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Jewish Journal

Community Briefs

by Tom Tugend

July 21, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Possible Terror List Contains Israeli Consulate, 2 Temples

FBI counterterrorism agents are investigating whether two American Muslim converts planned to attack the Israeli consulate general, two synagogues and other targets in Los Angeles.

Yariv Ovadia, Israeli consul for public affairs, said federal agents have warned the consulate of possible threats.

"We fully trust American authorities to handle the situation," he added, declining to elaborate further.

FBI spokeswoman Vickie Hampton-Franklin said she could not divulge the names of the two synagogues or any other aspect of the ongoing investigation.

The possible threats were apparently discovered accidentally, when Torrance police arrested Levar Haney Washington, 25, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, as suspects in a string of gas station robberies in the South Bay over the last two months.

Washington converted to Islam while serving a prison sentence for a previous assault and robbery conviction in 1999. Patterson, who has no criminal record, is believed to be a more recent convert.

A search of Washington's apartment in South Los Angeles turned up what police described as jihadist literature, bulletproof vests and an address list of various Los Angeles sites. One entry referred to the "Consulate of Zion," which investigators took to mean the Israeli consulate. Also listed were the two synagogues and California National Guard recruiting stations.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force of federal and local agents is also looking into Patterson's recent employment at a duty-free gift shop at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

The terminal houses the El Al ticket counter, where in 2002, an Egyptian immigrant shot and killed two Israeli Americans.

The two suspects have been arraigned on nine counts of robbery and remain in custody in lieu of bail: $2 million for Washington and $1 million for Patterson.

In an unrelated incident earlier this week, Los Angeles police said an inactive World War II Japanese hand grenade was left in front of a firehouse on Robertson Boulevard, prompting firefighters to call the bomb squad.

Streets around the firehouse were cordoned off. At about the same time, a backpack was discovered in the vicinity, sparking additional concerns. It turned out to be harmless. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor, and David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Holocaust Denial Group Planning 'Peace' Rally

A Holocaust denial group is planning what it calls a "rally for justice and peace" at the Simon Wiesenthal Center on July 29, part of an ongoing effort by right-wing extremists to borrow the language of antiwar activists.

The Institute for Historical Review plans its noon rally in front of the center's Pico Boulevard headquarters, across the street from the Museum of Tolerance. A Web site announcement by the group's executive director, Mark Weber, said the protest would highlight the Wiesenthal Center's "record of lies in support of war, Zionist oppression and Jewish supremacism."

A combination of antiwar and anti-Israel rhetoric have the potential to resonate, say experts, because some participants in antiwar events tie Israel to the Iraq War, blending conspiracy theories about Jewish power with broader ones about the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center protest probably will not attract a large crowd, but calling it a "rally for justice and peace" raises concerns, said Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at the Massachusetts-based Political Research Associates. "Well-meaning yet naive, antiwar activists are easy prey for cynical right-wingers."

Berlet added that some left-leaning activists embrace followers of right-wing extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Refugees from the 1990s "patriot" movement produce conspiracy theory DVDs that are sold at antiwar events. Those far-right DVDs use, as source material, the anti-Semitic newspaper, American Free Press, formerly The Spotlight of the far-right Liberty Lobby founded by Willis Carto -- who also created the Newport Beach-based Institute for Historical Review.

Wiesenthal Center officials do not comment on extremists, because the center does not want to give them media credibility. But in 1993, the center exposed Weber, who claims to be a historian, as a Nazi sympathizer.

Weber did not respond to a Jewish Journal e-mailed request seeking comment. On July 16, Weber was scheduled to host a small invitation-only gathering of like-minded historical revisionists in New York.

Mark Pitcavage, Anti-Defamation League fact-finding director, said he was skeptical of Weber's reach, given the typical turnout at his events.

"If 10 people show up to Mark Weber's rally, then you can say that his attempt to expropriate their language has not had much success." -- DF

Drisha Institute Plans Torah Study Program for Women

An acclaimed organization for text-centered Torah study for women is setting up shop on the West Coast this summer, as Drisha Institute of New York holds satellite classes in Los Angeles Aug. 9-14.

Taught by graduates of Drisha's Scholars Circle, the daytime and evening classes will explore the theme of "Personalities and Relationships in Tanakh and Rabbinic Literature."

Founded in 1979, Drisha was the first center fully dedicated to advanced Torah study for women, opening to women texts such as the Talmud and other legal works that had previously been closed in traditional circles.

Today, thousands of women go through Drisha's programs annually. There are courses for high school girls, mother-and-daughter bat mitzvah classes, adult education offerings and intensive, certified study through the institute's multiyear Scholars Circle program.

"People discover the transformative power of learning at Drisha, and often talk about how the experience has changed their life," said Gail Katz, a Drisha board member who moved to Los Angeles in January and organized the summer program.

The Los Angeles classes will bear the Drisha hallmarks -- chavruta learning with study partners, as well as instructor-led classes and discussions. English translations for source material will be available, and the school says it has classes appropriate for all levels.

Scholars Beth Samuels, Wendy Amsellem and Ilana Fodiman-Silverman will teach courses on topics such as sisterly rivalry in the Bible, women in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), the making of a heretic and a special Tisha B'av program commemorating the destruction of the Temple. Morning classes are open to women only; evening classes are coed.

The entire program costs $50, or $18 per session. For a class schedule, go to www.drisha.org. -- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

 

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