Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) says that though President Obama’s attempt to engage the government of Iran may not succeed, it is crucial to rallying international support for severe sanctions in the future .
As chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the veteran lawmaker is a key player in shaping U.S. foreign policy and one of Obama’s strongest backers.
“The Bush administration’s policy of trying to isolate Iran, coupled with military threats, simply didn’t work,” Berman said in an interview before an Aug. 14 briefing of community leaders at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Obama has tightened the screws by shortening the time limit for a positive Iranian response from the end of the year to late September.
Berman is not optimistic that the Iranian government, as now constituted, will respond to the U.S. overtures, but he is certain that subsequent sanctions will therefore be more severe.
“We will tell foreign companies that they have a choice of doing business either with us or with Iran,” Berman said.
On the Iranian nuclear program, Berman calculated that the country has the capability of reprocessing low-grade into high-grade uranium and to design for a warhead to deliver a nuclear payload.
“They’re not there yet, but they’re getting pretty close,” he said.
Despite reported frictions, Jerusalem and Washington see basically eye to eye on the long-range policy toward Tehran.
“In my conversations with Israeli officials, I found that they support our policy as long as three conditions are met,” Berman said. These are: a time limit on U.S. engagement efforts, a willingness to ratchet up the pressure when needed, and the possibility of exercising the military option.
Berman also praised George Mitchell, Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East.
“It may look at times as if Washington is pounding on Jerusalem, but Mitchell has made it quite clear to the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority that they must accept Israel as a Jewish state and stop their incitements against Jews,” Berman said.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
BJE Changes Name ... to BJE
The Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles is undergoing a name change. Beginning in September, it will be known simply as BJE.
“The name of the agency is going to be BJE, like TRW and KFC,” said Gil Graff, BJE’s executive director. “The tagline is ‘Builders of Jewish Education.’”
The decision to update and contemporize the BJE brand came in June after a visibility committee concluded an 18-month review of the agency as part of a strategic plan launched in 2007.
“Identification as a ‘bureau’ no longer reflects who we are and incorrectly suggests that we are a department of a larger organization. At the same time, research indicated positive associations with the BJE name, warranting the preservation of that moniker,” BJE President Marc Rohatiner explains in the organization’s next newsletter.
In addition to soliciting outside opinions, the agency hired two external consultants to work with the committee — Innovation Protocol assisted with the name change, while PRAD Communications helped design the new logo.
— Adam Wills, Senior Editor
College Students Learn Ways to Counter Anti-Israel Bias
Seven college students from Southern California attended the first session of the Legacy Heritage David Project Campus Fellows Seminar, held Aug. 2-6 in Boston, Mass., learning skills and techniques for confronting campus hostility.
This year’s seminar marks the largest outreach to the West Coast since the Boston-based David Project started in 2002 as a response to anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments on campus. Among the Southland students attending the seminar were Channah Barkhordari, Matthew Lavi, Neelie Milstein, Jasmin Nikzad, Neuriel Shore, Mira Simon and Niloo Rivani.
Milstein, a UC Irvine student, said her campus can be a hostile environment.
“Every year we have Israel hate week,” Milstein said. “[The Muslim Student Union] puts it on and they bring an apartheid wall displaying images we see in the media; horrific pictures and a blood-stained Israeli flag.”
This year’s Campus Fellows Seminar was the largest to date, educating 110 campus leaders on ways to respond with pro-Israel messages. Students review key historical facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict, analyze case studies significant to individual campuses and engage in debates.
“What distinguishes this seminar from others is that we have invested in these students and they are really working hand in hand with campus coordinators,” said Ann Kolodner, David Project’s executive director.
“The seminar opened my eyes to see the different experiences everyone is dealing with on their campuses,” Milstein said.
Lavi, programming director for CSUN Students for Israel, said he came away from the conference with worthwhile advice.
The strongest message was “try to be on the offense without being on the offensive,” he said.
— Rebecca Steinberger, Contributing Writer