A year after signing power transfer deal, Yemenis divided over government’s performance

[SANA’A] Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani visited Yemen to mark the first anniversary of the deal that saw former President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquish power to his longtime deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

On November 23 last year, after 10 months of deadly protests calling for his ouster, Saleh was forced to sign the agreement initiated by the Saudi-led Gulf monarchies and backed by the West.

Analysts say Ban's visit to Yemen, which made him the first UN chief to visit the country, was mainly intended to push for launching the second phase of the power transfer deal, which includes holding an inclusive national dialogue, reorganizing the divided army and security forces, and rewriting the constitution.

“The UN chief's visit at this critical time was designed to demonstrate the entire international community’s support for Hadi and his power-sharing government, and deliver a warning message to those who are trying to hinder the process of transition,” Abdusalem Mohammed, chairman of the Abaad Studies and Research Center think tank, told The Media Line.

“The visit, which came as violence was raging between Gaza and Israel, was also aimed to deter any militant group from attempting to exploit the situation and stir chaos,” he added. 

With the passage of one year since the ouster of the former president, many Yemenis are assessing the performance of Hadi and his power-sharing government.

“Actually, nothing has changed at all,” accountant Saleh Ali, 27, told The Media Line. “The same policies are applied. Only officials have been replaced and that essentially does not make any difference by itself.”

“We were better off before the revolution erupted. It only helped divisions to deepen, tensions to heighten and poverty to increase,” said Ali, who wore traditional Yemeni clothing including a Janbiya — a dagger with a short curved blade worn on a belt. Other passengers on the same bus disagreed sharply with Ali. One went so far as to call him one of Saleh's thugs.

College student Rami Khalid, 23, told The Media Line, “I feel like I was not alive before the overthrow of Saleh. Thank God he's gone. Things have looked up since he was ousted.”

However, Khalid, who was chewing leaves of Khat, a narcotic plant chewed daily by more than half of Yemen's population, admitted that living standards had dropped, but said this will be temporarily.

“Hadi and the national unity government managed to get things back on track after tensions were running high and the country was heading toward a civil war,” Ali Al-Sarari, political and media advisor for Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwah, told The Media Line. “They managed to restore relative security across the nation and drive out Al-Qa’ida militants from their strongholds. Any citizen can clearly notice the difference in the public services such as tap water and electricity.”

During the uprising against Saleh, public services significantly deteriorated.

Al-Sarari says he believes the government’s biggest accomplishment so far was achieved in the area of combating corruption. “The new government revoked the long-term contract with [marine terminal operator] DP World which had deliberately undermined the strategic Aden Port. It has also managed to negotiate with the French oil company Total a rise in the ‘unfair’ price that Yemen's liquefied gas is sold for,” he said.

“Hadi and his national unity government have so far been successful at their job at the helm of Yemen,” said Abdusalam Mohammed of the Abaad Studies and Research Center. “In the transitional stage, they are not required to boost development or improve the struggling economy, rather to prevent the country from descending into a full-blown civil war, which they did.”

Dr. Yahya Al-Thawr, chairman of Modern German Hospital in Sana’a, agreed with Mohammed and added, “So far, their performance has been satisfactory. But many people want to see improvements in the economy and development, and that's impossible because these sectors need time to progress.”

“Hadi is steering Yemen toward a successful, national dialogue and resolving long-standing problems,” Al-Sarari said.

While Al-Thawr and Mohammed shared his thinking, although they noted that the transitional process is very slow, political analyst Abdul-Bari Taher says that the indications do not show that Yemen is heading toward reconciliation.

“There are many challenges and obstacles facing the transitional process in the country. The situation is very complicated: Militant groups are currently amassing weapons, and the media war between the political factions is at its peak. Even the mosque's podiums have been used to spark tensions instead of easing them,” Taher told The Media Line.

“Actually, the situation looks as if Yemen is heading toward war — not dialogue and reconciliation. I'm afraid that neither President Hadi nor the prime minister will be able to do anything to stop the simmering tensions,” said Taher.

Mohammed, Taher, Al-Sarari and Al-Thawr all agree that in the coming months Hadi will have to take bold measures to end the divisions and disunity in the army. They say reorganizing the military is imperative for creating a conductive environment and laying the groundwork for the upcoming national dialogue conference.
Perhaps because of its strategic location – three million barrels of oil pass through the country daily – the international community showed considerable support for Yemen's stability and for President Hadi.

In a meeting in Riyadh on September 4, friends of Yemen pledged $ 6.4 billion in aid for Yemen's transitional period. At another meeting in New York on September 27, additional pledges totaled $1.5 billion, bringing the total to $7.9 billion.

In October, key Defense Ministry officials told local media outlets that Yemen is expecting an arms shipment from the U.S. as a grant for the poorest Arab state. The shipment includes four highly-advanced drones.

Israel trip helps Polish Jews in Jewish rediscovery

After Jerzy heard about frequent vandalism at an old Jewish cemetery in his home city of Gdansk, Poland, he decided to visit the graveyard.

It had fallen into such disrepair that “people would go there to drink beer,” said Jerzy, who gave only his middle name due to fears of anti-Semitism. 

He made a few trips to the cemetery, meeting a member of the local Jewish community who invited him to come to Friday night services and Shabbat dinner. 

“I liked Jews all my life,” said Jerzy, 32, who although not raised Jewish had worn a Star of David as a child. “It was the opposite of all of Poland.” Around Gdansk, he said, he sometimes sees graffiti of a Jewish star hanging from a gallows. 

As he learned more about Poland’s Jews, Jerzy began to research his own family history. He traveled to his father’s birthplace near Lublin to find his father’s birth certificate; soon afterward, he learned that his father and his maternal grandfather were Jewish.

Three years later, Jerzy — whose arms are covered in tattoos — has across the back of his neck a huge Hebrew tattoo that reads “Shema Yisrael.” He is converting to Judaism to gain recognition from traditional denominations.

Jerzy was one of 19 participants to travel to Israel last month on a trip for Poles with newly discovered Jewish roots. The trip, according to Shavei Israel, the group that organized it, aims to teach participants about Judaism and to involve them more in Jewish life and support of Israel.

“The Jewish people are a small people, and there are these communities out there that were once a part of us,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel. “When someone discovers or rediscovers their Jewish roots, it makes them more sympathetic to Israel and Jewish causes, so it’s something we stand to benefit from [regarding] diplomacy and hasbarah,” Israeli public relations.

Based in Israel, Shavei Israel also runs programs for those with Jewish roots in Spain, Portugal, India and Russia.

The two-week August trip took participants throughout Israel. They traveled through Jerusalem, to northern Israel and also to West Bank settlements such as Hebron and Mitzpeh Yericho, where they spent Shabbat. Freund said that the visits to settlements do not indicate that the trip takes political positions.

“We stay completely away from political messaging,” Freund said. “There is no political agenda here. The agenda is to give them an opportunity to see the land of Israel and visit important historical sites.”

The group also visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, to gain an Israeli perspective on a tragedy also etched deep in Polish national memory.

Trip leaders did not discuss politics, participants said. Several said that their favorite part of the journey was the feeling of being in a Jewish society where they were free to wear kippot on the street and to try out their Hebrew. 

After doing advanced coursework in Jewish studies, Gosia Tichoruk, 35, learned two years ago that her maternal great-grandmother was Jewish — and therefore that she, her mother and her grandmother were as well, according to Jewish law. In Israel, “The first thing that struck me was you’re walking down the beach, and you have Jews all around you,” she said. “It’s this safety you have, people greeting you with ‘Shavuah tov’ and ‘Shabbat shalom.’ “

Like a few of the participants, Tichoruk has started keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and learning Hebrew. She said Jewish life is sparse in her hometown of Poznan, but cities such as Krakow and Warsaw have more Jewish resources.

The Krakow Jewish Community Center has been a boon to Jedrek Pitorak, 23, who goes there for Shabbat dinners, holiday celebrations and Hebrew classes. Pitorak, who has known he is Jewish his entire life, was one of the group’s most experienced Israel tourists. Unlike many who were first-time visitors, he came here in 2009 on Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sponsors free trips to Israel for young adults.

Pitorak is heartened by “how many small children we see here. It’s a bright sign.” Although he’s involved in the contemporary Polish Jewish community, he does not think his homeland will become a center of Jewish life, as it was before almost all of its Jews perished in the Holocaust. Approximately 4,000 registered Jews currently live in Poland, although community leaders suspect that tens of thousands of Poles may not have identified as Jewish.

“There are many old people and the community is not growing,” Pitorak said of Krakow’s Jews. “If you come to the JCC, you see more volunteers and sociologists than real Jews.”

Participants said that they enjoyed Israel’s religious options, historical sites, beaches and food. But one of the features of Israeli life that Pitorak likes best may surprise Israelis and American tourists alike. He appreciates “how polite the drivers are to each other and the pedestrians.”

Haredi politician’s failure to shake hands riles female Belgian minister

Belgium’s health minister said she was “profoundly troubled” by the behavior of her Israeli counterpart, Yaakov Litzman, after the haredi Orthodox minister refused to shake her hand at a conference.

Litzman, Israel’s deputy minister for health, belongs to the haredi Torah Judaism party and considers it forbidden to touch members of the opposite sex.

“My hands are clean!” read a text that appeared on the official Facebook site of the Belgian health minister Laurette Onkelinx. “This is the second time a minister refuses to shake my hand because I am a woman. The first was Iranian. The second one was the Israeli health minister here in Geneva. This kind of fundamentalist attitude, connected to a certain perception of religion and women, profoundly troubles me.”

Litzman and Onkelinx met Wednesday at the annual World Health Assembly. Onkelinx belongs to the Francophone Belgian Socialist Party, the party of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

“The minister’s childish reaction demonstrates her ignorance,” said Michael Freilich, editor in chief of Joods Actueel, Belgium’s largest Jewish publication, which reported on the story. “Mr. Litzman’s refusal to shake Ms. Onkelinx’s hand had nothing to do with any view on women or impurity. Ultra-Orthodox women are also forbidden from touching members of the opposite sex. It’s the custom. A more seasoned politician would have been aware of this sensibility in advance.”

With Obama and Bibi both running, is 2012 a replay of 1988 or 1992?

If Israel goes to elections as expected this summer, will it be a replay of 1988 or 1992?

Both Israeli election years also were American presidential election years, as 2012 is.

In 1988, the Dukakis-Bush race had no discernible effect on a race that saw Yitzhak Shamir edge Shimon Peres for Israel’s premiership.

Four years later, however, Shamir’s contentious relationship with President George H. W. Bush is believed to have helped cost the Israeli prime minister the election.

So far, 2012 is looking more like ‘88 than ‘92, according to Aaron David Miller, a former longtime State Department Middle East negotiator who worked for the Bush administration.

“An Israeli prime minister is judged first and foremost by whether he can avoid catastrophic political decisions, then on the capacity to give Israelis a sense of security, then on the capacity to manage the U.S.-Israeli relationship,” said Miller, now a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested this week that he would call elections as early as August, although his term isn’t up until the fall of 2013. His formal announcement was held up by the death of his father, Benzion.

Netanyahu, despite having a relationship with President Obama that at times has been difficult, scores well on all three criteria, Miller said. Nothing catastrophic occurred under his watch, he is credited for rallying international support for Iran’s isolation and the issue that has dogged his relationship with Obama—peace talks with the Palestinians—is all but moribund.

“I don’t see Israelis out in the streets protesting the prime minister’s policies on the peace process,” Miller said.

The conditions of a nascent peace process were seen as being in place in 1992. Arab countries that for decades had gone out of their way to snub Israel were ready to meet with Israel’s leaders in Madrid, however stilted the encounters. Israelis saw Shamir as balking at advancing talks in any meaningful way.

“Shamir was perceived to have misplayed his hand even though you could argue that Jim Baker and Bush were more hostile than Obama,” Miller said, referring to the U.S. secretary of state and president at the time.

Another factor distinguishing this year from 1992 is that Shamir faced a formidable opponent, Yitzhak Rabin, who had a history of strong relationships with American leaders, said Peter Medding, a professor of political science at the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Rabin was starting from a much better position,” Medding said.

Netanyahu, by contrast, faces not one but an array of possible opposition leaders, including newly elected Kadima Party leader Shaul Mofaz, Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor and TV personality Yair Lapid. None has the heft of the late Rabin, who by ‘92 already had served as prime minister and military chief of staff. And he also was a war hero.

In the absence of a viable peace process and with Obama unpopular among Israeli voters, Medding said, tensions with Obama “may make more voters vote for Netanyahu.”

In Israel as in the United States, voters are likelier to focus on domestic issues than on Iran, the peace process and foreign policy, he said. Netanyahu may face a resurgence of the social protest movement that erupted last summer, and he must address conflicts over military conscription of haredi Orthodox men within his own governing coalition.

The one possible disruptor—as it happens, for both American and Israeli elections—would be a heightening of tensions with Iran. Netanyahu has hinted that Israel may strike Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program this year, whereas Obama wants Israel to allow diplomacy and sanctions play out.

“A direct confrontation between the Obama and Netanyahu over Iran—if, say, the Israeli air force is on the tarmac and preparing for takeoff and Obama is seen as preventing Israel from doing what is regarded as right and necessary—could influence how American Jews and Israelis vote at election time,” he said. “But I don’t see such a scenario eventuating.”

Miller agreed. Speaking of the chances of a military attack on Iran, he said, “Unless the Iranians give someone a pretext for doing it, it’s not going to happen.”

Hollywood delegation explores Israeli politics, culture

A group of high-profile Hollywood professionals was in Israel last week to learn more about the complicated challenges Israel faces.

The delegation met with Israeli and Palestinian policymakers and counterparts in the arts, business and cultural spheres.

A delegation from The Creative Coalition — a Los-Angeles-based organization that seeks to inform and engage members of the entertainment industry — included well-known actors, producers, directors and television, studio and publishing executives.

The visit was coordinated in conjunction with the American Israel Education Foundation, an independent, nonprofit charitable foundation affiliated with AIPAC.  

Patricia Arquette, Matthew Modine, Alfre Woodard, Griffin Dunne, Joe Pantoliano, Rob Morrow and Stephen Baldwin were among the professionals who met with President Shimon Peres and representatives from the prime minister’s office (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not meet with the group because he was sitting shiva for his father-in-law).  

Robin Bronk, CEO of the Coalition, told The Journal that its mission “is to educate, motivate and activate” the entertainment industry “on issues of social importance,” and that Israel was chosen “because it is a country that supports the arts and the efficacy of the arts in spectacular ways.”

Bronk said the art program at Kirshorit, a kibbutz in the Galilee that is home to dozens of Israeli adults with special needs, is a case in point.

“Kishorit uses art as a tool for teaching and socializing. Here was a specific example of how the arts can teach,” Bronk said.

The trip also included a visit to Hadassah Medical Center, where they were briefed on the latest advances in stem cell research; Sderot where, just a couple of weeks ago, rockets were falling; and to an immigrant absorption center just outside Jerusalem.

Bronk, who is Jewish and has visited Israel “many times,” said that “many of our members had never visited Israel.” Roughly a quarter of the mission participants were Jewish.

One of them was Richard Schiff (“The West Wing,” “Ray,” “Solitary Man”). During a Tel Aviv press conference — the mission’s only interaction with the media — Schiff  called this, his first visit to Israel, “quite moving.”

“Everywhere we go here, I see there’s a mission that’s clearly related to the absolute necessity for security and survival that we forget about in the rest of the world. I’m grateful to witness it firsthand and bring those stories back to America,” Schiff said. Kaycee Stroh (“High School Musical”), said Israel was a lot calmer than anticipated, despite its security concerns.

“To the outside world, the ‘two-state issue’ makes you think that in the streets of Israel there would be conflict. I assumed people would spit on each other, and yet on the ground level I’m amazed at how respectful everyone is. I didn’t expect that.”

“This has been a remarkable learning experience,” said Andrea Bowen (“Desperate Housewives,” “Boston Public”). “I talked with friends and peers, and there’s a lack of knowledge about what it is really like over here.”

Bowen said she now feels a “responsibility” to go back and inform young Americans what Israel is like.

“I’m trying to be a sponge for information. I don’t want to leave,” she said.

Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad,” “Homicide: Life on the Streets”) said many in the group were “very intensely overwhelmed by this beautiful country and the tenacious, focused spirit of its people. I have never before seen people able to live in that kind of strange and difficult situation and call it normal, to move forward and teach their children how to love and not hate, and to remain hopeful there will be peace in this land.”

In restructuring, key Canadian Jewish officials are let go

Several senior employees of the Canadian Jewish Congress have lost their jobs in a restructuring of Canada’s Jewish organizations and advocacy agencies.

Notices of dismissal, effective June 30, were sent to Benjamin Shinewald, CJC’s Toronto-based acting CEO; Wendy Lampert, national director of community relations; and Enza Martuccelli, director of community relations in CJC’s Montreal office.

Two longtime CJC employees in the Ottawa office—Eric Vernon, the director of government relations and international affairs, and Josh Rotblatt, the director of operations—received notices effective July 31.

Romy Ritter, regional director in Vancouver, was told her employment will not continue with CJC.

The personnel moves were “mandated” by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), said CJC President Mark Freiman in a statement to his board on June 24.

“I grieve for our community’s loss in terms of the talents and devoted service of those whose employment CIJA has decided to terminate,” Freiman said.

Earlier this month, the boards of CIJA and United Israel Appeal Federations Canada approved a major overhaul of communal organizations. The new, as-yet unnamed super agency will assume the role of CJC, the Canada-Israel Committee and other groups.

For months, Canada’s Jewish community has expressed concerns that the CJC, founded in 1919, would cease to exist under the changes.

A survey has been sent to stakeholders and interested parties on a new name and priorities for the agency.

For U.S. Jewish leaders, impact of Egypt changes depends on politics

American Jewish leaders are divided along political lines on recent changes in Egypt, according to a new survey shows.

Most Jewish leaders looked favorably upon what they see as a growing interest in democracy and human rights in the new Egypt, but they were split on what that means for Israel, according to the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner survey.

The split coincides with the respondents’ political leanings, with liberals hopeful that the changes in Egypt will lead to positive long-term results vis-a-vis Israel and conservatives fearing the opposite. A large number of respondents remained in the middle, unsure and ambivalent.

More respondents believed the developments in Egypt would be good for relations with the United States rather than bad, at 26 percent to 18 percent, but the majority, 57 percent, did not voice an opinion either way.

Respondents were less hopeful as a group about Egypt’s future relationship with Israel, with 32 percent believing the changes in Egypt are good for Israel, 20 percent believing they are bad, and nearly half, or 48 percent, not sure or undecided.

Overall, 67 percent said they were either “happy” or “very happy” with the changes in Egypt. At the same time, 80 percent of the respondents identified as Democrats with 14 percent describing themselves as Republicans; just 6 percent said they were politically “conservative” or “very conservative.”

“The feelings we charted vary remarkably by political inclination,” said Professor Samuel Abrams, assistant professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. “The politically conservative, Republicans and the Orthodox feel very uneasy about these developments. In contrast, the leaders who identify as politically liberal, Democrats and Reform tend to welcome the developments with greater enthusiasm and fewer concerns.”

The findings emerge from 1,898 respondents to an online, opt-in survey of Jewish leaders conducted in March by Professors Steven M. Cohen of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and Abrams.

Greece-Israel relations soar as ties with Turkey fade

Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Arye Mekel, was on the phone with a journalist earlier this month when the call came in that Israel’s Carmel region was up in flames. The Israeli prime minister needed to speak urgently with his Greek counterpart.

Mekel quickly located Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Poland, where he was meeting with the Polish president. But a Papandreou aide told Mekel the meeting could not be interrupted.

“Tell him Bibi Netanyahu wants to speak with him urgently,” Mekel pressed, using the Israeli prime minister’s nickname.

A few moments later Papandreou was on the phone. In just hours, five Greek firefighting planes were in the skies along with a cargo plane loaded with spare parts, mechanics and pilots. Benjamin Netanyahu greeted them at the airport.

The quick response by Greece was a sign of the increasingly close relations between two Mediterranean countries that until 18 years ago did not even have diplomatic ties.

Papandreou visited Israel in July, and the following month Netanyahu made the first-ever trip by an Israeli prime minister to Greece. In October, the two countries held joint military exercises. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations recently announced that Greece would be the site of its annual leadership mission in February.

“Greece and Israel have opened a new chapter in their ties,” Mekel said. “Our two governments have taken a mutual decision to develop multifaceted cooperation in the fields of politics, security, the economy and culture.”

The subtext behind the sudden flurry of activity between Greece and Israel is the crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey, Greece’s chief rival. Those ties, already on the skids, took a nosedive after the flotilla incident of May 31, when nine Turkish nationals were killed in a clash with Israeli commandos aboard a ship trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

After the incident, Turkey canceled joint military exercises with the Israelis and withdrew its ambassador to Israel.

With Israeli Air Force pilots no longer able to train in Turkish airspace, and the Turkish market for Israeli military hardware and other exports at risk, Israel turned to Greece.

Conditions appear ripe for a boost to Greek-Israeli relations. For Israel, nearby Greece would seem to be a natural ally in a Mediterranean region dominated by Islamic countries.

For Greece, which is in the midst of a severe financial crisis, friendship with Israel is seen as a great asset, particularly due to Israel’s perceived closeness to the administration in Washington. By the same count, Papandreou hopes Greece’s closeness with Israel will convince Diaspora Jews to invest in Greece and support Greece in international disputes.

This wouldn’t be too different from the approach Israel and American Jewish organizations took vis-a-vis Turkey until recently—for example, opposing efforts to have the Turkish massacres of Armenians officially labeled as a genocide.

Greece also seeks an expanded role as a mediator in Middle East peacemaking—a role that until recently was occupied by Turkey.

“Greece could contribute in a positive way,” said the country’s foreign minister, Dimitris Droutsas.

By capitalizing on its close ties with the Arab world, Greece could be a source of trustworthiness, confidence and objectivity for both sides, he said.

For the time being, trade and tourism between Greece and Israel are growing. Approximately 250,000 Israeli tourists will have visited Greece in 2010, a 200 percent increase over last year, and bilateral trade stands at approximately $140 million, according to Mekel.

“Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement,” Mekel said. “Last week, a delegation from Israel came to Greece to present proposals to the Greek government for 13 large-scale joint projects in fields like tourism, agriculture, renewable energy sources, water and waste management, space technology and investments.”

The American Jewish organizational world already appears to be on board.

Aside from the Presidents Conference mission, Jewish organizations lined up behind a U.S. congressional resolution on Oct. 1 asking Turkey to respect the cultural heritage and the religious sites of the Greek Cypriots in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. Turkey invaded the Greek-speaking island in 1974 and retains control of its north. Israeli tourism to the Greek-speaking southern part of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island nation, is robust.

It’s all a major turnabout for two countries that until two decades ago didn’t really get along. In the 1980s, Greece was widely considered the most hostile country to Israel in Europe. Andreas Papandreou, the father of Greece’s current leader, was prime minister, and he pursued a policy of cozying up to Arab regimes. Greek officials recognized the PLO in 1981, and it wasn’t until Andreas Papandreou left office that Israel and Greece established formal diplomatic ties, in 1992.

Droutsas says Greece and Israel were never in conflict, but he acknowledges that government-to-government ties lagged far behind “true relations between the two peoples.” He said, “This gap must be closed and we are determined to strengthen and to deepen these relations at a fast pace.”

They’re catching up fast. Just three weeks after Papandreou visited Israel in July—the first visit since Greek’s then-premier, Constantine Mitsotakis, visited Israel in May 1992 when his country first recognized the Jewish state—Netanyahu spent a few days in Greece. The two prime ministers, both of whom speak flawless English from time spent living in the United States, appeared to be hitting it off as old friends, even cruising the Greek islands together.

Since then the official visits have been fast and furious. Droutsas, Greek Minister of State Haris Pamboukis and Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos all visited Israel. On the Israeli side, the director of political and military affairs at the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad; Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, and minister without portfolio Benny Begin all have gone to Greece.

One area where Israel doesn’t have too many friends here is in the media. Influenced by 40 years of cultivation by pro-Arab and anti-Israel politicians, the Greek media have a mostly unfavorable view of Israel.

But that also has started to change. Mekel, a former journalist who appears frequently on Greek media, says there has been more positive coverage recently of Israel.

The improvement in Greece-Israel ties obviously has been welcomed by this country’s small Jewish community of about 5,000.

“There is no doubt that the improvement of the relations between the two countries makes us feel much more at ease,” said Beny Albala, head of the Athens Jewish community. “We hope that these relations will continue for a long time for the benefit of both countries and our community.”

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.

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.

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

I’m not done.

At Risk

I’ve thought way too much about terror this week. As I sat down to write this, I tried to do a rough accounting. What’s a clever unit of measure for moments spentobsessing about terror? An osama? No, that gives the cretin too much credit. A chertoff? Better. A chertoff is a full cycle of terror-think.

It works like this: On Sunday at LAX, the guy ahead of me at airport security is swarthy. He’s traveling alone. His duffel bag is overloaded with clothes. He seems nervous when the inspector tells him to put his laptop in a separate busboy bin. I had just finished reading a long article on the foiled airplane bombing plot in Britain. Should I even get on this flight? What if he turns out to be my rowmate and he takes out a bottle of … liquid? Then what would I do?

