The Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have turned up pressure on the California High School Speech Association (CHSSA) to reschedule the 2008 statewide debate tournament, currently slated for the first night of Passover.
The City Council unanimously passed a resolution last Friday asking CHSSA to rectify the scheduling snafu, which places the culminating competition of the debate team year on family seder night.
Additionally, the office in charge of secondary education at LAUSD has been in conversation with CHSSA, saying if all Jewish students cannot be included, LAUSD will host an alternative debate tournament.
CHSSA president Sharon Prefontaine said that her organization, an independent nonprofit, is still discussing these latest developments, and has no comment on them right now.
Earlier this month, CHSSA posted a statement on its website acknowledging the scheduling conflict but saying it is too late to change the April 18-20 event, a date that was approved by the board, including many Jewish members, two years ago. The tournament is attended by more than 800 students, plus parents and coaches. Santa Clara University and nearby hotels have been booked for a year. CHSSA rejected proposals at its Sept. 15 board meeting to investigate rescheduling the tournament.
Maintaining that it's not too late, Jewish groups and several powerful organizations in Northern and Southern California have coalesced to mobilize support for a date change.
LAUSD stepped into the conflict after a coalition of Jewish groups led by The Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council alerted them to the conflict.
"We try to make a concrete effort in L.A. Unified to provide equity of access for all of our students. It's a benchmark of what we are about, so we're very sensitive to it," said Francine Eisenrod, director of special projects at LAUSD.
Eisenrod spoke with Prefontaine about entertaining other options, but Prefontaine told her the topic would not be taken up again until CHSSA's next meeting in January.
Eisenrod is working on a letter, to be signed by Robert Collins, LAUSD's chief instructional officer for secondary education, that will offer to help CHSSA resolve the issue and will inform CHSSA that LAUSD will host an alternative tournament in the spring if no resolution is reached.
L.A. City Council president Eric Garcetti and City Councilmembers Wendy Greul and Jan Perry co-sponsored the Oct. 12 resolution.
At that meeting, Alison Mayersohn, senior associate director of the Anti-Defamation League's Pacific Southwest Region, told members that their vote in favor of the resolution would send a message to CHSSA that the community at large supports a date change.
Perry asked her colleagues to support the resolution, saying, "This is about making sure that all young people have a level playing field and about respecting each other's religious practices, beliefs and observances." Garcetti said that logistical issues should be able to be overcome.
"Just as scheduling something on Christmas or another notable holiday would not be on the schedule, we believe this should not be," Garcetti said.
For a link to a video of the city council session, go to "Item 53" at http://lacity.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2188 or http://lacity.org/cdvideo_wm.htm, (Oct. 12 meeting, item 53).
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor
Weiss Recall Effort Collapses
The effort to recall Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss collapsed this week when, days before the filing deadline, campaign organizers conceded they could not collect the 23,000 signatures needed to initiate a recall election.
"Therefore," committee member Kevin Singer wrote Monday in a letter to the city clerk, "the Committee to Recall Jack Weiss would like to take the honorable course of action and save the citizens and taxpayers of the city of Los Angeles the cost and expense of counting and verifying the signatures."
The campaign began six months ago in response to purportedly increasing traffic on the Westside and developer influence at City Hall. The committee's Web site, www.recalljackweiss.com featured a grinning Weiss sporting a cartoon hardhat with a dollar sign on it and holding a sign that stated: "Expect heavy traffic congestion and delays!! I'm making lots of deals that are going to add to your gridlock."
Weiss, who plans to run for city attorney in 2009, represents a broad swath from Century City to Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, but the recall effort was rooted in the Century City area. The councilman has not spoken publicly about the recall effort, and declined to on Tuesday. His political strategist, Larry Levine, said the outcome was expected.
"This was really a few angry people who went off on a tangent," Levine said. "We monitored it, took the pulse of it, made sure it wasn't spreading. Remember, when Jack got re-elected last year, he got 72 percent of the vote."
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
Schwarzenegger Signs Iran Divestment Bill Into law
On Oct. 14, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill prohibiting California's state pension funds from investing in companies doing business in Iran.
"At a time when the world is desperate for leadership, the governor has proven that courageous leaders can make a difference in fighting evil," said freshman Assembly member Joel Anderson, who authored the bill.
Also known as AB 221, the law will require the pension funds of the California Public Employees Retirement (CalPERS) and the State Teachers Retirement (CalSTRS) -- together valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers -- to divest an estimated $24 billion from nearly 300 companies that do business with Iran. Local Jewish leaders praised the passage of the bill that puts economic pressure on Iran, which is believed to have been developing a nuclear weapons program over the last few years.
"The passage of AB 221 sends a critical message to Americans and to the world that regimes of terror such as Iran's will not receive the support of hard-earned retirement dollars from our state's employees. We hope that other states will follow suit," said John R. Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Last September, Schwarzenegger signed two similar bills prohibiting the state's pension funds from investing in companies with active business in Sudan and indemnified the University of California from liability that might result from its divestments from Sudan.
-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin was remembered last week as a proud nationalist and modest leader, whose principles are still relevant to Israel today.The occasion was the 30th anniversary of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, and it drew some 300 Angelenos to the memorial tribute at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.
In attendance were Begin's daughter, Hasia Begin Millo, his granddaughter and great-grandchildren, as well as Yechiel Kadishai, Begin's former chief of staff.
Consul General Ehud Danoch, who initiated the event, pointed out that Begin's last stay in the United States was in Los Angeles, where he addressed a large Israel Bond rally in 1982. The visit was tragically cut short when Begin was notified that his wife, Aliza, had died in Israel.
For Danoch, whose second daughter was born to his wife Miki on Oct. 1, it was his last official public appearance as Israel's top representative in the Southwest before returning home.
Gilad Erdan, a Likud member of the Knesset, gave the key address, in which he described Begin's humility and intense national pride, a combination not seen in an Israeli leader since, Erdan said.
He cited Begin's three principles as no Jewish civil war, as demonstrated during the Altalena confrontation in 1948; no division of Jerusalem, despite pressure by President Carter at Camp David; and a deep sense of humanitarianism that extended to Vietnamese refugees admitted to the Jewish state.
In a panel discussion, Kadishai, Erdan, Danoch and Herzl Markov, director of the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, recalled some of Begin's thoughts and sayings.
Kadishai quoted his former boss speaking in 1980 at the 100th anniversary of Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky's birth, in which Begin vowed that "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, which will never be divided for all generations to come."
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Odeh Slaying Case Re-Opens
The cold case of a 22-year old murder of an Arab civil rights official is warming up again, putting the names of two deceased Jewish Defense League (JDL) officials back in the news.
Federal and local officials have received new evidence in the slaying of Alex Odeh, former Western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 11.
Odeh was killed and seven others injured when he opened to door to his Santa Ana office, triggering a bomb explosion. One day earlier, Odeh had publicly criticized the news media for linking the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) to the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of a wheelchair-bound American Jewish passenger.
Suspicion for the crime fell immediately on two JDL leaders, Irv Rubin, who had just been named national head of the militant group by its founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane, and Rubin's deputy, Earl Krugel.
The two men were never charged with the crime, but in 2005, when Krugel was sentenced to 20 years in prison in a separate case, he entered a plea agreement promising to help FBI agents still probing the Odeh killing.
Shortly after entering prison, Krugel was killed by a fellow inmate, but not before providing some details on the Odeh slaying and the names of three accomplices, of whom two are believed to live in Israel, according to he Times.
Reportedly, this new evidence has now led a joint federal and local Terrorism Task Force to reactivate the case.
Sami Odeh, the murder victim's brother, said that task force agents, who briefed him last week, seemed to be upbeat about the importance of the evidence.
Rubin died in November 2005, after jumping from a balcony at a detention center. Prison officials termed the death a suicide, a verdict adamantly rejected by Rubin's family.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor