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Jewish support for Israeli-Arab causes goes mainstream, irking some

When the Reform movement passed a resolution endorsing advocacy for Israeli Arabs, it wasn’t the first time an American Jewish group had backed the cause of Israeli-Arab equality.

In recent years, a growing number of American Jews have thrown their support toward Israeli-Arab causes, including civil rights and advocacy organizations, women’s empowerment courses, student-exchange programs, and even film festivals.

More than 80 Jewish groups belong to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues, which works on behalf of equal treatment of Israeli Arabs and Jews.

The Jewish federations’ Venture Fund for Jewish and Arab Equality and Shared Society, a mix of 21 private family foundations, federations, and philanthropists, has raised more than $1 million for Israeli-Arab causes since its launch in 2007. And in 2006, the Jewish Agency for Israel announced it would invest in projects benefiting Israeli Arabs, scrapping a policy, in place since its founding in 1922, of exclusively helping Jewish causes.

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A controversial poster depicting an Israeli soldier clutching a Palestinian woman’s breast was created by an Israeli-Arab group that receives funding from diaspora Jews.

Last week’s unanimous endorsement of the cause by American Jewry’s largest religious movement, at the biennial conference in Toronto of the Union for Reform Judaism, was the latest sign that Jewish support for Israeli-Arab causes has gone mainstream.

“There’s no doubt that more money has been given to this issue then ever before. It’s become a mainstream issue,” said Rabbi Brian Lurie, co-chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force, a former CEO of the Jewish federation of San Francisco and one of the key Jewish activists raising money in the diaspora for Israeli Arabs. “Whether your mind-set is equality, whether it’s the security of Israel, whether it’s building bridges, all three reasons are involved and these are compelling reasons.”

Arab citizens constitute approximately 20 percent of Israel’s population of 7 million. Though they have the same rights accorded Israel’s Jewish citizens, studies have shown that Israeli Arabs routinely suffer from employment discrimination and receive fewer government funds than Israel’s Jewish sector in such areas as education, infrastructure, and welfare.

In 2006, an Israeli government committee set up to investigate riots in October 2000, in which Israeli police fire left 12 Arab protesters dead, determined that Israel long had neglected its Arab citizens. The Or Commission finding helped pave the way for mainstream Jewish groups to support a cause long championed by organizations such as the New Israel Fund and the Abraham Project.

Not everyone is happy about it.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, says American Jews should not be sending funds to an Israeli community that is disloyal toward Israel. He cited visits by Israeli-Arab lawmakers to enemy states such as Syria by way of example.

“I think it’s a mistake to be raising money for Israeli Arabs, at least until they show their support for Israel and its rights,” Klein said. “There’s been an inverse relationship between the monies being allocated to the Israeli-Arab communities and their loyalties and commitment to Israel.”

The New Israel Fund, for example, has come under fire for its support of Israeli-Arab advocacy groups that take controversial positions, including calls for eliminating Israel’s Jewish character. Just last week, three NIF-funded Arab Israeli groups were behind a poster suggesting that Israeli soldiers sexually violate Palestinian women, prompting critics to cry foul.

The NIF defended its position even as it criticized the poster, which publicized a conference on sexual rights in Muslim societies called “My Land, Space, Body and Sexuality: Palestinians in the Shadow of the Wall.”

“While we certainly defend the conference as appropriate — and as always, may disagree with our grantees on some key issues but see no reason to force them into ideological lockstep — there’s no question that the poster in question is unnecessarily provocative and misleading,” NIF communications director Naomi Paiss told JTA.

Other Jewish organizational officials say the Israeli-Arab community needs to be held to account.

“We need to hold the leaders of the Israeli-Arab community or any other community to be responsible,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, which is a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force. “That means that when there are incitements or actions that are detrimental, they need to counter it.”

Warning that some of the money donated with the intent of bolstering Israeli society by reaching out to Israeli Arabs is used for “questionable purposes,” Hoenlein said donations by diaspora Jews should be put to use effectively “to counter the Islamist forces, encourage moderation, and create conditions that are inductive to it.”

American Jews who support funding Israeli-Arab causes say they do so out of concern for Israel’s democracy and Jewish values.

“Israel’s strength and survival depend on the democratic nature of the Jewish state,” said the Reform movement’s resolution on the issue. “These imperatives require that we be ever sensitive to the aspirations and just demands of Israel’s minority citizens.”

Jessica Balaban, the executive director of the Inter-Agency Task Force, says her mission transcends political and ideological boundaries.

“With better education, people understand that improving the quality of life for the Arab citizens of Israel is not only a moral imperative but also in our self-interest, and it’s been well received by the Arab community here,” she told JTA by phone from Israel.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, an umbrella organization for Orthodox synagogues, said he objects to funding Israeli-Arab causes as a matter of priorities.

“Tradition teaches us priorities, and those priorities dictate that we give to our own families first,” Lerner said. “Jews in Israel have needs, and you don’t see the Arabs giving money to the Jews.”

Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, subscribes to an opposing theological view. Quoting the biblical injunction to “welcome the stranger in your midst,” Ellenson says it’s a religious imperative — and eventually it will strengthen Israel.

“In general,” he said, “I think that people who are treated with respect and dignity tend to respond to those who treat them this way.”

 
 

Déjà vu in Ahmadinejad performance at U.N.

NEW YORK – When Iran’s president spoke from the podium at the United Nations this week, the scene it sparked was something of a repeat from his address at the U.N. Durban Review Conference a year ago in Geneva.Then as now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks prompted delegates from several Western countries to walk out of the plenum — this time when he accused the West of double standards on nuclear technology.

It was political theater that has become a standard part of the drama surrounding Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West.

While the United States, European countries, and Israel press for Iranian nuclear transparency, Tehran does what it can to avoid tougher sanctions and divert attention from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Ahmadinejad’s appearance Monday at the review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, when he tried to draw attention to U.S. and Israeli nuclear weapons, was of a piece with that effort.

“Regrettably, the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including my country,” said Ahmadinejad, the only head of state to attend the conference.

Turning to Israel, he said, “Although the Zionist regime stockpiles hundreds of nuclear warheads, wages numerous wars in the Middle East region, and continues to threaten the people and nations of the region with acts of terror and threats of invasion, it enjoys the unconditional support of the Unites States government and its allies and receives the necessary assistance to develop a nuclear weapons program.”

Heeding a call issued by Jewish groups in the days leading up to the conference, delegates from the United States, Britain, France, Hungary, New Zealand, and the Netherlands walked out as Ahmadinejad spoke. Israel, one of three U.N. member nations that are not members of the nonproliferation treaty, along with India and Pakistan, was not at the conference.

“Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability poses a threat to the region and the entire Western world,” the president and executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Alan Solow and Malcolm Hoenlein, said in a statement before the conference urging delegates to walk out when Ahmadinejad spoke. “To have President Ahmadinejad address this review conference makes a mockery of the efforts of many countries to prevent nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism from becoming the gravest global threats of this century.”

While Ahmadinejad tried to focus the conference attention on Israel’s non-participation in the international nuclear treaty, Western leaders sought to spotlight Iran’s noncompliance with nuclear inspectors.

“Iran’s president offered the same tired, false, and sometimes wild accusations against the United States and other parties at this conference, but that’s not surprising,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the conference. “Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability. Ultimately, however, we will all be judged not for our word but for our action.”

Jewish groups organized protests and a news conference outside the United Nations.

At one event, several members of the U.S. Congress and Jewish organizational officials gathered across the street from the U.N. building, calling the proceedings on the opposite side a sham. The protesters called for tougher sanctions against Iran and demanded that corporations stop doing business with the Islamic Republic. JTA

Ari Bildner contributed to this report.

 
 

Netanyahu hints at flexibility on Jerusalem

It was an otherwise wholly unremarkable stump speech before a friendly audience in New York.

On the evening of July 7 at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, the Israeli prime minister addressed a roomful of more than 300 Jews on the subjects of Iran, his government’s eagerness for direct peace talks with the Palestinians, and the swell meeting he had just had with President Obama at the White House.

News Analysis

But then, in an off-the-cuff remark to a question on Jerusalem from the audience, Benjamin Netanyahu dropped a hint that his government’s insistence on Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem might not be ironclad.

“Everybody knows that there are Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that under any peace plan will remain where they are,” Netanyahu said in response to the question read by the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein.

The implication of Netanyahu’s remark — that other neighborhoods of Jerusalem may not remain “where they are,” becoming part of an eventual Palestinian state — was the first hint that the Israeli leader may be flexible on the subject of Jerusalem. Until now, Netanyahu has insisted that Jerusalem is not up for negotiation.

While the prime minister surely did not intend the gathering under the aegis of the Presidents Conference to serve as his forum for opening up negotiations over Jerusalem, the impromptu remark before an audience of prominent New York Jews and a handful of elected officials cast a slim ray of light on what Netanyahu thinks might be the Israeli capital’s ultimate fate.

He reiterated the point on Sunday in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?” Wallace asked, according to a transcript provided by Fox News.

Netanyahu responded, “Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.”

The remarks on Jerusalem were significant because Netanyahu’s true intentions regarding the peace process remain largely opaque, the subject of much debate from Washington to Ramallah. Netanyahu was a latecomer to the two-state position — endorsing the idea of an eventual Palestinian state only a year ago, after much prodding by the United States — and the governing coalition he has assembled is composed largely of right-wing parties that do not believe in the current Palestinian Authority as a partner for negotiations.

In public, President Obama declared last week that he believes Netanyahu is genuinely committed to seeking a two-state solution.

“I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace,” Obama told reporters following his Oval Office meeting with Netanyahu. “And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Privately, however, some U.S. administration officials have expressed doubts about Netanyahu’s ability to make good on that vision. Other Obama supporters have questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to that goal, and the Palestinian Authority leadership says Netanyahu’s interest in negotiations is not serious.

“Words, not deeds,” was the assessment of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who dismissed Netanyahu’s lip service to the peace process in an interview with The New York Times following the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. “We need to see deeds.”

Netanyahu insists he is serious about peace talks, and that it is the Palestinians who are playing games.

“You either put up excuses or you lead,” the Israeli leader said in his New York speech. “I want to enter direct talks with the Palestinian leadership now,”

“I think we can defy the skeptics,” he said, recalling the doubters that abounded when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin began talking to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the lead-up to the Camp David Accords, and when Richard Nixon visited China. “This is a challenge I’m up to.”

Was it hyperbole or a sign of the legacy Netanyahu hopes for himself?

If Netanyahu is interested in following Begin and Nixon’s model, leading a conservative government to a historic rapprochement with a longtime foe, eventually he will have to include Jerusalem in negotiations with the Palestinians; they won’t sign a peace deal without it. If not, Netanyahu is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the skeptics.

“This is going to be a very, very tough negotiation, but I’m prepared to negotiate,” Netanyahu insisted last week. “But I cannot engage between someone who won’t sit at the table.”

JTA

 
 

Meeting again with Jewish leaders, Abbas broaches substance

WASHINGTON – For Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Jewish leaders, their second date featured a little more substance and a little less flirtation. And this time the Palestinian Authority president brought a wing man.

Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, met separately Tuesday evening with Jewish leaders in New York — a sign of understanding on the Palestinian side of the importance of Jewish sensibilities, in Israel and the diaspora, to advancing the peace process.

News Analysis

At the meeting, Abbas seemed ready to move forward on some substantive issues, which took place during the launch of the U.N. General Assembly session.

In the first meeting, in June, Abbas frustrated Jewish leaders by dodging issues of substance — returning to direct talks and incitement — but set a tone unprecedented in Palestinian-Jewish relations by recognizing a Jewish historical presence in the land of Israel.

When a group of Palestinian intellectuals challenged Abbas on the issue a month later, instead of backtracking — typical of the one step forward, two steps back peace process tradition — his envoy in Washington, Ma’en Areikat, repeated and reaffirmed the comments.

In the interim, direct talks have been launched.

“I would like for us to engage in a dialogue where we listen to each other and where I can respond to your questions because I trust we have one mutual objective — to achieve peace,” Abbas said at Tuesday’s meeting, according to notes provided by the Center for Middle East Peace.

The center, a dovish group founded by diet magnate Daniel Abraham, sponsored the Abbas meeting, as it did in June. The Fayyad meeting was sponsored by The Israel Project, which tracks support for Israel in the United States and throughout the world.

Making his clearest statement to date on the matter, Abbas said he would not walk away from negotiations should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to extend a partial 10-month moratorium on settlement building set to lapse next week. The PA leader suggested that a way out might be if Netanyahu does not make a public issue of the end of the moratorium.

“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it’s very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the west bank and Jerusalem,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu is under pressure from the settlement movement not only to end the moratorium, but to resume building at levels unprecedented in his prime ministership. The Israeli leader also is heedful, however, of Obama administration demands that the parties not go out of their way to outrage each other.

Among the Jewish leaders at the Abbas meeting were Malcolm Hoenlein and Alan Solow, the executive vice chairman and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director; and leaders of umbrella groups such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Also on hand were Clinton administration foreign policy mavens such as Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright, and Daniel Kurtzer, who maintain close ties with Obama’s foreign policy team.

Abbas also showed that he was attempting to bridge a gap on what until now seemed an intractable issue.

The Palestinians have long accepted the inevitability of a demilitarized state, but they reject a continued Israeli military presence. Netanyahu told Jewish leaders in a conference call Monday that he would trust no one but Israeli troops to preserve Israel’s security on the west bank’s eastern border. At the meeting, Abbas floated the idea of a non-Israeli force that would include Jewish soldiers.

On other issues, Abbas was less prepared to come forward.

Israel wants a clear commitment from the Palestinians that any discussion of the refugee issue would preclude a flooding of Israel with descendants of refugees of the 1948 war, which Israelis say is a recipe for the peaceful eradication of Israel. Behind closed doors, the Palestinians have said they are ready to provide Israel the assurances it needs, but Abbas said at the meeting only that it is a final-status issue.

Another issue could yet scuttle the talks now that the parties seem ready to put the settlement moratorium behind them.

Netanyahu, having extracted what seems to be an irreversible Palestinian recognition of Israel during his previous turn in the job, in 1998, now wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — a result of the emergence of movements that seek to strip Israel of its Jewish character.

Abbas has resisted, in part because he sees such recognition as cutting off the 20 percent of Israel that is Arab, but also because he seems baffled by the demand. He argues that states are free to define themselves and should not need the approbation of others.

