November 21, 2018

Pleasure Is Not Political

The morning I began to write this column, my son used the phrase, “Hello darkness, my old friend’’ while playing a video game. I asked him if he knew where it was from, and he shrugged. So I played the song “The Sound of Silence” for him. He tried to go back to playing the game, but the quiet beauty of Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 song kept pulling him over. Listening to the words with him, I thought: Here’s an exquisitely beautiful dissection of the human condition — without a word of overt politicization.

Politicized art has been trending for decades, of course. So it was with great joy to discover the colorful, whimsical work of Marc Camille Chaimowicz, on view at the Jewish Museum in New York until Aug. 5. Chaimowicz was born in postwar Paris to a French Catholic mother and a Polish-Jewish father, but he lived most of his life in London. “Your Place or Mine …,” which explores ideas of domesticity through life-size room installations of furniture, ceramics, collages, wallpaper, textiles and sculptures, is the first solo survey of the artist’s work in the United States.

Because the Jewish Museum is housed in the former home of Felix and Frieda Warburg, which was designed in the French Gothic chateau style of 1908, the building provides Chaimowicz’s art with a unique, ornate interior. And the first thing that pops out is how well the artist’s subdued yet colorful designs mix with the building’s breathtaking detail; timeless pieces fuse well.

Chaimowicz’s work challenges traditional distinctions between interior décor and high art, between the realms of the masculine and the feminine. In his first flat in London in 1974, he designed wall patterns, draperies, bedcoverings, folding screens, tables and chairs. His home became known in London’s artistic circles as an ever-evolving “total work of art.”

As Chaimowicz’s career came of age during the postmodern rejection of soulless modernism, he was heavily influenced by French critic Roland Barthes, who believed that pleasure ­— jouissance — was one of the responsibilities of form. And objects in the home, Chaimowicz added, can be objects of pleasure.

“My mind was drawn to left-wing ideology, but the left-wing practice produced art that I could not enjoy.”  — Marc Camille Chaimowicz


Barthes radically argued that it was OK to lose oneself in art, that not every aspect of art needs to be “read” and analyzed. Said art historian Roger Cook, a friend of Chaimowicz, “We all have a tendency, intellectually, to want black-and-white answers to things. … But when we use our senses, we experience things sensually, without these overriding oppositions.”

And thus we have Chaimowicz’s persistently joyous sense of color, his whimsical patterns, his magical array of objects. We discover his soul through layers of poetry, not through a blatant political message. “My mind was drawn to left-wing ideology, but the left-wing practice produced art that I could not enjoy,” Chaimowicz said. “It was lacking in pleasure, color and sensuality. All the things that matter to me.”

His father escaped Poland and married his mother in France. His father’s family disappeared, and no one ever talked about the war. Raised Catholic, he said, “I have no connection with the Jewish faith whatsoever.” And yet, at any point in his career, he could have dropped the Chaimowicz — Marc Camille is a great stage name — but he chose to keep it.

“He enfolds his rebelliousness in beauty,” curator Kelly Taxter writes.

Indeed, like many post-Holocaust artists, Chaimowicz chose beauty, perhaps unconsciously to undermine philosopher Theodor Adorno’s famous statement: “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.”

Chaimowicz’s work is a joyous reminder that darkness can be combatted only with light, that, as 1960s American folk singer Phil Ochs put it, “In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.”

Sadly, the Jewish Museum itself needs to get off the political bandwagon. “This aesthetic of pleasure and leisure that Marc Camille Chaimowicz adheres to is actually a political position,” the museum’s audio tour states unequivocally. “It’s saying: We need pleasure.”

Yes, we need pleasure, but no, pleasure is not political, as the entire exhibition demonstrates so well.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

Union workers celebrate at Dodger Stadium

LAX workers were the first to begin the cheers.

“Obama! Obama! Obama!”

It didn’t take long for others to follow when the news broke out at Dodger Stadium on election night that Barack Obama had been re-elected president. That’s where hundreds of supporters gathered as part of a party organized by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!”

The crowd at the Stadium Club, a bar and dining area that overlooked the lit-up stadium, looked up eagerly at flat-screen TVs to take in the news. Union workers, community leaders and Obama supporters didn’t have to wait long to get worked into a frenzy. News outlets called the election for the incumbent just 15 minutes after the party started at 8 p.m.

Then Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, addressed the group, speaking from a podium and denouncing “the super rich and powerful.”

“Their money is nothing compared to the power of firefighters, teachers … and truck drivers, and nurses,” she said.

What Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, expected to be a long night ended rather quickly. He tipped his hat to Florida Jews, saying that Obama carried Jewish counties in Florida by huge margins.

“Jewish voters by-and-large stood with the president,” he said. “This is a great victory for us today.”

Still, when Bauman took the stage later he reminded the crowd that the presidency wasn’t the only important contest up for grabs.

He didn’t have to tell Lowell Goodman, director of communications for Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents 80,000 public employees in Southern California, including librarians, nurses, social workers and trash collectors.

Goodman said he had been out since 1 p.m. knocking on doors to mobilize people to vote against Proposition 32, which proposed reforming California’s campaign finance rules and banning the use of employee payroll deductions for political purposes. Union leaders opposed it, arguing it would limit their ability to participate effectively in the political process.

“Yes on 32 silences the voices of our 80,000 members, and what it says is the only ones who should have a voice in politics in California are the 1 percent,” he said.

Goodman, whose children attend preschool at Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, lives near the stadium in Angelino Heights in Echo Park. Asked if he was going to walk home, he answered:

“If it’s a good night, I’ll stumble home.”

Artist Daniel J. Martinez provokes religion, politics to incite insight

Daniel Joseph Martinez has a question, or, rather, he wants you to have one. Well-known as one of the art world’s favorite provocateurs, the Los Angeles native and resident has brought his unique brand of art-as-conversation-piece to Culver City’s Roberts & Tilton Gallery for his first L.A. gallery exhibition in a decade, “I Am a Verb.” But why is Martinez, a non-Jewish artist, getting coverage in the Jewish Journal?  Well that’s simple, really; one of the works he made for the show is a series of photos of a hunchbacked, masked man with the Shema tattooed on his chest, along with a Muslim prayer inscribed in Arabic on one arm and a Catholic prayer in Latin on the other.

“This show is … a constellation of gestures … that are both philosophical and poetic, but yet use very disparate languages to attempt to question the state of who we are as human beings, and to question the time that we live in,” said Martinez on a recent Friday morning, strolling through the installation of his work. “It’s sort of like a series of haiku.”

Martinez has been active in the art world for more than 30 years, but he first rose to prominence in the early 1990s after making a lapel pin, of the sort often used for museum visitors, which was distributed to all attendees of the 1993 Whitney Biennial in New York. A simple inscription on the pin read, “I can’t imagine ever wanting to be White,” and it was worn by visitors of all races and ethnicities — including white — while viewing the rest of the art in the exhibition. Martinez thereby made everyone participants in his questioning reality, and he used language that was specifically intended to provoke the status quo in a zeitgeist consumed by political correctness.

Since then, Martinez has continued to challenge his viewers, and he’s spoken often about how his upbringing in the tumultuous Los Angeles of the 1960s influenced his views on multiculturalism and the notion of who is the outsider. Born in 1957, Martinez has by now become a fixture in the international art scene, his work included in museum collections worldwide.

Upon entering Roberts & Tilton, you’re confronted first by a large, white room, where the sound of Muslim prayers echoes throughout. From one wall, an abstract, sculptural mirror juts out; on another, a crookedly hanging police shield displays a strange manifesto scrawled across it that references both butter and betrayal; and, finally, across the room, the display of four massive photographs of the strange, hunchbacked, masked male figure.

At first glance, this collection of objects couldn’t be more disparate — in their media, subject matter and style — but Martinez is quick to explain the reasoning behind their juxtaposition. “There’s some attempt here to put a series of different kinds of works that take iconic or institutional positions from the society and compress those together.”  

It’s easy to see how the police shield, the Arabic music and the religion-tattooed hunchback follow this line of thought, but the abstract mirror takes a little more explanation. A quick trip to the adjacent room reveals that what once looked like a pedestal with a mirror on it randomly jutting from a wall is actually a replica of the base of the Statue of Liberty, looking as if it had been forced through the wall and become stuck there. 

“A Little Liberty, 2012” 18-karat gold glazed ceramic.

“The same sculpture, which is the Statue of Liberty on one side, looks like completely abstract minimalist gesture,” Martinez said, explaining his trick. “The Statue of Liberty pierces the wall; it’s been toppled. You think of the monuments of Lenin, you think of the monuments of any empire that is in ruins or in decline, or [where] something has changed, those monuments get toppled.”

Liberty’s extinguished torch reaches out toward the neon lights of two signs on a wall opposite that blare “We Buy Gold” and “Facial Waxing,” the light and language of the streets. “I’m not sure what the Statue of Liberty represents today other than a tourist attraction,” Martinez said. “A lot of what we do, and a lot of what has meaning, gets turned into entertainment.”

Walking back around to the other side of the wall, Martinez pointed to the mirrored base of the statue. “When you look at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, which is upside down, what do you see? You see light,” said Martinez, pointing to the reflection of the sunlight and ceiling lights in the upward facing mirror. “You see the light. It’s a reflection of light. It’s a reflection of purity, right, but yet it’s also pornographic, we’re looking up her dress,” he said, speaking of the statue as if it depicted a real human being and not just an iconic symbol. In the process of upending the sculpture, he has turned its meaning upside-down as well: “We’re looking at the bottom, we’re looking at something that was repressed, something that was buried, something that was compressed into the earth, that was never seen. We only see the iconic symbol of what it was supposed to represent.”

The most interesting portion of Martinez’s exhibition, and certainly the most Jewish part, is his hunchback photos. “These are all me,” Martinez explained of the large photos, which depict him in heavy prosthetics and makeup. “I used my own physical body as another form of landscape, because this is like a landscape.” 

There is something undeniably topographical about the hunch on Martinez’s back, which he says took hours of special-effects makeup to achieve. But it’s clearly the simple faux tattoos on the figure’s front that make the most provocative statement. Through the prayers from all three Abrahamic faiths, Martinez’s hunchback brings the three traditions together on one deformed body.

“The attempt is not to get into the theological or political or social debate that goes on between these three different groups of people,” Martinez said. “It’s not to suggest that any one of them is right or wrong; it’s actually to try and observe it from a different point of view.

“I mean, do we believe in God?” He asked. “What is our spiritual self? How do we nourish that? How do we exist today?”

Such questions excite Martinez. To him, the idea of in-your-face, statement art, with too didactic a message is a little boring these days. “I don’t know if people respond well to that anymore,” he said. 

Martinez wants people who come to see his work simply to be open to possibilities and to find their own interpretations. “I wish that people would come and look and just take a second to think about things that are going on right now, at this very minute, everywhere around them, and somehow reconsider; they don’t have to change their mind.”

But if Martinez seems passive about his work, that’s not so. “I don’t think the work is neutral … and I don’t think it’s passive either … because if it was passive, I’m really not sure why I would do it. And it’s not neutral because neutrality then suggests that I don’t have an opinion, and I think it’s fairly clear there’s an opinion in the room.

“Am I really here only to decorate or do I have another kind of responsibility to speak to the tenets of the time?” Martinez asked. In the context of his work, it is instantly clear that the question was meant to be rhetorical.

Daniel Joseph Martinez’s “I Am a Verb” will be on display through October 20th at Roberts & Tilton Gallery, 5801 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232.  For more information, visit or call (323) 549-0223.

The illusion of a solution

Of all the incendiary books that have been written about Israel over the last year or so, none is quite as fiery as “Israel: The Will to Prevail” by Danny Danon (Palgrave Macmillan: $26).

Danon is a young activist in the Likud Party and serves as deputy speaker of the Knesset. He agrees with the various critics and commentators on the left on only a single point: “We are now at a critical juncture in our brief but momentous history,” Danon writes, “and our very survival is once again at stake.” Unlike Peter Beinart or Jeremy Ben-Ami, however, Danon rejects the notion that the United States (or, by implication, American Jews) is entitled to tell Israel how to conduct its affairs.  

“Israel must take firm hold of its own destiny, with a ready willingness to act decisively on its own behalf,” he insists. “[H]istory shows that when we act on our own, according to our own best interests, the results are not only better for Israel but for world peace as a whole.”

Lest anyone mistake his political colors, however, Danon pointedly insists on using the words “Jewish communities” and “residents of these communities” in place of “settlers” and “settlements.” The West Bank, of course, is referred to as Judea and Samaria. “The Jewish people’s claim to Israel,” he writes, “is older and stronger than any other people’s in the history of the world.” Indeed, Danon presents his fierce little book as nothing less than “a road map for Jewish victory — achieved with or without backing from her allies.” 

Danon insists that it is in the strategic best interest of the United States to support Israel, by which he plainly means the hard-line policies of Likud. “It’s an unfortunate fact that Israel has grown more distant from the United States,” he writes, “and I believe this puts both our countries in peril.” And he cites President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as advocates of what he calls “the growing acceptance in the United States and abroad of a left-wing, so-called progressive position on Israel” and “a one-sided view of Palestinian aspirations.”

“Discomforting behavior continues to come from the White House, which makes Israelis wonder whether the United States is really on our side,” Danon writes, “and strengthens the case that we must be confident to take matters, when necessary, in our own hands despite world or U.S. opinion.”

Nowadays, of course, the demarcation between left and right is blurry. Who, after all, would disagree with Danon’s assertion that “Israel’s experience with Gaza demonstrates the folly of those who say that the only pathway to peace involves handing over our land to the Palestinians.” Yet Danon also insists on salting his prose with fighting words — “our land” is a phrase that simply ignores the fundamental question of where the boundary is to be drawn between Arabs and Jews. Even when he claims that he “actively welcome[s] a healthy debate on the subject of Israel and the United States,” it is hard to discern where “healthy debate” leaves off and “criticism that demonizes Israel” begins.

The conclusion he reaches is that Israel cannot afford to take the risk of a compromise with the Palestinians: “Over and over again,” he complains, “Israelis are exhorted to concede more and more, while the Arabs are only asked to stop incitement and killing.” And, crucially, he argues that “any manufactured claim to a Palestinian state” is trumped by the inevitability that “such an entity would be a serious and ongoing threat for Israel.”

Danon calls instead for “a three-state solution,” an antique approach to peace-making in the Middle East that would assign sovereignty over the Palestinians to Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Clearly, his plan is not likely to succeed, and I suspect that’s the real reason why he advocates it: “Before we can make the three-state solution a reality,” he warns, Israel must be afforded “real recognition” by the existing states, and “Israel must take on and defeat those who are against us — Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.” 

“Israel: The Will to Prevail” leaves me in   exactly the same place I found myself after reading books by his adversaries in the progressive wing of Zionism — it’s a locked room in which the doors and windows are only a trompe l’oeil on solid walls. How Israel and the Jewish people are to extricate themselves from our unhappy predicament remains unexplained.

Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. His next book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” which will be published in 2013 under the Horace Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton to coincide with the 75th anniversary year of Kristallnacht.

Extradite alleged Nazi Egner, WJC demands

The World Jewish Congress has called on U.S. courts to facilitate a quick extradition of alleged Nazi war criminal Peter Egner to Serbia.

Serbia’s justice minister on Nov. 26 formally requested the extradition of Egner, 88, who lives in a retirement community outside of Seattle, Wash.

“The accusations brought against Egner are so horrendous that no further time must be wasted,” Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said Tuesday in a statement. “Not only the Jewish community in Serbia, but Jews worldwide expect Nazi war criminals to be tried and brought to justice, irrespective of their age. These people may be frail, but so are many Holocaust survivors. Justice done belatedly is still better than justice not done at all.”

Egner, a Yugoslavia native, is accused of joining in April 1941 the Nazi-controlled Security Police and Security Service in German-occupied Belgrade, a Nazi mobile killing unit that participated in the mass murder of more than 17,000 Serbian civilians during World War II.

Egner came to the United States in 1960 and became a citizen six years later.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit in 2008 attempting to strip Egner of his citizenship, saying he lied about his Nazi past on his citizenship application.

Egner has admitted volunteering to serve in the Security Police and Security Service, as well as guarding prisoners as they were being transferred to concentration camps. He also admitted serving as an interpreter during interrogations of political prisoners, which sometimes involved severe torture. Prisoners often were executed following their interrogations.

The Eulogizer: Soldier who found Hitler’s will, Southern lawmaker, Israeli English broadcaster

The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at {encode=”” title=””}. Find previous editions of The Eulogizer here.

American soldier who found Hitler’s will
Arnold Weiss
, a German-born U.S. counterintelligence officer in World War II who found Hitler’s last will and testament, died Dec. 7 at 86.

In December 1945, Weiss and his counterintelligence team tracked down a Nazi military aide who was stationed at Hitler’s bunker during his final days but had left as a courier with an important envelope shortly before Hitler killed himself. The aide, Wilhelm Zander, took Weiss to a farm on the outskirts of Munich, where he had hidden the envelope at the bottom of a dry well. Inside the package was a document headed “Mein privates Testament,” signed by Hitler the day before he died, as well as the marriage certificate of Hitler and Eva Braun.

Toward the end of the war, even before finding Hitler’s will, Weiss said he and his team left Nazi prison guards at the gates of refugee settlements for “additional debriefing.” Weiss claimed never to know what happened to the German soldiers.

Weiss was placed into a Jewish orphanage as a child in Germany in the early days of Hitler’s reign. He was hoisted once to a lamppost and flogged by Hitler Youth members.

“You lived from day to day and tried to roll with the punches,” Weiss said.

“While generally being a pretty miserable place, the orphanage wasn’t all bad. You always had someone you could play with and talk to. You had companionship. The beatings were unpleasant, but you learned to cope.”

Weiss fled Germany after his bar mitzvah and made his way to the United States. He ended up in Milwaukee after a foster family failed to meet him in Chicago.

Weiss, a lawyer by training, lived and worked for decades in the Washington, D.C., area, as a senior official in U.S. financial agencies and then in a private investment firm that funded international development projects. He told his law school alumni association that his work in that field was fueled by the destruction he saw in Europe during World War II:

“I think it’s the war that changed me more than anything else. I decided I wanted to build rather than destroy. In Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Germany … there was so much destruction. I knew there was a better way of doing things.”

Pioneering female lawmaker in South Carolina
Harriet Keyserling
, a self-proclaimed “New York Jewish liberal” who became a political force in South Carolina for decades, died Dec. 10 at 88.

Keyserling was a “feisty Democrat” who went against the status quo “as a liberal Yankee in the world of good-old-boy conservative Southerners.” Among other accomplishments, her efforts led to a statewide recycling program, a state energy office and the shuttering of a landfill that accepted radioactive waste from across the United States.

Her son, Billy, who took over her seat in the Legislature and is now the mayor of Beaufort, S.C., said his mother defeated the Legislature’s practice of all-night filibusters by keeping a journal that recorded just how legislators wasted time.

“I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of great leaders in my public and private life, but not one have I respected more than Harriet Keyserling,” said former Soth Carolina Gov. Dick Riley.

Keyserling, a graduate of all-female Barnard College in New York City, moved to tiny Beaufort from New York after marrying Herbert Keyserling, a Jewish, Southern, small-town doctor. The women of the small Jewish community there took her in, taught Sunday school together and put on synagogue suppers.

“I believe we had a more direct and energetic approach, probably considered aggressive at the time, to the projects we undertook,” she wrote in her 1998 autobiography, “Against the Tide: One Woman’s Political Struggle,” in which she also describes her life and her husband’s as Jews in the South in an era of anti-Jewish prejudice and the Ku Klux Klan.

Her hometown paper said Keyserling attempted to re-create the intellectual stimulation of New York in her adopted hometown by co-founding a concert series, and by hosting Saturday-evening dinners with “sophisticated conversation by Harriet and her guests.”

Bud Ferillo, a Columbia, S.C., public relations executive and longtime Democratic political worker, referred to Keyserling as his “Jewish mother.”

Israel Radio English broadcaster
Anita Davis Avital
, one of Israel Radio’s original English language broadcasters and a mentor to several generations of women, died in October at 86.

A native of London, Davis was working in Yugoslavia in 1947 for the United Nations when she met a convoy of Jewish orphans on their way to Israel. Upon her return to Britain, she became involved with aliyah groups and made her way to the newly declared State of Israel shortly afterward.

After a stint working at the Iranian embassy, Davis Avital became one of the first employees of Israel’s nascent English-language shortwave radio service, originally called Kol Zion Lagola, the Voice of Zion to the Diaspora. The station later joined the government broadcasting authority with domestic programming, as well.

Sara Manobla, herself a veteran of English-language broadcasting in Israel, described Davis Avital in a lovely tribute as “a prominent and engaging figure in Anglo circles in Jerusalem of the 1950s and ’60s.”

Chevra kadisha revival noted
The New York Times notes the renewed interest in chevra kadisha groups and practices, with links to organizations and synagogues active in promoting traditional Jewish burial practices.

U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke

The passing of diplomat Richard Holbrooke is being covered extensively in the media. JTA’s coverage makes extensive references to Holbrooke’s Jewishness.

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.”

Jewish Dems press AIPAC on START

Top Jewish Democratic senators are pressing AIPAC to back the new START arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Four Jewish groups already back Senate ratification of the treaty as a means of cajoling Russia into isolating Iran. Another has suggested that it could prove helpful, and one group opposes it.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee rarely backs such initiatives publicly, but what’s been notable in this case is that it has not taken a position behind the scenes either.

The treaty is “an opportunity to improve relations with Russia, a nation that has provided considerable support for U.S.-led efforts to pressure Iran,” Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote AIPAC director Howard Kohr in a letter Tuesday that was obtained and published by Politico. “Last spring, Russia voted in favor of the U.N. Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Iran. This fall, Russian President Medvedev agreed not to fulfill a previously agreed-upon sale of air defense missiles to Iran.”

Schumer has ambitions of becoming his party’s leader in the Senate; Levin chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The decision by a handful of GOP senators to block START came after the election, in which the Democrats lost the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republicans.

The Obama administration noted that the treaty had been approved in committee, with GOP support, and accused the party of political gamesmanship.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, has blasted the GOP senators for blocking it, saying it undercuts his dealings with his Russian counterparts.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who has led the opposition, says that upon review the treaty lacks sufficient verification mechanisms and would unnecessarily reduce the U.S. profile in Europe.

The White House reportedly has pressured Jewish groups into lobbying for the treaty.

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Council on World Jewry, the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have backed ratification. B’nai B’rith International has said it would be worthwhile if it helps isolate Iran.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs on Monday vigorously opposed it, saying “there is no reason why the United States should be required to sacrifice its own defense capabilities to inspire Russia to a greater degree of diplomatic fortitude. If Russia is indeed concerned with a nuclear-armed Iran to its immediate south, it should need no extra incentive to take the action necessary to stop it.”

President Obama on Tuesday met with Republican senators, and after the meeting a number of the GOP senators said they were shifting toward some support.

California’s big chance on the national stage

Everybody knows by now that California swam against the tide on Election Day, giving Democrats a near sweep of statewide offices. But what’s even more important is what this will mean for national governance over the next two years.

With control of the House passing to the Republicans, there is little chance of new legislation. But for all of President Obama’s political failings in the first two years, he accomplished so much on the legislative front that he has a luxury Bill Clinton did not have after he lost both houses of Congress in 1994: Obama can play defense and still win. With historic health care passed, he just has to fight effectively to get it implemented. He doesn’t have to limit himself to school uniforms and other Clintonesque tinkering; he can take on the big stuff.

As the Los Angeles Times noted in an article on Nov. 7, this will be no easy task because the states will have a lot to say about it. A raft of newly elected and sitting Republican governors are already lining up to resist or block the health care plan in their states and to join the lawsuit against its constitutionality. Undoubtedly, the same lineup will attack any attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Leading the pack will be Texas and its right-wing governor, Rick Perry. Texas has long been the poster child for free-market government, and it has high levels of pollution to show for it. Perry, who has talked about Texas seceding from the Union, is now mulling over whether his state should abandon the federal Medicaid program of health care for the poor, and even the impossible idea of withdrawing from the Social Security system. Texas is known for coddling its polluters and attacking the Environmental Protection Agency, so much so that Texans roamed to California to finance the doomed Proposition 23 to overturn our global warming law.

With Texas leading the howling pack, California now becomes a crucial counterweight. The Republican candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, often cited Texas as a model that California should emulate. Had she been elected, President Obama would have faced a monolithic wall of opposition from Texas to the Pacific Ocean. Despite Democratic victories in the Southwest, those governorships went Republican.

There is much irony in this situation. Near the end of the campaign, Jerry Brown ran a brilliant commercial that tiedWhitman to the unpopular Arnold Schwarzenegger. Actually, the truth was that Whitman was running well to the right of Schwarzenegger, but to make that point would have required a more complex ad. Schwarzenegger will leave office with low approval ratings, admired by neither party. But his legacy actually depended on Brown beating Whitman (which is why my guess is that there is no mystery whom he voted for).

