Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
By the third or fourth time Mitt Romney called the Iranian nuclear threat “the greatest national security threat we face,” a good number of the few dozen youngish Jews who had gathered at Federation headquarters to watch Monday evening’s Presidential debate appeared to have stopped listening.
Some were perusing their Twitter feeds, others were nursing plastic cups of kosher wine, and a handful were busy finishing off the sliders on pretzel bread on the buffet near the back of the room.
Even in the Federation boardroom, where there was no shortage of interest from voters in the candidates’ pro-Israel bona fides, people seemed well entrenched in their positions, and little they heard from the men projected on the two big screens at the front was going to change their minds.
“Certainly, the Israeli question is going to very important to me,” John Mirisch, vice mayor of the nearby city of Beverly Hills, told me near the beginning of the debate.
Mirisch, a registered Republican who’s a self-described social liberal (he’ll be voting for Prop. 34 on Nov. 6, which would abolish the death penalty in California), said he wasn’t too happy about casting his vote for either Romney or President Barack Obama.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been a fan of a candidate for President,” he said. “I was a fan of Al Gore.”
Well aware that the issues of greatest importance to most American voters are domestic, Romney and Obama frequently pivoted away from the prompts being lobbed at them by CBS News’s Bob Schieffer to address subjects including education, fiscal policy and who would best prepare America for another generation of prosperity and economic growth.
The biggest cheer from the crowd came from the more vocal of the Democrats, who exulted when Obama responded to Romney’s criticism that the U.S. Navy’s fleet was smaller than it had been in nearly a century with a barb about how the army also had “fewer horses and bayonets."
But as expected, the debate did feature a number of exchanges between the candidates about Israel. On more than one occasion during Monday evening’s debate, Romney made reference to the President’s perceived distance from Israel, a criticism that clearly had resonance among some at the Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters.
The President’s supporters in the audience were audibly impressed by the response Obama had ready for Romney’s criticism of his not having visited Israel during his first term. Obama described his 2008 visit to Israel as a candidate and drew a sharp distinction between his itinerary -- which included trips to Yad Vashem and Sederot -- and Romney’s, which featured two fundraisers attended by wealthy Republican Jewish donors.
“His response about visiting Israel as a candidate was very effective,” said Leeor Alpern, President of the Los Angeles chapter of Democrats for Israel, who called the criticism of Obama for not visiting Israel “a straw man." The last two Presidents to visit in their first terms were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the latter for the funeral of the assassinated Israeli Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin, Alpern said.
Obama’s opponents, like Ron Rothstain, were undeterred. He pointed to President’s lack of a visit to Israel as just one piece of evidence of the friction he saw between Obama and the Jewish state.
“A couple of weeks ago, Bibi wanted a one-on-one meeting with him after the whole U.N. address, and he wanted to be on ‘The View’ instead, having no time to set aside for him,” Rothstain said a few minutes after the debate ended . “So clearly there are issues there.”
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October 9, 2012 | 10:34 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
As anyone who listened to Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech, the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran to the United States and to its ally Israel sits at the center of the contest to determine who will lead the United States for the next four years.
No surprise then that on Sunday, Oct. 14, when the Iranian-American Jewish group 30 Years After holds its third Biennial Civic Action Conference, the participants in nearly every political race going on right now will be represented.
All four declared candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles will be there, as will the man who currently holds the job, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Surrogates for each of the Presidential candidates are taking part, as are both halves of the “Berman v. Sherman” race (although those two won’t share the same stage).
A host of rabbis and a few U.S. and Israeli diplomats are also scheduled to appear at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel at some point during the daylong conference, which is expected to draw more than 1,000 people.
“Our community stands at the nexus of a dangerous conflict between the United States, Israel, and Iran,” Sam Yebri, president of the five-year-old organization, said in a statement.
The conference, Yebri said, is intended to empower young members of the Iranian-American Jewish community with the political know-how to advocate against a nuclear-armed Iran and to inspire them to become more active in improving their city, state, and country.
For more information about 30 Years After’s and this Sunday’s conference, visit www.30yearsafter.org/conference.php.
September 20, 2012 | 12:36 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
For weeks, the warnings on Freeway signs have been advising motorists about the second weekend-long closure of the 405 Freeway on Sept. 29-30. But for observant Jews living in Los Angeles, there’s a separate hassle looming a few days earlier, and the warnings have been announced in dire tones and bold, red capital letters on the Los Angeles Community Eruv Web site.
“[T]here will be NO ERUV ON YOM KIPPUR THIS YEAR,” the text on the site reads. “The construction cannot be halted for us.”
Because Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown on Sept. 25, falls on a weekday when construction crews will be working on the expansion of the 405 Freeway, the Los Angeles eruv, a massive symbolic enclosure that allows observant Jews throughout most of the city to carry objects in public spaces almost every single Shabbat, will not be in operation.
The Day of Atonement may be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, but as far as the prohibition on certain work-like activities goes, Yom Kippur is very much like an ordinary Sabbath, which means that carrying objects from a privately owned space to a public one is prohibited without an eruv.
And while fasting Jews won’t need to carry, say, bottles of wine or pans of kugel down the block for lunch next week, there are bound to be inconveniences, particularly for families with young children. Strollers, which may only be used with an eruv, will be prohibited this Yom Kippur, which could strand some parents at home this holiday.
If “Yom Kippurgeddon” was unavoidable, what’s notable about the eruv’s downing is how rarely it happens.
“We’ve been up for 10 years; we’ve ben down for two Shabboses [Sabbaths],” Howard Witkin, the L.A. eruv’s administrator, said. “We’ve got a pretty good track record.”
That record is even more impressive, considering just how much work has been going on each week to keep the eruv’s Western “wall” intact while construction has been going on. The L.A. eruv has a 40-mile circumference, most of which is made up of solid freeway walls in fences; along that entire circuit, there is no break wider than eight inches.
The section under construction, the 10-mile stretch of the 405 between the 10 and 101 Freeways, presents a difficulty, but with the cooperation of the contractor, Witkin said, most weekends haven’t presented a problem.
“There’s a trench right now that they’re putting in, on Sepulveda,” Witkin said. That trench, which is being built to facilitate drainage, leaves a 12- or 13-foot break in the wall, enough of a gap to render the entire eruv unkosher.
To keep the eruv in operation, Witkin explained, the eruv administrators have worked with the contractor, Kiewit, to ensure that such gaps are filled with “movable walls” made of “poles and some really flexible chicken wire” that are put in place by workers to eliminate those gaps.
“They play with scheduling of work,” Witkin said. “They just don’t use those areas on Saturdays. To ask them to do that in the middle of the week, on a working Wednesday, is just impossible.”
Dealing with the construction, however, has brought with it an increase in cost. The budget for the eruv in previous years, Witkin said, was about $80,000; this year, the costs have gone up to around $100,000. That expense is paid by members of orthodox synagogues across the city, whose members currently pay $56 per family year to support the eruv.
Witkin said he hoped the costs would go back down next year, once the 405 construction is completed.
Witkin was comfortable discussing the precise procedure of putting up temporary fencing – it takes about seven minutes, involves steel zip-ties and is done on an as-needed basis by (mostly non-Jewish) construction workers – but he didn’t want to weigh in on the intricacies of what is and is not permitted on Yom Kippur without an eruv.
“Talk to your local rav [rabbi] and have him tell you how you’re supposed to handle it,” he said.
September 15, 2012 | 10:30 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A group of activists affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or B.D.S. movement, which seeks to pressure Israel in various ways, publicly opposed the renewal of a bus contract between the city of Los Angeles and a company whose corporate parent does business in the West Bank.
At a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council transportation committee on Sept. 12, members of the Dump Veolia LA Coalition urged the committee members to oppose renewal of a contract with Veolia Transportation to operate DASH shuttle bus services in the Downtown and Mid-City areas.
“The basic message was that there are other companies bidding for this contract and we don’t believe that Veolia lives up to our city’s standards,” Estee Chandler, the Los Angeles organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace, told The Journal a few days after the hearing. “We feel that rewarding a company that is willing to enforce racist policies and run a segregated bus line reflects poorly on Los Angeles.”
By “racist policies,” Chandler was referring in part to the West Bank roads that are open to Jews but are inaccessible to the Palestinians who live in the area. Buses operated by French multinational Veolia TransDev run from Jerusalem to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The company also had a role in building the Jerusalem tram line, which it now operates, and operates a waste facility in the West Bank.
Chandler said that about 50 people affiliated with the anti-Veolia coalition attended the meeting, and 33 were permitted to speak. The committee was not swayed by the BDS activists’ pleas, however. Councilmen Paul Koretz, Jose Huizar and Tom Labonge voted unanimously to recommend the five-year, $160 million contract to operate the DASH bus service in Los Angeles be awarded to Veolia.
Representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles were present at the hearing to urge committee members not to pay heed to the Dump Veolia Coalition.
Catherine Schneider, the senior vice president for community engagement at Federation, said that the Israel Action Network, a joint project of the Jewish Federations of North American and Jewish Council for Public Affairs, had helped alert Federation to the BDS effort.
Together with lay leaders from Federation’s community engagement committee, Schneider drafted a letter signed by eight local Jewish organizations. At the hearing, each speaker was allotted one minute; Schneider and three members of the community engagement committee used their time to read the letter into the record, each one picking up where the last left off.
“[W]hile we have no position on whether or not Veolia Transportation should be awarded the Downtown DASH contract,” the letter stated, “we are strongly opposed to the [Dump Veolia Coalition’s] misguided effort to entangle the City in a complex territorial dispute that can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties.”
The letter further also noted that heeding the protesters demands to drop Veolia might be illegal.
“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions are not helpful for our city, not helpful for the advancement of peace, and the City Council's obligation is to pick the best vendor,” Schneider said. “Our main point here is that this was and should be about what’s best for the City of Los Angeles.”
Koretz, who chaired the meeting on Wednesday, at which he acknowledged that he is a supporter of Israel, agreed that the question wasn’t about Israel, but about L.A. The city, Koretz said in a statement emailed to the Journal, has “very specific laws about city contracting, especially regarding what is and isn’t to be considered.”
Koretz said the committee “took very much into account that staff strongly recommended Veolia Transportation due to its safety record and procedures and customer track record.”
BDS activists in Europe have been more successful in their efforts to get cities to drop contracts with Veolia than their counterparts in the United States have been, according to Marsha Steinberg, an independent Jewish activist who helped organize the Dump Veolia L.A. Coalition.
The matter has been placed on the consent calendar for the Sept. 19 meeting of the full City Council. No time will be specifically allocated to discuss the matter. Nevertheless, Steinberg said, BDS activists plan to attend the hearing.