieberman wanting to have his cake and eat it, too.

National and World News Briefs from JTA

Rallies Demand Gilad Shalit’s Return

Thousands of Jews around the world gathered Monday to protest the recent kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian gunmen. The largest gathering was in New York City, where a crowd of several hundred, including Jewish leaders and their interfaith colleagues, stood in front of the Syrian mission to the United Nations. Rallies also were held in Washington, Ottawa and Santiago, Chile. Community meetings were held in Paris and Johannesburg, while Australia and Buenos Aires are planning initiatives lasting two weeks.

In London, a delegation submitted a letter requesting Shalit’s release to the Syrian ambassador, who accepted the letter and invited several people into the embassy. The rallies were sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization.

Shalit, a 19-year-old corporal, was captured in a June 25 raid on an Israeli army base by gunmen affiliated with Hamas, among others. The terrorist group is headquartered in Syria.

Palestinians Support Attacks, Poll Finds

Palestinians support the kidnapping of Israelis and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, a survey found. According to a Jerusalem Media and Communications Center poll issued this week, 77 percent of Palestinians back the abduction of Israeli soldiers in operations such as the June 25 attack on the Kerem Shalom outpost, while 67 percent favor expanding the tactic to Israeli civilians. Sixty percent said Palestinian terrorist groups should continue firing rockets into Israel, while 36 percent were opposed.

Asked about the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit at Kerem Shalom, which prompted Israeli military strikes on Gaza, 48 percent of respondents said they thought the affair would end well from a Palestinian perspective.

Women’s Area at Wall Will Be Expanded

The women’s section at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be expanded. Responding to requests by female worshippers at Judaism’s most important shrine, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski last week ordered the women’s section expanded to make it equal in size to the men’s section.

“There’s no reason that in the most sacred site for the Jewish people, the men will have a big comfortable plaza, while the women will have to be cramped and crowded,” Lupolianski said. The mayor asked for government permission to change the route of the Mugrabi Path, which leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount, in order to carry out the renovations.

Four Jewish Denominations Join to Combat Major Jews for Jesus Campaign in N.Y.

Jews for Jesus has been running campaigns in New York for 33 years, but the messianic group’s proselytizing effort has never been as large as this summer – nor has it elicited such a united Jewish response.

The “Behold Your God” campaign represents the final stop of a five-year, $22 million tour of every city outside Israel with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more.

While Jews for Jesus’ previous efforts in the New York area focused on Manhattan, this year’s program is meant to target all five boroughs, plus Westchester, Bergen, Suffolk and Nassau counties. Full-time missionaries, all of whom spent two weeks at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago before their arrival, have been instructed to target Israelis, Russian-speaking Jews, intermarried families and the fervently Orthodox.

Instead of sticking to phoneathons and brochure distribution, Jews for Jesus volunteers now are manning kiosks at shopping malls, hanging out at Yankee Stadium, hosting film screenings and striking up conversations in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. The $3 million effort will continue through July 29.In a rare show of unity, all four major Jewish streams have banded together to launch a countercampaign. The New York Board of Rabbis also has signed on, with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York’s anti-missionary task force doing much of the heavy lifting.

Jews for Judaism, a Baltimore-based anti-missionary group, is serving as a consultant. The groups’ message is one of unity and community building: “Say Yes to Judaism.”

In roughly 60 newspaper ads, the coalition is asking Jews to affirm their commitment to Judaism by learning Torah, having Shabbat dinner or by giving tzedakah, among other things. Information on Judaism is being distributed to local camps, schools and synagogues and is available online.

Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the JCRC of New York, said the Jews for Jesus message doesn’t require a direct response, because “the vast majority of Jews have no interest whatsoever in the message the Hebrew Christians are promoting.”

Israeli Hotels Charge Tourists More

Some Israeli hotels charge tourists up to 50 percent more than locals, according to a Tourism Ministry study. Ha’aretz reported Monday that the study, conducted in response to numerous complaints, found differences in rates at four- and five-star hotels in Jerusalem and at the Dead Sea. During June and July, tourists are being charged on average 42 percent more than locals during the week and 11 percent more on weekends; the difference in Jerusalem is a bit smaller. Ministry officials are weighing hotels’ freedom to set prices according to supply and demand against the possibility of discrimination.

Reconstructionists Dedicate Camp

The Reconstructionist movement dedicated its first permanent summer camp site. Camp JRF was dedicated Sunday in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. The camp is open to boys and girls entering the third through 12th grades. The camp runs two sessions that combined last for six and a half weeks as well as a 12-day mini-camp for campers entering the third and fourth grades.

Polanski Draws on Holocaust for ‘Twist’

Roman Polanski said his film version of Oliver Twist reflected some of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. The European Jewish director was in Israel this week to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, which features first screenings of his adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel about an orphan in 19th-century London”I can relate to the situation,” said Polanski, who lost his mother to the Nazis and fled the Krakow Ghetto on foot. “You know the long walk to London? I went through it exactly at the same age that the boy did.”

Polanski, who was born in 1933, dealt with the Holocaust in depth with his Oscar-winning film, The Pianist. Having made several visits to Israel, Polanski said the country’s challenge is to convince the rest of the world of its normalcy.

Briefs courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Dad’s Gone, but His Melody Lingers On

When a person is slightly famous mostly for one thing, that thing becomes the one thing about him when he dies. So it was that Dave Blume, my father, over and over again in late March was noted as the composer of that likably odd 1966 hit, “Turn Down Day,” a pop turn on what began as one of his jazz compositions.

He used to joke that every middling musician had one good tune in him, but he wasn’t actually talking about himself, because he wrote many good songs, even if that added up to just one hit record.

But even one song, even one moment, can encapsulate a lot if you probe beneath the surface, or, in this case, beyond the catchy but saccharine arrangement by the Cyrkle. The song’s lyrics, written by Jerry Keller, portray the languorous side of the anti-war, anti-age, free-love 1960s, the part of the youth culture that wanted sometimes just to tune out instead of tuning in:

Soft summer breeze and the surf rolls in
To laughter of small children playin’.
Someone’s radio has the news tuned in,
But nobody cares what he’s sayin’.
It’s a turn-down day,
Nothin’ on my mind.
It’s a turn-down day,
And I dig it.

There was something of dad in that easygoing, live-and-let-live frame of mind. It was, in a way, a jazz sensibility set down to words. But the melody, dominated by minor chords, also hinted at something more — something a little deeper, a little melancholy.

The tune originated during dad’s Army days in Fayetteville, N.C., where the draft had dragged him, a native of Boston, and his wife, Charlotte, during the Korean War. Dad was a noted hater of needless exercise and early morning schedules, so he devised a night-owl gig for himself. He persuaded the brass and a local radio station that soldiers on the graveyard shift needed something to keep them alert. Did they really want these sleepy soldiers to be a safety hazard on duty or on their commute? How about some music?

Officers already knew of dad’s musical skills. By this time, he’d sort of conned his way into the coveted base orchestra by presenting himself as a glockenspiel player — it was the only opening. He’d given himself a crash course in the instrument and played a passable glockenspiel — but it wasn’t long before the orchestra took advantage of his jazz keyboard, arranging and conducting skills.

The overnight radio show followed. He wrote and performed, with some pals, the theme song: “680, 12 to 5.” The song got its name from the station’s place on the dial and the airtime: midnight to 5 a.m. Because of the show and his frequent performances — all on behalf of the U.S. government, of course — dad didn’t meet at least one of his commanding officers until his day of discharge.

My parents were both building a notable life in this small Southern city all the while. In the 1950s, my mother used her talents to open a dance school and start a ballet company. Her first classes outside the base had only black students, because she refused to segregate or teach only white students. Dad, meanwhile, soon opened the region’s first bowling alley, to which he attached the region’s first jazz club. And he also refused to segregate.

At one point, the city informed him of a regulation that kept blacks out of white restrooms. If his new business were not to be “whites only,” he’d have to build four restrooms. Dad responded by asking if there was a law saying that men and women had to have separate bathrooms. A city official replied that no such law was needed, because no one would ever put men and women in the same bathroom.

In that case, dad said, he would have one bathroom for black men and women and another for white men and women. The city official left in frustration, and when the business opened, dad simply had a men’s room for all men and a women’s room for all women. His key innovation, however, was in The Groove, the music club where the staff, musicians and audience all were integrated.

Neither of my parents ever got into trouble for this. One reason, of course, was that they were white — and maybe being Jewish separated them from a sort of peer pressure. It didn’t hurt that my mother could stare down a charging bull, and dad could accomplish the same with charm and a silly pun.

Dad had a fine old time in Fayetteville. He was the first public address announcer for the city high school’s football games. And his jazz band was the talk of the town and beyond. He made fast friends with the local rabbi, a Holocaust survivor who’d been a writer and radio man himself in pre-war Germany, when that was still possible. And dad had two sons, who were growing up in a white house across from an elementary school that had two sapling maple trees in the front yard.

But Fayetteville could not contain dad’s musical drive, and he’d leave home to travel long distances for gigs, especially ones that offered a chance to break through, like his “Today Show” appearance in 1962. And then came the 1966 hit “Turn Down Day” — a re-imagined pop version of his old theme: “680, 12 to 5.”

He expected his wife and two boys to follow him north when the time came. His wife expected that a man in his 30s could settle for a stable life in Fayetteville, where she’d built a formidable dance school.

The truth is, my parents never really belonged together in the first place, even though the marriage seemed so perfect when the glamorous young ballerina married her college sweetheart, the same wunderkind who wrote and conducted the college musicals in which she’d starred. In the end, neither was inclined to follow the other’s star.

I was 6 when the divorce became official in 1967. My father ruefully told me years later that it was the hardest thing to leave town at the end of his visits, when I’d start crying. David Blume wanted to be the best dad possible, which, to him, included being around. He fulfilled this ambition in his second marriage, the one that gained me a wonderful stepmother and, eventually, two delightful kid sisters. My mother never forgave him for the marriage that failed or the unsteady financial contribution, but I concluded long ago that, sometimes, even for devoted parents, leaving is the best option available.

My brother Leo and I got by with phone calls, letters and a few weeks a year with dad. Occasionally we took trips with him, but it also was fun just to be where he was, romping around New York City and later Los Angeles, after dad moved west. We’d hear a lot of music, stay up way past midnight, play with his Persian cats, discover food they didn’t have in Fayetteville and stage an annual World Series with made-up teams, a plastic bat and a ball made up of paper encased in masking tape. Leo and I played the parts of all the players. Dad was the umpire, a gravel-voiced character who took the name Gower Cahuenga, after two streets in Hollywood.

He was cool, with his long hair and leftie politics. He wore a bolo tie and a black leather cap, and tied his black locks into short ponytail in the back. And he could identify the year, make and model of virtually any car on the road — and recite chapter and verse on the world’s greatest ocean liners, its tallest buildings and the major suspension bridges.

And he never failed to do interesting things — like running Café Danssa, an Israeli folk-dancing club in West L.A., or quietly lobbying to save a majestic bunya-bunya tree that the city was going to cut down.

He never had another hit like “Turn Down Day,” but he forged a respectable career as a composer, producer and collaborator with his second wife, singer Carolyn Hester. And he eventually got that stable job, as a copy editor with the Los Angeles Times. In truth, he didn’t especially like the implied message of “Turn Down Day” if applied beyond a day or so. His lyrical essence was more rooted in another song, “I Have a Dream,” a plea for justice and family, which he wrote with Jerry Keller the night the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died.

At the close of our visits, dad would send us home with records he’d produced or custom-made tapes of songs he liked: He didn’t want us growing up with unsophisticated musical tastes. But without his steady presence, our piano lessons lapsed.

And though he laughed with us as we told tales of mom’s unlucky second marriage to a man who turned out to have mental health issues, I’m sure he was worried. But at an elemental level, he trusted his first wife to take care of his boys.

My brother and I never felt we quite got enough of him, which, in recent years, had more to do with managing our own families and careers than him not being available. This sense of needing to catch up for lost time partly explains why my brother, the informal family archivist, started interviewing dad on videotape. Dad would complain, mostly in jest, that the process implied that his demise was impending.

I always assumed that someday there would be time to catch up properly; he’d probably felt the same way watching his boys grow up, mostly from far away. Too late, I realized that in the last year, he was slowly leaving us, as his health problems mounted. When he died, his wallet contained a list of favorite songs that he could refer to if called on to play at any moment.

My brother and I were in Fayetteville early this month, and we stopped by the old white house. Our grade school across the street has become the campus for teenage “delinquents” — information provided by the security guard who accosted us when she noticed us taking pictures.

The two sapling maple trees are giants now, dominating the yard, if not the neighborhood. I couldn’t recall whether it was dad who’d planted the maples. Leo didn’t know either. There was no doubt that dad had nurtured these trees when they were small. It was in his nature to care about such matters.

In past years, dad would ask us how the maples were doing. We’d show him pictures.

This year, so far, the maples are doing fine. Maybe they haven’t been looked after every moment, but they’re green and strong, and making it on their own.

Howard Blume is the former managing editor of The Jewish Journal.


PASSOVER: 10 Contemporary Plagues

In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues — bloody, violent, magical — are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.

We don’t suggest that these modern plagues are the work of a punitive God or punishment for society’s wrongdoing — we’ll leave that analysis to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

But we recall that with the original plagues, the rabbis tell us, the purpose was to instruct the Israelites as much as to punish the Egyptians. In that light, we offer 10 contemporary plagues, named in Hebrew, as an opportunity to mourn their victims and discuss how we can prevent them and their like from plaguing us next year.

Names to Watch on Way Up, Down in ’06

Here are a handful of people to watch in the coming 12 months — some on the way up; some on the way down.

Jack Abramoff: The once-high-flying Republican lobbyist, Jewish benefactor and GOP best buddy has become the most radioactive man in Washington, thanks to controversial deals with Native American gaming interests and his cozy links with top legislators, especially the golf aficionados.

Now that he may be about to cut a deal with prosecutors, the scandal could affect some of the biggest names in politics, starting with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). And that could have an impact on the 2006 midterm congressional elections.

Ariel Sharon: The prime minister’s daring political gamble in leaving Likud and creating the centrist Kadima Party, his rumored plans for new West Bank withdrawals and his uncertain health make him the most intriguing figure in the Middle East. Many American Jewish right-wingers revile the man they once idolized, but centrist Jews here, once distrustful, are poised to support his next peace moves.

But what, exactly, will they be? And how will a fragmented Palestinian leadership react to new unilateral Israeli peace initiatives?

Sharon’s fortunes are inextricably linked to those of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who may soon find out if his decision to co-opt rather than confront Hamas will pay off — or sink his already leaking ship of state.

Benjamin Netanyahu: The former prime minister and finance minister, now leading a Sharon-less Likud Party, is at another juncture in his mercurial career. A move to the right could marginalize his party still further, but Bibi could get a boost from any resumption of widespread terrorism against Israel. Another unknown for both Netanyahu and Sharon: whether Amir Peretz, the new Labor Party leader, will be able to help right that rudderless ship.

Condoleezza Rice: Will the secretary of state, whose recent shuttle diplomacy won an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on border crossings, now take a more active role in jump starting the stalled “road map” for Palestinian statehood? And how will her possible presidential aspirations affect her diplomacy in the region? Already, “Rice ’08” bumper stickers have appeared on Washington highways.

Howard Kohr: Despite this year’s indictment of two former top American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials, AIPAC had a banner 2005.

But Kohr, the group’s executive director, will face huge new challenges as the case against Steve Rosen, former policy director, and Keith Weissman, an Iran analyst, goes to court. If it turns out badly for the defendants, there will be questions about how their improper activity could have taken place on Kohr’s watch. If they are acquitted, he will come under criticism from their supporters for firing them.

Most analysts say that so far, Kohr has kept AIPAC focused on its core mission, despite all the controversy — and even exploited the scandal to boost fundraising. But that task could get significantly harder in 2006.

Abe Foxman: Are Jewish relations with the Christian right at a turning point? The Anti-Defamation League director thinks so. His November blast against groups he says use public policy to “Christianize” the nation set off aftershocks that will reverberate into 2006.

Will a still-liberal Jewish community follow the outspoken Foxman, and will he get help from those Jewish leaders who agree with him on the substance of his charges but worry about alienating evangelicals who support Israel and who wield enormous power in Congress and the White House?

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA): Will they continue to pursue divestment against Israel while making nice with Hezbollah? That threatens a major rupture with a Jewish community that has traditionally worked closely with the Presbyterians on major domestic issues. Other mainline churches have backed off divestment. If the Presbyterians don’t, they will render themselves irrelevant in the quest for Mideast peace.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.): Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, has enjoyed a spectacular rise up the GOP leadership ladder, now serving as chief deputy whip in only his third term.

Cantor could help the party recover from a scandal-filled year in advance of the 2006 midterm elections and in the process boost his own hopes for becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House. But he could be tainted by his reputation as a DeLay loyalist, if the former majority leader goes down in flames.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.): Is the nation ready for a Jewish presidential candidate from the Dairy State? Feingold — who was in the news in December for his staunch opposition to the Patriot Act and his angry response to new revelations of government spying — thinks it is.

The quirky Feingold is a longshot, but some analysts say that if public anger about the Iraq War continues to mount and revelations about inappropriate government activity continue to wash across front pages, he could be in a position to challenge the putative front-runner for the Democratic nomination: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), now recast as a centrist who refuses to criticize the administration’s Iraq policies.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): The maverick Arizona Republican forced the administration to back down on legislation banning the torture of U.S. detainees. Political pros say McCain’s reputation for integrity and his independence could make him an attractive choice for the growing number of Jewish independents, despite his arch conservatism on domestic issues. And he could be the antidote for a party that goes into the 2006 congressional midterms wracked by scandals.

Look for McCain to dramatically increase his outreach to the Jewish community in 2006 as he cranks up his campaign machine.


Foul Mouths

This is my fourth presidential scandal. Watergate was my first, and it had the counterintuitive effect of making me less — rather than more — cynical about government. The dirty tricksters were found guilty and almost all of them imprisoned, and the president, who disguised if not micromanaged their crimes, resigned. It was a bad time for America, but a good time for those who believe in the idea of America.

But this idealism took a couple of gut punches with the Iran-Contra Affair, during which members of the Reagan administration sold arms to the Iranian mullahs in secret — how could they ever pose a threat to us? — to finance Nicaraguan rebels, in express violation of U.S. law. Of the 14 charged with crimes, 11 were convicted, and one was imprisoned.

President George H.W. Bush stepped in to pardon six of the men convicted. Two others, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, received pardons before trial. Two of those convicted, Oliver North and John Poindexter, had their convictions overturned on appeal, for legal technicalities.

Iran-Contra could make one believe that in Washington, D.C., it’s not what you did, it’s who you know. There was even an element of self-dealing on the part of the first President Bush, who set free insiders who would, as a result, never be tempted to disclose anything damaging about Bush’s own record as vice president under Reagan.

The third presidential scandal was the lying-about-sex matter that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. To put it mildly, that episode did nothing to reduce any accrued cynicism.

Now comes the indictment of Irving “Scooter” Lewis Libby, which arises out of his role in outing covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

In the end, Libby is not actually charged with revealing Plame’s identity, but with perjuring himself — lying — during grand jury testimony about the case.

He has protested his innocence and predicted he will be exonerated. Given the evolution of these scandals, he is at least likely to escape time behind bars for his alleged role in this traitorous episode.

But not going to jail or even not being judged guilty is not the same as being innocent. If there is, as commentator David Brooks cheered, “no cancer on this presidency,” there is certainly a gruesome moral and ethical open sore. And if it’s not within our power to make those in power actually pay for their trespasses, we needn’t be fooled either about exactly what sin the perpetrators allegedly committed:

They lied about really important things.

In the realm of ethics, Jewish law parses lying with great precision. In his upcoming book, “A Code of Jewish Ethics – Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy” (Harmony 2006), Rabbi Joseph Telushkin notes that while the Torah prohibits stealing, cheating, adultery or taking advantage of the less fortunate, falsehood is the only sin the Torah deems necessary to admonish people to avoid actively.

“Stay far away from falsehood,” reads Exodus 23:7.

If one of God’s attributes is truth — you could argue a primary purpose of religion is to set people on the path toward discovering what is true — then swearing false oaths or bearing false witness “indicates a lack of God’s presence.”

Certainly you are forbidden to lie in God’s name, that is, telling others what you think God told you. You are also warned against telling half-truths, against speaking with imprecision, against exaggerating. You are admonished to avoid lying by readily admitting what you don’t know, by being willing to change your mind, by avoiding false statement even to help another or to help a cause. In this spirit, the Talmud reminds us to carry out our obligation to truth and our vows even when they disadvantage us. We are to do what we say we’ll do, to avoid false excuses or lies of convenience (even to our children and our parents — what do these rabbis expect of us!), and to stay far from deceptive behaviors in our business and civic practices.

But what makes the discussion of lying in these matters so fascinating and challenging are the exceptions. Shouldn’t you be able to avoid unnecessary hurt or to lift someone’s hopes or avoid humiliating the poor? Doesn’t every good business negotiation contain the assumed lie that a final price may not in fact be final? And what of lies, even those told under oath, that enable one to avoid punishment by an unjust or evil regime?

Telushkin quotes educator Dr. David Nyberg’s Golden Rule on the issue of beneficial lies: “Be untruthful to others as you would have others be untruthful to you.” A religion doesn’t last 4,000 years by being blind to the grays.

But even so, there are what Telushkin calls “three particularly destructive lies”: lies that promote evil, or that make it impossible to distinguish good from evil; lies told in a courtroom setting under oath; and lies that destroy another’s good name.

It is into this less-than-gray territory that Libby apparently wandered.

To lie under oath is to profane God’s name and to thwart justice itself, the underpinning of a moral society. It is one thing to commit a wrong in the first place, quite another to undermine the justice system itself.

“You shall not take the Name of the Lord, your God, in vain, for the Lord will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). The Third Commandment offers precious little wiggle room.

To lie to destroy the good name of another person is particularly grievous, a sin in Hebrew called moztzi shem ra. “The great wrong of such a lie is that the damage inflicted might well be irrevocable,” writes Telushkin, noting that this is one of the few offenses for which the victim is not obligated to forgive the offender. Whichever White House officials outed Plame destroyed her professional identity, and in so doing tried to destroy the credibility of her husband, as well.

Finally, there is the lie that promotes evil, or that makes it impossible to distinguish good from evil. Telushkin cites the example of The New York Times reporter in the 1930s who acted as an apologist for Josef Stalin during his murderous purges.

But what of a man who in advancing a political agenda that would entail the loss of life and human suffering — however justified it might be — deliberately paints honest criticism as traitorous falsehood, thereby punishing people of good intention with professional retribution? And what of the same man if he then lies to cover up such misdeeds?