Arnold made two critical decisions that will look pretty good in history if the nation manages to provide health care to all and joins the fight against global warming. In September 2006, trying to recover from his awful 2005 ballot measures, the governor signed AB 32, the most advanced program to fight global warming anywhere in the nation. He faced down the opposition of his own party and his business allies. It was that bill that special interests went after with Proposition 23. This year, more quietly, and again against the opposition of his party and business supporters, he signed a set of bills to authorize health exchanges and other programs. Beyond the details, he committed the state not to bitter resistance but to cooperation with the Obama health-care plan. And this year, he campaigned strongly against Proposition 23, making fierce attacks against the outside interests that supported it.

With California in the fight, national Democrats have a better chance of prevailing. This state can offer itself as part of a great national experiment on health care, environment, and other issues and take Texas on. As the campaign against Proposition 23, with the involvement of green-tech industries showed, business is itself divided on some of these issues, and the progressive side may find allies if they don’t treat business as a monolithic enemy. In any case, if Democrats succeed in this, with California’s help, President Obama will owe a debt of gratitude to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

Beyond health care and environment, the great wild card will be infrastructure. Republicans have managed to block further stimulus, but their weak point is infrastructure. Politicians love to cut ribbons on construction projects. Right now, the Republican plan seems to call for canceling construction projects. Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, called a halt to a long-planned, much-needed tunnel to Manhattan, and other Republican governors may go the same route. But it will be politically risky for them in the long run. (I think their plan is to block projects that could help the economy now, and then if Obama loses in 2012, they can restart them and take credit.)

In fact, even those Republicans in Congress who opposed the stimulus begged for the money and then took credit for it in their states and districts. Let us suppose that the new Jerry Brown decides to channel his father, the great builder in California, and take the lead in advocating new infrastructure, such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30-10 plan in Los Angeles to accelerate transportation construction. Such an approach could help President Obama make Republicans in Congress an offer they can’t refuse — to build needed projects in their home bases.

So despite all of our attention to elections over the past few months, it’s really about governance now, about the hard and dirty work of making change filter out from Washington to the states. It looks like in the great slog, California is going to be a big player.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at California State University, Fullerton.

Katsav to be Indicted, P.A. Prime Minister Resigns

Katsav to Be Indicted on Sex Charges

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav will be indicted on sexual offense charges, the attorney general announced.

Menachem Mazuz said Sunday that Katsav will be indicted on rape and indecent assault charges involving several women who worked closely with him when he served as tourism minister and president. He also will be charged with obstruction of justice.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador concurred with the charges after determining that there was enough evidence to make a case.

Katsav was first accused in 2006 and stepped down as president shortly before his term ended in June 2007. He was replaced by Shimon Peres.

Katsav struck a plea deal in June 2007, under which the rape charges would be dropped, but last April he reneged on the deal.

P.A. Prime Minister Submits Resignation

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad submitted his resignation, which could speed the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government.

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas asked Fayyad after his announcement Saturday to remain in his position until the talks were completed. Fayyad said he would step down with the formation of the new government or by the end of March.

Abbas fired Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and replaced him with Fayyad after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Millions of dollars pledged to the Palestinians earlier this month and last year were donated on the condition that they are funneled through the Fayyad government. It is unclear how his resignation will affect the pledges, according to reports.

Fayyad said of his resignation in a statement Saturday, “This step comes in the efforts to form a national conciliation government.”

Unity talks were scheduled to resume Tuesday in Cairo.

Haniyeh, Hamas Popularity Rise, Poll Shows

Hamas’ prime minister would defeat Mahmoud Abbas in a presidential election, a new poll showed.

The survey published Monday giving Ismail Haniyeh an edge over the Palestinian Authority president also showed that Hamas’ popularity has increased among Palestinians in the aftermath of Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh received a 47 percent popularity rating among the more than 1,270 Palestinians surveyed March 5-7 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to 45 percent for Abbas. A similar poll in December had Haniyeh at 38 percent and Hamas at 48 percent.

Meanwhile, the poll showed that jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti would easily defeat Haniyeh, 61 percent to 34 percent.

Hamas’ popularity increased to 33 percent, a 5 percent rise from December. Fatah, however, remained the more popular faction with 40 percent of support, compared to 42 percent three months ago.

“Despite the visible increase in the popularity of Hamas and Haniyeh,” the pollsters reported, the overwhelming majority, 71 percent, believes Palestinians are worse off than they were before Israel’s Gaza operation.

The poll, which was conducted by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, had a 3 percent margin of error.

The findings were released as Hamas and Fatah negotiators arrived in Cairo for talks aimed at ending their differences and forming a unity government. Hamas won a Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip the next year after fighting with Fatah.

Son of Dead Sea Scrolls Expert Charged With Theft of Professor’s Identity

The son of a Dead Sea Scrolls expert was accused of identity theft.

Raphael Golb, a real estate lawyer in New York City, was arrested March 5 and charged with identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment, The New York Times reported.

Golb is accused of impersonating a New York University professor who differed with Golb’s father about the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a set of ancient religious texts discovered near the Dead Sea settlement of Qumran in the 1940s and ’50s.

Prosecutors say Golb used a fake e-mail address in the name of the professor, Lawrence Schiffman, to fabricate an admission that Schiffman had plagiarized his father’s work.

Golb faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

Medical Journal Focuses on Palestinians

A prominent medical journal devoted a special issue to “Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The special issue of the Lancet, a leading general medical journal, includes articles by academics from the West Bank, Europe and the United States.

“Hope for improving health and quality of life of Palestinians will exist only once people recognize that the structural and political conditions that they endure in the occupied Palestinian territory are the key determinants of population health,” one article reports.

The series of articles includes pieces on “The Occupied Palestinian Territory: Peace, Justice and Health,” “Peace and Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and “Keys to Health: Justice, Sovereignty and Self-determination,” as well as articles on Palestinian health issues.

The verdict concerning Israel is mixed. There is criticism about roadblocks, with a report that in the past decade, 69 women gave birth at roadblocks. The report also addressed child mortality: “Infant mortality dropped between 1967 and 1987 but stalled between 2000 and 2006 at 27 per 1,000 live births.” The rate in Israel, the report notes, is 3.9 per 1,000.

Touro Synagogue Cancels Tours

Touro Synagogue, the nation’s oldest Jewish house of worship, canceled public tours because of financial difficulties.

The last two paid staff members of the Newport, R.I., synagogue were let go last week, according to the Providence Journal.

Plans to open a museum of American Jewish history at the site this summer will go forward. Group tours already scheduled for the summer will take place, but no new ones will be booked, said a spokesman for the nonprofit foundation that runs the project.

Touro is a major tourist destination, especially for Jewish visitors. It was built in 1763 and declared a national historic site in the 1940s. In 2001, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated it as the nation’s first religious historic site.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Proposed USC-Dubai journalism school concerns faculty and community

Faculty members at the USC Annenberg School for Communications are deep into a controversy that should be of interest to the Jewish community.

It concerns a proposal from USC for a $3 million contract for Annenberg to work with the American University in Dubai to create a journalism and communications school in the Middle Eastern nation.

Some on the USC faculty are concerned that Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will discriminate against student applicants and faculty who are not Muslim, including Jews. Critics also cite past United Arab Emirate opposition to Israel.

What makes this of interest to local Jews — even those not connected to the home of the Trojans — is the close connection USC has forged with the Jewish community over the years. The Jewish presence among students, faculty and the board of trustees is strong, USC’s Hillel is bustling and the university also has the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, which works with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, as well as the Shoah Visual History Foundation. In addition, Jews are among USC’s financial supporters.

The current university is far different than the old anti-Semitic USC. That era was recalled in a 1996 article by The Jewish Journal’s Tom Tugend, who described the school’s pre-World War II quota system that was “strikingly simple. One Jewish student was admitted to the medical school, one to the dental school and one to the law school.”

Today, Jewish faculty members are divided over the Dubai proposal. “So many of the people involved in this are Jewish,” said Ed Cray, a veteran journalism professor.

According to a proposed memorandum of understanding, Annenberg would receive $1 million a year for three years to provide the American University and its Mohammed bin Rashid School for Communication with curriculum advice and faculty assistance. Annenberg would also work with its Dubai partner to set up an international conference center and think tank there.

The memorandum states that neither USC nor the Rashid school would “discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, color, age, physical or mental disability, national origin, veteran status, marital status or any other category protected by law in employment or in any of its programs and/or activities.” But it’s unclear how this clause would be enforced.

Annenberg dean Ernest J. Wilson III told me that USC will be “providing training to a significant part of the journalists who will be distributing information all through the Middle East and into India.”

Annenberg professor Philip Seib, principal director of the project, said in an article on the Annenberg Web site, “The news business is much less mature in Arab countries…. We’re eager to contribute to the enhancement of journalistic fundamentals … by fostering appreciation of American journalism values — everything from ethics to professional production skills….”

Faculty critics with long memories recall a proposal in the 1970s for a USC Middle East Studies Center financed entirely, Tugend reported, “by Arab oil money.” The Jewish community, fearing creation of a nest of pro-Arab, anti-Israel academics, protested, and the proposal was killed.

A vocal opponent of the Dubai plan is professor Jonathan Kotler, who was joined by a half-dozen colleagues. He told me he was concerned about UAE support for the PLO and its “civil rights record … in its treatment of foreigners, women, children and gays….” And he noted that Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, has been sued for forcing young boys into slavery to serve as jockeys in the popular sport of camel racing. The Dubai communications school was named for him.

“I don’t think we should get into bed with such a person,” he said, and he believes the proposal “besmirches the name of the university and the Annenberg school.” He was particularly concerned about past United Arab Emirate support for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he considers a supporter of jihad and terrorism.

“As a Jewish American, I am offended,” he said.

Murray Fromson, an emeritus journalism professor and a longtime foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and CBS, sees it differently.

Fromson, who every year visits his daughter Aliza Ben-Tal, assistant to the president of Ben-Gurion University, in Israel, told me this is not a Jewish issue unless Dubai discriminates against Jews or academics who are involved in communications programs in Israel. “It’s a Jewish issue if we start a program in Israel and they [Dubai officials] say we can’t do it,” Fromson said.

He said his years as a reporter overseas taught him the value of such programs, a view that was reinforced when he headed a USC program in Mexico, in the days when the PRI political party clamped down on dissent in a brutal way, and the government bribed the press.

His students there learned about a free press. “Two of our students were among those who got the National Assembly to adopt a First Amendment [free press guarantee],” he said.

I’ve taught at Annenberg on and off for several years. As a part-time Trojan, here’s what I think:

Like Fromson, I believe a program such as this can do much good, even in a country with a poor human rights record. But USC should insist on ironclad anti-discrimination clauses in the contract to prevent the Arab rulers of Dubai from discriminating against Jews and other non-Muslims.


Younger Persians seeking greater role in community

Many of Los Angeles’ young Iranian Jews arrived in the United States as small children or were born here to immigrant parents.

Now young professionals in their 20s and 30s, they have fully embraced life in America and are championing greater political activity for the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California.

“For 30 years, our community has benefited from the opportunities of America, and now it’s time to give back and embrace our responsibilities as Jews and as Americans,” said Sam Yebri, 27, president of 30 Years After, a new, politically active nonprofit group. The organization was formed earlier this year by a group who wanted to make a contribution to the community but believed their voices were often ignored by the older leadership of local Iranian Jews.

“Our young members are not welcomed onto boards or committees, which are often governed by the same individuals for decades and which covet financial contributions over the creative energy and ideas of young leaders,” Yebri said.

As a result, the group set out to create new opportunities for social action.

This summer, 30 Years After was awarded $200,000 by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. 30 Years After’s planned activities include a communitywide conference titled, “The Iranian Jewish Community at a Crossroads,” which will take place on Sept. 14 at the Beverly Hills Hilton.

The conference will feature speakers from within the community, including Jimmy Delshad. Other speakers will include Rabbi David Wolpe, whose Sinai Temple has a large Iranian membership; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and talk show host Dennis Prager. Topics will include life today in Iran and issues facing the Iranian Jewish communities in the United States and Israel.

30 Years After also plans to organize voter registration drives for the November election, host quarterly civic events and expand a pilot mentoring program for younger Iranian Jews, a project created in collaboration with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and Nessah Israel Synagogue.

Yebri and other 30 Years After members said they are also seeking greater political participation by local Iranian Jews in hopes of influencing local, state and national elected officials to address issues important to the Iranian Jewish community.

Over the past decades, nearly two dozen local Iranian Jewish groups have been involved with political awareness efforts, but no group until now has seriously pursued or organized communitywide political and civic activism.

Daryoush Dayan, newly elected chairman of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, acknowledged that the community’s leadership does not include the younger generation. He has pledged to resolve the issue.

“It is our hope that we will be able to preserve and combine the best aspects of our culture and moral values with those of the American Jewish community,” Dayan said. “However, this can only be realized to the extent we allow the younger generation to carry the leadership torch.”