My mind races through the scenerios: I freeze? I scream? I tackle him? I talk him out of it….

There, that was a chertoff. A moment of my life at the United Airlines terminal devoted to worrying about the whethers and what-ifs of terror, a moment I won’t get back. Boy, how many chertoffs did I rack up this week?

As soon as I got to work Monday, I logged onto the Christian Science Monitor Web site. Each day the Monitor has posted another installment in the story of Jill Carroll, the freelancer on assignment for the paper who spent weeks in captivity at the hands of Iraqi insurgents. It is gripping, cliffhanger reading. When Carroll’s kidnappers weren’t threatening to kill her, they sweet-talked her about converting to Islam. No single piece of reporting has taken us as close to the thoughts and behavior of the men, women and children who hate America in Iraq. Carroll was witness to at least an inkling of what the kidnapped and murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl must have experienced. Of course, as I read Carroll’s testament, I spent even more chertoffs wondering how I would react, how any of us would react, faced with such uncertainty and fear.

Pearl himself was never far from my thoughts this week. For the third year in a row, The Jewish Journal hosted two Daniel Pearl Fellows in International Journalism. Each year the Pearl Foundation selects journalists from developing countries to spend six months working at an American newspaper. At the end of the fellowship, the journalists spend a week at The Journal. The idea is to get a more rounded insight into American Jewry than what’s available in their home country. Shahid Hussain Shah, a quiet, professorial 29-year-old came to us from The News in Pakistan. Ghanashyam Ojha, 34, a Hindu from Nepal, was the first non-Muslim Pearl Fellow. An editor for the Kathmandu Times, he spent his fellowship at the Berkshire Eagle, the small-town paper where Pearl got his start as a reporter.

So a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew met in Koreatown. Most of our conversations over the course of the week revolved around terror. Shah explained that in his country, terror takes root among a relatively small group of religious extremists whose symbiotic relationship with the military rulers practically ensure the problem will never go away. The terrorists use the Quran to justify acts that about 70 percent of Pakistanis want nothing to do with. Pakistan’s ruling generals use the terrorists and their supporters — just 10 percent of Pakistanis, Shah said — to put pressure on India, the West and domestic critics. An “uncommitted” 20 percent swings for or against the extremists, depending on external factors — what they read about America or Israel, for instance.

Shah was able to parse Pakistan according to its ethnic and political divisions in a way our own press never does. But the bottom line, he said, is that, “Pakistan is not a country with a military dictatorship. It’s a military dictatorship that has a country.”

Until democracy comes to Pakistan, Shah sees little hope for stemming terror.The irony is that if it weren’t for an act of terror of the worst kind, the three of us wouldn’t have gotten together in the first place. The Pearl Foundation has managed to somehow find redemption in an unredeemable act.

But it didn’t occur to me until our last day together that at my prompting the three of us spent far too much time talking about terror and its related issues, and far too little about the other 99.9 percent of the world.

I took them to the original Wilshire Boulevard Temple sanctuary and watched their excitement stepping into a synagogue for the first time. The maintenance men flipped on the lights, and we stood alone in the cavernous, ornate sanctuary, speaking softly in front of the ark. We could talk about other things.

Ohja, the Hindu, had big questions.

“So what,” he asked, “is Judaism?”

The doctrinal differences between the three monotheistic religions were beyond baffling to him. There are 900 million Hindus in the world, adhering to a highly syncretic religion of multiple gods, multiple traditions and numerous texts.

When I explained that Jews don’t believe in Jesus, his obvious next question was very Hindu: “Aren’t there Jews and Christians working together to figure out how they can all believe in Jesus?”

“You see,” Shah said, “It’s not so simple.”

I took them to Cantor’s Deli. The menu has, oh, about 10,000 items.

“What is there to eat?” Ohja asked, again a bit lost.

“Get the lox and bagels,” I said. “It’s the standard thing.”

Shah asked what lox is.

“Smoked salmon,” I answered.

“What’s salmon?”

The food came and I watched Shah take his first bite: smoked fish, cream cheese, bagel. His face contorted in disgust: “What did you say this is?””You can order something else,” I offered.

No one said intercultural understanding was easy.

The next day I was back to terror. I racked up several more chertoffs spending the afternoon hearing … Michael Chertoff. The director of Homeland Security was in town, and I caught up with him at a discussion he held for the Pacific Council on International Policy.His message was twofold:

  • America is under constant threat from a network of world terrorists bent on killing us and destroying our way of life, and
  • Don’t worry too much, we’re on top of this. He urged the audience not to back off in its vigilance or support for anti-terror efforts: “We only make progress … when we become relentless in pursuing them.”

Chertoff is a former prosecutor, judge and the son of rabbi, and his demeanor combines elements of all those professions. His choice of words seems designed to make audiences aware but not anxious, calm but not comfortable.

Several thoughtful analysts, such as James Fallows in The Atlantic, have been writing in recent weeks about the need to call the War on Terror off, to declare victory — there hasn’t been another Sept. 11 since Sept. 11 — treat terror as a law-enforcement problem, and deprive Osama of the high-profile rhetoric and reaction that only raises his profile. But Chertoff dismissed the idea.

“It is a mistake to declare the war over when the other side thinks it’s still fighting,” he said.

What he didn’t say, of course, is that for all our worrying about terror, the chances of anyone of us dying in a terror attack is miniscule: one in a million, according to the RAND Corporation’s Brian Michael Jenkins (I heard him speak earlier — but that’s another column). Every 12 miles you drive in your car puts you at the same level of risk.

On our last day together, I took Ohja and Shah to the Venice Boardwalk. It was a perfect Venice afternoon — sunny and warm, all the potheads, freaks and hucksters just where they should be. The night before, at a public dialogue I led for the Los Angeles Press Club, Shah repeated his statements on the totalitarian nature of his country. We both noticed there were two Pakistani-looking men in the audience who came and left without a word.

“Aren’t you worried about going back?” I asked.

“They want me to be afraid,” he said. “But I can’t. I have the example of Daniel Pearl, and I can’t worry about them.”

The truth is, all my wasted chertoffs are mostly that — a waste. Very few of us are really at risk, and those of us who aren’t would do better supporting those who truly are: the Danny Pearls of the world, people like Jill Carroll and people like Shahid Shah.

Dems and Don’ts

Last Sunday evening, in a Westwood office tower, I sat behind a one-way mirror and watched a group of about 30 voters — half Democrats, half Republicans –respond to images and opinions about Israel’s war in Lebanon.

Pollster Frank Luntz had arranged the session as part of his research to gauge American attitudes toward Israel. Luntz is the Republican opinion maven who helped fashion Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. His work for Israel is nonpartisan, he said, inspired by his devotion to a state whose leaders’ posture has long been that actions speak louder than words. Luntz has been trying to get Israelis to understand that, in the information age, what you do often matters less than what they say about what you do.

The details of what transpired at Luntz’s “Instant Response” session were off-the-record, but I can say that the overall results were as shocking as they were commonplace: the opinion of Israel among the Democrats was consistently 10 to 20 points lower than that of the Republicans.

For the study, respondents watched various Israeli representatives on a television prompter while holding dial devices in their hands. They turned the dial left or right, depending on whether they felt warmer or cooler to the speaker’s words, and the aggregate levels registered as two graph lines across the screen, red for Republicans, green for Democrats.

This research aims to reveal which words and phrases resonate with voters. A speaker who forcefully explained how Israel risks its own soldiers’ lives to present civilian casualties in Lebanon sent both graphs higher than one who simply said the deaths were regrettable.

I kept waiting for the green line — so to speak — to run alongside the red, for the Democrats to feel as cozy to Israel as the Republicans. They never did.The danger signs of such results stretch far beyond a research session. A Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll in late July found, “a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States.”

While 50 percent of that survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to stand by Israel, Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54 percent to 39 percent, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64 percent to 29 percent.

“Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel,” wrote the Times, “while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.”

Two rallies last week drove the point home. On Sunday, the extreme left-wing A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) turned out between 1,000 and 5,000 protestors on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, carrying signs accusing Israel of genocide and blaming “the occupation” for the death of innocent Lebanese. (The occupation of what, Kiryat Shemona?)

Two days before, about 100 protesters blocked the entrance to the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard calling for an end to the war.

Sure, these protesters — who, I’m going to assume, tend to vote Democratic — are not in the party’s mainstream. The mainstream still belongs solidly to people like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who told a group of Arab representatives last week in clear terms that he would never apologize for his support for Israel. And the House of Representatives’ July 21 vote supporting Israel in its war with Hezbollah passed on a 410 to 8 vote.

That’s the way it should be. For most of Israel’s history, America’s support for Israel was the result of a strong bipartisan consensus. It was a Democratic President, Harry Truman, whose recognition helped birth the Jewish state, and politicians from both parties — from John Kennedy to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton — have played key roles in strengthening it. Most historians agree that Israel’s chilliest reception at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. came when a Republican, George H.W. Bush, was president.

Yet the change in attitudes among some Democratic voters has sparked gleeful Republican e-mails and blog entries across the Internet, and provided talking points for any number of GOP hacks. They want to use Israel as a wedge issue to beckon Jewish longtime Democratic voters away from the fold.

But Luntz and others who care about Israel understand this fissure is no cause for celebration, that treating the State of Israel as the equivalent of flag-burning or the morning after pill is dangerous and foolish.

Eventually, inevitably, the pendulum swings. Voters will kick the ruling party to the curb, and Congress, and perhaps even the White House, will go to the Dems. People who truly care about Israel and not about scoring points on Crossfire need to figure out ways to close the gap, to make support for Israel neither Democrat nor Republican, but American.

The challenge is especially great here in Los Angeles, where liberal Jews make up substantially more than a minyan in the entertainment industry. People took Hollywood’s Marranos to task for remaining largely mute when actor Mel Gibson went on his anti-Semitic bender. But Hollywood’s silence has been positively deafening during the war Israel just fought.

A terrorist group invaded Israeli territory, lobbed in thousands of rockets, killed dozens of Israeli citizens and soldiers and emptied the country’s north. And Hollywood Jewry spoke out in a collective voice about as loud as a Prius in neutral.

These Democrats, who have the power to influence public and political opinion, are being carried along in a wave of liberal antipathy toward Israel. Steven Spielberg, who went public with a $1 million donation to support Israeli hospitals and social services affected by the war, is the notable, high-profile exception.

So what’s the solution? Step one is to stop politicizing Israel. Israel and, by extension, world Jewry, faces an enemy in Islamic fascism that hardly differentiates between Jew and non-Jew, much less Republican and Democrat.

Step two is to uncouple support of Israel from support of Bush, or of the Iraq War. As much as the president understands the danger of “Islamo-fascism,” he has greatly fouled our ability to fight that threat by launching and mishandling the war in Iraq and over-politicizing homeland security. But don’t punish Israel for Bush’s sins.

Step three is for Jews of all political stripes to find ways to come together in support of Israel. I suggest a red-and-blue coalition of American Jews lobby hard to eliminate America’s dependency on foreign oil.

“A stable, peaceful and open world order are being compromised and complicated by high oil prices,” wrote Fareed Zakharia in Newsweek. “And while America spends enormous time, money and effort dealing with the symptoms of this problem, we are actively fueling the cause.”

The technology exists to resolve our oil dependency and deprive the worst anti-Israel regimes of their billions in surplus (see “Winning the Oil Endgame” by energy expert Amory Lovins at oilendgame.com), and Jews can come together to spur politicians and corporations to implement it. It’s not red or blue. It’s pro-Israel, and it’s time.

Tallying Success and Failure

As a U.N.-brokered cease-fire takes effect after 33 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, criticism is growing of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s handling of the war.

Some politicians and opinion-makers are calling for his resignation. Israelis are also asking more searching questions: Did Israel win or lose the war? And what are the regional ramifications likely to be?

The strongest attack on Olmert came from the influential journalist Ari Shavit. In a front-page Op-Ed in Ha’aretz titled “Olmert Must Go,” Shavit wrote, “You cannot bury 120 Israelis, keep a million in shelters for a month, erode our deterrent power, bring the next war very close, and then say, ‘Oops, I made a mistake. That’s not what I meant. Pass me a cigar, please.'”

The main arguments Shavit and others make against Olmert are that his decision to go to war was made hastily and without considering all the possible consequences; that he was persuaded into believing that air power alone could do the job; that he was late in ordering the large-scale entry of land forces into Lebanon and left the home front exposed to rocket fire far longer than necessary; and that he did little to alleviate the suffering of people in the North, who were forced to spend more than a month in bomb shelters.

Olmert’s perceived blunders have given the Israeli right a new lease on life. They believe the war has dealt a lethal blow to Olmert’s plans for a major unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

Their argument is that both of Israel’s previous unilateral pullouts — from Lebanon in May 2000 and the Gaza Strip last summer — were perceived by Israel’s enemies as weakness and led to heavy rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from precisely those areas the Israel Defense Forces no longer controlled.

This pattern would be repeated with far worse consequences if Israel withdraws from the West Bank, the right-wingers say.

Some right-wingers believe that without its defining idea of unilateral withdrawal, Olmert’s Kadima Party may start to implode.

Likud Knesset member Yisrael Katz says he expects a sweeping shift in Israeli public opinion that could lead to a major shake-up in Parliament. To make the most of it, he’s urging the Likud to form a parliamentary bloc with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and to bring vote-catching outsiders like the former IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon — tipped as a possible candidate for defense minister — into the Likud.

Katz speaks about a possible reversal of the “big bang” in Israeli politics that led to the formation of Kadima last November and the Likud’s subsequent ouster from power.

“The Likud must take the lead in forming a strong, centrist Zionist alternative opposed to further unilateral moves,” Katz said.

Independent polls show that Olmert’s West Bank “realignment” plan is in trouble. Before the war, it had more than 60 percent support; now, according to a poll by the respected Dahaf Institute, 47 percent of Israelis are in favor and 47 percent against.

Moreover, other polls show that Olmert’s approval rating has plummeted from 75 percent at the start of war to under 50 percent. Worse: Less than 40 percent are satisfied with the way he handled the war, and some polls suggest that if elections were held today, Kadima would crash from 29 Knesset seats to around 16.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are two schools of thought in Israel on the probable regional fallout of the war. Pessimists maintain that the inconclusive fighting with Hezbollah has undermined Israeli deterrence and altered the regional balance of power in favor of Israel’s enemies in Iran and Syria, and that a wider outbreak of fighting is simply a matter of time.

In their view, Syria may be tempted into thinking that by following the Hezbollah model, it will be able to recapture the Golan Heights by force.
Optimists contend that the pounding taken by Hezbollah and Lebanon actually has enhanced Israel’s deterrent capacity, that the regional power balance has shifted in Israel’s favor and that it could create momentum for peace talks with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians.

What ends up happening could depend on the extent to which Hezbollah is able to rearm and whether Iran is able to produce a nuclear weapon. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, on which the cease-fire is based, calls for Hezbollah’s disarmament; Security Council Resolution 1696 urges Iran to stop enriching uranium by Aug. 31 or face possible sanctions.

So far, however, Hezbollah is refusing to hand over its weapons, and Iran’s leaders say they intend to go ahead with their nuclear program.

There are sharp differences of opinion among Israeli pundits over whether Israel won or lost. In a piece headlined “We did not win,” Yediot Achronot analyst Nahum Barnea writes: “Israel goes into the cease-fire bruised, divided and concerned. The question of what happened to Israel in this war deserves a searching debate. In this war Israel was battered, Lebanon was battered and Hezbollah was battered. We naturally focus on the blows we took. And they are not insubstantial. The number of dead, the paralysis of the home front, turning hundreds of thousands of Israelis into refugees, and perhaps the hardest blow of all: the realization that the IDF cannot meet our expectations.”

But on the same page, Barnea’s colleague Sever Plotsker takes a diametrically opposite view. Plotsker describes Resolution 1701 as a major political achievement for Israel, “perhaps one of the most important in its history. It can be summed up in a phrase: Israel and the world against the Hezbollah thugs.”
Winner or loser, it’s clear that Israel has been shaken, and there well could be a state commission of inquiry into the war and the way it was prosecuted, with tough questions for the political and military echelons.

If there is, Olmert — whose term of office began with such promise just more than 100 days ago — will be the main target.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Are Democrats Ready to Return to Power?

The American political system is on the verge of a major change. The Republicans are in danger of losing to the Democrats in the November congressional elections.

affairs will be central to the outcome. Are the Democrats ready for their big curtain call?

The Republicans have invented a phony narrative that Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), defeated in his primary election, is a lonely voice of reason in a party rampant with lunatic bloggers, vicious anti-Semites, haters of Israel and friends of Al Qaeda. Lieberman, ever happy to do the White House’s dirty work, is pushing this story line in his independent campaign.

The White House knows that the real debate on Iraq is between President Bush and Lieberman on one side and the majority of the country on the other. The Democratic electorate, divided on the war a year ago, is now almost unanimous in its opposition.

While the White House story is a fraud, there are foreign policy divisions among Democrats. The Republicans will make the election a referendum on their portrait of these divisions, so Democrats had better be ready.

Democrats can start with an aggressive critique of the oddball “Bush Doctrine” that brought us the Iraq War. Unlike Vietnam, which emerged from assumptions held by president after president, the Iraq War is uniquely the rogue work of one president.

Cheerfully immune to contrary evidence, Bush has pursued a grandiose American destiny to reshape the Middle East. Popular democracy can be imposed by military means, American soldiers will be treated as liberators, the masses in Arab nations are hungering for Western democracy and only the terrorists keep them from joining our team and celebrating Israel. They’ll be so grateful that they will give us their oil at a discount.

The wreckage of Iraq deters Bush’s enthusiasm for his project not one whit. His crew can’t wait to try it out on Iran.

Bush described the horrific events in Lebanon as an “opportunity,” and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice informed us that we were witnessing the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” American presidents, she told us, had coddled dictators in the Middle East. Now, she assured us, those days are gone. In other words, the mess in the Middle East is simply more evidence of the wisdom of Bush’s doctrine.

Bush tells us that lack of democracy is the root cause of the region’s problems. I always thought the root problems were the unwillingness of its neighbors to accept Israel and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. We saw the fruits of Bush’s policy when the United States pushed for immediate Palestinian elections, only to find Hamas winning. What if Hezbollah calls for new elections in Lebanon and wins?

That the Bush doctrine is a catastrophic failure does not automatically turn the exact opposite into wisdom. The symbolic American eagle holds arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. That duality is the key to national leadership. If Democrats can offer a strong foreign policy that is different from the radical Bush doctrine without sliding into a broadly antiwar posture, they will have earned their victory.

A real understanding of Israel’s situation is a key to challenging the Bush doctrine. Democrats can draw on a broad American policy toward the Mideast, from which the Bush doctrine is an avowed aberration. Under Democratic and Republican presidents, American policy has involved strong support for Israel, close ties with moderate Arab regimes and the search for negotiated agreements between Israel and its neighbors.

Despite his strong support for Israel, Bush’s doctrine has not made Israel safer. Is Israel safer today surrounded by a Hamas-led Palestinian territory, an Iraq no longer a counter to a hostile Iran and possibly soon to be an Iranian ally and Arab masses mobilized against the Iraq War?

Just as Republicans are torn by the Iraq War, though, Democrats are less united on the Middle East than they are on Iraq. A Pew Research Center poll found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to unequivocally take Israel’s side, while Democrats were divided between those who favored Israel and those who favored a “balanced” approach. Few in either party picked the “other side.”

Republicans are likely to push hard on this wedge so that it can replace Iraq, a unifying issue for Democrats and a problem among Republicans. Republicans are right now furiously searching the Internet for anti-Israel comments coming from the left.

Despite Lieberman’s self-image as a solo voice, pro-Israel Democrats dominate the national party leadership. They supported Israel’s incursion into Lebanon as an act of self-defense. They are developing the outlines of a Democratic foreign policy.

There are also many Democrats who would rather see an Israel that is less militarily assertive and who believe that diplomacy will provide the best answer. While understanding the reasons for the incursion, they favored an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. They are not traitors, friends of terrorists or anti-Semites.

The weight of the evidence, though, is on the side of the party leadership. The loss of civilian lives in Lebanon is deeply tragic, but Israel isn’t on an adventure like Bush’s Iraq War. Israel is fighting for its life.

Israel lives in a very tough neighborhood. The Israeli policy is blunt, old-fashioned deterrence based on a realistic assessment of its adversaries. While America does not have to support every Israeli action, we should give Israel the benefit of the doubt.

As often seems to happen, the ability to hammer out a successful policy on the Middle East is a metaphor for a party’s whole foreign policy. If the Democrats can return us to an intelligent approach that mixes military strength with forceful diplomacy, that balances the arrows and the olive branch, then they will deserve to not only replace a failed party but to lead the nation.

Northern Israeli Hotels Feel the Pinch

With the fighting along Israel’s northern border showing no sign of letting up, Israel’s most popular summer tourist region has been turned into a battle zone.
Instead of the sounds of kids splashing in swimming pools and canyons, there is a constant booming of artillery shelling and tank fire. Instead of birds quietly hovering in the skies over the Hula Nature Reserve, attack helicopters and fighter jets streak across the sky headed north, into Lebanon.

And instead of hotels in Haifa, Tiberias and Rosh Pina packed with tourists, hoteliers are shutting down operations and turning off the electricity, with a whisper and prayer for peace — and the return of tourists.

“Until this operation is over, we won’t see anyone here, and I can’t say how much time after the war it will take to return to the routine,” said Moshik Givaty, manager of the Rosh Hanikra Tourist Center, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast next to the Lebanese border.

The center, which includes grottos, a cable car, restaurant and historical sites, usually draws 35,000 visitors in July and August. This year it was shut down on the morning of July 12 — shortly after Hezbollah precipitated the crisis by killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two in a cross-border raid — by order of the Israel Defense Forces, which has commandeered much of Rosh Hanikra for military operations.

“Rosh Hanikra is in the conflict zone, and we must be in secured rooms or bunkers,” Givaty explained.

Unless the fighting ends soon, he warned, the summer will be a complete loss.
All across northern Israel, the resorts, hotels and bed and breakfasts that normally are full this time of year are closed or virtually empty.

“We’ve unplugged the fridges and shut off the electricity,” said Yoela Shany, who owns Siesta vacation cottages in Ramot, in the Golan Heights. “This never happened before.”

Dozens of bed and breakfasts in Ramot, a popular vacation village, have been left empty. Three Katyusha rockets have landed in or near town, but so far none has caused casualties or major property damage.

Many hotels in Haifa have closed their doors, and those that remain open have been able to do so only because of the influx of journalists in town.
“Everything fell apart in the second half of the month,” said Shimon Cohen, general manager of Haifa’s Nof Hotel. “For August, we are almost at a 0 percent occupancy rate.”

Tourism in the rest of the country is mostly holding up, but tourism workers all over Israel are worried that their livelihoods may be devastated if the fighting drags on. That, in turn, could wreak havoc on the economy as a whole.

“The situation is very fluid,” said Yonatan Pulik, spokesman for the Tourism Ministry. “There are no significant cancellations on incoming tourists from abroad — yet. Of course, there is damage to internal tourism, particularly in the north.”

There are no statistics available yet, Pulik said, though 2006 had looked like a banner year for tourism in Israel — until three weeks ago.

The economic impact on Israel’s tourism industry already has run into the millions of dollars, but the damage may be limited if the fighting ends quickly.
Tourist industry professionals in places like Jerusalem and Eilat say they’re making up for any cancellations with extra business from people leaving northern Israel — both Israelis and tourists rearranging their itineraries to avoid the conflict zone.

Jamie Salter, a licensed tour guide in Jerusalem, said the conflict’s impact on tourism goes both ways: Some tour guides are making up for canceled gigs by picking up the appointments of fellow Israeli tour guides who have been called away to military reserve duty.

Hoteliers say they haven’t yet suffered the wave of cancellations they saw during the worst years of the intifada, but they warn things will quickly get bad if the fighting doesn’t end soon.

“The situation is stable,” said Rodney Sanders, general manager of Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel. “We have cancellations for the month of July, but there is also pickup from the Jewish organizations that have come to support Israel in this situation.”

In the southern resort town of Eilat, the fighting hundreds of kilometers away might as well be in a different country — except for the northerners who have gone to Eilat to escape the war.

“We are almost entirely full,” said Eytan Loewenstein, spokesman for Isrotel Hotels, which has more than half a dozen hotels in Eilat. “This is normal for July-August, when it is high season for hotels in Eilat. Even if there were a few empty rooms, they’ve been taken up by people arriving from central and northern Israel.”

By comparison, he noted, the Isrotel-owned Carmel Forest Spa Resort, near Haifa, is at 25 percent occupancy at a time of year when it normally is full.
“This is supposed to be the high season, and everything’s empty,” lamented Sara Shavit, who along with her husband owns the Shavit Guest House in Moshav Arbel, just north of Tiberias. “We are in a serious problem. We have no other source of income.”

Is Lebanon Israel’s Iraq?

How is Israel’s security served by the creation of a failed state on its northern border? This is the question that has fallen like a dark shadow across the landscape of stunningly unanimous Israeli, Jewish, and American support for Israel’s ongoing attack on Lebanon. Has Israel truly attacked Lebanon, or has it merely attacked Hezbollah as a terrorist organization operating from within Lebanon? On July 23, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seemed to answer that question for the benefit of his cabinet: “We have no war with the Lebanese people, and we have no intention to harm their quality of life.”

On the same day, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that the Israel’s activity would be limited and was intended to complement “broad international activity to complete the process” of subduing Hezbollah and restoring security along Israel’s northern border.

Ten days earlier, however, as Olmert was launching Israel’s invasion, he had spoken very differently.

“I want to make it clear,” he said. “This morning’s events were not a terrorist attack, but the action of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation. The Lebanese government, of which Hezbullah is a member, is trying to undermine regional stability. Lebanon is responsible and Lebanon will bear the consequences of its actions.”

His targeting Lebanon as a whole rather than only Hezbollah was echoed by Dan Halutz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who said on the same day: “Everything is simple: there are no longer any safe places in Lebanon.”

Whatever the intent of Israel’s attack, its effect has been catastrophic for Lebanon as a whole. Entire neighborhoods of the capital have been reduced to rubble. (Imagine the Upper West Side of New York demolished as a “Zionist stronghold.”) The national airport has been put out of service. Three of every four bridges — more than 50 in all — have been destroyed. Power plants have been blown up. Key roads have been rendered impassable. The beaches have been fouled. Telephone and media transmission centers have been put out of service. More than one out of every six Lebanese has been rendered homeless.

As Prime Minister Fouad Siniora summarized it, “Israel in a matter of five days took Beirut and the whole country 50 years backward.”

Could Lebanon have spared itself this Israeli onslaught by “cracking down” on Hezbollah activity in its southern region? It could have tried, but the price of the attempt would have been a civil war in which Hezbollah might well have been the victor. As the most powerful political and military voice of Lebanon’s Shiite population –at 45 percent, its largest minority — Hezbollah commands not just two seats in the Lebanese cabinet and 14 in the legislature but also outside logistical support from Syria and Iran. The regular Lebanese army enjoys no such support and, to complicate things, includes many Shiites in its ranks.
Hezbollah, a virtually insuperable opponent even for the massively armed Israel Defense Forces, might have made short work of the ill-equipped Lebanese army.

And even supposing no outright Hezbollah victory, the return of civil war in Lebanon — Sunnis and Christians in a tense alliance on one side, Shiites on the other, with endlessly shifting tribal coalitions in between — would have been the return of the very conditions that enabled the Palestine Liberation Organization to operate with impunity from Lebanese soil and prompted the first Israeli invasion a generation ago. In mid-2006, just a year past the “Cedar Revolution” by which Syria was unexpectedly expelled, Lebanon under Siniora has been called the second most democratic state in the region, but it is a weak democracy. Olmert’s invasion may now be turning it into a failed democracy, Israel’s Iraq.

A failed democracy in Lebanon will serve the interests of Syria much as the failed democracy in Iraq is serving the interests of Iran. Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki maintains the diplomatic niceties when dealing with Washington, but Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, speaker of the Iraqi parliament, may be a better clue to the mood of his country.

“The U.S. occupation is butcher’s work under the slogan of democracy and human rights and justice,” al-Mashhadani said on July 22 as Israel was escalating its assault on Lebanon. “Leave us to solve our problems. We don’t need an agenda from outside.”

Similarly, though Siniora expressed more sorrow than anger as he diplomatically declined the peace proposal of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, spoke for much and perhaps most of devastated Lebanon when he served blunt and bitter notice to Rice that her mediation was unwelcome.

Lebanon is on the verge of becoming Israel’s Iraq in another regard as well. Like the Bush Administration, the Olmert Administration has taken major unilateral military action without exhausting lesser and/or nonmilitary alternatives, confident that in the aftermath it will have created if not an overwhelming success, then at least a problem that the international community will have no alternative but to help solve. As Michael Oren, the head of a center-right research institute in Israel put it to the New York Times:

Letters to the Editor

Mideast Situation

I write to you out of deep concern regarding the Bush administration’s failure to meet the challenge of dealing with the violence in the Middle East (Cover Story, July 21).

Secretary of State [Condoleeza] Rice went to Rome with violence raging in southern Lebanon and Gaza, and missiles raining on northern Israel. She left Rome without any plan for improving the situation or preventing further escalation.

The United States held off intervening in this conflict for far too long, with the administration arguing that it would not engage until the moment was right for success. But having decided that the moment had come, and with so much at stake for America, Israel, Lebanon and the entire region, Secretary Rice should have left Rome with something in hand.

We expect more from American diplomacy.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Los Angeles

Standing With Israel

I urge that you seek to maintain Jewish unity in these days of crisis. Deference to the Jewish Left is divisive. Ignore it. You have a job to do to maintain Jewish morale. I’m an octogenerian and I don’t expect to be here too long. Israel must be victorious. I’m expecting to see it. Am Ysroel Chai.

Jerry Green
Los Angeles

Torah Portion

While Rabbi Lisa Edwards is free to reinterpret Leviticus to advocate that which the Bible specifically forbids, it is specious of her to argue that it is “causeless hatred” for Torah-true Jerusalemites to protest the deliberate provocation that her colleagues attempted to foist on the Holy City (“Commemorating Sorrows,” July 28).

One could contend it is “causeless hatred” to foist ones agenda on others.

S. Newman
Los Angeles

Response to Michael Steinhardt

Michael Steinhardt (“It May Be Time to Change Goals, Ideas on Philanthropy,” July 28) suggested that the decline in Jewish philanthropy during that past 20 years is due to a “loss of connection to Jewish roots.”

When I consider this problem and its cause, I think of an address by Dr. Jacob Neusner given at Yale in 2000 (“If Ideas Mattered: The Intellectual Crisis of Jewish-American Life”).

Regarding the problem, Neusner states:

“Having used up the intellectual capital of a half-century ago, American Jewry has run out of ideas. It debates matters of practicality, issues of mere continuity. It argues about how to persuade the coming generation to continue the received enterprise of Jewry, not how to assess the worth and truth of that enterprise.”

Regarding the cause, Neusner states:

“Where does the blame lie? It lies with the rabbinical seminaries that have produced a rabbinate without Torah. The rabbinical schools are somnolent; not much happens in them. The rabbinical seminaries are backwaters, out of the mainstream of contemporary Judaic debate.”

Jews will reconnect to the community if and when our institutions and leaders offer relevant and compelling reasons to do so.

Marsha Plafkin Hurwitz
Los Angeles

Make a Match

I read with interest the July 28 article “Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match” regarding Joseph Hyman’s new Center for Entrepreneurial Philanthropy and its description as both “revolutionary” and charting “a new course.”

Knowing The Jewish Journal endeavors to be a resource to its readers, I was certain you’d want to know that while Hyman’s initiative may be novel or the first of its kind on the East Coast, that’s certainly not the case here on the West Coast. A similar resource has existed locally since 2001 in the form of the Family Foundation Center within the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.Our organization created the center, directed by Susan Grinel, specifically to assist funders — whether they are a donor at the Jewish Community Foundation or not — with maximizing the impact of their philanthropic endeavors.

The center offers comprehensive services and programs that enable funders to identify their charitable passions and prioritize their grantmaking, selecting causes and issues that resonate with them at a personal level. Its educational offerings, provided by national philanthropic experts particularly in the highly topical area of intergenerational giving, enlighten families on how to effectively stimulate and involve their children and grandchildren in charitable pursuits.

In this vein, the center organizes the annual Community Youth Foundation, through which selected high-school students learn how to identify and research worthy charitable programs, conduct field studies and then, as a committee, dispense $10,000 in grants funded by The Foundation.

Perhaps most importantly, since its inception, the center has helped to facilitate the distribution of millions of charitable dollars to causes locally, as well as in Israel, through its advisory work with funders.

I applaud Hyman’s good work. We are only on the forward edge of enlightening, educating and spurring passionate, committed philanthropists to sustain Jewish causes at home and in Israel. Much work still lies ahead.

Marvin I. Schotland
President & CEO
Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

Dodger Dog

Tell Robert Jaffee that his article on Jamie McCourt had an error (“Jamie McCourt Proves She’s an Artful Dodger President,” July 21): Cesar Izturis has been with the Dodgers for more than three years. Remember, it’s “speed and accuracy.”

By the way, does Izturis mean “I have problems” in Yiddish?

Mark Troy
Via e-mail

Mideast Fighting

We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of 4 UN Observers in South Lebanon, and in Ireland we think of the 48 men we lost there in our long commitment from 1978 to 2001, one of whom, Pvt. Kevin Joyce, has never been returned for burial by his Hezbollah kidnappers.

Two points are worth recalling at this point.

Firstly, Canada lost four men in 2002 in Afghanistan due to mistaken fire by a U.S. pilot, and the Israelis have also lost men [in both Gaza and Lebanon] recently at the hands of their own forces. In Ireland, our Gardai in their crack SWAT “Emergency Response Unit” have also known such mishaps, and in Northern Ireland, many such tragic incidents happened, with RUC killing one RUC officer and two army; while the British Army accidentally killed one each from the RUC, RUC Reserve and UDR — and seven of their own. That is 13 such deaths.

These incidents, like many involving civilian losses close to military targets, occur either due to the unavoidable “fog of war,” or to human or equipment failure. However tragic, they are not malicious.

Secondly, the distinguished, recently retired Canadian Maj-Gen Lewis W. Mac Kenzie, 66, a veteran of nine U.N. tours, and U.N. chief of staff in 1992 in Yugoslavia at the time of the Siege of Sarajevo, wrote a book in 1993, “Peacekeeper,” about his experience. He was a friend and former Battalion colleague of the Canadian U.N. Observer who lost his life, and received a recent e-mail from this colleague that Hezbollah were firing from close to that UN post. Such an experienced and senior witness as MacKenzie is indeed credible. That information explains how this tragedy could happen, and also recalls the recent comment of Jan Egeland of the UN about Hezbollah’s “cowardly blending” with the civilians population.

Such abusing of unarmed U.N. Observers, women and children by Hezbollah is not new, and their primary responsibility needs to be fully recognized.

Tom Carew
Dublin, Ireland

I know that some children in Lebanon have been killed and others wounded and for that I am truly sorry. However, I am very tired of hearing about innocent Lebanese civilians. Let’s face the facts. The Lebanese are in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559, which says that the Lebanese government is to dismantle terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Not only was this not done but Hezbollah members were voted into government offices by the “innocent” people.

Even now, when they are having their lives disrupted by the conflict, they support Hezbollah. I have not heard one person being interviewed in Lebanon condemn Hezbollah for starting the conflict. They blame Israel: Israel should have released 1,000 prisoners for the two kidnapped soldiers. Israel should forget about the soldiers and the 17-year-old boy who were murdered by Hezbollah. Israel should not have responded to the rockets being fired into major cities forcing innocent Israelis into bomb shelters and killing and wounding others. Not a word about the fact that Hezbollah started the conflict and is hiding out in populated areas using the Lebanese civilians as shields. How innocent are people who support terrorists?

Tobi Ruth Love
Thousand Oaks

Thank you for the very powerful cover photo of the Israeli soldiers and “moment of truth. (Cover story, July 20). we have copies up in our offices and have made copies for many people. Please God this picture will inspire people to say tehilim (our secret weapon) to help Israel. And, we hope that this cover photo begins a time of more substantive, positive Jewish content in your paper.

Joshua Spiegelman

The dismantling of the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, would be a major blow against global terrorism, rogue states Syria and Iran and possibly even Iran’s nuclear plans. But, if Hezbollah emerges intact as a fighting force, Israel and the global war on terrorism would suffer significantly. Saudi Arabia (and other moderate Arab states) issued a rare condemnation of Hezbollah as they fear the ramifications of it’s strength. Much of the Middle East has been engulfed by Islamic radicalism. Israel must remain strong as Democracy’s bulwark against the tide.

Harry Grunstein

Rabbi Grater

I enjoy your weekly Torah reading and particularly the various interpretations of the text that are given by rabbis of differing denominations. I was very disappointed in last week’s column by Rabbi Joshua Grater who essentially used the Torah as a political attack on the president and his policies (“Power of Vows,” July 21). I feel that this is not appropriate.

The Journal provides many articles about politics from various points of view. For many of your readers, I am certain that this weekly column provides the only, or at least one of few, Torah education opportunities. People who are not knowledgeable are left with the impression that the Torah has given its imprimatur to this rabbi’s politics.

“How can we trust a leader who lies in regard to the highest level of commitment, war and Peace?”

When Howard Dean says this sort of thing, people expect it of him. When a rabbi publicly calls someone a liar in the name of the Torah, this only demeans the status of the rabbinate and the Torah itself in many eyes.

The Sages write that there are 70 “faces” to the Torah, implying that there are many ways to interpret the written word. I would not like to see your usually excellent column be lowered to the level of “dueling rabbis.” Your readers are, for the most part, well-educated and intelligent. The rabbi should make his point and let the reader draw his own conclusions. Let’s try to use the Torah as a unifying force in our community rather than a divisive one and save the politics for columns that are labeled “Political Commentary” rather than “Torah Portion.”

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

It seems that Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater should take his own counsel. In his article he writes that he and his wife are trying to teach their children the power of words, both positive and negative, and “the power of the word is what matters here.” Yet just a few paragraphs later he libels our public leaders.

As a rabbi, he is undoubtedly aware of the Jewish prohibition against lashon hara, including the injunction against speaking negatively about someone, even when true. When I reflected back on his article after having read it the first time, I thought that he had made the statement, “Bush lied.” It was only after rereading that I discovered that those words were not part of what he had written, though the message was so clear that my memory told me otherwise.

He continued by stating that the federal government made false promises during the Katrina Crisis, and bragged about the local Board of Rabbis of Southern California. So what’s so wrong with people taking care of people? We certainly can’t expect the federal government to do it all. That is the beauty of communities, with people helping people.

  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a Jew.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a leader.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, and especially inappropriate for a Jewish leader.

Rebecca J. Evers
North Long Beach

Falash Mura Wait and Hope

I pulled my rubber-duck-yellow poncho over my head and trudged through the dirt of the open sewage and trash in the shantytown, trying to breathe through my mouth. I was in Ethiopia with my mother and a mission from United Jewish Communities (UJC) and I could smell the people’s desperation for a new life in the holy place of Jerusalem.

My eyes were opened so wide by seeing what is going on in Ethiopia that they almost ripped. I saw Ethiopian Jews living a life that no one should ever have to bear, Jewish or not, with disease, lack of food and obvious poverty.

Most of the more than 20,000 Ethiopian Jews left in Ethiopia today are Falash Mura, people whose families were converted to Christianity about 100 years ago, but who still identify as Jews. The Israeli government for years has been wavering on whether they are real Jews and should be brought to Israel, even though most have family there. Today there are about 85,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, including about 20,000 who were born there.

Starting in the 1970s, thousands of Ethiopian Jews walked from their villages through the Sudan, hoping to find a way to Jerusalem. Some of them died along the way from sickness and exhaustion. More than 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in Operation Moses in 1984, but still thousands of the community were left with just bubbles of hope back in Gondar. There were 3,000 Falash Mura among the 15,000 Ethiopian Jews who were airlifted to Israel in Operation Solomon in 1990, but the Israeli government sent the Falash Mura back to compounds in Addis Ababa because they weren’t considered “real Jews.”

I wonder how any country, especially Israel, which has suffered so much, can turn away children who could turn out to be doctors, teachers and the world’s next best politicians, and send them not back to their villages in Gondar but to compounds covered in the gray blanket of rain clouds in Addis Ababa, where they don’t have any of their belongings or money to survive.

Falash Mura who are still in the compounds of Addis Ababa or their villages in Gondar are waiting to see what’s over the rainbow — and that place is Israel.
My group went to one of the compounds in Addis Ababa, where we saw the clinics and met the main doctor, Rick Hodes, who inspired and motivated me more than anyone or anything. He has spent more than 20 years helping the sick and needy in Ethiopia.

I thought that doing a four-day mission should make me a good person, but he has devoted his whole career and life to helping, including adopting 12 children himself — and only one fully healthy. He studied at Johns Hopkins and could have lived a well-off life in America. But instead, he chose the path of living in Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Jews, where he could be their doctor, a friend and a part of their lives.

In Addis Ababa, we went to see some one-room, square huts that housed five people. I stepped into an old woman’s hut and saw the dilapidated, stained walls with no light, straw mattresses and the few reed-woven goods that were the fiber of her life. But what really caught my eye was one picture frame crammed with five or six little shots of family members that had made it to Israel.

The old woman sitting on the coarse, straw mattress said that she had been told that she could go to Israel because she has family there. She left all of her belongings in Gondar and went to live with nothing in Addis Ababa. She has been waiting for nine years. I asked the translator to ask her who had told her to go to Israel. The old woman said in Amharic, “God.”

An early one-hour flight to Gondar took us to one of the places where families are interviewed to determine if they are eligible to go to Israel. As I was looking around the room, my mom pointed to a little box filled with passport photos. The box, coincidentally, had the word “lucky” in bold red printed on the side. Those passport photos were of the lucky Falash Mura, those chosen to go Israel, as they believe God intended for them.

The last day, before we went back to Israel with about 50 new immigrant Falash Mura, we stopped at the Israeli Embassy and passed by crowded rooms with classes on how to flush toilets, use refrigerators and what the plane is going to be like.

When the UJC group met at the Addis Ababa airport for our 2:30 a.m. flight, we saw all of the Ethiopian families in their finest white dresses and the little boys in gray suits they had picked up at the embassy. One member of our group brought a Polaroid camera and gave the families pictures of themselves on the day their hopes became reality.

Once we were settled on the plane, these families were reserved and quiet. If they had any fear it was bottled inside. The wheels levitated into the clouds, and only a few of the children giggled, and maybe one baby cried.

When we landed, all of the UJC members walked nonchalantly out of the exit. But as we watched, the Falash Mura came out of the plane — the women modestly enveloped in their white scarves — and when each of them reached the tarmac, they kissed the ground, almost throwing themselves to the pavement. They had gone over the rainbow. They had reached Israel.

Sophia Kay is 15 and attends The Archer School for Girls.

To learn more about Ethiopian Jews, visit the julief@jewishjournal.com.

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

Commemorating Sorrows

“Every head is ailing, and every heart is sad” (Isaiah 1.5).
We read these words in this week’s haftarah for Shabbat Khazon (Sabbath of Vision),
the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. The words seem especially poignant and true these past few weeks, as we watch in angst as events unfold in Israel, Lebanon and Gaza.

A friend recently sent me an e-mail that she and her family will return, weeks early from their summer sojourn in Jerusalem. Not a good sign for those of us waiting to see if we’ll be able to depart for Jerusalem as scheduled on July 30.
A group of my congregants and I have been planning for a year to join thousands of others in Jerusalem for WorldPride, an interfaith gathering of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people and our allies from all over the world for a week of learning, celebrating and seeking unity and peace in the City of Peace. The WorldPride planners had been expecting more than 10,000 people to join them in Jerusalem — that is, until fliers inciting violence against gays and lesbians appeared earlier this month in Jerusalem and until the outbreak of violence between Israel and Hezbollah.

No doubt by Aug. 6, even if the weeklong event is not canceled, the actual numbers will be much smaller (as will the numbers of other visitors), and the first verse of the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), the reading for Tisha B’Av, will ring true once again: “Eicha — How does the city sit solitary, that once was filled with people” (Eicah 1:1).

Eicha is an elegy, a lamentation, for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. The word “eicha” means “how,” and it works similarly as a lament in English, as in, “How could Israel be in such straits? How could this be happening?”

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, Moses speaks to the next generation, the ones about to cross the border without him into the Promised Land. He reminds them of what their parents did at this same border 38 years before, how their parents let their fear overtake their faith; how the reports of 10 of the 12 scouts discouraged them and angered God enough to condemn all but two of that whole generation to die in the wilderness, rather than enter the land.

God’s punishment for their faintheartedness is the first communal sadness of many that Jews commemorate on the fast day of Tisha B’Av. Surely it is not coincidence that on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av we are reminded of our reluctant ancestors, the ones Moses quotes here 38 years after the fact:
“Whither are we going up? Our kinsmen have made our hearts melt [with fear], saying: ‘The people [there] are greater and taller than we are; the cities are huge, fortified as high as heaven, and also sons of Anakim [giants] we saw there” (Devarim 1:28).

Other sorrows we commemorate on Tisha B’Av include the destructions of the Temples in Jerusalem. The Talmud tells us the destruction of the Second Temple occurred “because therein prevailed hatred without cause” (Yoma 9b). How ironic, how painful to hear threats of physical violence against attendees of WorldPride, who come to Jerusalem in friendship, with respect for all its inhabitants and appreciation for all the religions that call Jerusalem home.

The medieval commentator Rashi notes that the word chazon (“vision”), which gives name to this Shabbat before Tisha B’av, is also used by the prophet Habakkuk when he comforts the Children of Israel with the words ki od khazon la-mo’ed (“There is yet a vision of a joyous occasion”), Habakkuk 2:3. Thus, says our sage, even as Jews begin this period of grief, we also envision the sadness turning to happiness, for we know that is the course life tends to take (see Rashi on Habakkuk 2:3).

As I write, we are still waiting for final words of warning or of welcome from Jerusalem. “Whither are we going up?” If we go up to Jerusalem, we go in hope that we will be seen for who we are — not scary “others,” not enemies, but peace-seeking people created, like all people, in the image of God.
We go to join our voices together, to learn together, to be together. We go in hope that Jerusalem might no longer be torn apart by “causeless hatred,” but will instead become a City of Peace.

Our ancestors — those who came out of Egypt — lacked the ability to envision shalom v’simcha in the land, but year after year as we read Devarim, Moses stands with the next generation inviting them — inviting us — to make a different choice from our frightened ancestors, reminding us that even in the midst of worry and sadness, anger and fear, we might yet be able to stand at the border, look toward the Promised Land and see before us “a vision of a joyous occasion.”

Let us all keep that vision before us as we go toward Jerusalem, toward one another, toward peace.

Lisa A. Edwards is rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles.

Iran’s War on Israel


The border raid by Hezbollah that sparked swift and strong Israeli military reaction in southern Lebanon was not only an act of war by Hezbollah, but an act of war by
proxy by Iran. It is inconceivable that such a provocative act could have been undertaken without the knowledge and approval of people at the highest levels of Iran’s government.

The warfare was even foreshadowed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in a burst of inflammatory rhetoric warned in advance that Israel would be hit by an “explosion” of Muslim anger.

“The fury of Muslim nations is getting more intense,” Ahmadinejad said. “It is likely to reach an explosion point soon. If this day arrives, the shockwaves of this blast will not be restricted within our regional boundaries and will strike the supporters of this fake regime.”

The day after the Iranian president uttered those words, the attack was launched by the Hezbollah terrorist organization that Iran founded and funds.

Congress rightly has condemned Hezbollah for “engaging in unprovoked and reprehensible armed attacks against Israel on undisputed Israeli territory.” The House passed a resolution by a vote of 410 to 8 supporting “Israel’s right to defend itself, including the right to conduct operations in Israel and in the territory of nations which pose a threat to it.”

Hezbollah, Hamas and Ahmadinejad have all declared that their policy is the destruction of Israel. They advocate the ethnic cleansing of 5 million Israeli Jews. They advocate genocide. In their quest for peace, Israeli leaders have made concessions, but now the terrorists are using the very territory from which Israel has withdrawn to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible. Israel withdrew from Gaza, and now kidnappers and missiles come from Gaza into Israel. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, now kidnappers and missiles come into Israel from southern Lebanon.

The Israelis must know that when they vacate a territory, it will not be used as a rocket-launching pad against Israel, and that if it ever is, that Israel will have the full support of the United States. We all want peace, but we cannot have peace; we cannot have any Israeli territorial concessions unless Israel knows that those concessions will be met with goodwill, not missiles.

There are some who say the Israeli reaction has been “disproportionate.” It cannot be overstated that the recent outbreak of warfare was not simply a reaction to one event. The truth is that there have been five kidnapping raids and hundreds of missiles fired during six years of attacks. If anyone is going to say that Israel’s reaction is disproportionate, let them say that Israel is doing too little.

There also are those who have called for a cease-fire. I hope we get there soon. But this all started with rockets and kidnapping, and it would be a phony cease-fire unless the soldiers are returned, and unless Hezbollah is disarmed as required by U.N. Resolution 1559.

There are those who talk of prisoner exchanges, but we should not tell Israel to exchange the guilty for the innocent. Some have called for the release of women and minors held in Israeli prisons. Yet is it clear that terrorist organizations have increasingly used minors and women to perpetrate suicide attacks. It was, after all, a woman who was arrested in 2001 for helping to carry out the bombing of a pizza restaurant in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including seven children. It is also the stark reality that teenagers have been caught carrying pipe bombs and attempting suicide attacks. Should Israel release those who would resume their terror?

World opinion matters in the Middle East. We should step up our efforts to help our friends in Israel. The United States should spearhead diplomatic efforts to isolate the terrorists who have targeted Israel. We should call every major ambassador from Europe and demand that Europe list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. We should insist that European governments prevent their residents from sending money to Hezbollah. Finally, we must demand that the World Bank stop making concessionary loans aid to Iran, the source of the money and the missiles that Hezbollah is firing on Israeli civilians.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is a senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and the ranking Democrat on its International Terrorism and Nonproliferation Subcommittee.

Abnormal Normality Rules

My concerned daughter in Los Angeles called me in Israel last weekend, shortly before my trip back home after a vacation there. I told her, truthfully, that I had justenjoyed the most idyllic and peaceful weeks of my long life.

Come again? Didn’t I know that there was a war on, with missiles falling on Haifa and near the Gaza Strip and that experts were predicting a regional conflict, she asked.

Had I been holed up in a Dead Sea cave looking for missing scrolls?Well, not really. What I was experiencing, as I have many times before, was a confirmation of what I have modestly dubbed Tugend’s Law: The perception of a crisis intensifies in direct proportion to the distance from its actual occurrence.

That’s not because the sensation-hungry media invents or even exaggerates the facts on the ground. Rather, what readers and listeners in distant lands lack are the geographical and emotional frameworks to place the facts into their proper context.

A story from the early 1960s illustrates the point. A family had two branches, one living in Tel Aviv, the other in the northern corner of sprawling Los Angeles County.

“Stay if you must…”

When news of a border incident with Egypt got a prominent play in the U.S. press, the Californians cabled their Tel Aviv relatives, “Stay if you must but send the children here for safety.”

A year later, when the Watts Riots exploded in Los Angeles, about 50 miles from where the American family lived, they received a wire from their panicked Israeli relatives, who urged, “Stay if you must, but send the children here for safety.”

One more story. After the War of Independence ended in 1949, I decided to work a couple of months in a left-wing kibbutz before returning to the United States.One day, I fell into conversation with a highly intelligent Israeli kibbutznik, who assured me that he would never visit the United States. When I asked why, he matter-of-factly informed me that it was far too risky to visit a country where — as everybody knew — gangsters were continually gunning down innocent people in the streets and lynched Negroes were hanging from every other lamppost.

OK, here’s a short report on my Israel stay. It started shortly after the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier near the Gaza Strip triggered the fighting and ended a few days after Israeli planes pounded targets in Lebanon and missiles fell on Haifa and northern Israeli towns.

My Jerusalem-born wife, Rachel, and I came mainly for a long-planned family reunion of her extended mishpachah, accompanied by three of our grandchildren, ages 1 to 6, and their parents.

Rachel’s family, the Spitzers, is extraordinarily fecund, Baruch HaShem, and at the grand reunion at the Living Museum Ein Yael, adjoining the Jerusalem zoo, we were welcomed by 85 sabra relatives, spanning three generations and all political opinions.

We had had long dinners and conversations with many of them, as well as old friends, during the preceding week, complemented by interviews with political scientists and journalists, so we had a built-in sample of the Israeli citizenry. Admittedly, they were well-established middle-class types, and we would probably have drawn a wider spectrum of views had we talked to new immigrants or struggling Israelis.

The warmth and openness of the vast Spitzer clan made our trip but so did our decision to go for broke this time and take up residence at the Sheraton Moriah in Tel Aviv. This hotel offers some major amenities. One is a bracing saltwater swimming pool. Another is the nearby Panorama restaurant, with generous portions of Israeli specialties.

“We felt that we were as close to heaven as we were likely to get…”

Best of all, we scored rooms with balconies, directly facing the Mediterranean and its beaches, bustling with swimmers, joggers, bicyclists, dancers, lovers, indefatigable matkot (paddle ball) players and patrons who jammed restaurants well past midnight. Watching all that under a glorious Mediterranean sunset, we felt that we were as close to heaven as we were likely to get, despite warnings of a stealth invasion — by jellyfish.

What surprised us was that the soldier’s kidnapping near Gaza and the Israeli retaliation did not break the mood or stir up our Israeli relatives and friends. Rather, they appeared surprised by our questions and concerns about “another incident down at the border.”

The disconnect between the global headlines and the bland reaction — if any — among the Israelis is rooted into two major attitudes we were told over and over again.

One is a preoccupation with personal and family concerns, the other the need for a certain emotional distance in a society constantly beset by political and military crises.

Maya Bar-Tov, the bright and attractive daughter of a cousin and a university student in geophysics, reflected the opinion of other young Israelis when she said, “We live our own lives. We may talk a little about politics once in a while, but it gets boring and we turn to something else.”

The sense of national familyhood still exists at some level, but in a weaker form than at the country’s creation, when Israel had one-tenth its current population.

A grandson of my wife’s sister put it bluntly. “I live in an apartment house where my neighbor may be a Russian, Ethiopian, Orthodox or Iranian. What do I have in common with them?”

Accept “abnormal normality — or go crazy”

A sense of emotional remoteness from headline reports is Israel’s “abnormal normality — otherwise you go crazy,” said Uri Dromi, a retired air force colonel, former emissary to Los Angeles and now a director of the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

In a recent international poll measuring the happiness quotient of citizens in various countries, Israel ranked near the very top, certainly a surprise for a nation and peoplehood famed for their eloquent complainers.

Yet, nearly every relative and friend I met agreed with the poll results. They cited good economic conditions, close ties to family and comrades and a rock-bottom faith that the nation would survive.

As for the likelihood of peace, real peace, a friend guessed it would take several generations. Another sneered at such wild optimism.”At least another 200 years,” she said.

Effects of Fighting Will Be Felt Throughout Region

Fighting in the ongoing Israeli-Hezbollah standoff has been confined to two of the Middle East’s smallest countries, but the outcome could have major strategic implications for the region as a whole.

The dismantling or severe weakening of the Shiite terrorist group would be a major blow against global terrorism, rogue states Syria and Iran and possibly even Iran’s nuclear plans, Israeli analysts maintain. But, they warn, if Hezbollah emerges intact as a fighting force, Israeli prestige and the global war on terrorism could suffer significant setbacks.

In the Israeli view, time is of the essence: If the international community does not allow Israel the time it needs to finish the job, the result could be a strategic defeat, analysts say, adding that Washington’s position on the timeframe will be crucial.

The intensive Israeli bombing of Lebanese infrastructure and Hezbollah targets was triggered by Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers July 12 in an ambush in which eight other soldiers were killed.

The government decided it could no longer tolerate a situation in which the Shiite terrorist group uses its 14,000 rockets to intimidate Israel and make cross-border raids with impunity, confident Israel will avoid sharp retaliation for fear of rocket attacks on its civilian population.

Israel Government Rationale: Change the Rules of the Game

The aim of Israel’s tough military response was to change the rules of the game, Defense Minister Amir Peretz declared last week, adding that Israel would not allow Hezbollah terrorists to return to their border positions or continue to use rockets to threaten Israel.

But there is much more at stake. One of the unstated goals of the operation is to restore Israel’s deterrent capacity: When the dust settles, will Israel be perceived as the fragile spider’s web Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah likens it to, or as a regional superpower, capable of setting the Middle Eastern agenda? The strong air force response was intended to send the second message.

Some analysts put the stakes even higher, and see in Israel’s fight against Hezbollah the front line in the West’s battle against global terrorism.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya’acov Amidror, a former head of research in military intelligence, identifies three strategic gains that would ensue from Hezbollah’s military demise: The capacity of Israel’s enemies to produce terrorism would be significantly reduced; Lebanon would become a truly democratic country, a cornerstone in American efforts to democratize the Middle East; and, most important, the West’s campaign to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power would receive a major boost.

“The Iranians use Hezbollah to threaten that if anyone takes action against their nuclear program, the Middle East will burn,” Amidror said. “Therefore, depriving Hezbollah of its firepower will have a major impact on the struggle to prevent the creation of a nuclear Iran.”

But will the Iranian mullahs allow Israel to achieve such a significant strategic victory? Amidror believes that, for now, there’s little they can do about it.

“The great thing about the situation today is that Iran doesn’t have the capacity to influence what Israel does or doesn’t do in Lebanon. This may not be the case in a few years’ time, so there is wide global interest to allow Israel to act freely in Lebanon before it is too late,” he maintained.

In an interview on Israel Radio, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy took a similar view.

“What is happening in the North is an indirect confrontation between Israel and Iran,” he argued. “It will have an impact on the entire Middle East and on the positions and prestige of many regional players. The more clear-cut and significant the Israeli victory, the greater the positive ramifications will be.”

Hezbollah’s decisive defeat would reverberate in Gaza and Tehran. Analysts say that images of destruction in Lebanon could dampen Palestinian terrorist morale and signal to Iran the kind of fate that might be in store for it if it continues to defy the West on the nuclear issue.

International conditions for Israeli action have never been more favorable. In the post-Sept. 11 world, Hezbollah is isolated in the international community. Even Arab countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan blamed the group’s “irresponsibility,” rather than Israel, for the current crisis.

Moreover, Syrian troops are no longer in Lebanon, having left after last year’s assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. And recognizing their interest in striking a blow against global terror and Iran’s long terrorist arm, members of the G8 industrial nations meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, issued a joint communique Sunday that seemed to give Israel more time to act.

Mofaz: “Two weeks to achieve results”

Former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz estimated Monday that it would take about another two weeks to achieve a decisive result.

The endgame will depend on the military results on the ground and just how much of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket capability Israel is able to destroy. It also will depend on whether Israel feels compelled to send in ground forces to nullify Hezbollah’s remaining rocket power. For now, Iran and Syria are sending Hezbollah messages encouraging it to stand firm.

In a Knesset address Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined Israel’s public conditions for ending the crisis: return of the kidnapped soldiers, an end to Hezbollah rocket fire and the deployment of Lebanese army forces along the border with Israel.

These three conditions are likely to morph into a demand for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 of September 2004, which calls for the dismantling of all Lebanese terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.

The question is whether Hezbollah will be weak enough after the fighting for the Lebanese government, with help from the international community, to be able to impose that kind of solution.

Will Hezbollah terrorists agree to be incorporated into the Lebanese army? And will Israel agree to the dispatch of a multinational force to patrol the border and help impose a cease-fire?

For Israel, the optimal solution would be Hezbollah transformed into a solely political organization, the central Lebanese government in control of all armed forces and a positive modus vivendi between Jerusalem and Beirut.

But, even if the IDF achieves a decisive military victory, it may have to make do with less. Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian patrons will do all they can to prevent the group from being stripped of its military power, no matter how the fighting ends.

Far From Home

Amotz Zakai is vice president of production and manager at Echo Lake Productions, an independent film company that has produced films like “Tsotsi” and “Water.” Needless to say, Zakai is very busy right now.

But when the 33-year-old Israeli American dual citizen heard about the fighting in Israel, he immediately called his army commander to see if he should return to Israel to serve.

For Zakai, who served for four years as a lieutenant in the artillery division of the Israel Defense Forces, the battle in Lebanon is especially significant, because he fought there between 1991 and 1995 — and lost three friends.
“When I was in Lebanon we thought we’d rather be killed than be captured, so to go back down there is not a good situation,” Zakai said.

Going back into Lebanon, he said “is the most horrible thing we could do but because of the terror, we must do it.”

“It’s hard to see your people suffer when you’re out here in Beverly Hills”

Zakai and his wife are expecting their first child, and his wife, who used to be a sniper in the Israeli military, does not want him to serve. But he still may go to Israel, with thoughts of volunteering for the army spokesman’s division. “My family is there and it’s hard to see your people suffer when you’re out here in Beverly Hills.”

L.A.-based demographer Pini Herman estimates that 30,000 Israelis live in Los Angeles, although others claim there are as many as 150,000. And while for most it’s not a question of army service — citizens abroad are rarely called up — it’s a question of ties to the homeland. Most Israelis here still have family in Israel, many of whom are now under siege.

“I’m petrified,” said Iris Mertzel, a software engineer who lives with her American-born husband and baby in Sherman Oaks. Mertzel, 30, moved to Los Angeles six years ago, but she grew up in Nahariya, a Northern city hit hard by Katyusha rockets.

“I see it on the news, the Katyushas hitting the place I grew up, and I’m just really scared,” she said.

Mertzel was 6 during the Lebanon war, and she remembers sleeping in bomb shelters.

“We’re used to being hit, but never with such intensity,” she said.
She is in constant contact with her family — her parents, grandparents, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins are still there. Many friends have evacuated, and her uncle went to Tel Aviv, but most of her family is staying.

“They won’t leave their homes”

“They don’t know when it’s going to end, and they don’t want to leave their homes,” she said.

For some people, it seems harder to be here watching than it is there.
“I’m more worried than they are,” Gal Shor, editor-in-chief of Israeli newspaper Shalom L.A., said of his parents and siblings and their children, who live in Kibbutz Yir-On in the Northern Galilee, where Shor grew up.

“We’re too small to try and hit us,” his father told him.

His family is used to the situation — a terrorist once walked over from Lebanon and blew up a small bomb in their house, killing no one.

Shor said everyone in the Israeli community here is worried and constantly watching Israeli TV or listening to the Israeli radio (www.kol-israel.com). But travel to Israel continues unabated. Many people from Los Angeles were already in Israel when the conflict started. This summer was slated to be a record high of tourism for Israel.

“The economy is better, and it was calm until two weeks ago, and it looked like a nice summer until what happened happened,” Shor said. He doesn’t believe that many people will cancel scheduled trips.

