Bingo impresario Dr. Irving Moskowitz is either the hero of Hawaiian Gardens or a prolific and controversial supporter of West Bank settlements, according to wildly differing viewpoints expressed at a Dec. 18 state Gambling Control Commission hearing on his casino license request.
At issue during the hearing was the character of Moskowitz, because it is a factor in granting an applicant a permanent gambling license. In Moskowitz's case, it involves his profitable, Las Vegas-style Hawaiian Gardens Casino card club, which is currently operating with a temporary license.
The hearing drew Moskowitz supporters that included Jewish conservatives, plus Hawaiian Gardens Hispanics and elderly residents. On the other side there were ex-casino employees allied with Jewish liberals and middle-class peace activists.
Moskowitz's supporters endorse his permanent license request. They believe that he has helped small Hawaiian Gardens and that his alliances with Israel's religious conservatives are irrelevant to his Gambling Commission license request.
Moskowitz's opponents are fighting the request, because they want the commission to consider how gambling profits are allegedly fueling intense Israel-Palestinian tensions through his funding of ultra-Orthodox settlers in the West Bank.
So extensive was testimony on both sides that the commission agreed to hear more comments at its Jan. 9 meeting, at which time it will either vote on the license request or study the matter further.
"Everything comes from Dr. Moskowitz," one Hawaiian Gardens woman said about the retired Long Beach doctor. Moskowitz opened a lucrative bingo hall, founded Long Beach's Hebrew Academy and has served on the Zionist Organization of America's board of directors.
The woman's comment encapsulated the one point that pro- and anti-Moskowitz forces agree on: Moskowitz is central to everything in Hawaiian Gardens, a small, poor southeast Los Angeles County city. Money from his bingo and casino operations allegedly gives Moskowitz an unusual hold on the town's politics.
Moskowitz is also central to the war chests of Israel's conservative and far-right political movements. Funds from bingo and casino operations have allowed him to buy East Jerusalem land for Jewish settlers.
"What goes on in Israel is irrelevant to his entitlement to receive a gaming license for a small town in California," said Beryl Weiner, personal attorney for Moskowitz, who lives in Miami Beach and did not attend the commission meeting.
Weiner said state officials performed an "unprecedented" four-and-a-half-year probe of Moskowitz's finances, with California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer pronouncing him fit for a permanent casino license. Moskowitz's opponents countered by saying Moskowitz has held a Lockyer fundraiser.
For several hours in downtown Los Angeles, the commission heard comments about Middle East politics and Moskowitz's settlement financing, rather then on gambling.
"There's no such thing as a Palestine in Israel, and with the help of God, there never will be," said Moskowitz supporter and conservative Jewish activist Max Kessler. "The Arabs had a chance for this land in 1948, and they gambled and they lost."
Moskowitz is "the pre-eminent financier of Israel's extremist settler groups," said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem, who lead the Moskowitz opposition. Actor Ed Asner also spoke in opposition at the hearing.
Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Betty Schultze was one of several residents who praised Moskowitz's local philanthropy and charities. However, opponents see Moskowitz as an old-fashioned political boss, reportedly pulling the strings, controlling elected leaders.
The small city was plagued by gang problems until Moskowitz's businesses became the community's largest employer, after which the crime rate dropped.
"If we didn't have him, we wouldn't be a city," the mayor said. "We need him very much."
"We're a poor city. That doesn't make us a bad city," said Hawaiian Gardens apartment manager Thelma Mullins. "All this unrest in the Middle East has been going on for years. I don't know what it has to do with running a casino."
Hanging over the entire hearing was the absent Moskowitz, who dominated it despite being in Miami Beach.
"Maybe the real issue here is, 'Who is Dr. Moskowitz?'" anti-Moskowitz attorney Jay Plotkin said to the commission. "The real Irving Moskowitz, the person who is not here today."