Organize now against oppression in Burma

We never hear much about Burma, officially known today as Myanmar, until it’s too late. Take, for example, last fall. Crimson-robed monks marched peacefully in the streets of Rangoon, making the case for democratic reforms and human rights.

The monks’ nonviolent approach and well-argued appeals were met by beatings, imprisonment and even death — not all that surprising from a country whose military dictatorship has ruled with an iron fist. Burma — a country roughly the size of Texas and with a population of some 50 million people — manages to put some of the better-known human rights violators to shame.

But when those powerful images dropped off the front pages of newspapers and news sites, they also seemed to drop from our consciousness.

That is unconscionable. Under the current junta, the regime has perpetrated a coordinated program of ethnic cleansing that relies on rape as a weapon of terror, while destroying more than 3,200 villages (displacing far more than 1 million people) and conscripting more than 70,000 child soldiers (putting it literally at the top of the list for any country).

In the meantime, Aung San Suu Kyi, the rightfully elected leader of Burma, whose party won 82 percent of the seats in Parliament, has spent roughly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest. Rather than transforming her nation through her vision and a commitment to nonviolent change, she has been unjustly imprisoned.

So why am I writing this now, when the world’s attention is on issues like the tragedy unfolding in Darfur or the fight for political independence in Tibet? The simple answer is that as important as those two issues are — and they both are of the utmost importance and are deserving of a great deal of our support and attention — there is something so simple about the issues in Burma.

Among other things, there is fact that the Suu Kyi has the distinction of being the only Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was prevented from ever accepting her prize. She earned another honor on April 24, when she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by the U.S. Congress.

What can we do? About a month ago, my friend Jack Healey, a former Franciscan priest, told me about his idea to create a new kind of celebrity-based public service announcement to take the case for Burma to the public. Healey is no beginner when it comes to mobilizing big names. I met him nearly 20 years ago when he was executive director of Amnesty International in the United States. At the time, he had pulled together some of the biggest artists of the decade — Bruce Springsteen, U2, The Police, Peter Gabriel — to embark on a world tour intended to raise the issue of human rights and to put Amnesty International in the public consciousness.

Healey and Jeremy Woodrum, who runs the U.S. Campaign for Burma, have devoted their lives to fighting for the people of Burma, trying to rescue the country from the overbearing grip of a military junta and a violent dictator.

I volunteered to help. In the last month, we’ve managed to put together a campaign of 30 television and Internet spots, shot by and starring some of Hollywood’s biggest names, with the hope that their messages will reach not only millions of Americans but also the rank-and-file soldiers in Burma, who may not even realize how closely the world is looking at the atrocities many of them are carrying out on everyday citizens and, especially, monks.

Our campaign relies on internationally recognized athletes, actors, directors, writers and musicians to address what is happening today in Burma. We are running the spots on our Web site (, as well as a host of other online distribution sites, trying to drive a million people to sign a virtual petition at

We have just finished marking Passover, a holiday that demands of us to both celebrate our freedom and fight for the oppressed. It is incumbent on all of us who live in this great country, who have been blessed with the freedoms of democracy, religious tolerance and equal rights for all, to do anything we can to ensure that others — be they within our own communities or on the other side of the world — enjoy those same freedoms.

We are, as I heard Rabbi Elazar Muskin say over Pesach, a “people of hope.” That sense of hope not only allows us to dream of a better and more just world but also obligates us to do what we can to make those conditions a reality. May all of our efforts help achieve those goals for Suu Kyi and the people of Burma and for all oppressed people, wherever they may be.

Dan Adler is the Founder and CEO of “>Human Rights Action Center and the


The seminar of a lifetime

As we stepped off the bus into McPherson Park in the middle of Washington, D.C., many emotions flooded through our minds. We were scared, we were nervous, but mostly, we were excited. McPherson Park was only a couple of blocks away from the White House. There was much irony in this situation. The park is often filled with many homeless people, and the fact that the White House is down the street shows the class gap that unfortunately exists in our nation.

Our mission that day was to bring the homeless some toiletries and food. Since we had leftovers from lunch, this was a perfect way to put that food to good use. Our only instructions were to approach the homeless in groups of no less than three, and no more than five, and, most importantly, we weren’t there just to give them the items, but to strike up a conversation.

In March, along with 18 other Milken Community High School 10th grade students and three faculty members, as well as teens from schools across the country, we participated in the Panim-el-Panim (Face-to-Face) program. Panim-el-Panim is a program of Panim: The Jewish Institute for Leadership and Values, a Washington, D.C., organization that helps teens experience political activism and civic engagement in the context of Jewish values and principles.

From the moment we stepped off the plane at Dulles Airport, we knew that this trip would not be another eighth grade sightseeing tour. We were there to make a difference, and we were ready for an adventure. Neither of us had ever been involved in any sort of political advocacy program, yet we were both very passionate about different issues presently happening in the world that needed attention.

The Panim-el-Panim program introduced us to a number of different ways to voice our opinions and raise important issues. We became more educated about the political system, seeing firsthand how laws are enacted and how issues are presented to our elected officials. Who knew that 20 teenagers from Los Angeles could help make a difference in the world?

When we first arrived at the program, our director emphasized that we are not the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today. Even though we were only high-school students, these simple words gave us the motivation we needed to start brainstorming our ideas into concrete proposals that we would soon be able to deliver to our area Rep. Henry Waxman [D-Los Angeles].

The whole program was geared toward the congressional meetings that we were to participate in on the last day of our four-day trip. The overall topic for the program was civil liberty. We first spent hours gaining knowledge through seminars about this subject so that we could incorporate our learning into arguments that we would present to Rep. Waxman.

Milken was joined by about seven other Jewish groups from around the country, making our trip a social event, as well as a political and educational one. We were able to interact with other Jewish teenagers, some of who shared many common ideas, but some of who had very different opinions, which only enhanced our learning experience.

Every day, multiple speakers taught us the importance of civil liberties and discussed with us the many injustices occurring around the globe. The reality of injustice was brought home to us in the “street Torah” program. That afternoon in McPherson Park, we connected by sharing stories and our sandwiches. The life stories that the homeless told us were extremely moving, and the joy that they received from one turkey sandwich and a toothbrush was immeasurable.

The night before our “street Torah,” we met with two members of an organization that helps get homeless people back on their feet again. This experience with the homeless, as well as other social justice issues, culminated with our lobbying activities with Waxman and Michael Hermann, his staff assistant. They both were very pleased to hear the opinions of our group and were impressed that at our young ages we were well aware of the global issues. They both mentioned that they would certainly take into account the issues we addressed.

The group chose issues such as the rocket attacks in Sderot, Israel, homelessness and bringing peacekeeping troops to Darfur. The terrible suffering and, indeed, the genocide in Darfur is an issue we were very familiar with, having studied it in school and raised money long before we traveled to Washington. On our program, we lobbied for United Nations peacekeeping troops that would hopefully be able to contain the violence and bring about peace in Darfur and the surrounding areas.

Before this trip to Washington, we were never very interested in politics, primarily because we thought that we would not be able to voice our opinions. The Panim-el-Panim program taught us that it is important to keep our elected representatives aware of what issues are important to teenagers, the next generation of voters. We now know that we can make a difference.

Chelsea and Hayley Golub are in the 10th grade at Milken Community High School.

Speak Up!
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to


What, me worrisome?

New faces and new places for Consuls General of Israel

A new Israeli consul general, Yaakov (Jacob) Dayan, will arrive in Los Angeles in November to succeed Ehud Danoch as his country’s top diplomat in Southern California, five southwestern states and Hawaii.

At the same time, it was announced in Jerusalem that two Los Angeles alumni of the Israeli foreign service will assume high-ranking posts this summer.

Former Consul General Yuval Rotem has been named ambassador to Australia, and his former deputy, Zvi Vapni, ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines.

Dayan, 40, has served as chief of staff to both former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and present Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and most recently headed a study on possible diplomatic approaches to Syria.

He accompanied Shalom on two trips to Los Angeles in recent years and said he was looking forward to a longer stay in the city, together with his wife, Galit, and their three children.

“Los Angeles and this region are very important to Israel, so I take this as a huge challenge, but I know I will be working with a wonderful team at the consulate,” Dayan said in a phone call from Jerusalem.

For Rotem, a popular figure during his five-year tenure in Los Angeles, the new appointment comes after a difficult two years in Israel, during which he was largely sidelined from active involvement in the Foreign Ministry.

Part of the reason was that Rotem, whose foreign service career had risen unusually fast, had to compete with other senior officials for the most desirable appointments and had a hard time finding the right slot, knowledgeable sources explained. During last year’s conflict in Lebanon, he served as head of a liaison unit with United Nations and Lebanese officials, which, among other tasks, provided relief for the local population.

Rotem’s new duties will take him to all parts of Australia and New Zealand, as well as Papua New Guinea and the Fiji Islands, Rotem said in a phone call from Jerusalem. Accompanying him will be his wife, Miri, and the two youngest of their children. His oldest son will be performing his military service.

Vapni’s territory in the Philippines will cover 7,000 islands, and include a Jewish community of about 250 people, “quite a change from 500,000 in Los Angeles,” he noted.

Currently on special assignment in Ireland, Vapni was in charge of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Israel, among other assignments. Joining him in Manila will be his wife, Limor, and their two young children.

The new diplomatic appointments partially represent routine reassignments, but also reflect a professional boost for career diplomats, following protracted labor negotiations within the Foreign Ministry and the appointment of Livni a year ago.

Up to last year, the government was able to make 11 “political” foreign service appointments, generally to the most prestigious jobs abroad. Now that number has been reduced to two, most likely for ambassadors to the United Nations and Washington, D.C.

Both the outgoing ambassador to the Philippines and the current consul general in Los Angeles were political appointments and are being replaced by career diplomats.

The Los Angeles post is considered one of the top assignments in the Israeli foreign service. Although the consul general here doesn’t deal with relations between Israel and other nations, he (there has never been a female consul general in Los Angeles) plays a crucial role from the Israeli perspective.

“We see Los Angeles as one of the five most important assignments in the world,” said Ido Aharoni, Livni’s media adviser.

“The city’s importance lies in its economic strength, the size and influence of the Jewish community, political clout, ethnic and religious diversity — and, of course, Hollywood,” Aharoni said in a phone interview.

“We have sent some of our best people to L.A.,” he added. “Ehud Danoch has been doing an excellent job and Yaakov Dayan is a terrific diplomat.”

Aharoni served in Los Angeles as consul for public affairs from 1994 to 1998. His wife, Julie, the mother of their three children, is the granddaughter of Lou Boyar, who was a legendary mover and shaker in the Los Angeles business and Jewish communities.

He endowed the Mae Boyar High School in Jerusalem in honor of his wife, and, to round the circle, Julie Aharoni is now a teacher at the school.

As Israel’s top representative in this region, the consul general has always exerted a strong symbolic influence in the Los Angeles Jewish community, and his actual impact has varied according to his own priorities and changing circumstances.

Some of the earlier diplomats focused on the top Jewish leadership, encouraging philanthropic, business and tourism ties with Israel.

Rotem had a special interest in the city’s diversity, establishing close ties with the Latino, African American and Christian communities.

Danoch, who will conclude his three-year term toward the end of 2007, has been particularly successful in enlisting Hollywood talent to visit Israel and supporting its cause in the media.

Arab’s nomination to Israel’s Cabinet stirs up simmering controversy

The naming of the first Arab minister to the Israeli Cabinet was billed as an event underscoring hope of securing racial harmony in the Jewish state, though it may long remain mired in regional conflict.

But the nomination of Raleb Majadele instead has merely served to uncover Israel’s often messy personality politics and the latent racism of some of its citizens.

Majadele, a veteran Laborite, was chosen last week by the party’s leader, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, for the science, culture and sport portfolio. He is to replace Ophir Pines-Paz, who bolted in November to protest Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s inclusion of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party alongside Labor in the governing coalition.

Peretz was quoted as telling Majadele that in government, he would “help improve relations between the various sectors of Israeli society” — a reference to Jewish-Arab ties strained by the Palestinian intifada and allegations of institutional discrimination.

Seemingly the nomination was a brazen bit of inverse race-baiting by the dovish Peretz: Pines-Paz left because of what he perceived as Yisrael Beiteinu’s anti-Arab platform, only to have his place taken by an Arab.

Asked how he would deal with sitting in government with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has proposed ceding Israeli Arab areas to a future Palestinian state and ousting Arab lawmakers from the Knesset, Majadele said, “It won’t be simple.”

But he added, “I think that my appointment strengthens the Israeli government and constitutes a step in the right direction toward the Arab public.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised Majadele’s nomination. But its ratification, which was expected to take place at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, was postponed for a week.

The prime minister told his Kadima faction that the appointment of an Arab minister “is a significant act whose time has come.”

