Israel launches crackdown on pro-settler vandals

Israel announced a crackdown on Monday against Jewish ultranationalists who vandalize Palestinian property, saying they were tantamount to terrorists and their attacks could fan sectarian violence.

The move followed the arrest of a 22-year Israeli from an Orthodox Jewish town near Tel Aviv for the vandalism of a Christian monastery in the West Bank last year. The attack was carried out in solidarity with hardline Jewish settlers.

Graffiti left on the 19th-century Latrun Monastery referred to Migron, an unauthorized settler outpost evacuated by the Israeli government. The words “Jesus is a monkey” were also daubed on the wall in Hebrew, and the monastery's doors torched.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said those suspected in so-called “Price Tag” incidents would now be subject to measures such as longer detentions and denial of access to lawyers while under interrogation – measures akin to those used by Israel's security services in tackling Palestinian militants.

“Price Tag perpetrators' conduct is identical to the conduct of modern terrorist groups, including ideological inspiration and covert action,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“Its main objective is to prevent the legitimate Israeli government from carrying out moves, whether of state or regarding law enforcement, and to sow fear among the nation's leaders of making decisions of one kind or another.”

The ultranationalists have desecrated mosques, torched cars and chopped down trees belonging to Palestinians, saying they sought to make the government “pay” for curbing unauthorized West Bank settlement

They have occasionally hit Israeli army facilities, churches or Arab sites inside the Jewish state. But Israeli authorities are most troubled by the possibility that Palestinian victims could lash out in reprisal, upending the West Bank's relative calm at a time of peacemaking stalemate.

“It is our duty to toughen up the penalties against these miscreants, because this activity has catastrophic potential,” the statement quoted Yaalon as saying. “We must fight an all-out war against them, with minimum tolerance and maximum means.”


Palestinians, who exercise limited autonomy in the West Bank under 1993 interim peace deals, have long complained settlers enjoy impunity under Israeli military control of the territory.

Israel's Shin Bet security service says dozens of suspects have been arrested. But convictions have been rare, a fact Israeli officials blame on suspects' secrecy and withstanding of pressure to confess under interrogation.

Settler leaders have disavowed the Price Tag perpetrators, many of whom are self-styled “Hilltop Youths,” zealots in their teens or 20s who spurn the authority of the secular state.

In one incident last August, six Palestinians were hurt when their taxi was firebombed. Several Israeli minors from a settlement were arrested but released for lack of evidence.

Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan

Bevy of Jewish-Directed Films

Bevy of Jewish-Directed Films

They’re hot, they’re Jewish, and they all have new movies out this weekend. At your local cineplex, you’ll find four films directed by Jewish filmmakers: There’s “Requiem for a Dream,” the latest from stylish filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, a bleak, controversial drama about a Jewish family descending into drug addiction. Picture Ellen Burstyn as a Coney Island widow spiraling into a diet-pill funk.

Israeli-born Rod Lurie, previously the meanest film critic in L.A., is the director of “The Contender,” which answers the question, could a female politician survive a Lewinsky-like scandal?

Mimi Leder, whose dream project is a film about her parents’ post-Holocaust romance, has “Pay It Forward,” her tribute to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam .

And the brilliant, 30-something director James Gray is back with “The Yards,” his Godfather-like treatise on New York greed and graft, starring James Caan, Mark Wahlberg and Ellen Burstyn.Bottom line: Go see a movie this weekend. – Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor

Good Intentions
How do Jews actually practice their religion, in contrast to what rabbis tell us we ought to do?

In researching his book “Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today,” Columbia University Professor Ari Goldman came across some real pearls, he recently told a UCLA audience. For example, on Shabbat observance:

“I don’t floss my teeth on Shabbat.”

“I don’t eat shellfish on Shabbat.”

“I drive, but not on freeways.”

Some other quirky observations:

“I keep kosher, but only within 50 miles of my home.”

“I keep three sets of dishes – for meat, dairy and Chinese food.”

Said Goldman, “I love these responses; they say so much about American Jews, who try to find their own comfort level in their practice of Judaism.” – By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Half-Witted Hate

The Islamic Center of Southern California was targeted by vandals twice during the last week, though in one instance the perpetrator apparently mistook a mosque for a synagogue.

In the first act of vandalism, the front of the combined mosque and community center on Vermont Avenue was defaced on Oct. 26 with a swastika and the words, “Jew, Go Home.”On Sunday evening, a large rock shattered the front glass door of the center while worshipers were praying inside.

In response, the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission called a news conference Monday, with the participation of Muslim and Jewish members.

Joe R. Hicks, the commission’s executive director, said in a subsequent interview, “It is especially heinous when a house of worship is singled out. We must react any time it happens, even, as in the case of the graffiti, the bigot may be stupid or ignorant or mentally deranged.”

Police had no leads on possible suspects, Hicks said.

Salam Al-Marayati, vice president of the commission and a leading Arab Muslim spokesman, said that whenever tensions rise in the Middle East, “We [Muslims] always get the backlash; we are scapegoated.” He added that he was disappointed that the local media had largely ignored the attacks on the mosque.Howard Welinsky, past chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, attended the news conference representing The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

“It is important that the Jewish community react when any place of worship is targeted,” he said.As for the graffiti painter, Welinsky said, “He must be the dumbest bigot in town.” – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editorn