November 21, 2018

Letters to the editor: BDS, UCLA and the VA

The Why, Not the What

Jared Sichel’s article on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at UCLA is a thoughtful exposure of the current tactics used by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) groups to push their agenda on that and other campuses (“Battleground California,” May 30). However, Sichel appears to have tried so hard to be objective that he failed to point out the core principle of the BDS movement.  

As stated clearly in the “BDS Call,” the BDS movement insists on the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state via the fictional “right of return” for millions of descendants of Arab refugees from the war against the nascent state of Israel in 1947-48. Groups that support BDS, such as SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace, oppose peace with a Jewish State of Israel within any borders at all. To them, Tel Aviv is just as much “occupied Arab land” as Ariel. It would have been a service to your readers had Sichel posed a simple question to both Taher Herzallah and Estee Chandler: “If Israel were to withdraw to the 1949 armistice line and allow the creation of a state of Palestine in that area, would you then support peace between it and the Jewish state?” Their answer, of course, would be “no” — putting the lie to their claim that they favor “peace.”  

Michael Harris, San Rafael 

Supporting Our Troops Shouldn’t Have an Expiration Date

As a recently retired 32-year Veterans Administration (VA) employee, I can provide an additional, insider’s view to David Suissa’s recent column on the VA debacle (“Anatomy of a Scandal,” May 30). Put simply, the basic problem is “metrics” and money; it is not VA employees’ lack of will to do their jobs well. In various fields, arbitrary metrics were created by VA Central Office bean-counters with no real experience doing the work purportedly measured and without input from those actually doing the work.  It is reported that a VA medical center’s managers in Phoenix allegedly fudged their metrics to get bonuses. Unfortunately, failure to meet ill-advised metrics could also get you punished. 

Why the metrics? I believe they were a defensive maneuver to avoid budget-slashing by those in Congress ideologically motivated to starve the federal government (while still collecting their own Washington salaries). That the VA suffered less of a funding hit than other federal agencies is not the same as getting resources adequate to increased demands on the system. For years, VA employees have struggled to do more with less. Over a 20-year period, staffing in my office dwindled from about 30 to 12, including part-timers. Admittedly, some were typists replaced by computers and professional-level employees doing their own typing. Still, while there were no layoffs, those leaving were not replaced. Those outraged congressmen should look in the mirror and realize lack of resources produces lack of timely services.

Phyllis Sorter, Santa Monica

I am both a veteran who is cared for at the VA and a physician who has worked at the VA. I agree the Jewish community hasn’t shown much interest toward tikkun olam as far as the VA is concerned.

Forcing Eric Shinseki out won’t change anything without a radical overhaul of the administrative system, not the medical care. As noted in the article, this has been going on for years, with many empty promises to correct it.

The essence of the problem is the bureaucrat. As a result of President Kennedy allowing federal employees to unionize, there is essentially no accountability and no motivation to perform, much less excel, and this is glaringly evident at the VA. It is nearly impossible to fire anyone. VA staff, notably the overpaid managers, can devolve into ineffective, supine and uncaring personnel, without consequence. The administrators no longer see veterans as human patients, but as numbers — with bonuses resulting from producing good statistics. There are too many administrators, and few of them are veterans. It is more important at a VA to be politically correct, repeatedly undergo vapid training courses and produce copious reports than be a high-functioning, caring administrator or provider of health care.

There are good VA doctors and nurses, but the reputation of the VA unfortunately lies with bad ones. The pay for doctors and nurses is not competitive with the communities they live in, and so it is hard to get higher-quality personnel. 

Until accountability is guaranteed and enforced, nothing will change. Politicians will continue to offer worthless promises; still people will suffer and people will die. 

Alan Spira, San Mateo

Schools of Thought

Gina Nahai — I was one of those nerds in South campus who secretly admired the North campus students for their freedom to think, debate and be creative, while we were too busy trying to get into med school (“Hallowed Ground,” May 30). I share your same sentiments. Beautifully stated.

Afshine Emrani via