We live in dangerous times, and a political culture that sanctions dishonesty — especially if one can get away with it — heightens the danger to us all. Not the least risk is that such official misbehavior merely promotes deeper cynicism among us all. This politics of doublespeak, what George Orwell called, “the vast system of mental cheating,” only makes us less apt to believe our leaders when real danger is imminent.

“Such is the punishment of the liar,” the Talmud says, “that even when he speaks the truth, no one listens to him.”



Rep. Howard Berman can work the J-circuit with the best of them. He knows who’s who among synagogue presidents, what to wear at bar mitzvahs, what to say to which rabbis and which chicken-dinner fundraisers are can’t miss. A smart Jewish politician in a heavily Jewish district quickly figures these things out, and Berman, 64, has represented his San Fernando Valley district since 1980.

By now, Berman knows almost instinctively where he needs to be.

So what’s he doing helping organize a Veteran’s Day parade in Pacoima, a working-class, Latino enclave?

The answer is that Berman’s 28th District has become a lot more Latino than it used to be, and Berman knows he needs to serve those constituents, too. That combination of political savvy and attention to public service has kept Berman in office these 25 years.

But staying in office could get a lot more challenging for Berman — as well as for several other elected officials who happen to be Jewish.

Proposition 77, the redistricting measure on next week’s special elections ballot, is likely to shift considerably more Latino voters into Berman’s district — and perhaps give rise to a viable Latino challenger. The same pattern could play out for several other Jewish politicians, including Reps. Adam Schiff in the Glendale/Pasadena area and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley. Rep. Jane Harman, in the South Bay is less likely to be threatened, although her district is historically competitive to begin with. Rep. Henry Waxman, with his Westside and heavily Jewish base, probably has nothing to fear.

California’s congressional delegation also includes three other Jewish members, Tom Lantos, from Northern California, and Bob Filner and Susan A. Davis in the San Diego area. Filner presently faces a challenge from California Assemblymember and former City Councilman Juan Vargas.

So is a threat to Jewish incumbents reason enough for a Jewish voter to think twice about supporting Proposition 77 — especially when there are critics who take issue with the measure on other grounds? On the other hand, American Jews have traditionally lent support to causes that uplift marginalized communities. Wouldn’t it be fair to make it more likely that a Latino would represent a community comprised mostly of Latinos?

This Jewish side effect is one of many considerations posed by Proposition 77, one of a wearying welter of measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative would take the power to redraw legislative districts away from the California legislature and place it in the hands of three retired judges. It also would accelerate redistricting — changing things almost immediately rather than waiting for the next round of census data. Proposition 77 would apply both to state legislators and members of Congress, like Berman.

The ostensible goal of redistricting after a census is to keep the population of residents about the same in each district. Politically, a twin aim has been to keep incumbents in office, a strategy that is abetted by both Democrats and Republicans.

Up to this point, redistricting has worked in Berman’s favor, sharply reducing the percentage of Latino voters in his district, although Latinos currently make up a majority of his district’s residents. His current district cuts across the eastern heart of the San Fernando Valley, running east of the 405 Freeway and south of the 210 Freeway. When he was first elected, Berman’s district had just a 22 percent Latino electorate. An alternative map, put forth by the Rose Institute at Claremont-McKenna Colleges as more “fair,” would result in Berman representing an area in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is Latino.

Berman opposes Proposition 77, but also insists that he works hard to be, on merit, the first choice of his district’s Latino voters. He is a long-time supporter of rights for agrarian workers, many of whom are Mexican nationals — an issue that has resonance even for U.S.-born Latinos — and he’s served for 23 years on Congress’s immigration subcommittee. Berman said he spends more effort on the bread-and-butter issues of the northern, more Latino end of his district than he does in the south.

Then there’s the symbolism of the 2004 Veteran’s Day parade.

“The first Veteran’s Day parade in the San Fernando Valley is centered in Pacoima — not Sherman Oaks, not Granada Hills,” Berman said.

So it was that veterans from both world wars, Korea and Vietnam marched down the streets of a largely Mexican-American community in the north San Fernando Valley. And they’re going to do it again this year, winding up in the park named after Mexican American rock star Ritchie Valens, of “La Bamba” fame. Latinos, Mexican Americans in particular, have always signed up for the U.S. military in outsize numbers, Berman noted, despite facing discrimination and exclusion at home. The same goes, he added, for the war in Iraq — a disproportionate number of Latinos from his district, native-born and immigrant alike, headed off to serve.

Supporters of Proposition 77 assert that there is ample reason for all voters, Jewish and otherwise, to shake-up the status quo.

The conservatively inclined Rose Institute doesn’t take a position on Proposition 77, but it released a study in September calling for an overhaul of the present system.

“Here in California , the need for reform is clear and almost universally acknowledged,” the report’s executive summary says. “The 2001 gerrymander is likely to live on as a lesson in the abuses that can occur when incumbents are in control….”

The study makes its case with maps of zigzagging districts, including one, California Congressional District 23, that it dubs the “Ribbon of Shame.” District 23 has become a narrow band that twists south along the coast from San Luis Obispo County down to Ventura, connected at places with a razor thin slice of territory. It is represented by Democrat Lois Capps.

Redistricting cuts many ways. The 2001 plan suddenly made the seat of Brad Sherman shakier, shifting thousands of Latino voters to him from Berman, leading to some public sniping between Berman and Sherman.

At one point, the mapping marooned Sherman’s home at the end of a sliver surrounded by Berman’s new district. To top it off, the architect of the re-draw was veteran political consultant Michael Berman — to be sure, he’s well qualified, but he’s also the brother of incumbent Howard Berman. In the end, Sherman was able to keep his residence within a larger swath of his district.

The Democratic head of California’s Senate Redistricting Committee told Sherman, in effect, to shut up and accept it. A majority of the Latino legislative members, 16 of 19, voted in support of the redistricting plan — a show of fealty to the California Democratic caucus and Democratic control of the legislature. And both Sherman and Berman have survived in office.

But the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) sued. MALDEF argued that the redistricting could have concentrated Latino voters in a new district instead of splitting them between Sherman and Berman. A panel of three federal judges ruled against MALDEF, saying the overall results of all the redrawn districts did not discriminate against Latinos.

But the issue never subsided. Author and commentator Joel Kotkin, who supports Proposition 77, said that the current lines have polarized the California legislature, contributing to governmental gridlock with politically safe ultra-liberals opposed by politically safe ultra-conservatives.

“What we have done is dysfunctional,” he said. “We have too many liberal Democrats and too many conservative Republicans.”

In that argument, Kotkin is echoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has endorsed Proposition 77 as a central element of his “reform” package of initiatives.

A more moderate and effective state Legislature should matter to all voters, including Jews, Kotkin said. Besides, he added, “I don’t think somebody being Jewish is the issue as much as whether that person represents the interests of the district.”

Nor is he worried that that California’s congressional delegation would be less pro-Israel if the Jewish Democrats were to fall.

“The old Waxman and Berman kind of politicians — liberal on other issues and good on Israel — will find it increasingly difficult as internal pressure within the Democratic Party becomes increasingly anti-Israel,” Kotkin said.

There’s a dose of politics embedded in Kotkin’s analysis, including a presumption that, over time, Republicans will be better for Israel, better for Jews and maybe better for Californians.

In fact, to many critics of Proposition 77, the initiative is all about politics and not so much about fairness.

Schwarzenegger wants a more acquiescent legislature, and this is his way of getting it, said Peter Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College who directs the school’s Urban & Environmental Policy Program.

“Arnold may call it a technical maneuver, but it’s about eliminating Democratic safe seats,” said the left-leaning Dreier, who opposes Proposition 77: “Republicans are very good at playing hardball and masquerading blatant power grabs as good government.”

Another lefty analyst, Harold Meyerson, takes issue with Kotkin’s implication that Jewish Democratic incumbents can be sacrificed because the best pro-Israel politicians of the future will be Republicans. While most members of the California Democratic caucus are not aligned with “hardline Israeli politicos,” Meyerson said, there’s a consensus of support for Israel within the caucus.

For some districts, the issue isn’t Democrat-to-Republican, but it could well be Jewish-to-Latino.

“A few of these districts might have Democrats of other ethnicities if they weren’t carved the way they were,” said Meyerson, editor at large for American Prospect and political editor of the L.A. Weekly.

There are, of course, other hard-boiled political considerations. The Jewish members of Congress have accumulated seniority, which helps them play key roles in matters pertaining both to Israel and broader foreign policy.

“This is a case of five members [from Southern California] who are interested in international relations in general and U.S.-Israel relations in particular,” Berman said. He, along with Reps. Schiff and Sherman, serve on the International Relations Committee; Rep. Harman sits on the Intelligence Committee.

Berman points to his 22 years as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee: “I know Israeli leadership, Palestinian leadership, maybe some Saudi leadership. There’s a lot of time and experience there.”

Still, it’s hard to find anyone who will outright defend a system that is gruesomely gerrymandered to protect incumbents. But for leftie progressives there’s more at stake than the downside of the status quo. For them, the California congressional delegation sits as a bulwark against the George Bush Conservative Republican majority — whose own members hail from equally gerrymandered states. In better times (for Democrats), the California delegation could become the lynchpin of an emerging Democratic — and more liberally Democratic — majority. That’s not something that progressive Democrats, such as Meyerson and Dreier, want to let Schwarzenegger tamper with.

The year 2005 may prove a watershed year for Jews politicians in Southern California. In addition to the members of Congress, Bob Hertzberg nearly made the mayoral runoff; the L.A. City government has three Jewish council members (though it recently had seven) and a Jewish city controller (Laura Chick); Jewish members hold three of seven seats on the Board of Education. It hasn’t been so many years since Jews weren’t allowed on some local golf courses. But influence — or even a seat at the table — can be as fleeting as rapidly evolving demographics. Just ask African Americans, who worked so hard to win voting rights, but who have already lost majority status in many parts of town.

But does it matter for Jews, who are so thoroughly intergrated into L.A. life and commerce?

It does for Howard Welinsky, a longtime Democratic Party activist who’s also prominent in the Jewish community and civic affairs.

“What is now at stake,” he said, “is that in Los Angeles, we have five Jewish members of Congress. And they’re all at risk.”

It matters to Welinsky that, “in the history of this country — and I’ve researched it — we’ve never had five Jewish members of Congress in one county. I can’t imagine anything that has greater impact in Jews in Los Angeles than this.”

For Welinsky, it’s not exactly about being pro-Israel, even though he certainly is. He’s taken with historicity of having five Jewish members from one area. Perhaps it’s comparable to the current reconfiguration at work in the Jewish heart of Fairfax Avenue. Why does it matter that a kosher grocery store, a shop selling Judaica and a place offering music from all over the Jewish Diaspora might fold to make room for pricey, non-Jewish boutiques that can afford the higher rents?

Only because, to some people, it does.

As for Berman’s fate, “I don’t think Howard Berman would lose, but those who have not been in those seats very long might find themselves facing well-funded campaigns by Latinos and other groups,” said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, who opposes Proposition 77, even though she thinks the present system needs improvement.

Goldberg herself represents a majority Latino voter district.

“They vote, And they picked me,” she said. “Why did they pick me? Because I look out for the interests of the communities I serve. And that’s what they cared about more than my ethnicity.

“There are people in the population who vote their race, their gender their ethnicity, their sexual orientation,” she said. “I don’t think they’re the majority. People really do care about what you’re going to do when you get there.”

Shifting political nuances make these judgments ever more complex. Rep. Filner, a Jewish member being challenged by a Latino candidate, spent time in jail as a Freedom Rider, clearly reflecting concern for the interests of people of color. His opponent, Assemblyman Juan Vargas, is “pro-life,” inconsistent on civil liberties issues, but liberal on immigration. The district’s population already is 55 percent Latino, 18 percent Anglo, 15 percent Filipino and 12 percent African American.

Jewish Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson, from a district that includes Santa Barbara and Oxnard, was termed out and replaced by Pedro Nava, who ran on an environmentalist platform, a position well in tune with most Jews.

Coalition politics involving Jews has frequently worked well for L.A.’s Latinos, and vice versa. Former Rep. Edward Roybal, the groundbreaking Latino who died last month, was first elected to Los Angeles City Council by a Latino-Jewish-labor coalition. And then there’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who grew up in formerly Jewish East Los Angeles and rose to office with broad Jewish support.

“Jews and others can represent communities of color,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs. “That has never really been the argument against apparent dilution of Latino or other minority voting strength in a particular political or voting system. It is all about fairness, in being able to elect a representative of the community’s choice on a level playing field.”

Proposition 77, almost inevitably, could make Congress less Jewish. But that’s just a starting point for addressing the question of whether Proposition 77 is good for California.

What’s So Special About the Special Election?

On Nov. 8, the voters of California will have the chance to vote in a special election most of them did not want. That’s no reason to stay home. After all, whether we like it or not, the election will take place, and all of California residents will have to live with the consequences. Constitutional amendments once enacted are hard to remove, and regular initiatives also have staying power. To guide you through the state ballot initiatives, The Journal has called on two of its columnists: Raphael J. Sonenshein and Jill Stewart. Here’s the drill: Sonenshein summarizes key components of the bill. Then he makes his call on the measure while explaining why. Then Stewart answers with her own, and usually contrasting, analysis. Keep in mind that these are the opinions of our columnists, who have free rein to express themselves.

Proposition 73

What it does: A constitutional amendment that prohibits an abortion for a minor for 48 hours until the notification of a parent or guardian. Exceptions are made for medical emergencies, parental waiver or a judge’s order. Does not require the consent of a parent or guardian.

Raphael J. Sonenshein: The idea of parental notification has won some support across the ideological spectrum. This measure is not as extreme as some other measures, in other states, that are crafted to make abortion harder. But this measure is part of the subtle effort to restrict choice by dribs and drabs. Republicans hope that social conservatives will flock to the polls for this one, so that they can help Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pass his Big Four measures. The governor announced that he would kill somebody who got his daughter an abortion without letting him know but also has not listed 73 as one of his main measures. And one other thing: This initiative defines abortion in the constitution as the “death of an unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born.” That does it for me, because it opens up a whole range of new ways to limit choice. I’m voting no.

Jill Stewart: A phony issue in both directions. It will neither limit choice nor resolve the problem of young girls making a lonely decision without parents. Notification of parents has been supported by many liberal California voters in polls for years, and the concept is supported by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and other big Democrats. An abortion is a serious medical procedure that parents want to know about. The far-left and far-right have stolen this issue from the middle. For that matter, regardless of the wording, and regardless of the state constitution, girls can fake their age as easy as they can go down to Western Avenue and say, “Hi, can I buy a phony ID?” This initiative might provide a process that helps a few families — and even a few teenage girls — work through a difficult situation. But it’s not a major fix for a family-based problem.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 74

What it does: Extends teacher probationary period from two to five years, and makes it easier to fire tenured teachers.

Sonenshein: This is the first of the four ballot initiatives that the governor has adopted as his “reform” package. The others are Propositions 75, 76 and 77. From 1927 to 1982, California teachers had a three-year probationary period; it was shortened to two in 1983. The great majority of states have a three-year period. Only Indiana and Missouri have five years. A more sensible measure would be to go back to three years, where most states are, rather than way over to the extreme end. Incompetent teachers are not the problem most people cite in education. If there were a long line of credentialed teachers waiting for spots now held by incompetents, there might be a case. But when we are short of credentialed teachers, our main goal should be to get more and better teachers into the classroom. The governor is mad at the teachers because they are mad at him because he broke his school-funding pledge: This is not much of a reason to undertake this unproven plan. Send us a three-year measure — and don’t advertise it as the cure-all to student-achievement problems. On this one, I’m voting no.

Stewart: Insta-tenure was forced on state legislatures nationwide by powerful teachers unions as a job-protection move. Good teachers don’t need fake tenure — schools clamor for them, while the lemons quietly get shuffled from school to school. School officials in Los Angeles have told me they’ve spent nearly a decade trying to fire a dozen misfits (drunks, desk sleepers, no-shows) who had no business around kids. Teachers with two years of experience are green, still learning just to control their class; they don’t qualify as experienced professionals, nor would they in any career. The victims of this nonmeritocracy are children and their parents, who are never clued in to the game.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 75

What it does: Prohibits public employee unions from using member dues for political campaigns without written permission. Currently, a dues-paying employee who is not a member of the union can refuse to have dues put toward politics; this measure makes it the responsibility of the union to get permission from all dues payers.

Sonenshein: The balance of power in Sacramento rides on the battle between corporations and unions, and this measure would clearly skew the balance toward business. This measure is consistent with the governor’s theory that the only special interests are those that oppose him, namely public employee unions, and that big business is as pure as the driven snow. There is no clamor among union members for the “freedom” offered by this measure, and the latest poll shows a sizeable majority of union members against it. True reform means taking on both sides of the power equation, not just one. I’m voting no.

Stewart: The vast majority of teachers, I bet, have no idea their dues went to last year’s failed attempt to water down “three strikes and you’re out.” Union honchos back awful bills, and their me-first attitudes were a key factor in driving up the state’s over-spending, which led to the massive Gray Davis deficit. It should be up to union members to say, “I trust my union. Go ahead, and use my dues to pursue this specific political goal.” The default position should be not spending the money of these busy working folks. If a lot of workers don’t push that “spend” button, union leaders are more likely to clean up their corrosive act in Sacramento.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 76

What it does: Limits state spending to prior year’s level plus three previous years’ average revenue growth; amends Proposition 98 guarantee for education; gives governor power to reduce spending under certain circumstances.

Sonenshein: Anti-government conservatives have turned to states to cut public spending. But while Californians are considering this measure, Colorado’s Republican governor is begging his state’s voters to abandon a spending limit he once supported — because it has gutted public services. Once again, we need balance. The governor says we have only a spending problem, but we really have a spending > taxes = budget problem. But that’s only the beginning of what’s wrong with this turkey. California is already handicapped by its two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. During future budget deadlocks, this measure would allow the governor complete authority to cut nearly any spending. Because of the two-thirds requirement, the minority party and the governor could easily collude to block the budget, and then rewrite it as they please with no vote of the Legislature. So the budget for a largely Democratic state could be written by a Republican governor and a Republican minority in the legislature. If that’s not enough, the measure also significantly amends Proposition 98, the school-funding guarantee passed by the voters in 1988. Now, there may indeed be problems with Proposition 98, and these ought to be addressed openly with the voters. This measure, however, buries the school-funding cut in mathematical confusion, and the voters might not see it coming. I’m voting no, big-time.

Stewart: This law could work if it didn’t set up huge political confrontations between whoever is governor and a Legislature that is utterly incapable of slowing its spending. It will just move the fights to another date on the calendar. Here’s the underlying problem: There’s little extra money to play with each year because almost all spending is preset, locked in by big programs — including recent massive increases for education and social welfare. Most of which cannot be trimmed back without a new law — and legislators willing to make it happen. In Sacramento, spending is driven largely by huge unions that ghostwrite much of the legislation. Standing up to unions can break any Democrat, and it has. The only way to control spending in California is to vote against whichever legislator you just put into office.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 77

What it does: This constitutional amendment changes the way that the boundary lines of districts for members of Congress and the state Legislature are drawn. It transfers the job of redistricting from the state Legislature to a panel of retired judges, who would be selected with input from both major political parties. It also accelerates redistricting so that the process would begin immediately, rather than after the next census.

Sonenshein: It’s odd and self-serving for elected officials, once every 10 years, to draw the boundary lines for the districts from which they will run for reelection. There’s a nationwide movement to take this power away from politicians and give it to judges or to citizen commissions. When Schwarzenegger was popular, he was close to a deal with the Legislature to make this change but only after the 2010 census. This plan would have been an extraordinary victory, while also accounting for changing population patterns. When negotiations broke down, Schwarzenegger insisted that the new process take place right away, in 2006. This started to smell like the partisan machinations in Texas orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Yet Schwarzenegger confounded his critics by supporting a similar measure in Ohio that is opposed by Republicans, a taste of that much-missed bipartisan edge he once had. For their part, county election officials are horrified by this measure, because of the daunting logistics of getting new lines ready in time for the 2006 primary. I’m wavering because I like the principle, despite some questionable particulars. And I am offended by the anti-77 ads saying that “politicians will be in charge,” when that’s really not true. I’m leaning very reluctantly toward a “no” vote, in hopes that a better plan can be crafted to take effect after 2010.

Stewart: This is the most important measure on the ballot and long overdue. Because it so badly calls for a “yes” vote, and because so many Jewish Democrats are against it (see story by Bobbi Murray on page 16), The Journal is giving me an entire column to offer a counterweight (see page 17).

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 78

What it does: One of two dueling drug-discount plans, Proposition 78 establishes a voluntary drug-discount program.

Sonenshein: When it looked as though backers of drug discounts were going to get a mandatory discount program on the ballot, pharmaceutical companies created this voluntary alternative. Proposition 78 is modeled on a voluntary system in Ohio, which like many voluntary programs hasn’t attracted a lot of takers. There are no penalties if drug companies choose not to participate. Tens of millions of dollars in drug company money are supporting Proposition 78. And when voters learn that the drug companies are behind 78, support for it drops like a stone. The Proposition 79 folks should take all their limited money and just run ads that say, “The drug companies love 78 and hate 79 — you do the math.” I’m voting no.

Stewart: Another mess created by committee, because the legislature is so inept it can’t come up with its own workable plan. This one comes from the business crowd, and is filled with foolish Laws of Unintended Consequences to make it palatable to voters. It deserves a “no” vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 79

What it does: One of two dueling drug-discount plans, Proposition 79 establishes a mandatory drug-discount program.

Sonenshein: Modeled on a program in Maine, this measure requires drug companies to participate. If they don’t, they could find themselves excluded from the lucrative Medicaid program. This process could require federal approval. On the plus side for consumers, this measure benefits a larger income range than Proposition 78, meaning it aims to help more than just the poorest of the poor. It could be a solid program. One drawback, however, is the section making it a violation to profiteer by charging an “unconscionable price.” Opponents are now blasting the presumed litigation that would ensue from 79. It would certainly be better to craft a drug-discount program in Sacramento, but, realistically, it might be years before that happens. For that reason, I’m leaning “yes,” although I want to smack somebody upside the head for adding the profiteering section.

Stewart: At the risk of repeating myself, Proposition 79 is another mess created by committee, because the Legislature is so inept it can’t come up with its own workable plan. This one comes from consumer groups and unions, and it’s filled with foolish Laws of Unintended Consequences to make it palatable to voters. Guess what? It also deserves a “no” vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: Yes

Proposition 80

What it does: Subjects electric providers to further control and regulation by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC); mandates increasing targets for production of energy from renewable energy sources; limits the ability of large electricity consumers to change from one provider of energy to another.

Sonenshein: I was going to say that you need a doctorate to understand the ballot information on this one, but then I remembered I have a doctorate and still had to work pretty hard. The back story here is that California’s ill-fated experiment with electricity deregulation ran up against the Bush administration’s FERC and Enron — and we Californians got wiped out. The state has been inching back toward regulation ever since, with the PUC increasing its regulation of the electric-service providers. This measure would transform some of this new regulation from PUC policy into state law. Proposition 80 also would make it difficult for big institutions to shop for energy. I wonder whether something this complicated belongs on the ballot and whether its solutions are too rigid. I will probably vote “no.”

Stewart: Every time I see a law aimed at how and where to control consumers, I shudder. This law utterly misses the point about California’s energy problems. Here’s the real deal: We love our open spaces, and in pursuing this preference, we have chosen to stop or impede refineries and big power plants. As long as that is our choice, we will continue to pay far, far more for our power — as well as our gas — than folks in other Western states. The mishmash of fixes in Proposition 80 fails to address the systemic troubles. I know people like to have things both ways, but if we want to end the high prices and brown outs, we need to adjust our priorities. Proposition 80 isn’t the ticket. Unplug it with a “no” vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: Yes

Also on the Ballot: Measure Y

What it does: Authorizes the Los Angeles Unified School District to raise $3.985 billion from school bonds to build, repair and modernize schools.

From previous editions of The Journal

Vote “yes” on Measure Y: Stu Bernstein, executive board, Association of Jewish Educators. Can be found at: ” target=”_blank”>www.jewishjournal.com/home/searchview.php?id=14625

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: No

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at

AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying


As some 1,250 delegates gather in Los Angeles under the banner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to celebrate the deepening ties between the United States and Israel and to strengthen those ties through political activities, I am mindful of two who will not be there.

Two former AIPAC staffers, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, will be back in Washington preparing for their January trial, which could be completed on the eve of AIPAC’s National Policy Conference in March. The timing is ironic given the loyal, instrumental roles that Rosen and Weissman played for AIPAC, and given the extent to which AIPAC has deserted them both.

These two individuals, in fact, deserve the unqualified support of both AIPAC and the Jewish community for their service to Jews and Israel — and also because they are, to all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing. The current criminal indictment arises out of nothing more than law enforcement entrapment. But even putting that aside, the former AIPAC staffers still acted in a logical, defensible and ethical matter. Jews should be rising to their defense, but there is, so far, only a shameful silence.

Rosen, a longtime Washington lobbyist, was the chief of AIPAC foreign-policy staff. Weissman was a specialist on Iraq. No one who knew Rosen would argue that he was the soul of AIPAC or its most visible public face, but all who came close to the organization swiftly understood that Rosen was its brains.

It was he who shaped the concept of Israel as a strategic ally of the United States, refashioning American support for Israel from that of a big brother assisting a poor relation to a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.

It was he who shifted AIPAC from an organization that was solely centered on Congress to one that also lobbied the president, his officers and his advisers — in Democratic and Republican administrations alike — as well as the think tanks and policy wonks.

Rosen recognized that he ruffled too many feathers to be out front. So he groomed protégés to assume that role. He mentored one so well that he became the head of AIPAC; another became the first Jew to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

One cannot overestimate his importance to the organization and his contribution to it over the past two decades.

One did not have to agree with his politics or AIPAC’s — as I certainly did not — to recognize the genius: While everyone was focusing on Iraq, he was concerned about Iran and North Korea. Anyone in his position traffics in information, seeking to understand what is known, attempting to fathom what is on the mind of government officials both in the United States and abroad.

What happened with Rosen and Weissman is simple enough. They were set up.

They are victims of a sting operation that relied on government analyst Lawrence Franklin, a compromised source who was in trouble for allegedly keeping unauthorized classified information at home. In order to win a more lenient sentence, he carried out an FBI plan to tell Rosen and Weissman about “secret information” that Israeli operatives were to be attacked in Iraq. Lives were seemingly at stake. Real lives, Jewish lives of people allied with the United States and presumably working in Iraq with the knowledge and consent of the United States, in alliance with the United States. Remember, this information came from a U.S. government analyst. And they had every reason to presume that he was giving them information both with permission and for a purpose.

Not surprisingly, Rosen and Weissman tried to check this information out. At one point, they apparently sought to see what a journalist covering Iraq knew. They also warned Israeli officials of the clear and immediate danger to their operatives. We now know that Franklin’s information was false and manufactured, with the specific goal of ensnaring Rosen and Weissman.

Of course that wasn’t the impression created when CBS broke its sensational account on Aug. 27, 2004, courtesy of a leak from either the FBI and/or Department of Justice.

Elements of the evidence remain shrouded in secrecy — the defendants are currently challenging the government’s attempts to conceal their own statements made on wiretaps.

Why would the U.S. government obstruct the defense in this way?

One plausible explanation is that Rosen and Weissman will recognize the circumstances in which their words were recorded and hence understand the scope of the federal surveillance — not just of them but also of those with whom they were in contact. One wonders: Does the U.S. typically spy on Israeli diplomats or diplomats of other countries?

We shall soon learn whether the government will drop the charges rather than reveal its evidence. The surveillance apparently lasted for five years and yielded such meager results that the defendants had to be entrapped into committing an alleged crime. If they were really up to something, investigators should have found it without the FBI having to engage in a Hollywood-style stunt — fictionalizing a scenario and manufacturing a crime.

This is not the Jonathon Pollard Affair redux. Pollard was a paid agent of the Israeli government who transmitted classified information to Israel. And unlike with the legal principle at stake in the Valerie Plame case, there was no possibility that lives would have been endangered by this leak; no sources were compromised. Unlike Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, Rosen and Weissman wanted to save lives, not weaken political opponents.

Yet AIPAC has run for cover; so have too many Jews. Some members of AIPAC’s own leadership are under the impression that the organization has actively defended its former employees. The word on the street, however, is that Rosen and Weissman have been hung out to dry. AIPAC bylaws require that the organization cover their legal defense, yet Rosen’s lawyers and Weissman’s lawyers have not been paid in many months. A reporters committee has come out against the indictment; a scientific group has challenged the secrecy provisions. But unless I’ve missed something, American Jewish organizations have been virtually mute.

We should be outraged by the setup!

We should be outraged by the selective prosecution — Rosen and Weissman are the first to be charged under the provision of the law being cited. Maybe it’s truly AIPAC and the vaunted American-Israeli alliance that is on trial or that is the actual target.

So why the hushed, muted tones of organizational leaders?

I leave it to their able lawyers to make the legal case for Rosen and Weissman, but the moral case also is compelling. From the standpoint of Jewish principles and tradition, the saving of human lives is an essential.

The Bush administration — or at least some within it — seems determined to crack down on the dissemination of government information, even if it impedes the public’s right to know or the right of citizens to participate in the process.

The Jewish community should not be timid in taking a different view. We dare not be sidelined.

Michael Berenbaum is adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, whose mission is to explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust.






All About AIPAC

How to Polish a Tarnished Image

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

Looking for a Shining Star

Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife

When We Elected Lindbergh

“The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, $26).

Reading “The Plot Against America,” I thought of two other demented visions of the country, Mad Magazine, and Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” a speculative history like Roth’s, about America after the Germans and Japanese have won the war, when collectors of Mickey Mouse memorabilia are looking for fakes. Mad may be a weird association, but this is nothing if not the weirdest time of our lives, and there is a great long Roth sentence in “The Plot Against America” that no writer born after the war is capable of writing with a straight face. It’s on the third page, “The men worked 50, 60, even 70 or more hours a week; the women worked all the time….” In the 1950s, Mad Magazine was a vaccine against the lies of official America; it gave commercial-free clarity about the manipulations we suffered, to those of us driven mad by the times, but with the terrible side effects of bitterness, irony, skepticism and, finally, disgust with the country — and then with our parents.

But Roth was born to a generation that believed in America, and although some of them were like the undertaker in the first scene of “The Godfather,” who also believed in America, but went outside the courts for justice — Roth’s parents love their country, or what they remember of it.

In the novel, after the fascist Charles Lindbergh’s election as president, they bring 7-year-old Philip and his 12-year-old brother, Sandy, to Washington, D.C., where they visit the monuments, out of love for the threatened promise. And for being a loudmouthed Jew, Herman Roth is thrown out of his hotel. It is impossible to imagine a Baby Boomer writing a book so critical of America and still write, without irony, about the sincerity of Herman Roth’s love for America, his faith in the promise he could already see was broken.

This is the most cynical time in American history. In such a time, endless injustice leaves little room for private emotions like sadness and disappointment, only frustration and outrage. No novelists since the pre-war generation, except the artists of outrage, the specialists in horror and crime, and those who understand the private worlds of the powerless and helpless, the fantasy and romance writers, have found the sources of emotional energy necessary to fill shelves with as many books as Roth has. This is why “The Plot Against America,” a book of social outrage in response to a country losing itself to fear, is the first of Roth’s novels to brush against genre, and why he had to write about today in the frame of pure imagination, and also why a fiction had to be narrated by Philip Roth and not David Kepesh or Nathan Zuckerman, his literary alter egos.

Zuckerman’s books include “American Pastoral,” “I Married a Communist” and “The Human Stain,” books about the changes in American history and how we live with them as private traumas. Roth follows Kafka and Orwell in 1984, who never named the specific politics that they abstracted to create parallel universes of pure allegory, so a novel about the Bush administration, to make something real out of our current unreality, had to be set in some other universe. A fictional character narrating a fantasy would have lost the novel’s special poignancy, the unexpected emotions of a coming of age story, so Philip Roth, real at least in name, narrates instead of Zuckerman.

The story isn’t too complicated. Philip is a precocious third-grader in 1940. He lives in a small apartment in Weequahic, N.J., with his father, mother, brother and 21-year-old cousin, Alvin, his parents’ ward. Everyone in his world is Jewish, and almost no one is religious. Everyone is patriotic: “Our homeland was America. Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.”

Lindbergh is elected on a platform to keep America out of the European War. The East Coast establishment of the Roosevelts mock Lindberg’s appeal to the people who don’t live in the big cities, and are surprised at the landslide. The red states win.

The book follows the expected structure of a speculative history, the entertainment is the flow of differences between what really happened and what the book describes, every change ringing congratulations for our recognizing it. That Walter Winchell is the book’s political hero, the voice of opposition, is delicious only to readers who remember the name. I suppose that younger readers will recognize what remains of him in Howard Stern, already harassed away from commercial radio, as though his vulgarity is unique, as though the reasons aren’t political.

Life is normal, then it changes a little, and then everything changes: “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t been president or I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.”

Herman Roth loses his job to anti-Semitism, gets a night job through Jewish gangster connections and protects his family. The government establishes the Office of American Absorption, and Sandy is shipped to live for a few months with a family of tobacco farmers in Kentucky as part of the Just Folks program, spreading Jews harmlessly around the country. Cousin Alvin runs to Canada to join the army in its fight against the Germans and comes back with a missing leg. Some Jews emigrate.

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.

Of Kerry and King

If I were John Kerry, I would spend every spare moment standing in front of a mirror, practicing the speech I’m going to give in October when U.S. soldiers capture Osama bin Laden.

The 2000 presidential election was a referendum on the future — who did Americans believe could lead them forward. 2004 is a referendum on the past –who do Americans believe can prevent Sept. 11, 2001 from happening again.

Democrats perceive Kerry, a Vietnam vet, as electable because he knows Americans are looking for someone to step into the role of Protector-in-Chief. He has military credentials, foreign policy experience and a diplomat’s diction. But Bush’s Osama in the hole could beat Kerry’s three of a kind in an instant. Capturing the Saudi terrorist mastermind is important, not least for the visceral sense of relief and revenge it will offer a grateful nation. Everybody knows this, so it wasn’t surprising this week when the Pentagon announced an increase in military personnel along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where bin Laden is thought to be hiding. There’s no guarantee of an October surprise, but such things have been known to happen.

The people gathered at Richard Ziman’s expansive Beverly Hills home the evening of Feb. 12 preferred to banish such thoughts. Ziman and his wife, Daphne, had been early supporters of Kerry (see story, p. 12), and this was their second fundraiser for the Massachusetts senator. Tickets were $1,000 or $2,000. The list of co-hosts included numerous entertainment industry notables whose politics ranged from the far-left all the way to the center-left. This was not Swing Voters Night. Kerry had just scored solid wins in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the poll numbers were looking strong in Wisconsin. About 300 upscale Democrats ate crudités and sipped wine in the foyer and living room, finding praise for a candidate whom many had just woken up to after wiping Howard Dean out of their eyes. The mood was closer to a victory party.

"A few months ago I didn’t think there was any hope," said a fundraiser with close Hollywood ties. "Now I do."

Kerry was not there — something many people were astonished to hear. If they had wanted to see Kerry, their $1,000 would have been better spent on a round-trip ticket to Madison, where you could see him — endlessly that week — for free. The candidate did call in, and Ziman, whose home is a way station for political hopefuls, seamlessly patched him into the Surround Sound.

"I wish I were there," Kerry said. "Everywhere I’m campaigning is so cold."

"We’re going to have a prolonged and tough fight," he went on, headlong into an attack on the president. "He’s calling himself a war president. They can’t talk about jobs, healthcare, the economy, so they’re going to try to use the politics of fear."

Kerry spoke for a bit longer — eloquent, hard-edged — and the crowd erupted in fierce applause. Comedian Richard Lewis, who has performed for Kerry at such events across the country, took the mike. "I forget that a president does not have to speak ESL," he said.

A few obligatory speeches — former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and state treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides — might have brought the energy down, but Dukakis, bright and self-deprecating as he is, only served to remind the faithful that this time, in Kerry, they have a real he-man. America loves a he-man.

Carole King then sat at Ziman’s piano and sang. She has also been campaigning for Kerry from the start.

"I was with him in Iowa when we saw the momentum turn," she said. She sang every song you know by heart from her "Tapestry" album, and standing an arm’s length from her, I and the dozens of others crowded around the piano probably would have voted a dead beagle into the Oval Office if that’s what she wanted. By the time she got to, "I Feel the Earth Move," the faces were ecstatic, as if people forgot that just three and half years ago this was the party of Al Gore.

The pods of conversation that formed and split and morphed afterward seemed to dare themselves to spurn cautious optimism for a full-fledged embrace. People offered their suggestion for vice president — Democratic candidate John Edwards and former U.N. Representative Bill Richardson were the popular choices — and allowed themselves to wonder aloud what kind of first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry would be.

But these liberals were almost all rich liberals, their idealism alloyed with enough weighty pragmatism to have gotten them rich in the first place. So Ziman and a couple of dozen others separated from the mix and entered a large den sealed by a wall of French doors, which they shut.

"That’s where the heavy hitting is going on," one Democratic activist said.

The president has a campaign war chest of more than $100 million. Because he wisely passed on public matching funds, Kerry can keep raising money. Jews, few in number but well-represented in terms of political contribution, will find the candidate turning the Westside and similar neighborhoods into an ATM if he hopes to go ad for ad with Bush.

I walked out onto the lawn, knowing full well that somewhere in a leafy Houston suburb someone was hosting the same kind of party with the same number of people to raise money and spirit for the president. There would be a view across the lawn to a landscaped pool and tennis court. There would be a popular entertainer inside, though certainly not Carole King — or the Dixie Chicks.

Kerry will get the money, and the enthusiasm, building slowly, will come. But his fate depends on whether, come October, he can convince voters that capturing Osama bin Laden is not the only thing that will make America a stronger nation.

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday.