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Community Briefs

by Tom Tugend

April 7, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Court Dismisses Suit in Two Airport Shooting Deaths

The families of two Israeli Americans killed by a terrorist at Los Angeles International Airport are not due any compensation from the city of Los Angeles, a federal judge has ruled.

The victims, Yaakov (Jacob) Aminov, 46, and Victoria Hen, 25, were at an El Al check-in counter when they were gunned down by Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Hadayet on July 4, 2002.

Hadayet was killed immediately after the shooting spree while wrestling with El Al security guard Arie Golan.

In dismissing the $87.5 million multiple suits against the city on March 29, U.S. District Judge Alicemarie Stotler ruled that California law grants immunity to public agencies for failure to provide adequate police protection.

Attorney Richard Fine said the victims' families were "devastated and shocked," and he sharply criticized the judge and the city. He promised to take the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Fine represented Aminov's widow, Adat, their five children, and three children from Aminov's previous marriage, all now living in Israel. He also represented Hen's parents, who live in the Los Angeles area.

Hen had been working as an El Al ticket agent for less than two months when she was killed.

Also seeking compensation for emotional trauma and loss of income were Golan, the El Al security agent; Michael Shabtai and Moti Harari, who stood in line next to Aminov; and Harari's 6-year-old daughter.

In an interview, Fine attacked the ruling in unusually harsh language.

"The court and city are saying that the value of an ordinary citizen's life is zero," he charged. "It is a shanda that violates every principle of humanity," he said, using the Yiddish word for travesty.

Fine also claimed that Stotler mistakenly had ignored an applicable recent ruling by the California Supreme Court.

He was even angrier at the failure of city and airport police to provide protection, even though law enforcement agencies already had pinpointed LAX and the first July 4 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as likely terrorist targets.

"There was only one airport policeman on hand, and he was at the other end of the terminal," Fine said.

However, attorney Douglas Knoll, who represented the city's insurance company, said there had been a maximum deployment of police.

After a drawn-out investigation, the pace of which was criticized by Israeli officials, the FBI belatedly classified the airport attack as a terrorist act, fueled by Hadayet's hatred of Israel.

Hadayet, a limousine driver who used two guns, a knife and an extra clip of ammunition during the attack, had no links to terrorist organizations, according to the FBI report.

A civil suit for compensation against Hadayet's estate is still pending. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Anti-Semitic Harassment in '04 Rises 32 Percent in Calif.

California Jews reportedly experienced more anti-Semitic harassment last year than in 2003, a worrisome trend fueled by hate groups, the Internet, the Iraq War and rabidly anti-Zionist attitudes on university campuses, experts said.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said in report Monday that California Jews reported 237 anti-Semitic incidents last year, compared to 180 in 2003, nearly a 32 percent increase. The group said the statistics appeared even starker in Southern California. Ninety-five Jews reported anti-Semitic harassment in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Kern, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, up from 46 the year before, the ADL said.

"We're seeing an increasing acceptance of anti-Semitism in every day conversation, in the classroom, playground, workplace and neighborhood," said Amanda Susskind, ADL regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region.

Not all the news is negative. The number of anti-Semitic acts of vandalism, including assaults against Jews or the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, dropped last year both locally and statewide. However, the upsurge in anti-Jewish harassment, including verbal taunting and hate speech, more than offset the vandalism drop, Susskind said.

The widespread dissemination of anti-Semitism on the Internet by white supremacists and neo-Nazis has fueled discrimination against Jews, she said, as has the unwillingness of some secular Jews to confront hate speech. Unrelenting attacks on Israel and the occupation by leaders of the antiwar movement have also encouraged anti-Israel attitudes that often bleed into anti-Semitism, added Allyson Taylor, associate director of the West Coast Region of the American Jewish Congress.

However, David Lehrer, former head of the ADL, said things seemed to be getting better. The president of L.A.-based Community Advocates, a human relations committee, said that life for many Southland and other Jews appeared to have improved as societal acceptance has grown.

"I just don't sense that Jews are under siege," Lehrer said. "My sense is that if you were to ask Jews individually whether they've encountered anti-Semitism in their daily lives, the overwhelming majority would say no."

A national ADL survey released concurrently with the report on anti-Semitic incidents reported a drop in the number of Americans holding strong anti-Semitic beliefs from 17 percent in 2002 to 14 percents today.

Among the anti-Semitic incidents in Southern California reported last year by the ADL:

• Vandals drew swastikas and SS insignias in a Jewish teacher's classroom in Canyon Country.

• Vandals plastered swastikas on homes in the San Fernando Valley and Palm Desert.

• Ten students at Venice High School taunted, on different occasions, a ninth-grade Jewish classmate by calling him "Jew boy" and "dirty Jew." They eventually began throwing objects at him, until a call to the ADL led to an ADL-led outreach and police intervention, said Deborah Juster, the boy's mother. "I was totally shocked," she said. "I would have never expected that." -- Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Labor Zionist Alliance Acts to Rejuvenate Organization

With a new name, new leadership and a new outlook, America's once-graying and shrinking Labor Zionist Alliance (LZA) is re-inventing itself as a rejuvenated and relevant progressive pro-Israel organization.

Last year, LZA changed its name to Ameinu, or "Our People" in Hebrew, elected graduates of its youth movement as national leaders and began boosting its political, community and campus presence.

As part of its new drive, the Los Angeles chapter of Ameinu, together with Americans for Peace Now, is sponsoring a seminar on April 17, featuring Ami Ayalon, a highly decorated Israeli admiral and former director of the Shin Bet internal security service. Explaining the new energized outlook, Martin I. Taft, Ameinu's national vice president for communications, said, "We realized that we needed a new image, and to get that, we had to start doing things differently."

The Brooklyn-born Taft, 74, now a Los Angeles engineer, has been part of the left wing of the Zionist movement since joining Habonim Dror, LZA's youth wing, at age 12 -- and where he met his future wife, Ethel.

A former director of the Jewish Vocational Service, Ethel Taft now serves as program vice president of Ameinu's Los Angeles chapter, the second largest in the United States after New York.

The Tafts and LZA have never wavered in their commitment to the centrality of Israel in Jewish life and the principles of peace, social justice and religious pluralism. The same goals animated the founders of the Labor Zionist Organization of America exactly 100 years ago.

A name change was needed, however. After often heated internal debates, most leaders realized that in these times, few young people are turned on by the words "labor" or "Zionist," Taft said.

He ticked off some of Ameinu's recent initiatives under the new leadership of New York-based President Kenneth Bob and Executive Director Jamie Levin:

• Establishment with other left-of-center groups of the Union of Progressive Zionist to teach the principles and boost awareness of Zionism on college campuses.

• Launch of an interactive Web site (www.ameinu.net) and makeover of the publication, Jewish Frontier.

• A mission to Israel, where Taft, a veteran traveler to the Jewish state, discovered something new.

"We encountered urban kibbutzim in various cities, many located in cooperative housing, where young professionals lived and followed the social principles of the original agricultural kibbutzim," he said.

• Sponsoring of public events with leading Israeli figures.

• Calling on President Bush to engage actively in the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

"Despite broad-based support among Israelis for the Gaza disengagement and future peace negotiations, the American Jewish community has been strangely quiet," said Ameinu President Bob. "In the coming months, Ameinu plans to mobilize American Jews in support of these political initiatives."

During the April 17 seminar, Ayalon will give morning and afternoon lectures and lead discussions on "Who Speaks for Peace?" and "Disengagement From Gaza and West Bank: Realities and Future Options."

The seminar, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will be held in The Jewish Federation board room, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Admission is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers, which includes program material and a kosher lunch.

Reservations are required. The deadline is April 10. For information, call (323) 655-2842 or e-mail LZinLA@aol.com. -- TT

London Mayor a Persona Non Grata in L.A., Hahn Says

London Mayor Ken Livingstone is not welcome in usually hospitable Los Angeles, and he's not very popular in Miami, either.

"Mayor Livingstone will not be accorded any official welcome in the city of Los Angeles, [and] I urge my fellow mayors to do the same," Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn wrote in a March 30 letter to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In the letter and at a news conference at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Hahn accused Livingstone of trivializing the Holocaust, demonizing Israel, encouraging Muslim terrorists and fanning the flames of ethnic hatred.

The generally controversial London mayor, a left-wing populist, made headlines recently when he called Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold, who was trying to interview him, a "German war criminal" and "concentration camp guard."

Since then, he has labeled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a war criminal, while welcoming to London's City Hall Muslim cleric Yusef al-Qaradawi. According to British press reports, al-Qaradawi has encouraged young Palestinian women to become suicide bombers and has advocated wife-beating and the death penalty for homosexuality and adultery.

Hahn, currently in a tight race for re-election, also noted a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain.

He demanded that Livingstone apologize for his remarks, which the London mayor has consistently declined, despite the urging of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the British media and Jewish community.

In other anti-Livingstone developments, Carlos Alvarez, mayor of Miami-Dade County in Florida, has also written a letter in which he characterized Livingstone's comments as "deeply offensive."

A resolution urging the London mayor to apologize is be introduced at a meeting of the Chicago City Council.

The Wiesenthal Center has launched an online petition campaign urging Livingstone to apologize.

Within days, 17,000 people had signed on, "one of the strongest responses we've ever had," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean. -- TT

Cal State Northridge to Offer Major in Jewish Studies

California State University, Northridge will offer an undergraduate major leading to a bachelor's degree in modern Jewish studies, starting in the fall semester.

"This new program will help fill the need for future teachers and other professionals in Jewish schools, synagogues and other institutions, as well as offering a major to students who are simply interested in the subject," said professor Jody Myers, CSUN coordinator for Jewish studies.

The major will focus on Jewish history and thought from 1600 C.E. to the present, and offer a wide choice of courses, for example, Religious Response to the Holocaust, Jewish Identity and Zionism. They will be taught by faculty members from the history, sociology, English and religion departments.

There are approximately 3,000 Jewish students on the Northridge campus out of a total undergraduate and graduate population of 33,000, Myers said.

In addition to Northridge, the California State University system has inaugurated Jewish studies majors on the Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco and Chico campuses.

CSUN, whose Jewish-themed lectures and courses are often overlooked in the face of more widely publicized offerings by UCLA and USC, also announced the following program:

A special course on teaching the Holocaust in public schools or for adult classes will be held May 31-July 7. The course will consist of classroom and online instruction, and will be taught by professors Carol and Sam Edelman of Cal State, Chico. It carries three units of graduate credit.

Support for the pilot course is provided through a $10,000 grant from The "1939" Club, an association of Holocaust survivors, with additional assistance from the Jewish Community Foundation.

For information on Jewish events and courses at CSUN, call Myers at (818) 677-3007 or go to www.csun.edu/jewish.studies. -- TT

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