“But the move must be made while keeping in mind the big picture of vacancies in the Cabinet and the demands of Labor and Yisrael Beiteinu,” Olmert said.

Israeli media quoted Olmert confidantes as accusing Peretz of failing to consult with the prime minister before putting Majadele’s name forward. Sources close to the defense minister charged Olmert with delaying the appointment in order to help Ehud Barak, whom Olmert is said to prefer for Labor leader, gather support ahead of that party’s May primary.

Condemnation of Majadele’s appointment was quick to come from both Jews and Arabs.

Esterina Tartman, a senior Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker, accused Peretz in a radio interview of threatening the Jewish character of Israel by encouraging “assimilation.”

She was further quoted by Israeli media as calling Majadele’s nomination a “blight” on Zionism — language that drew censure from across Israel’s political spectrum.

Some Israeli Arabs, meanwhile, accused Peretz of an attempt at tokenism and patronage.
“In the existing situation, the ability of an Arab minister who is a member of a Jewish-Zionist party to influence the condition of the Arab population and central issues, such as the Palestinian question, appears to be nil,” said Asad Ghanem, a Haifa University professor who recently helped put together a manifesto arguing that Israel’s Jewish character was inconsistent with full civic participation for its Arab minority.

“I think that Majadele, as an Arab minister, won’t even work as a fig leaf,” Ghanem said.

Others saw an even more partisan ploy by Peretz, whose standing in Labor has been at a nadir since the summer war in Lebanon, the failings of which are blamed by many Israelis on the militarily untested defense minister.

Enlisting the support of Labor’s sizable Arab electorate could help Peretz fend off challenges in the primary by Barak, a former Israeli prime minister and military chief, and Ami Ayalon, a former Navy admiral and Shin Bet director.

“This appointment is exclusively for the purpose of the primary and is characteristic of a confused government that is only dealing with its survival,” said Pines-Paz, another contender in the Labor race.

Unlike Tartman, Lieberman said he had no problem with an Arab joining the Cabinet, but he echoed the charges against Peretz.

“The problem here is in the timing and the fact that a minister in the State of Israel is using the tools at his disposal wrongfully in order to promote himself politically,” Lieberman said.

Majadele, a 53-year-old father of four from Baka al-Garbiya, would not be the first non-Jew to serve as an Israeli Cabinet minister. Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, appointed Salah Tarif, a Druse, to his Cabinet. Tarif stepped down in 2002 amid corruption charges.

What do Dennis Prager, Jimmy Carter, Mel Gibson and General Motors have in common?

Understanding Prager

Your Dec. 8 edition of The Journal had two prominent headlines regarding recent comments made by Dennis Prager. These headlines stated: “Prager Won’t Apologize After Slamming Quran in Congress” and “Prager Opposition to Quran in Congress Rite Draws Fire.”

Since I previously read Prager’s commentary regarding the new Muslim congressman wanting to use the Quran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony, it was difficult to reconcile both your headlines and the related article. Nowhere did we see Prager “slam” or “oppose” in a practical sense. Rather, his commentary sought to perpetuate American values for this traditional congressional swearing in ceremony. Our courts also use a similar process to swear in witnesses and assure truthful testimony. Will our court system be next in line?

Your paper was quite transparent in editorializing against, not reporting, Prager’s position. Moreover, some of the same Jewish leaders named as Prager’s critics have also been at the forefront of keeping religious and Jewish symbols out of our secular society.

In this latter instance, the constitutional separation of church and state argument is invoked. Interesting how they now cloak their argument against Prager with another constitutional position, i.e., the First Amendment.

You also cite an Islamic advocacy group, which vehemently attacks Prager both personally and via his position on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Instead of overreacting to political correctness, we would be better served by pursuing the real facts and premise here.

Steven Fishbein

Talented Mel

I pay tribute to Mel Gibson … and believe that the word police are alive and well out there. (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto,’ Now,” Dec. 8).

How many of us are innocent of never making a racial or ethnic slur? Because he is who he is, the media goes after him, waiting for him to mess up and nail him. So what — they are only words. I believe he is a most talented actor and director no matter what anyone says … and will probably go back and see [“Apocalypto”] again.

J. Sklair
Via e-mail

General Motors

The series, “Hitler’s Carmaker,” by Edwin Black examines once again the role of Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary, in the period before and during World War II (“Hitler’s Carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine,” Dec. 1).

It has been well documented that, like all German companies, Opel participated in the rebuilding of German industry during the 1930s. As Germany rearmed, Opel sold trucks and other vehicles to the German military, as did all other German vehicle manufacturers.

In independent research supported by GM, historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. concluded that GM executives in charge of Opel strove to evade Nazi demands to convert the firm’s main factory for production of dedicated war material. His book, “General Motors and the Nazis” (Yale University Press, 2005), documents that by mid-1940, soon after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had taken complete control of operations at Opel.

It was during this later period, from 1940 though 1945, that the Nazis turned to forced labor to bolster Germany’s manufacturing industry, and that sanctions against Jews and others grew into the horrors of the Holocaust.

During this period, GM had no role in supporting the Nazi regime. In fact, GM became a key part of the American war effort, without which the Nazis might have remained in power for many years longerGeneral Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era.

While “Hitler’s Carmaker” makes for compelling reading, it is not news. It covers a period of history that has been extensively researched. For example, following in-depth investigations in 1999, Opel made a $15 million contribution to the German multicompany Trust Fund Initiative to compensate forced labor workers and their survivors.

Nor does it reflect the General Motors of today, which is firmly committed to basic human rights. These principles, spelled out in GM’s Human Rights and Labor Standards, the Global Sullivan Principles and related documents, are proudly supported by the men and women of GM around the globe.

Steven J. Harris
Vice President, Communications
General Motors Corp.

Playing With the Facts

Perhaps President Carter’s latest book is not “Mein Kampf” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but give his supporters more time to play with the facts (“With Friends Like These…” Dec. 15). For example: The response to [Theodor] Herzl’s gentle diplomacy was “Protocols of Zion”; the Palestinian response to Jewish immigration of legally purchased land where the Jews did their own labor, at slave level, were pogroms (called riots); Palestinian Nazification erupted with Hitler’s ally in genocide, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and blossomed with Arab Ph.Ds in Holocaust denial; currently there is mass Nazi education for Palestinian youth.

Don’t worry, give Carter’s book time.

Meanwhile, I hereby nominate his book for the “Janjaweed Martyrs of the Year” award.

Charles S. Berdiansky
West Hollywood

Vegan Versions

My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart’s annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast (“Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast,” Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it’s easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.

Michael Croland
Norfolk, Va.

Correction:The Dec. 15 Journal cover illustration should have been credited to Steve Greenberg. The Journal regrets the error.

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Ed Koch wants Prager out — will ask him to resign from Holocaust Memorial Council next week

(WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 12) The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council faces
continuing questions over recent statements by
one of its members, local commentator and writer Dennis Prager.

But the panel, which oversees the Holocaust
Museum on Washington’s Mall, has no answers,
since it had no role in appointing Prager and no
way of removing him. Prager was appointed to the
Council in September, but has not attended any
meetings since it has not met since then, and has
not been appointed to any committees.

Prager generated protests from across the
political spectrum when he wrote that Keith
Ellison, elected to the U.S. House on November 7,
shouldn’t be allowed to take the oath of office on a Quran.

In January Ellison will become the first Moslem
in Congress; although members do not get sworn in
on any holy book, he has said he would bring a
Quran to the private ceremony that many members use as a swearing-in photo op.

That offended the conservative Prager, who wrote
that allowing congressional oaths on a Quran
“undermines American civilization. “If you are
incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don’t serve in Congress.”

A long list of Jewish leaders quickly condemned
his comments, and former New York Mayor Ed Koch
demanded that he quit the Council.

Koch is also a Council member, and in an
interview he said he will seek Prager’s
resignation at the December 18 Council meeting.

“If they permit it, I will introduce a motion to
condemn him,” Koch said. “I am hopeful he will
resign, because I think he can’t do anything
other than discredit the Museum with what he has said.”

Koch said Prager’s comments undermine the basic
message the Museum was created to disseminate.

“I believe it is the duty of members of the board
to spread the message that attacks on people as a
result of their religion, ethnicity, race, are
all to be condemned wherever we have an
opportunity to raise our voices,” he said.

Prager, he said, is doing just the opposite by
“creating such an attack on a Muslim.”

Koch — a former member of Congress himself —
said he would have “no objection if sacred books
were used” for swearing in purposes — including the Bible or the Quran.

One Council member expressed frustration at the
position Prager’s comments have put the Museum in.

“We are caught in an impossible situation,” this
source said. “Because the controversy has gone so
public, it is hurting the Museum and its mission
— but we have no control over who is on the
board, we have no way of getting Prager to resign
other than simply asking him to.”

This source said that far from resigning, Prager
has asked fellow Council members to support him.

The White House has declined to comment on the
Prager controversy, and several Council members
said this week that they do not believe any of
their colleagues are lobbying the administration to remove him.

One of the Museum’s founders said Prager was
probably a poor choice for the panel.

“A pundit’s job is to stir up controversy,” said
Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, a former
Council member and Museum official. “Prager
views himself as a great ethicist, as a moral
voice, but on this issue he has gone off on a
profoundly alienating tangent. He sure doesn’t help the Council.”

Berenbaum said Prager’s comments suggest a
“religious test for public office. And that’s
wrong; it goes against the whole thrust of Jewish activism in this country.”

The issue is especially nettling because the
Museum, caught up in several explosive
controversies in its early years, has largely
steered clear of public flaps under the
leadership of Fred Zeidman, a Bush confidante and the current Council chair.

Maestro’s mission is to restore banned composers’ music

After conducting a performance in Germany of the Cologne Opera in 1993, James Conlon turned on his car radio and was riveted by a symphonic poem awash in wave-like melodies. He was so mesmerized that he sat in his car with the motor running, long after he arrived home, to hear the announcer reveal the name of the lush work and its composer.

He learned that the piece was “Die Seejungfrau” (“The Mermaid”), and that the Austrian-Jewish composer, Alexander von Zemlinsky, had been a major figure in pre-World War II Europe. But then the Nazis banned his music, and Zemlinsky was forced to flee to the United States, where he fell into obscurity, suffered a series of strokes and ceased composing.

The story proved ear-opening for Conlon, the new music director of Los Angeles Opera.”I became passionate about this subject [of composers persecuted by Hitler],” he says in an interview in his second-floor office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. “In the course of learning and studying about Zemlinsky, I became familiar with other names … and realized that there is a whole era of music about which we know very little.”

Conlon became a maestro with a mission: to help revive the music of composers banned (and often murdered) by the Nazis.

His crusade will continue with a new production of the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht opera, “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” Feb. 10-March 4 for the Los Angeles Opera. Also in March, Conlon will unveil a new L.A. Opera project, “Recovered Voices,” with two concerts of music by Zemlinsky and other banned composers.

One of them, Erwin Schulhoff, died of tuberculosis in the Wulzburg concentration camp, and Viktor Ullman wrote his last, defiant opera in Theriesienstadt — the “model” camp the Nazis created to deceive the International Red Cross — before being sent off to be gassed.

Weill was luckier, escaping Berlin by car just after the Nazis assumed power in 1933. The musician topped Hitler’s musical hit list because he was a popular Jewish composer and because his operas incorporated agitprop with the “entartete [degenerate] Musik” of jazz.

Nazi thugs disturbed performances of his “The Threepenny Opera,” also with text by dramatist Brecht. In 1930, Brown Shirts staged a riot during the premiere of “Mahagonny,” causing fistfights in the aisles that spread to the stage.

“Mahagonny” is sardonic opera, a parable of Weimar Germany on the brink of Nazi rule. It follows three fugitives who establish a town where everything is legal, so long as it can be paid for. This morally bankrupt city soon attracts a community of lowlifes, criminals, prostitutes and the occasional hapless proletarian.

Weill’s jazz-meets-neoclassical score punctuates scenes in which residents revel in an orgy; a glutton stuffs himself, then drops dead from a heart attack, and a lumberjack is executed for the town’s only crime — running out of cash.

Although “Threepenny” (and Weill) eventually became hits on Broadway, “Mahagonny” didn’t fare so well. This “towering masterpiece hasn’t entered the standard repertoire,” the Dallas Morning News noted in 2000 in a discussion at the time of Weill’s centenary celebration.

Conlon hopes to increase the profile of this social and political satire, which he believes resonates today.

“We see humanity in all its foibles,” he said of the opera which will be performed in an English translation of the German. “We see the rise and fall of a civilization in this tiny microcosm of a small town.”

At press time, Conlon had agreed to set his “Mahagonny” in another Sin City — Las Vegas — during a period that spans the entire 20th century. With opera officials, he cast Audra McDonald as Jenny, the prostitute; Patti LuPone as Mrs. Begbick, the madam; and hired as director John Doyle, winner of the 2006 Tony Award for his revival of the musical, “Sweeney Todd.” Conlon sees “Mahagonny” as a cross between opera and musical theater.

“In that cabaret style, there lies its genius,” he says.

Although “Recovered Voices” is part of a musical trend — a cause taken up by institutions such as the Jewish Museum of Vienna — Conlon is perhaps the most prominent artist to champion the repertoire.

“He is giving it a great profile,” says Bret Werb, a musicologist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Among the American conductors, he is really doing things,” says E. Randol Schoenberg, grandson of banned composer Arnold Schoenberg. “He really wants to devote a big part of his time here in Los Angeles to this music.”

Conlon — named a top U.S. conductor by Opera News — says his motivations are multifold.

“The moral imperative is very simple,” he begins. “You cannot undo the injustice of these ruined lives, but you can undo the one thing that would have meant more to them than anything else, which is to play their music.”

His project isn’t meant to be just a memorial, however. “This music has to be of artistic importance, so I’m not remembering every person who ever put a pen to paper,” he says.

“Next there is the historical perspective. Because of the Nazi suppression, people fell off the map…. So we have written out history and made analyses of history from a musicological standpoint which is incomplete.”

So why was this music ultimately forgotten?

“After the war, you had a population that had been thinned out of its greatest talent,” Conlon says. “You do not have persons who have direct contact with that music or those composers, and you do not have people who had any particular sympathy for many of these victims.

“Arnold Schoenberg was one of the greatest geniuses who was lucky enough to have survived and come to America, where he had a forum for his ideas,” Conlon continues.Schoenberg’s atonal serial music took the classical world by storm.

“Composers whose music did not completely fall into that category got lost,” he said. “Then, with electronic music in the picture, there was no interest in those composers who had gotten lost in the shuffle in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.”

Getting kicked out of shul

A few weeks before the High Holidays, Aaron Biston went to pray at Beth Jacob Congregation, a Modern Orthodox synagogue on Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

After services, during the Kiddush, Steven Weil, the congregation’s rabbi, came over to Biston and asked him to leave the synagogue because he had been banned from its premises several months prior.

Biston refused and demanded, in front of his 13-year-old daughter, to know why he should comply.

Biston said the rabbi replied by addressing the girl: “Your dad’s a thief, a crook, a bad man and a menace to the community.”

Biston then cursed out the rabbi.

What happened next is a matter of some dispute, but both parties agree that the rabbi publicly asked Biston to leave the synagogue and never return.

Biston is now threatening a lawsuit against the congregation unless, he said, he receives a public apology from the rabbi and is allowed to return to the synagogue. Weil has already sent a letter to Biston and his daughter, in which he apologized for his language but said he stands by his decision to ban Biston from the shul.

Biston’s public airing of his story and his threat to file suit have brought to light a number of complaints from others who also have been asked to leave Beth Jacob. They claim the rabbi is autocratic and mercurial and bars people who don’t fit his image of an appropriate congregant.

Weil is a charismatic and intense leader. He came to Beth Jacob from Detroit in 2000, and he can often be seen wearing the work boots and jeans of his upstate New York farming upbringing. He is known for innovative programming, including a cigar club where the rabbi and young men in the community smoke, drink and learn Torah, and the summer Kollel, a post-college learning program.

He spoke to The Journal in the company of synagogue president Dr. Steve Tabak and former synagogue president Marc Rohatiner. Together they openly discussed the half-dozen people who have been banned from their shul.

Although they did not divulge identities of the people they had banned in order to protect them and their accusers from public scrutiny, they painted a picture of individuals whom they believe pose a threat to Beth Jacob’s membership.

Among the stories was that of Biston, who was a defendant in a civil lawsuit over a real estate deal with another member of Beth Jacob that went sour. Court documents allege that Biston cultivated the deal on the shul’s grounds, although Biston claims to have known the man outside of the shul.

The other individuals include someone alleged to have sexually harassed a synagogue member, a man alleged to have behaved inappropriately with children, a woman alleged to have stalked a member with whom she believed she had a relationship and a man who, shortly before being asked to leave the shul, was convicted of pedophilia.

This ugly underside of synagogue life raises the question for all synagogues, not just Beth Jacob: What power does a rabbi or executive board have to deny entry to Jews?

The legal answer is straightforward: A synagogue is a private institution, and when it comes to membership — or in this case, entry, because most of the people asked to leave were not members — the synagogue is entitled to accommodate however it sees fit.

The religious answer is not quite as clear. According to halacha (Jewish law), one needs a beit din, a religious court, to put a person in herem — which means to excommunicate them, to cast them away from the community and isolate them.
But the old rules don’t really hold today, when there are many congregations from which to choose.

“Many times, throughout Jewish history, there were rabbis who placed people in herem,” said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Orthodox Union. “In those days it was a major thing; today, they’d laugh and go to the next town.”

The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), which runs the Orthodox religious court of California, said it does not get involved in private synagogue matters.
“The RCC is a council of rabbis, not a council of synagogues, per se, and doesn’t set synagogue policy,” said Rabbi Avrohom Union, the administrator for the RCC.

In any case, all the religious courts have refused to intervene in the Biston case. (Biston said he is taking his case to a New York beit din.)
The Orthodox Union, the governing organization for Orthodox shuls, holds that a rabbi has the authority to act independently.

“Each rabbi is the morah d’atra, the rabbinic halachic authority of his congregation — that’s why he was chosen,” Kalinsky said. “If the rabbi feels strongly about [someone], he will go to his board, which is responsible for the issues of governance in the synagogue, and they could enforce what they deem appropriate.”

Even if the question is neither legal nor halachic, it nevertheless remains one of ethics: If a synagogue is intended to be open to all Jews, how should leadership deal with characters they feel are unsavory or pose a threat to the community? What is the balance between freedom and security?

Synagogues everywhere always have grappled with the issue of security, but especially since the attacks of Sept. 11. With terrorism and anti-Semitic attacks on the rise internationally, most Jewish institutions have strengthened their security. For example, on the High Holidays this year, a month after the Jewish Federation offices in Seattle were attacked by a gunman, murdering one worker, most synagogues in Southern California increased the number of guards at their doors and carefully checked guest lists of people who had preregistered.

The price? Drop-ins, unaffiliated, undecided and last-minute shul-goers, were turned away. In addition, before the High Holidays, Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss met with neighborhood synagogues to discuss security issues and precautions.

But what of the insider whom synagogue leaders believe may pose a threat to synagogue members? In a climate of increasing vigilance against sexual predators, many religious leaders these days would rather err on the side of caution than take any potential risk.

Conservative Movement to vote on gay marriage

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the movement’s highest legal authority, is expected to vote next week on five separate teshuvot, or responsa, that range from a complete overturn of the traditional prohibition on homosexual intercourse to a restatement of the committee’s 1992 decision upholding the ban.

Implicit in those opinions are views on whether gays and lesbians should be ordained as rabbis and whether Conservative clergy can officiate at commitment ceremonies. Committee members were loath to speculate this week on the final outcome, but insiders expect the committee to endorse both the traditional ban and a more liberal opinion — leaving it to local rabbis to make determinations for each community.

But that’s hardly a foregone conclusion, and the liberal opinion could still fail, particularly if the committee determines that lifting the ban on homosexual intercourse is so substantial a break from halachic precedent that it entails a takanah, an act of legislation overturning an established tradition. A takanah requires an absolute majority of the committee’s 25 members, or 13 votes, to pass. A normal interpretive teshuva requires only six votes.

Report: Jerusalem talks to Barghouti

Israel’s government has been holding indirect talks with a Palestinian politician jailed for orchestrating terrorist attacks. Channel 2 television reported Monday that Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah lawmaker sentenced to five life prison terms in 2003, helped broker this week’s Gaza Strip cease-fire at the behest of the Olmert government, which contacted him through Chaim Oron, a Knesset member from the Meretz Party. Oron declined comment. According to Channel 10 television, the previous Israeli government of Ariel Sharon also communicated indirectly with Barghouti. With Israel and Western power brokers scrambling to offset the influence of Hamas among Palestinians, there has been growing speculation that Barghouti, who professes moderate political views, could be released as part of a rapprochement deal.

West Bank truce seen

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to extend the Gaza Strip cease-fire to the West Bank. Following Sunday’s declaration of a Gaza truce, spokesmen for both sides said negotiations were under way for a similar deal in the West Bank.

“I hope we are going to move in the next few days to have a similar arrangement in the West Bank,” Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Israel’s Army Radio.Israeli diplomatic sources confirmed this in comments to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Extending an olive branch, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel was willing to evacuate settlements in the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state, but only on condition that the Palestinians abandon violence.

Israel allows pro-Abbas deployment in Gaza

Israel agreed to allow Mahmoud Abbas to send a loyal security force to the Gaza Strip. Israeli sources said Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority president had requested permission to redeploy the 1,000-strong Badr Brigade, which is currently stationed in Jordan, to Gaza, and that it had been approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. There was no immediate date given for the move, which would strengthen Abbas’ hand against the rival Hamas in Gaza and could help cement an Israeli-Palestinian truce declared in Gaza over the weekend. The United States has voiced interest in bolstering Abbas’ security forces, especially given the buildup of Hamas terrorists.

Holocaust hero Werber dies at 92

Jack Werber, who helped rescue some 700 Jewish boys at a Nazi camp, died at age 92. Werber suffered a fatal heart attack Nov. 18 in his hometown of Great Plains, N.Y. Born in Poland to a furrier, Werber was separated from his wife and daughter in 1939 and taken to Buchenwald. In 1944, a transport of 2,000 prisoners came to the camp, including some 700 boys. Werber, the barracks clerk, worked with fellow inmates to hide the youngest throughout the barracks and find easier jobs for the older ones. He obtained the complicity of some Nazi guards who were beginning to fear war-crimes charges. After the war, Werber moved to the United States, where his older brother, Max, his only surviving immediate relative, had settled. Werber remarried and started a business in the 1950s, selling coonskin-style caps made popular by Disney’s “Davy Crockett” television show.

OU agrees to oppose Israeli policy

The Orthodox Union (OU) adopted a resolution empowering its leadership to publicly oppose Israeli government policies. The measure was approved by delegates at the group’s biennial convention in Jerusalem on Saturday night.

It was part of a broader resolution on Israel’s security challenges. The resolution noted the continued launching of rockets from Gaza more than a year after Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal strip and expressed skepticism about any policy that relinquishes territory without obtaining security and peace in return. Other resolutions adopted at the convention concerned the plight of evacuated Gaza settlers, the need for a “proactive” response to substance abuse in the Orthodox community and the genocide in Darfur.

Palestinians start English-language newspaper

A privately owned English-language newspaper was launched in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Associated Press reported that The Palestine Times began circulation Monday with 5,000 subscriptions. The new daily says it is not affiliated with any political party; its first edition included op-eds from a Hamas spokesman, a Fatah spokesman and an independent analyst, the AP reported. Circulation in Israel and an Internet edition are planned.

Canadian Muslims send anti-Semitic cartoons

The Canadian Islamic Congress circulated anti-Semitic cartoons to Jewish homes in Ontario, B’nai B’rith Canada charged.

According to a B’nai B’rith statement, Jewish residents of London, Ontario, received the cartoons in their mailboxes along with political flyers from the Canadian Islamic Congress, days before a Monday federal election.

One cartoon shows Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper draped in an Israeli flag with a slightly exaggerated hook nose, reminiscent of stereotypical anti-Semitic depictions of Jews.

California Jewish voters maintain liberal reputation

California’s Jewish voters upheld their liberal reputation in the Nov. 7 election, despite a strong effort by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) to focus on the Bush administration’s pro-Israel record.

While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won reelection by nearly 55 percent of the popular vote, 52 percent of the Jewish ballots went to his Democratic opponent Phil Angelides, according to Los Angeles Times polling director Susan Pinkus.Even in races in which Jewish votes aligned with the majority, the Jewish margin of support was much higher.

Democrat John Garamendi won the lieutenant governor’s race by garnering 49.5 percent of the total vote, but he received 74 percent of the Jewish vote.Similarly, Democrat Jerry Brown was elected attorney general with 56.7 percent of the vote, but was supported by 75 percent of Jews.

Statewide propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E, authorizing multibillion dollar bonds to upgrade California’s infrastructure, transportation, housing availability, schools and levees, all passed, but Jewish support ran 10 percent to 16 percent higher than in the general population.

Two controversial and heavily funded propositions went down to defeat, but would have won easily if only Jewish ballots had been counted.

Proposition 86, which would have levied a stiff tax on cigarettes to fund new health programs, lost by 4 points, but won by 14 points among Jews.

Similarly, Proposition 87, which would have imposed taxes on California oil producers to fund alternative energy research, was defeated, winning support from only 45 percent of the overall voter. Sixty-two percent of Jewish voters supported the measure.

Jews constituted 5 percent of total votes, almost double their percentage of the California population, according to the Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday.

GOP supporters found some cheer in the election of Steve Poizner, a Jewish businessman from Los Altos, who beat Democrat Cruz Bustamante 51:39 in the race for California insurance commissioner. Poizner serves on the presidents’ council of the national Republican Jewish Coalition, said Larry Greenfield, the RJC’s California director.

The Times did not poll voters by religion in this contest.Political scientist and Jewish Journal columnist Raphael Sonnenshein of Cal State Fullerton termed the national election results “the most colossal wave of change going back to 1980.”

California was somewhat insulated from the political tsunami, thanks largely to the tone of Republican moderation set by Schwarzenegger, Sonnenshein said.He believes that Jewish Republicans made a mistake by assuming that Jewish voters were motivated solely by the Israel issue.”That was never true,” he said.

Andrew Lachman, president of Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles, said that both local and national results showed that Jews supported the Democratic Party more strongly than ever. “Surveys have shown that 70 percent of American Jews oppose the war in Iraq, and I believe that the Bush policy has made Israel less secure,” he said.

Local Jewish Republicans were less than happy with the election results but preferred to take the long view.

Winning Jews over to the Republican side “is a lengthy educational process,” said Bruce Bialosky, who founded California’s RJC in 2001.”The younger generation is more open to joining us than older Jews, who have a lifelong commitment to the Democratic Party,” he said.

Bialosky defended the effectiveness of the full-page ads that RJC placed in Jewish publications in major cities, which triggered resentment from Democrats by portraying them as not supportive of Israel.

According to figures from the national RJC, he said, 35 percent of Jews supported Republicans in cities where the ads ran, compared to only 26.4 percent in cities without ads. These numbers have been questioned by Democratic analysts.

Dr. Joel Strom, immediate past president of the RJC’s Los Angeles chapter, was skeptical of the accuracy of polls on Jewish voting patterns, saying that most did not include the generally more conservative absentee ballots.

Strom agreed that large-scale changes in political loyalties are “a generational thing and perhaps we cannot expect a reversal in our lifetime.”

The 2006 Jewish Vote: Much ado about nothing

In the American Jewish political world, 2006 is the year of the battle of the political ads.

Republicans came out swinging, accusing a number of well-known
Democrats of hostility and insensitivity to the needs of Israel.

The Democrats responded, first defensively, by countering that most Democratic officials are pro-Israel and accusing the Republicans of harming Israel by weakening bipartisan support. Later, the Democrats attacked the Republicans for their support of those right-wing positions that most Jews find objectionable.

Beyond the ads lies the political reality. The Bush administration has been very supportive of Israel, defending its right to wage war in Lebanon and attacking one of Israel’s most violent enemies, Saddam Hussein. It also lowered taxes, providing an economic boost to the relatively high-socioeconomic-status Jewish community.

On the other hand, the Iraq post-war policy continued to be a costly failure, the administration effort to help the victims of Katrina was largely incompetent and ineffective and the Republicans were disgraced by a series of scandals, several involving a noticeably and actively Jewish lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

Then came Election Day. So, who won the battle? It depends on what poll results one examines. This year, there is an unusual disparity between the National Election Pool (AP, plus six major television networks), executed by Edison-Mitofsky, and a larger (though highly questionable) sample done for the Republican Jewish Committee by Arthur Finkelstein, a noted Republican campaign adviser.

The television polls put the Jewish Democratic congressional vote at an unusually high 87 percent, whereas the Republican poll had it at 74 percent. A third exit survey, the Los Angeles Times Poll, conducted only in California, showed that for lieutenant governor and attorney general, two races that tend to reflect a purely party vote — because less information is available about the candidates — the Jewish totals were 74 percent and 75 percent. And Jews in California tend to be like Jews across the country, though a little more liberal on noneconomic questions, and thus less Republican.

After some convoluted and thoughtful (I hope) manipulation, I came up with a figure of the Jewish two-party congressional vote — including absentee ballots that have always been more Republican — of about 78-81 percent Democratic and 19-22 percent Republican. So what does this 80 percent tell us?

First, the Jewish vote is not static. Without fail, it moves in the same direction as the larger vote. When the larger American electorate votes more Republican, Jews vote more Republican. Between 1952 and 2004, the difference between the Jewish vote and the non-Jewish vote almost always fluctuates between 15 and 26 percentage points — the Jews always more Democratic. Accepting my estimate, this year the difference is 26-27 percentage points at the upper limit of the historical margin.

Second, this election is not unique in the charge that leading Democrats are less supportive and sensitive to Israel than are Republicans. In 1972, the same charge was laid against the South Dakota populist George McGovern and was repeated in 1980 against Jimmy Carter.

And just as the larger American vote became decidedly more Republican both years, so, too, did the Jewish vote but again within the range of the differences between Jews and non-Jews. (The year 1980 is a little more complicated, because of a substantial Jewish vote for a third-party candidate, John Anderson.)

Third, who won the ad wars? The most direct measure comes from the work of Finkelstein, who found that in heavily Jewish areas, 35 percent of those who read the ads voted Republican, as opposed to presumably 22 percent who did not read the ads. (This is based on my recalculation.)

It should be noted, however, that in heavily Jewish areas, those who read political ads in Jewish newspapers are probably more likely to be strong Israel supporters and more religious than those not reading the ads. For the less strongly Israel-oriented, those ads will have a much more limited appeal.
What can we learn from the vote in 2006? Israel is important to Jews, but we know that it is most important to the Orthodox and more important for older, rather than younger, Jews.

The Orthodox already tend to lean Republican, and they are still a relatively small proportion of American Jewry, so there are not many bodies available to switch. Older people have a longer and stronger tie to the Democrats, so it is harder to pry them loose.

Most American Jews tend to be liberal or moderate, so their natural instincts tend to be Democratic. In addition to the failed post-war policy in Iraq and the incompetence of post-Katrina efforts, Bush and friends fundamentally disagree with American Jewry on a wide range of issues, particularly in the realm of civil liberties: a woman’s right to choose, limited police invasion of privacy, separation of church and state, rights of gays, sensitivity to the needs of immigrants (where Bush is more centrist than many of the congressional Republicans) and especially support for science — in particular stem-cell research, where, according to a report in The Jewish Journal, even many Orthodox oppose Bush’s position.

Republicans charge that Jews are politically na?ve and vote against their own interests, especially when it comes to low taxes and support for Israel. As Jews grow wealthier, their opposition to low taxes starts to melt, but it is not as important an issue as for their non-Jewish neighbors. And, second, there is, indeed, strong support for Israel by almost all leading Democratic officeholders, and a few of the most anti-Israel votes are cast by Republicans.

The Republican political ads in leading Anglo-Jewish newspapers like The Jewish Journal have evoked a strong response on the part of politically interested Jews, especially those actively involved in Democratic organizations. But for most Jews, this is just a sideshow.

Jews, like all voters, pick the party that they think better represents their political positions, and for Jews that is still the Democrats.
One is hard put to resist the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Alan M. Fisher is a political science professor at California State University Dominguez Hills and a member of the Movable Minyan.

Illuminating the Jewish chapters of the Los Angeles story

Los Angeles, to the first-time visitor, can seem something of an enigma. Its vast physical spread often spawns negative stereotypes of a city beset by traffic, smog and the absence of a core. And yet, set against this rather dark image, is Los Angeles’ status as a city of global significance, a massive economic and cultural engine whose ethnic mix reflects the way the United States will increasingly look in the 21st century.

It also is a place whose ethos of constant mobility resists the kind of rigid social stratification that many older European and American cities possess. Indeed, what makes Los Angeles such a source of constant appeal to new arrivals is the opportunity to refashion oneself on a constantly evolving, sun-drenched urban landscape.

The Jewish chapter in this story has hardly been a marginal one. As the second-largest Jewish community in North America, the Los Angeles Jewish community boasts a vast range of cultural, religious, ethnic and institutional diversity — evident to the casual observer of the neighborhoods known as Fairfax, Pico-Robertson, North Hollywood, Encino or the neighboring city of Calabasas. But, as important Jews have been a constant and powerful presence in the making and re-making of Los Angeles. The city has invariably made and remade them, as well, enabling Jews to gain prominence in Los Angeles’ economic, cultural and political life.

It is this dynamic relationship that stands at the heart of an ongoing research project undertaken by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and the Autry National Center here that will culminate in a major museum exhibition on the L.A. Jewish experience at the Autry in 2009.

To give a flavor of the way Jews have remade Los Angeles, we recall the role played by three pioneering personalities over the past century and a half of the city’s history. The earliest of the three was Harris Newmark, who came from Prussia to Los Angeles in 1853 as an ambitious 19-year-old in search of opportunity. Soon after his arrival, Newmark learned Spanish and English, the two languages of the city, in order to establish himself as a merchant and wholesaler. As he made his way to economic success, Newmark helped found the Hebrew Benevolent Society and Congregation B’nai B’rith (today Wilshire Boulevard Temple).

But characteristic of his era and of his fellow Jewish pioneers (who hardly counted a minyan in the 1850s), Newmark was not content to remain within the city’s small Jewish circles. He had a deep commitment to civic involvement and served as a founder and trustee of the Los Angeles Public Library, helped to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad to the county and eventually donated a portion of the property where the present City Hall stands. Newmark has particular value to the student of L.A.’s past, because he left behind a richly detailed memoir, “Sixty Years in Southern California , 1853-1913.”

Another Jewish pioneer from a somewhat later period was Rosalind Wiener (later Wyman). In 1953, Wiener was elected to the Los Angeles City Council, the first woman and the first Jew in 50 years to hold a seat on the Council. At 22 years old, she was also the youngest person ever to serve on the council.

Wiener’s election, together with that of her sometime ally Edward Roybal (the first Latino elected to council in nearly 70 years, in 1949), marked the beginning of an important shift in L.A. political life — an opening of the electoral process beyond the hegemony of white conservatives. It was this opening that laid the foundation for the alliance between African Americans and Jews in the 1960s — the vaunted Bradley Coalition — that altogether reshaped the political landscape of Los Angeles by electing Tom Bradley, an African American, as mayor. Rosalind Wiener Wyman’s election also marked the rise of a well-known phenomenon in today’s intersecting worlds of politics and fundraising — the “Westside,” a codeword for wealthy, liberal and often Jewish patrons of Democratic politics.

The third and final Jewish figure to be mentioned who has helped remake Los Angeles is Eli Broad. Born in New York but raised in Michigan, Broad made his substantial fortune in home-building and finance, two related fields with a very significant Jewish presence in Los Angeles. For the past decade, Broad has committed himself chiefly to philanthropy, supporting a wide array of artistic, cultural, and educational causes in town and beyond. But perhaps his boldest plan is his desire to remake downtown Los Angeles. Broad has invested heavily through his own money, his fundraising and his efforts to persuade others to help in transforming Grand Avenue and the area near Frank Gehry’s landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall into an area of bustling activity, marked by great architectural and cultural distinction. Indeed, he has spoken often of the goal of making Grand Avenue a kind of Champs Elysees of Los Angeles. Echoing the visions of both New York’s Robert Moses and Pittsburgh’s Andrew Carnegie, Broad has become the leading civic patron of Los Angeles today.

The three figures mentioned here, two transplants and a native daughter, share a vision of an civic commitment to a vibrant Los Angeles. Their extensive involvement in the making of Los Angeles attests less to their Jewish practices and beliefs than to their ability to play a pivotal role in expanding the city’s political, cultural and economic horizons. Without question, Los Angeles has risen as a result of the many diverse ethnic groups who make up its cultural fabric — including Latinos, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Persians and Armenians. And yet, it is impossible to conceive of this city without the Jews — the captains of industry, studio moguls, political activists, cultural creators and hundreds of thousands of others from all corners of the globe who have ceaselessly remade its image.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and directs the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA. Karen S. Wilson is a doctoral student in U. S. history at UCLA.

Transcript of David Grossman’s speech at the Rabin memorial

… I am speaking here tonight as a person whose love for the land is overwhelming and complex, and yet it is unequivocal, and as one whose continuous covenant with the land has turned his personal calamity into a covenant of blood.

I am totally secular, and yet in my eyes the establishment and the very existence of the State of Israel is a miracle of sorts that happened to us as a nation — a political, national, human miracle.I do not forget this for a single moment. Even when many things in the reality of our lives enrage and depress me, even when the miracle is broken down to routine and wretchedness, to corruption and cynicism, even when reality seems like nothing but a poor parody of this miracle, I always remember. And with these feelings, I address you tonight.