“If the Israeli people want to name themselves whatever they want, they are free to do so,” the PA president said.

In a sign that he also was seeking conciliation on the matter, Abbas said at the meeting that he would accept the designation if it were approved by the Knesset. He repeated his recognition of Israel’s Jewish roots and decried Holocaust denial.

It was not far enough for some of his interlocutors.

Stephen Savitzky, the president of the Orthodox Union, wanted Abbas to recognize not only Jewish ties to the land but with the Temple Mount, the site of the third holiest mosque in Islam.

“President Abbas missed an opportunity this evening to make a key statement that would have created good will in the Jewish community,” Savitzky said in a statement.

Fayyad, less charismatic but deemed more trustworthy than Abbas by the pro-Israel intelligentsia, appeared to fare well in the dinner hosted by The Israel Project, which hews to the centrist-right pro-Israel line of much of the U.S. Jewish establishment. He scored points for admitting that the Palestinian Authority had not done enough to combat incitement.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a founder of The Israel Project.

“We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas — especially when it can help lead to security and peace.”

JTA

 
 

Diaspora group wants to revitalize Israel’s Mount of Olives Cemetery

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A Council of Young Israel delegation inspects newly desecrated graves in the Mount of Olives Cemetery during an emergency visit to demand action from the Israel government to rehabilitate the world’s oldest Jewish cemetery. From left, Rabbi Chaim Wasserman (formerly of Passaic), Rabbi Sholom Gold, Rabbi Meyer Fendel, Shlomo Mostofsky, and Young Israel of Teaneck President Mark Zomick. Photo by Sasson Tiram

Mark Zomick never did locate the tombstones of his great-great-grandparents on the Mount of Olives. The president of Young Israel of Teaneck toured the ancient Jerusalem cemetery late last month, led by an international committee advocating greater security and upkeep at the ancient site.

Though he did not see the graves of his ancestors David and Gittel Berg, his group — accompanied by two armed guards because of frequent attacks on cemetery visitors — did see evidence of why the committee was formed last spring: smashed and defaced headstones, mounds of garbage, and illegally built Arab homes on land zoned for cemetery use.

“We saw [Arab] kids cutting through to get from school to home. We saw tombstones from as recently as 2006 that were already trashed,” said Zomick. “It’s difficult to watch, and it’s hard to understand how this was allowed to happen.”

Overlooking the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives (Har Hazeitim in Hebrew) has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. Some of the historic figures interred here are biblical prophets Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi as well as such modern-day Israeli legends as Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, author S.Y. Agnon, and Chief Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook and Shlomo Goren.

“My parents are buried there, and it always bothered me why the holiest Jewish cemetery in the world wasn’t safe to visit without an escort,” said Avraham Lubinsky of Brooklyn, founding chairman of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim.

Lubinsky assumed the situation was hopeless until he read in May about State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’ charge that despite funds earmarked for the site, “repair work proceeds at a snail’s pace, maintenance standards are inadequate, security is sorely lacking, and vandalism and criminal acts continue unabated.” Last Jerusalem Day, buses carrying mourners were stoned near the cemetery, and four people were sent to the hospital.

“The Lindenstrauss report said the government was supposed to act many times but ignored the situation, and that fired me up to bring the committee into action,” said Lubinsky.

He has brought the issue to the attention of American Jewish leaders, including Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, Orthodox Union President Steve Savitsky, and Steve Mostofsky, president of the National Council of Young Israel. About 1,100 people attended a forum sponsored by the committee at the beginning of November at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. They learned that among the graves most often vandalized are Begin’s and that of the Gerrer rebbe, a prominent chasidic leader.

“Could anyone picture the American president walking into Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and seeing John F. Kennedy’s grave shattered, and neat rows of heroes’ graves busted into little pieces? All hell would break loose,” said Mostofsky.

Israel’s national military cemetery at Mount Herzl on the west side of Jerusalem is well-manicured and safe. But the Mount of Olives is “disgusting beyond belief,” according to Mostofsky. “It sort of looks like a scene from ‘Godzilla,’ just rubble.”

He acted as tour guide on the recent trip to the cemetery in which Zomick participated with his children Shoshanah and Adam. Jeff Daube, director of the Israel office of the Zionist Organization of America, also went along.

Mostofsky said the group found the wires for the security cameras but no cameras. “It was astounding to see, and I think everybody there was heartbroken.”

Lubinsky has been assured by the Jerusalem Development Authority that it will use the allocated funds to improve the situation. On the JDA’s website, the cemetery rehabilitation project is described as “a result of cooperation between the Ministry of Finance, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Jerusalem Municipality, and the Ministry of Tourism” and includes plans for new signposts, an information center, security cameras, formal tours, and regular cleaning and maintenance.

“The committee will have to apply continuous pressure until the government takes care of this,” said Lubinsky.