There is a Hebrew word for such stiff-necked pride, davka, which means “in spite of the fact,” with an in-your-face connotation. That’s how Shikma Geffon feels about her trip, which has been planned for months.

“Morally, I feel like I have to be there”

“When I heard what was going on, I wanted to go more,” said Geffon, a religious-school teacher who is studying for her master’s in psychology.
“Morally, I feel like I have to be there,” she said, adding that she is considering volunteering, maybe to work with children, using her teaching and psychology skills. “When your home is being attacked, you want to be there, you don’t want to feel out of the picture.”

But some people have to consider their national pride versus their family situation. Dalit Shlapobersky, 37, a film translator in West Hollywood who has lived in America for 10 years, debated with her husband about whether she should travel to Israel with their two kids as planned on July 20.

“We’ve been thinking about it all the time. Part of our family [in Israel] says come, part says don’t come,” she said. “Not going is a statement that we don’t belong anymore, and going is a sign of solidarity that although we’ve been there for 10 years, we’re still Israeli.”

And yet, with two children, she wasn’t sure. Her son, 11, is just back from Habonim Dror camp, a Zionist camp here, where he heard about what was going on in Israel, and he still wanted to go. Her daughter, 5, keeps asking about the situation, wanting assurance that the conflict is not where they are going to be. (They will be in central Israel.)

“I have mixed feelings, Shlapobersky said. “As an Israeli, I don’t want to be afraid. And on the other hand, I don’t want to do something stupid out of pride.”

In the end, as of press time, she had decided to go.

Stay in USA or Return to Israel?

For some Israelis, it’s not about whether or not to go visit, but whether to go back. Betzalel Engelberg’s mother came to America in May, and was supposed to leave Sunday for Haifa.

“She was not that easygoing about it, but we all persuaded her to stay,” said Engelberg, who worked with his two siblings in Israel to convince their mother to stay in America.

“I hope that within less than a month it will be easier to go,” said Engelberg, who has lived in America for 26 years and works in oil production. At the end of the summer his niece has a wedding planned. “If they are not changing the plans to have the wedding, I’m not going to change my plans about going.”

Keeping up with routines is one defense that Israelis — both in Israel and in America — have always used to fight terror. “Israelis are very good about dealing with routine in the midst of craziness,” said Oren Rehany, an actor and writer who works here at CinemaNow.com, an online pay-per-view movie web site.

“The purpose of terrorism and war is to disrupt routine and normal life. When you don’t give these people what they want, that’s part of the psychological retaliation. The message that comes across is you’re not going to disrupt our lives. You’re not going to ruin what we’ve established.”

Rehany’s father lives in Nahariya, his sister lives in Haifa and his mother in Tel Aviv. “Every single person of my family that I’ve spoken to is doing just that — nobody is evacuating or stopping to work or sitting home all day. And I’m proud of them.”

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

Ghanaian Kicks It Up for Israel Fans

World Cup viewers were confronted with more than one big surprise on Saturday when Ghana defeated the Czech Republic 2-0 in what was perhaps the greatest upset of the tournament so far. The second shocker came when Ghanaian defender John Pantsil pulled an Israeli flag out of his sock during Ghana’s celebrations of its two goals.

The gesture has been greeted by an array of reactions all over the world. While some call Pantsil, a religious Christian, a hero, others say he acted with na?veté and foolishness.

But Pantsil, who isn’t Israeli, told one Israeli sports Web site that his actions were motivated by good-hearted intentions: “I love the fans in Israel. I have played at Hapoel [Haifa] and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and the fans always made me happy so I wanted to make them happy.”

Pantsil is one of three Ghanaian players who play in the Israeli Premier League.

The Ghanaian Football Association issued an apology on Monday in response to outrage in the Arab world caused by Pantsil’s action: “He is obviously unaware of the implications of what he did. He’s unaware of international politics,” Randy Abbey, spokesman of the Ghanaian FA, said at a press conference.

“We apologize to anybody who was offended and we promise that it will never happen again. He did not act out of malice for the Arab people or in support of Israel. He was naïve.”

But FIFA, the organization that runs the World Cup, said that it had no problem with Pantsil’s actions.

Meanwhile, Israeli Sports Minister Ofir Pines-Paz has been quoted as saying, “We have an Israeli at the World Cup. Pantsil’s gesture has warmed our hearts and many Israelis have now become supporters of Ghana.”


Let Us Work to Rid World of A-Weapons

The threat of nuclear weapons is once again a part of the American consciousness. Terrorist groups are seeking to acquire unsecured weapons and mercurial nations like Iran and North Korea want to join the nuclear club. Military experts warn of the possibility of a nuclear strike on an American target within the next 10 years.

What are we to do? How should the American Jewish community respond to these developments?

Earlier this spring, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin — one of the great religious activists of the 20th century — died. From his deathbed, Coffin convened a group of national religious leaders to help revitalize the nuclear disarmament movement.

I joined Faithful Security because I believe that it is sinful to live in a world in which human beings can destroy God’s creation in a matter of minutes. In the Book of Genesis, God places Adam in the Garden of Eden in order that he should “till and tend” (2:15) the land.

Responsible stewardship of the earth is an obligation that applies to all human beings. While I am not so naive as to think that we will achieve nuclear abolition any time soon, to strive for it is, I believe, a religious duty.

There are several steps that can be taken to reduce the threat of a nuclear catastrophe and to move toward the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons:


• Lock Down: World leaders must work more diligently at locking down the many loose nuclear weapons and materials scattered across the world. At present, only 40 percent to 50 percent of the weapons in the former Soviet Union have been secured.

Russia, with assistance from the United States, must complete this task as soon as possible. I shudder at the thought of Al Qaeda or some other rogue group obtaining an unsecured weapon or nuclear materials. As former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said in 2004, “We are in a race between catastrophe and cooperation.”

A related security concern is the fact that today, the presidents of the United States and Russia have only a few minutes to decide whether to launch a nuclear attack based on early warning signals. A false warning could lead to a global calamity. This is particularly frightening, because the Russian signal system has eroded since the end of the Cold War. To defuse this situation, all nuclear powers should remove their weapons from hair-trigger alerts.


•Reduce: Instead of keeping thousands of weapons in service or storage, the United States and Russia should dismantle them. When these stocks reach a few hundred each, other countries like Britain, France and China should follow suit.

In this context, we must also consider at what point Israel might join this initiative. The time has come for Israeli and American Jewish leaders to discuss this issue in an open and honest manner. Even if we believe that Israel has no choice but to maintain its nuclear weapons program for years to come, doing so is clearly a necessary evil — one that as Jews, we cannot live with forever.


• Freeze: World leaders must place a permanent ban on the development of new nuclear weapons. Again, the United States and Russia must lead by example. How can we possibly dissuade countries like Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons if we continue to expand our arsenals?

Such hypocrisy only serves to further motivate non-nuclear states to develop their arms. To quote Coffin, “Mahatma Gandhi once said that a fat person cannot speak persuasively to a skinny person about the virtues of not overeating.”

For those who have grown cynical and do not believe that we can have an impact on the nuclear weapons debate, consider the fact that in 2005, various secular and religious groups lobbied successfully to eliminate funding from the federal budget for the “bunker buster” — a weapon 70 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

During this moment of renewed danger, let us recommit ourselves to the core Jewish values of peace and justice by working to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction. “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).

Rabbi Or N. Rose, director of informal education at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, is a founding member of Faithful Security,

Cease-Fire Tottering

A 16-month cease-fire by several terrorist factions is faltering after members of a Palestinian family were killed in an explosion on a Gaza beach, providing the sternest test yet of the new security doctrine Israel forged after last year’s Gaza withdrawal.

The terrorist cease-fire was never absolute, and various Palestinian groups broke it when it suited them, citing a variety of grievances. But Hamas, which has refrained from attacks on Israel since it declared a truce early in 2005, now is threatening non-stop bombardment of the southern Israeli border town of Sderot — and a renewal of its suicide bombing campaign.

In response, Israel is considering a large-scale assault on the coastal strip, short of the introduction of ground forces. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has warned that Hamas leaders, no matter how high up in the Palestinian Authority hierarchy, will be targeted if they are seen to be promoting terrorism in any way.

In a meeting of top army brass Sunday, Peretz resisted calls for immediate action and decided to give the Palestinians two days “to get the message.” But there’s no indication that they have: Sderot, Peretz’s hometown, has been under constant fire by Palestinian Kassam rockets since Saturday.

Last Friday’s deaths on the Gaza beach also could put pressure on P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas to call off the referendum on a two-state solution with Israel that he set for late July.

The Hamas-led P.A. government has been strongly opposed to a referendum since the idea was discussed a month ago.

During the past few weeks, persistent Palestinian rocket attacks, and Israeli operations to stop them, have created a dangerous situation for civilians on both sides.

Tuesday saw an Israeli airstrike that killed Islamic Jihad’s main rocket launcher, Hamoud Wadiya, and at least one other Islamic Jihad member en route to a rocket attack. A rocket in the terrorists’ vehicle detonated by the strike, and shrapnel from one of the Israeli missiles, killed at least seven Palestinian bystanders.

Last Friday afternoon, Israeli aircraft, naval vessels and artillery fired on rocket-launching teams and areas they use as launching pads. Shortly afterward, an explosion on a Gaza beach killed nine Palestinians.

Initially it seemed likely that a stray Israeli artillery shell, one of six fired at the time, caused the carnage. But Israeli officials later said there was a discrepancy between the time the artillery round was fired and the time the Palestinians say the explosion on the beach occurred. They also noted that Hamas quickly removed all traces of the explosive device from the scene and denied Israel access to the evidence.

On Tuesday, Israeli investigators concluded that a Palestinian land mine, a Kassam rocket gone awry or an old, unexploded shell caused the damage. This was based partly on the absence of the large crater that would have been created by such an attack. Further, an analysis of shrapnel found in one of the Palestinian casualties found the weapon was not Israeli-made.

Hamas dismissed the investigation as an Israeli attempt to avoid responsibility.

Israeli intelligence sources further claim that Hamas made a strategic decision to break the truce several days before the beach incident in order to create war-like conditions to derail the planned Palestinian referendum.

Still, what actually happened on the beach is perhaps less important than how it is perceived. Palestinians accuse Israel of a deliberate massacre, and the image of 11-year-old Huda Ghaliya running distraught along the beach screaming for her dead father could become the icon that fuels a renewed Palestinian intifada.

The Hamas leadership abroad, under Khaled Meshaal, is pushing for an immediate end to the truce and a full-scale resumption of the terrorist war against Israel. The Hamas leadership in the territories, under P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, is more circumspect and opposes attacks inside Israel proper.

On the ground, however, Hamas has moved Kassam rockets into position in dozens of locations throughout Gaza. Palestinians fired 69 Kassams at Sderot over the weekend, severely wounding one man near a school and disrupting everyday life in the town.

There are different Israeli assessments over how long the Hamas offensive is likely to last. Alex Fishman, a military analyst for the Yediot Achronot newspaper, says the predominant view is that “Hamas will hit hard and as soon as it feels it has done enough, it will stop the shooting and resume its low profile, because the lull is, in the final analysis, in Hamas’ interest.”

Other analysts believe the attacks could go on indefinitely, first to torpedo Abbas’ planned referendum and then to undermine Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s planned unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. The assumption is that Israel will not want to withdraw under heavy Hamas attack, but that if it does, Hamas will be able to claim credit.

For Israel, the escalation is a test of its new security doctrine: After withdrawing from Gaza last year, Israel believed it had a free hand to retaliate to attacks with considerable force and hoped to create a balance of deterrence like the one with Hezbollah along the Lebanese border.

The killing on the beach also has sparked an internal Israeli debate on the ethics of conflict. Left-wing Israelis argue that continuing hostilities inevitably will claim innocent victims on both sides, and that the pressing need is to find a way to stop the violence. Right-wingers counter that Israel should not allow accidental civilian casualties on the Palestinian side to deflect it from defending its citizens.

The sharpest exchanges came in Ma’ariv’s daily newspaper, between left-wing novelist David Grossman and the paper’s editor, Amnon Dankner.

“The image of the girl on the Gaza beach, whose life was torn to shreds before our very eyes, should rouse us from the hypnotic coma we have been in for years,” Grossman wrote.

Israel, he wrote, should break the futile cycle of violence by declaring a unilateral cease-fire and calling for negotiations without preconditions.

Dankner disagreed vehemently.

“Given what we have been through, the notion that if only we would give peace a chance is so idiotic that the mind boggles in wonder when we hear this kind of thing,” he fumed. In his view, Israel “left Gaza to the last centimeter, in a painful, wrenching move. We destroyed settlements and families, and we have a right to demand absolute quiet from the Palestinians in the strip.”


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.