‘ Behold land, for we hath squandered,’ wrote the poet Saul Tchernikovsky in Tel Aviv in 1938. He lamented the burial of our young again and again in the soil of the Land of Israel. The death of young people is a horrible, ghastly waste.

But no less dreadful is the sense that for many years, the State of Israel has been squandering not only the lives of its sons but also its miracle: That grand and rare opportunity that history bestowed upon it, the opportunity to establish here a state that is efficient, democratic, which abides by Jewish and universal values; a state that would be a national home and haven, but not only a haven, also a place that would offer a new meaning to Jewish existence; a state that holds as an integral and essential part of its Jewish identity and its Jewish ethos, the observance of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens.

… And I ask you: How could it be that a people with such powers of creativity, renewal and vivacity as ours, a people that knew how to rise from the ashes time and again, finds itself today, despite its great military might, at such a state of laxity and inanity, a state where it is the victim once more, but this time its own victim, of its anxieties, its shortsightedness.

… Mr. Prime Minister, I am not saying these words out of feelings of rage or revenge. I have waited long enough to avoid responding on impulse. You will not be able to dismiss my words tonight by saying a grieving man cannot be judged. Certainly I am grieving, but I am more pained than angry. This country and what you and your friends are doing to it pains me.

… The calamity that struck my family and myself with the falling of our son, Uri, does not grant me any additional rights in the public discourse, but I believe that the experience of facing death and the loss brings with it a sobriety and lucidity, at least regarding the distinction between the important and the unimportant, between the attainable and the unattainable.

Any reasonable person in Israel, and I will say in Palestine, too, knows exactly the outline of a possible solution to the conflict between the two peoples. Any reasonable person here and over there knows deep in their heart the difference between dreams and the heart’s desire, between what is possible and what is not possible by the conclusion of negotiations. Anyone who does not know, who refuses to acknowledge this, is already not a partner, be he Jew or Arab, is entrapped in his hermetic fanaticism, and is therefore not a partner.

Let us take a look at those who are meant to be our partners. The Palestinians have elected Hamas to lead them, Hamas who refuses to negotiate with us, refuses even to recognize us. What can be done in such a position? Keep strangling them more and more, keep mowing down hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are innocent civilians like us? Kill them and get killed for all eternity?

Turn to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, address them over the heads of Hamas, appeal to their moderates, those who like you and I oppose Hamas and its ways, turn to the Palestinian people, speak to their deep grief and wounds, acknowledge their ongoing suffering.

Nothing would be taken away from you or Israel’s standing in future negotiations. Our hearts will only open up to one another slightly, and this has a tremendous power, the power of a force majeur. The power of simple human compassion, particularly in this a state of deadlock and dread. Just once, look at them not through the sights of a gun, and not behind a closed roadblock. You will see there a people that is tortured no less than us. An oppressed, occupied people bereft of hope.

Certainly, the Palestinians are also to blame for the impasse, certainly they played their role in the failure of the peace process. But take a look at them from a different perspective, not only at the radicals in their midst, not only at those who share interests with our own radicals. Take a look at the overwhelming majority of this miserable people, whose fate is entangled with our own, whether we like it or not.

Go to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, do not search all the time for reasons for not to talk to them. You backed down on the unilateral convergence, and that’s a good thing, but do not leave a vacuum. It will be occupied instantly with violence, destruction. Talk to them, make them an offer their moderates can accept. They argue far more than we are shown in the media. Make them an offer so that they are forced to choose whether they accept it, or whether they prefer to remain hostage to fanatical Islam.

Approach them with the bravest and most serious plan Israel can offer. With the offer than any reasonable Palestinian and Israeli knows is the boundary of their refusal and our concession. There is no time. Should you delay, in a short while we will look back with longing at the amateur Palestinian terror. We will hit our heads and yell at our failure to exercise all of our mental flexibility, all of the Israeli ingenuity to uproot our enemies from their self-entrapment. We have no choice and they have no choice. And a peace of no choice should be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice. And those who believe we do have a choice, or that time is on our side do not comprehend the deeply dangerous processes already in motion.

Israeli author Grossman exhorts Olmert to follow Rabin’s example

He has long been known abroad as an Israeli novelist. But this weekend, David Grossman put fiction aside to become the voice of an Israel that is bruised, confused and yearning to see the horizon beyond the perennial war clouds.

Grossman delivered the central address at Saturday night’s rally in memory of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking for a half-hour to a rapt crowd estimated at 100,000 people.

He brought with him not just an intellectual’s gravitas but the sorrow of a bereaved parent: Grossman lost a son, Uri, in the final offensive of the summer war against Hezbollah, a war Grossman had urged the Olmert government to cut short.

But Grossman eschewed self-pity and called on Israelis to be mindful of a national dream of a Zionism bringing peace and progress and that seems, to many, to be slipping away.

“One of the most disturbing feelings exacerbated by the recent war was the feeling that in these days, there is no king in Israel, that our leadership — our political and military leadership — is vapid,” he said.

“When was the last time that the prime minister advocated or implemented measures with the capacity for opening up a new horizon for Israelis, or a better future? When did he initiate a social, cultural project, inspired by a value, instead of just reacting frenetically to moves imposed on him by others?”

Speaking at the site of Rabin’s assassination in 1995 by a far-right zealot opposed to his intended rapprochement with the Palestinians, Grossman painted a portrait of the late prime minister as a man who reluctantly engaged a historical enemy of Israel because he felt there was no alternative. Others, however, believe Rabin made a catastrophic mistake by empowering and even arming a Palestinian national movement that never took its peace commitments seriously and remained committed to Israel’s destruction.

Like Rabin, Grossman said, current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should make a peace offer to the Palestinians, bypassing their hard-line Hamas government. Israel also should not be deaf to diplomatic overtures from Syria, Grossman argued.

The remarks came as Israel waged a major military operation in the northern Gaza Strip aimed at stopping cross-border rocket fire by Palestinian terrorists. At least 40 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have died.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar warned that the offensive could put the life of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza, at risk. But Olmert was unfazed.

“We have informed the world that we do not intend to countenance continued Qassam rocket barrages against Sderot and other surrounding Israeli communities,” Olmert said at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting. “We will take the necessary measures to significantly diminish them and prevent terrorist operations. Thus we have said, thus we are doing and thus we will continue to do.”

Critics have accused Olmert of trying to look tough in Gaza to make up for the failings of the 34-day war in Lebanon, which was launched after Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross- border raid. The war ended without achieving the soldiers’ return.

“Israel flexed an enormous military muscle, but what was revealed behind it was its fragility and the limitations of its capability,” Grossman said. “Simple human compassion has the power of a natural element, particularly in a situation of deadlock and hostility.”

Grossman’s rebuke hit its mark with at least one member of the Olmert government — Labor Minister without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel, who was attending the rally alongside Vice Premier Shimon Peres and other political notables.

“I haven’t heard a speech like that in years, and it is important to listen to it because it expresses the feelings of large sectors of our nation. Even though he spoke harshly, we mustn’t dismiss him and we mustn’t ignore him,” Cabel told Ma’ariv.

With his popularity waning, Olmert has surprised friend and foe alike by bringing Avigdor Lieberman into his government. Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party advocates annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank while ceding Israeli Arab communities to the jurisdiction of a future Palestinian state in what Lieberman describes as partition along ethnic lines.

His appointment prompted the resignation of a Labor Party minister, Ofir Pines-Paz. At the Rabin rally, Grossman described it as “the appointment of that recidivist pyromaniac to manage the fire-fighting service of the state.”

Lieberman was quick to rebuff the remarks. In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday, he wrote off the rally.

“Instead of seeing an event of national reconciliation, we received obvious left-wing political fulmination,” he said.

Olmert had no immediate comment on Grossman’s critique. But a Rabin memorial speech given separately by the prime minister suggests he should not be discounted as a potential peacemaker. Speaking at the Knesset, Olmert urged Palestinians to abandon their hostility toward Israel before it’s too late.

“We want to find a solution to the ongoing conflict between us,” Olmert said. “For 44 years you have been trying to ignore reality. Look how bad your situation is. Think for a moment where you find yourselves. If you continue with terror and hate, and if you continue to press the trigger, it will be a pity, a pity. Bad and bitter will be your fate. Consider your moves very carefully.”

Jewish Time Machine: The 1982 General Assembly in Los Angeles

When it comes to issues making up the agenda during General Assemblies in Los Angeles, perhaps Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) was right when he wrote: “What has been will be, what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Los Angeles had surpassed Chicago as the country’s second largest Jewish population center by the mid-1950s, but it wasn’t until 1966 that what was then called the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (CJF), now United Jewish Communities, held its first GA here.One-thousand attended that GA, the CJF’s 35th, at the Ambassador Hotel, where, seven months later, Robert F. Kennedy would be assassinated.

The main discussions focused on changing conditions in the Israeli immigration picture and Israel’s economy, as well as issues facing overseas Jewish communities.

The GA returned to Los Angeles in 1982. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since, but the challenges confronting the Jewish world then are strikingly similar to those in 2006:A war in Lebanon and the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila, the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Syria, the suffering of Ethiopian Jewry, cutbacks in federal and state funding of social services, grave concerns about American Jewish identity and low levels of affiliation and giving to Jewish causes.

(Although not everything’s the same- registration in 1982 cost $110 for out of town delegates and $50 for Los Angeles residents; this year it’s $525 and $275, respectively.)

At the same time, it was the CJF’s celebratory Golden Anniversary GA, or “GALA” as it was called, and it occurred during the period some consider to be a golden age of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, then led by president Osias Goren and executive vice president Ted Kanner.

A volunteer hospitality team of 700 Jewish Angelenos welcomed the 3,000 delegates, who were greeted on arrival by mariachis and a recreation of Farmers Market.

More than 500 marched from the Bonaventure to City Hall to call attention to imperiled Jewish communities around the world and to protest anti-Semitism in Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, the Soviet Union, Syria, Western Europe and elsewhere. Mayor Tom Bradley and law professor Irwin Cotler, who at the time was working to secure the freedom of imprisoned refusenik Anatoly Scharansky, spoke to the crowd. A conference session on the plight and rescue of Ethiopian Jews was found to be particularly moving.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino was scholar-in-residence, and spoke at two plenary sessions on the convention’s theme, “Federation’s Role and Responsibility in Ensuring the Commitment of the Next Generation.”

Schulweis said the “megastructure” of Jewish organizations and institutions is remote and alienating to the individual Jew struggling to maintain a rich Jewish spiritual identity. He maintained that the “post-Holocaust” generation is “less secular, less moved by the public agenda and institutions and more concerned with the spiritual, personal and internal dimensions of their lives.”

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was scheduled to address the Saturday night Golden Anniversary banquet. It was to be his first major speech to a U.S. audience since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in “Operation Peace for Galilee” in June 1982. After the GA, he would fly to Washington to meet with President Ronald Reagan. Debate over the Lebanon War caused a great rift in Israel. This political turmoil, the loss of Israeli lives and the massacre greatly troubled Begin. The prime minister hesitated to leave Aliza, his wife of 36 years, who had been hospitalized for much of the previous year with respiratory problems. When her condition improved slightly, she convinced him to go. The main ballroom of the Bonaventure was packed with delegates, guests and officials such as Governor Jerry Brown and Mayor Tom Bradley.

Outside, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Secret Service and LAPD had their hands full with demonstrators and counter-demonstrators. LAPD had issued a permit to the Committee to Oppose the Begin Visit, a coalition of several pro-Palestinian groups and others. The New Jewish Agenda and the Jewish Defense Organization were also among the picketers.

But sadly, Begin’s appearance at the GA was not to be. Shortly before he was to speak, his beloved wife Aliza died in Jerusalem. He immediately flew back to Israel for her funeral.

Moshe Arens, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, stood in for Begin at the GA. According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, he recounted some of “the scars we in Israel bear from the terrorists coming out of Lebanon,” and said that Israel’s operation had smashed the PLO infrastructure, thereby striking a blow for peace in the region. Nevertheless, he observed, Israel was “criticized, vilified, calumnied and judged” by the nations of the world and “we were subjected to snap judgments” by the media and its audiences.

Arens was critical of “those who counsel us to make concessions,” declaring that “the wages of weakness in the Middle East is destruction.” The ambassador also recounted other achievements of the war in Lebanon and each achievement was greeted with roars of applause: He noted that Lebanon was then rising from seven years of warfare and occupation and that a new page was turning “in the tragic history of that country. Hopefully, Lebanon will join the world democratic community and also be at peace with Israel.”

Perhaps what Kohelet is saying is that the significant, unresolved issues of one generation are left as a legacy to the next, to be reconsidered, reclaimed and reconciled.


Box-office politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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