Zomick would also like to see improved access roads. “It was hard to get there because the traffic is heavy in that area, and Arabs drive up and down the street harassing people, using the cemetery approach to make U-turns,” he said.

“There needs to be a fundamental change in mindset to recognize the ancient Jewish significance of this holy and historic site,” said Mostofsky.

 
 

RYNJ celebrates new wing

Dedication looses torrent of memories

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Some 150 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of the new wing. Photos by Jeanette Friedman

The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey celebrated another milestone in its 73-year history on Sunday night with the dedication of its new wing on Kinderkamack Road in River Edge. The yeshiva dates to 1937, when Yeshiva of Jersey City and its eight students were housed in the Five Corners Shul. Today the school has almost 1,000 students.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the event’s keynote speaker, quipped that his best title is saba (grandfather). Hoenlein’s grandchildren attend the school, and his family was present in the crowd of 150.

Hoenlein began with a survey of the role of education in Jewish history, but soon segued into politics. He cited examples of Palestinian attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel — from historical revisionism and Holocaust denial to the denial of Jewish connections to the Temple Mount, the Tomb of Rachel, and other Jewish heritage sites. He told the audience that the Iranians had recently threatened to destroy the tombs of Esther and Mordechai, the heroes of Purim, and urged that Jewish students be prepared to stand up to those who would use propaganda and anti-Semitism to destroy Israel and the Jews.

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Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, was the keynote speaker.

Honey Rosenbaum Senter — the daughter of Aaron and Rosalind Rosenbaum, for whom the school is named — remembers the early ‘40s winters, when she and her kindergarten classmates played King of the Mountain on piles of snow opposite the building. Though she is no longer closely involved with the school, Senter, who lives in Teaneck, was one of the key people who helped establish the yeshiva in Bergen County.

Stanley Fass of Teaneck remembers being one of five kids from Weehawken and North Bergen piling into a station wagon every morning and heading for Jersey City. They were Honey Rosenbaum, Fass’ brother Marty, Phil Levitan, Betty Ann Freiman and Michel Werblowsky (now a Teanecker, too). There were five in the January 1948 graduating class, and the ceremony took place in the yeshiva’s new home, a former public school building on New York Avenue in Union City. It also had a new name, adopted in 1947: Yeshiva Hudson County.

Fass, the Rosenbaums, and this reporter, who was in a 1950 kindergarten class (and whose children and grandchildren also attended the yeshiva), remember how the Rosenbaums helped the Hirsches — a couple who fled Europe during the Holocaust and landed in the Union City building, where they lived in an apartment in the basement. The couple acted as caretakers — not just of the building, but of the students. They cooked school lunches, cleaned the building, and generally looked after the students. Sarah Hamm, the general studies principal, traveled from Crown Heights to Union City every day for decades to serve her students. And the Rosenbaums’ upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor, was given a job as a teacher in the Jewish studies department. His daughter, and the children of other Holocaust survivors in the neighborhood, many of them born in Displaced Persons’ camps, got their first taste of American life and American citizenship, as well as their Zionism, from Yeshiva Hudson County.

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Yehuda Rosenbaum, left, the president of the school, presents a plaque of appreciation to Azi Mandel for his efforts in the development of the new wing.

In 1979, responding to changing demographics, the yeshiva moved to the New Milford Jewish Center, then to the Jewish Center of Teaneck, and finally to the current location, a site dedicated in 1994 and renamed in 2005 to honor the Rosenbaums.

The ceremony opened with a d’var Torah from Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein, dean of the school, and honored Azi Mandel of Teaneck, a school parent and a principal of Hoboken-based Tree Top Development who donated his services toward the creation of the wing. Mandel, whose parents and grandparents were present, was awarded a plaque that will be placed at the wing’s front door. He told The Jewish Standard he was glad to give his time and energy to such a worthy project. It was his way of giving back just a little for all the good the yeshiva had given him and his family.

The event was chaired by Gila and Carl Guzman of Teaneck.

 
 

Either embrace change in Egypt or hold your peace

_JStandardOp-Ed
Published: 03 February 2011
 
 

Is Obama’s J-Dar off?

Probing, once again, the ‘kishkes question’

WASHINGTON – Does President Obama need a “Shalom Chaver” moment à la Bill Clinton?

More fraught back-and-forth between the organized Jewish community and the Obama administration again has brought to the fore the question of what the president feels in his gut toward Israel and the Jewish people.

The questions were prompted by the Obama administration’s late and qualified response to last week’s naming of a square for Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who helped mastermind a 1978 bus attack that killed 37 Israeli civilians, including a dozen children. The hurt feelings were sharpened by the massacre over the previous weekend of an Israeli couple and three of their children in their home in the Itamar settlement in the west bank.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, noted the Mughrabi square naming at a Manhattan memorial service for the murdered Fogel family members from Itamar.

“If governments, even our own, do not stand out and shriek and condemn and take action when they see this kind of action by the Palestinian Authority and their representatives” — and the incitement continues despite repeated promises — then “we must make sure that our voices are heard,” Hoenlein said. “We have to demand accountability and that there will be consequences.”

Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, asked what the president feels “in his soul” — a reference to disputed reports that in a meeting with Jewish leaders last month, Obama asked them to “search their souls” regarding their desire for peace.

“In light of what President Obama said to us at the White House and in light of this present episode, the ZOA asks a simple question: What does President Obama’s shocking, unbelievable, and frightening refusal to condemn the honoring and glorifying of a major Jew-killer by [President Mahmoud] Abbas’ P.A., a day after an anti-Israel massacre, tell us about Obama’s true feelings about Jews and Israel?” Klein asked. “Mr. Obama, we respectfully ask you, sir, to ‘search your soul’ to evaluate your feelings and actions and policies toward the Jewish state of Israel.”

President Clinton set the high mark for connecting with Israelis and Jews in his 1995 eulogy at Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral when he encapsulated worldwide Jewish grief in a simple Hebrew phrase: “Shalom, chaver,” “Farewell, friend.” The second President Bush also made clear his affection for the Jewish state, both supporters and detractors agree.

Speaking on the record, most Jewish community leaders dismiss talk about Obama’s “kishkes factor” — what he feels in his gut — as overly focused on the ephemera of emotions and beside the point: The lines of communication with the White House are open, they say, and the president and his staff are responsive to their overtures.

“I would say we have a good line of communication with them,” said Alan Solow, the Presidents Conference chairman and a fund-raiser for Obama in 2008. “Our access is both appropriate and excellent. There’s not a problem of communication issue between the Jewish leadership and the White House.”

Solow would not address the kishkes factor, saying it was inappropriate for him to comment.

Speaking on background, however, a number of Jewish community figures — among them those who generally sympathize with the administration’s outlook on Israel — say Obama just doesn’t get it.

“His J-Dar is off,” said one dovish figure who recalled Obama’s first meeting with Jewish leaders in the summer of 2009, when he told them that previous administrations’ policy of not being public about policy disputes with Israel was unproductive.

“It may have been true, but it was not the right thing to say” to Jewish leaders, the official told JTA. “What it implies is that you’re trying to drive a wedge between them and the government of Israel — but you should know that rarely, rarely works because the organized Jewish community supports Israeli governments. He doesn’t get the emotional issue, and maybe even the structural issue.”

Obama’s missed opportunity was not visiting Israel after his June 2009 address to the Muslim world in Cairo, a number of officials have said.

A conservative who has tried to make the case for this White House among like-minded friends and colleagues says Obama’s aloof personality is a problem.

“With Clinton, when he talked to you, it was like you were the most important person in the world,” the official said. “With Obama, it’s like he’s the most important person in the world.”

A prominent Democrat and a Clinton administration veteran said the problem was not confined to the Jews: This White House had made the rookie mistake of believing its resounding victory gave it a license to ignore special interests.

“It’s frustrating for every community, not just the Jewish community,” the Democrat said. “They have turned up their nose at constituency politics — labor, Hispanics, blacks, gays, and lesbians also don’t get courted. They think they can go past affinity groups, and they can in some instances, but they still have to court the groups.”

White House officials tend to audibly sigh when the question arises. They especially chafe at the notion, raised by a number of Israeli and pro-Israel officials, that there is no immediate “hotline” official in the White House — someone like Elliott Abrams, the Bush administration’s top Middle East staffer, who could be reached at a moment’s notice.

That person in this White House has been Dan Shapiro, who has Abrams’ job, and he has been responsive, according to friends of the White House.

One sympathetic pro-Israel official said that expecting microscopic attention to square-namings by west bank Palestinians was demanding too much of Shapiro.

“He’s just been dealing with that small problem of Libya,” the official commented dryly.

Obama announced recently that Shapiro would be his nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.

White House officials say they have tried to be responsive and have engaged with Jewish leaders, and they say it’s a no-win situation: When they do not respond to a given event, like the Mughrabi square naming, they get into trouble, but when they do respond, the response is picked apart for inadequacies.

That damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t-prickliness characterized Jewish reaction to Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in 2009, when he went out of his way to condemn Holocaust denial among Arabs — and was slammed by some Jewish groups for seeming to draw moral equivalence with Palestinian suffering and for neglecting to mention the Jewish people’s biblical roots case for Israel.

The more recent episode, over the Mughrabi square, showed how an administration could stumble. The first response, days after the naming, came from relatively low-level officials and in response to a JTA inquiry, and said the administration was seeking “clarification” on an event that had been widely reported. The Palestinian Authority did not officially sponsor the event, nor did its officials attend it, but officials of Abbas’ Fatah Party were in attendance and Abbas did not reprimand them.

A day later, the State Department’s top official, Mark Toner, explicitly condemned the naming and said the United States “urged” Abbas to address it.

Ori Nir, the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, suggested such reactions were overwrought.

“Obama does not seem to have internalized yet, or does not seem cognizant yet of the fact that most American Jewish voters are progressive — they support his general agenda,” Nir said. “They typically don’t vote first and foremost on Israel and will probably overwhelmingly vote for him again.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Area marks Yom HaShoah

UJA: ‘We must make sure every child learns about the Shoah’

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Nachum Mester of Wanaque lights a candle as his daughter Zahava Trosten and his son Isaak look on. Charles Zusman

Survivors, family and friends gathered Sunday at The Frisch School for a Holocaust memorial, but while they were physically in Paramus, their attention was focused thousands of miles away, on Auschwitz, where the annual March of the Living was taking place.

Originally the “march of death,” from Auschwitz to the death camp at Birkenau, now it’s the March of the Living, said Wallace Greene, a member of the Holocaust Committee of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the gathering’s sponsor. He noted that 10,000 youngsters take part, most (but not all) of them Jewish.

Unfortunately, bad weather in Poland prevented much of a planned live telecast from Auschwitz from getting through, but recorded speeches by Elie Wiesel, and then Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations, were displayed on the large screen.

Some video did make it through, however, and the audience saw live images of youngsters gathered at Auschwitz, and a song performed by Dudu Fischer.

Meanwhile, the ceremony in Paramus was emotional in its own right. Youngsters in the audience carried 68 candles, commemorating the 68th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The candles were lined up on the stage in front of the screen displaying the images from Auschwitz. Song was provided by the Frisch Concert Choir under Scott Stein.

Survivors honored at the Paramus event were Lilly Veron of Fair Lawn, who was born in Hungary and survived the war in work camps in Vienna; Jack Rosen of Fair Lawn, born in Poland, who survived Auschwitz; and Stella Baum of Fort Lee, born in Poland, who survived the war hiding in the woods.

Also honored were Abe Klein of Fair Lawn, born in Poland, who survived a roundup in Lublin; Rae Nutkiewicz, born in Poland, who was taken by her mother to the Russian zone and survived the war in Siberia: and Nachum Mester of Wanaque, born in Moldova, under a bush, he said, after the train deporting his mother was bombed.

Alan Scharfstein, UJA-NNJ’s president, spoke of the event’s lasting message. “Our purpose is not just to tell the story,” he said, but also to “ensure that the story becomes part of the DNA of the Jewish people, and part of the collective DNA of all humanity.”

There is a long way to go to reach that goal, he said, but the annual remembrance is a step in that direction.

Greene spoke of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and other acts of rebellion. “Jews did fight back,” he said. “Despite overwhelming odds … they fought back in many ways. By retaining their humanity and refusing to be dehumanized by the Nazis, by acts of kindness to one another, even in the camps, by acts of piety, by acts of nobility … even in the darkest holes of evil and horror that they experienced.”

“We are grateful to be living in America. We are grateful to the survivor community; they are our living witnesses,” he continued. “For the dead, and for the living, we too must be witnesses,” Greene said.

“We must guarantee that the next generation will know what happened,” he said, “We must make sure that every child learns about the Shoah” so that their children will know what happened when there are no longer any surviving witnesses.

David Machlis of Englewood, the vice chair of the International March of the Living, conceived the idea of the live telecast, Greene said. Co-chairs for the Paramus event were Rosalind Melzer and Allyn Michaelson.

Greene said the hope is for more youngsters to take part in the March for the Living, saying that the “powerful experience” strengthens their identity as Jews, bringing “a stronger feeling for Jewish continuity,” and he appealed for donations for the program.

Greene said that the non-Jewish participants in the March of the Living “are more likely to take part in social justice activities. They are more likely to take action against discrimination.”

Wiesel opened his pre-recorded address with a question: How can people, the Nazis, reach such depths? “We have learned that racism is stupid and anti-Semitism is a disgrace,” he said.

“Whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness. We must never allow our past to become our children’s future.”

Hoenlein continued that thread. “We remember [in order] to spare future generations of the trials of the past,” he said. “Judaism puts an emphasis on life. We look back in order to look forward.”

He cited the lessons of the 1930s, when Nazism was on the rise, but said there are differences now — there is the State of Israel and there is an Israel Defense Forces. “We must determine our future course” and not let our enemies do so, he said.

However, he said, the “big lie” still works, and “messages of hate” now spread faster than in the ‘30s. He cited the anti-Israel stance of Iran, the tragedy of Darfur, the recent murders of an Israeli family, and the fact that “the world is silent” in the face of these. “We have to speak out against indifference to us and to others,” he said.

 
 

Amid Murdoch scandal, Israel backers worry about muting of pro-Israel media voice

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 22 July 2011

WASHINGTON – Pro-Israel leaders in the United States, Britain, and Australia are warily watching the unfolding of the phone-hacking scandal that is threatening to engulf the media empire of Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corp.

Murdoch’s sudden massive reversal of fortune — with 10 top former staffers and executives under arrest in Britain for hacking into the phones of public figures and a murdered schoolgirl, and paying off the police and journalists — has supporters of Israel worried that a diminished Murdoch presence may mute the strongly pro-Israel voice of many of the publications he owns.

“His publications and media have proven to be fairer on the issue of Israel than the rest of the media,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “I hope that won’t be impacted.”

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Rupert Murdoch, left, with Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League at an October 13, 2010, dinner in honor of the News Corp. chairman. David Karp Photography

Murdoch’s huge stable encompasses broadsheets such as The Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, and The Australian, as well as tabloids, most notably The Sun in Britain and the New York Post. It also includes the influential Fox News Channel in the United States and a 39 percent stake in British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB, a satellite broadcaster. Murdoch founded the neoconservative flagship The Weekly Standard in 1995, and sold it last year.

Jewish leaders said that Murdoch’s view of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbors seemed both knowledgeable and sensitive to the Jewish state’s self-perception as beleaguered and isolated.

“My own perspective is simple: We live in a world where there is an ongoing war against the Jews,” Murdoch said last October at an Anti-Defamation League dinner in his honor. “When Americans think of anti-Semitism, we tend to think of the vulgar caricatures and attacks of the first part of the 20th century. Now it seems that the most virulent strains come from the left. Often this new anti-Semitism dresses itself up as legitimate disagreement with Israel.”

Murdoch, 80, has visited Israel many times and met with many of its leaders. In 2009 he was honored by the American Jewish Committee.

“In the West, we are used to thinking that Israel cannot survive without the help of Europe and the United States,” he said at the AJC event. “Tonight I say to you, maybe we should start wondering whether we in Europe and the United States can survive if we allow the terrorists to succeed in Israel.”

Leaders of a number of pro-Israel groups declined to comment for this story because of Murdoch’s current difficulties. On Tuesday he and his son, James, testified before a parliamentary committee in London.

Murdoch also has been seen as a friend of the Jews in the diaspora, even though Fox has irritated the Jewish establishment for championing at times what many Jews perceive as the margins of right-wing thinking — for instance, when Fox host Bill O’Reilly defended Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ.”

When some Jewish organizational leaders complained that Fox talk show host Glenn Beck was relying on anti-Semitic tropes in peddling discredited theories about liberal billionaire financier George Soros, Murdoch nudged Fox chief Roger Ailes into meetings with Jewish leaders. Beck left Fox last month.

Murdoch’s affection for Israel arose less out of his conservative sensibility than from his native Australian sympathy for the underdog fending off elites, according to Isi Liebler, a longtime Australian Jewish community leader who now lives in Israel.

“From my personal communications with him, it’s something that built up,” Liebler told JTA. “He’s met Israelis, he’s been to Israel, he’s seen Israel as the plucky underdog when the rest of the world saw Israel as an occupier.”

Australian Jews noted the pro-Israel cast of Murdoch’s papers as early as the 1970s, before he had established ties with the Jewish community. The word from inside his company was that Israel was an issue that he cared about, which helped shape its coverage in his media properties.

Robert Fisk, a veteran Middle East correspondent and a fierce critic of Israel who worked for the Murdoch-owned Times of London from 1981 until 1988, eventually quit and moved to The Independent because of what he said was undue editorial interference in his writing. Recalling those days, Fisk said Murdoch’s influence trickled down through editors who understood that he wanted his media to reflect his outlook.

“I don’t believe Murdoch personally interfered in any of the above events,” Fisk wrote recently in The Independent, describing the decisions that drove him away from the Times. “He didn’t need to. He had turned The Times into a tame, pro-Tory, pro-Israeli paper shorn of all editorial independence.”

In recent days, Murdoch has appeared wan and battered by the crisis that already has shut down a flagship paper, The News of the World, and scuttled his takeover plans for BSkyB.

The question circulating in pro-Israel circles is whether the empire’s pro-Israel stance will survive Murdoch.

“Is this curtains for pro-Israel Murdoch?” the London Jewish Chronicle asked in a column last week.

An account of a clash over Israel between Murdoch and his son and heir apparent was first published in the diaries of Labour Party publicist Alastair Campbell and has splashed through pro- and anti-Israel blogs in recent days.

Campbell, in an account republished last week in The Guardian, which has led the coverage of the phone-hacking charges, described a dinner at 10 Downing St., the British prime minister’s residence, in 2002, when Tony Blair — also seen as pro-Israel — was its occupant.

“Murdoch said he didn’t see what the Palestinians’ problem was and James said it was that they were kicked out of their f--ing homes and had nowhere to f--ing live,” the account in The Guardian said. Murdoch chided his son for using foul language in the prime minister’s home.

Liebler said that from what he understood, the incident was an anomaly and one that emerged during one of the most intense periods of Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

“He’s had differences with his son on many issues, and this happened once and it went off the map,” Liebler said. “I don’t think it was anything fundamental.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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