The latest, and certainly most colorful, addition to the ranks of the local Likud leadership is Beverly Hills lawyer Myles L. Berman.
He is better known to citizens facing drunk driving charges -- and to connoisseurs of advertising slogans -- as The Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney, but these days, it's the defense of Israel that is uppermost on his mind.
Last June, fed up with what he considers the failure of established organizations to involve the American Jewish and Israeli expatriate communities, he founded the Beverly Hills Chapter of the American Friends of Likud.
So far, he has recruited 11 upscale families, drawn primarily from the Iranian Jewish community, to which his wife, Mitra belongs. The members make up in financial clout what they lack in numbers, with a combined worth of over $1 billion, according to Berman.
Born into a strongly Democratic family but later a founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Berman, at 51, is a man of strong physique and opinions.
"I am fed up with intermarriage and with rabbis who reach out to gay and intermarried couples," he said during an interview in his spacious Sunset Boulevard office.
A member of Sinai Temple, Berman fears that "to some extent, rabbis and lay leaders are unable to instill Jewish identity" into their constituents.
Currently, Berman is focusing his considerable energies on two primary issues:
One is to assure the election from America of a large pro-Likud slate for the upcoming quadrennial Congress of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), dubbed "The Parliament of the Jewish People," and his own election to the No. 5 spot on the slate.
He is concerned, he said, that so few American Jews realize the importance of June elections for the WZO Congress, which plays a major role in determining relations between Israel and the Diaspora, the running of the Jewish Agency and the dispersal of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Berman's second immediate goal is to persuade the Israeli government and Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote in Israeli elections.
"It matters to both Israel and American Jewry what the expatriates say and do," he observed.
Berman has "grabbed [the two issues] in my teeth," he said. With Berman that means putting his money and advertising savvy behind the effort. Indeed, his penchant for publicity elicits knowing smiles even from fellow Likudniks.
Berman is laying out $50,000 of his own money to place his messages on Israeli cable TV programs popular with Israeli expats, and in the Anglo-Jewish and Hebrew-language press in the United States.
"I hope the efforts will further my ultimate aim of bridging the gap between Israeli leaders and American Jews," Berman said.
Any Jew over 18 is eligible to vote for delegates to the Congress of the World Zionist Organization online or via mail by Feb. 15. For details, go to www.azm.org or phone (888) 657-8850. The Congress will meet June 19-22 in Jerusalem.
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