Steven Spielberg has notified Chinese President Hu Jintao that he is ready to meet with him in Beijing within the next 30 days to urge that China use its influence with the Sudanese government to halt the genocide in Darfur.
The request by the Hollywood filmmaker and founder of the Shoah Foundation follows up on his April 2 letter to Hu, in which he wrote in part:
"For four years I have followed the reports of the chaos and human suffering of the civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan. There is no question in my mind that the government of Sudan is engaged in a policy, which is best described as genocide.
"I have only recently come to understand fully the extent of China's involvement in the region and its strategic and supportive relationship with the Sudanese government. I share the concern of many around the world who believe that China should be a clear advocate for United Nations action to bring the genocide in Darfur to an end."
Spielberg has not received a direct response from Hu, but the filmmaker's personal spokesman, Marvin Levy, said that the letter had been delivered and read by the highest circles in the Chinese government.
Beijing has staked a great deal on its role as host of the 2008 Olympics and thus seems more sensitive to world opinion than at most other times.
Spielberg is serving as an artistic adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, and his voice may have some resonance in Beijing, although he stated that he was writing as a private citizen.
According to United Nations statistics, the Darfur genocide has claimed 200,000 deaths and displaced at least 2 million refugees since 2003.
China is the top investor and arms supplier to Sudan and is the African nation's largest oil buyer.
In a March op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, actress Mia Farrow called for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics and castigated Spielberg for his failure to speak out regarding China's inaction on Darfur.
She asked, "Is Mr. Spielberg, who in 1994 founded the Shoah Foundation to record the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust, aware that China is bankrolling Darfur's genocide?"
She added, "Does Mr. Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl [Hitler's propagandist for the 1936 Berlin Olympics] of the Beijing Games?"
Levy said Spielberg had received similar admonitions from a couple of other Hollywood figures, and while the director of "Schindler's List" was well aware of the situation in Darfur, he had not been fully cognizant of China's influence in the area.
China's slogan for the Olympics is "One World, One Dream," but Farrow, in her op-ed, labeled the 2008 event as the "Genocide Olympics."
The description was picked up by more than 100 lawmakers, who called on China earlier this month to take immediate action to stop the bloodshed in Darfur.
Spielberg concluded his initial letter to Hu with, "I add my voice to those who ask that China change its policy toward Sudan and pressure the Sudanese government to accept the entrance of United Nations peacekeepers to protect the victims of genocide in Darfur."
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
UC Move-in Day Leaves Jewish Students in the Cold
Move-in Day at campus dormitories is one of the important rites of passage for freshmen leaving home to enter the University of California, but to the dismay of state Assemblyman Lloyd E. Levine in four of the next five years the dates fall on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.
Levine (D-Van Nuys -- photo) is spearheading a campaign by major Jewish organizations in Southern California to persuade UC's leadership to change the dates.
He has even sent a Jewish calendar to the top administrators of the statewide UC system, but so far without response.
"The UC administration is forcing Jewish students to make a choice between two important lifecycle events," Levine and some 60 Jewish organizational and community leaders recently wrote to UC President Richard Dynes and the UC Board of Regents.
"Should the students observe a profoundly important religious holy day removed from family, or miss the chance to meet their new schoolmates, neighbors and classmates in their first experience at college?" the letter continued.
"Clearly, this is a horribly unfair choice to present to 17- and 18-year-olds, and is one that must be addressed."
Levine, 37 and a graduate of UC Riverside, voiced his concern to UC representatives last March during legislative hearings on the UC budget, but, he wrote, "I am tremendously disappointed that, to date, there has still been no resolution."
UC spokesperson Brad Hayward told The Journal that "we take this issue very seriously, and we are now working on an approach to resolve this concern. We hope to come to a conclusion in a very short time."
The matter is complicated because the 10 UC campuses run on different schedules, depending mainly on whether they operate on a quarterly or semester academic calendar, Hayward said.
He added that most campuses try to offer alternatives to Jewish students on an individual basis, but "we are working on a more systematic approach to avoid future conflicts."
According to the Hillel Foundation, about 20,160 Jewish undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled on UC campuses, of whom some 10,700 are at the southern campuses of San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara.
UCLA, with 4,500 Jewish students, has the largest such enrollment on any UC campus, followed by 3,300 at Berkeley.
Los Angeles organizations supporting Levine's petition are The Jewish Federation's Jewish Community Relations Committee, Hillel Council, American Jewish Committee and B'nai B'rith Youth Organization.For more information, contact Barri Worth of Assemblyman Lloyd E. Levine's district office, (818) 904-3840, or e-mail Barri.Worth@asm.ca.gov.
Group Wants Recall on Councilman Weiss
Two years can't come quickly enough for a group of Westside residents who announced Tuesday a formal recall drive against Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss.
Weiss, who has stated he will leave office in 2009 to run for city attorney, was accused at a Rancho Park news conference of ignoring traffic-choked constituents in favor of pro-growth developers.
"It is time that we have a council member who puts constituents' interests ahead of personal political gain and developers' profits," said Mike Eveloff, spokesman for the group, which calls itself Recall Jack Weiss.
The group also recently launched the site http://www.recalljackweiss.com, which features a smiling Weiss wearing a cartoon hardhat with a dollar sign on it and holding a sign that states: "Expect heavy traffic congestion and delays!! I'm making lots of deals that are going to add to your gridlock."
Larry Levine, Weiss' political consultant, said the recall effort is not about residents' rights, but about who controls infrastructure funds set aside by developers, including $5 million from the JMB project in Century City. The residents now involved with the recall wanted complete control of that money; Weiss defeated that effort.
With his district ranging from Sherman Oaks to Cheviot Hills and east to Fairfax, the battle is pitting Jew against Jew. Weiss' backers have defended the Fifth District councilman as a force in neighborhood zoning battles and a strong supporter of Israel.
The recall group needs to gather about 23,000 valid signatures, or 15 percent of District Five registered voters, to initiate a recall election.
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
BYU Reopens Jerusalem Center
After a seven-year hiatus, Brigham Young University has reopened its Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.
Since 1968, BYU, the flagship institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had sent Mormon students to the center. The center was closed to students at the outbreak of the second intifada, but in January it reopened to 44 students; another 88 are about to begin courses there, and 88 more plan to arrive in the summer.
"Many of us who care about Jerusalem have been saying, 'Haba'ah B'yerushalayim,' Next year in Jerusalem," Mark Paredes, director of the church's Jewish relations committee, said this month at an event at the Israeli consulate with Consul General Ehud Danoch. "Well, it is next year."
The Jerusalem Center was created to allow students to learn about Abraham and Isaac and their descendants in a land Mormons also consider holy. The Mormon Church, which was founded during Passover in 1830, has had good relations with Jews and has supported the Jewish state.
"The establishment of the nation of Israel is indeed the fulfillment of prophecy," said church spokesman Keith Atkinson. "To study the Jewish people in their homeland ... is truly a sacred privilege."