Israel Travel Penalty Ends
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill that seeks to bar life insurance companies from penalizing travelers who visit Israel and other countries commonly perceived as dangerous.
The states of Washington, New York and Illinois have similar legislation on the books.
The change, signed into law Sept. 30, should help both Californians planning to travel to Israel as well as those who have previously visited Israel. Both groups have faced increased premiums or outright denials of coverage. Insurance companies based this practice on the presumption that traveling to Israel significantly increased the chances of a person's death.
Many companies based the policy on State Department travel warnings, which to this day classify Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip as dangerous for Americans.
"That's not provable [by] data," said Nancy Appel, regional deputy director for the Anti-Defamation League, which lobbied in favor of the bill.
"The [dangerous] events could be highly localized, while other parts of the country are fine," said Appel, who testified before legislative committees on behalf of Senate Bill 1105.
The bill enjoyed swift and broad support, but there was concern about opposition from the influential insurance industry.
Backers of the bill, including its sponsor, state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), made an important compromise in June to avoid opposition from the insurance industry. The industry agreed to stay neutral in exchange for a clause allowing insurers to continue former practices when there is documentation supporting a country's dangerous reputation.
"They would have to come up with statistics that your risk of death has gone up and therefore [they are] denying you coverage or charging you a higher rate," Appel said. -- Idan Ivri, Contributing Writer
MTA Driver Wins Discrimination Suit
A Jewish bus driver has been awarded $20,000 from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which had refused his request for time off on Shabbat and eight major Jewish holidays.
The award is the result of a religious discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department last year on behalf of Henry Asher, 56, of Tarzana against the MTA.
In a settlement announced this month by the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., the MTA agreed that drivers who are assigned shifts that conflict with their religious observances can take up to 30 days of unpaid leave while waiting for a more suitable shift to open up.
The case was initiated by the Justice Department's civil rights division, after MTA refused to change its rule that all drivers must be available for work at all times.
Asher was hired by MTA as a driver trainee in June 2002 and fired a month later after he allegedly missed two work days.
"Public employees should not have to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihood," Bradley J. Schlozman, U.S. acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, told the L.A. Times.
"While public employers have the authority to set reasonable standards for work schedules, they cannot reflexively refuse to consider an accommodation at the cost of civil rights," Schlozman added. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Jewish Mission Visits Chad
A delegation of Jewish leaders visited Chad to meet with Sudanese refugees. Last week's mission, led by Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), also included John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and two other Reform rabbis. The AJWS has led Jewish activism in response to the massacres and displacement of millions in Darfur in neighboring Sudan. -- Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Not Just for Republicans
A documentary on radical Islam was named best feature at the second annual Liberty Film Festival last weekend in West Hollywood. The event is known for its gathering of politically conservative filmmakers.
The 70-minute film, "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," took top honors at the Pacific Design Center gathering of several hundred film fans and creators. Jewish Director Wayne Kopping prompted laughter when he acknowledged the festival's large number of Jewish attendees by picking up his Liberty statuette and, instead of thanking the awards "jury," he said, "I'd like to thank the Jewry."
The festival showcased about 25 short films, dramas and documentaries. A festival audience of about 350 cheered "Obsession" footage of Winston Churchill, after booing the film's shots of filmmaker Michael Moore
A more sobering part of "Obsession" was its excerpts from a 2003 Arab miniseries, in which actors portrayed Jews killing a Christian child for his blood during Passover.
Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told the filmmakers that Hollywood's studio brass might understand Islamic extremism better, "if terrorism had struck on the West Coast rather than on the East Coast."
U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) made a cameo appearance at the festival, where he hobnobbed with Jewish Republicans, including Santa Monica dentist Joel Strom and Laura Willick, Jewish outreach committee chair of the Southern California Republican Club.
After watching "Obsession," Willick said, "If students were to see this, it would open their minds to the actual threats we face. It's just a matter of can we get this out to the liberals?"
Winning Liberty's short film award was a 30-minute exploration of college political correctness called, "Brainwashing 201: The Second Semester," with the short's honorees including producer and Encino attorney Blaire Greenberg.
The festival also debuted a 72-minute travelogue on Israel called "Entering Zion."
At a panel discussion, Seattle-based Jewish talk show host and festival board member Michael Medved praised the pro-Israel film and joked about conspiracy theories on Jewish control of the media.
"With all of this 'Jewish control,'" Medved said, "a great film about Israel had a self-raised budget of about $7,000." -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer