How a network of citizen-spies foiled Nazi plots to exterminate Jews in 1930s L.A.

The western side of Crescenta Valley Park, known as Hindenburg Park, gained notoriety in the late 1930s when the Bund, a political group styling itself after the Nazis, staged several rallies there. (Historical Society of Crescenta)

By Steven J. Ross / LATimes.com

On July 26, 1933, a group of Nazis held their first public rally in Los Angeles. As Jewish groups in the city debated how they should respond to Adolf Hitler’s persecution of Jews in Europe, L.A.’s Nazis, many of them German emigres, gathered at a biergarten downtown, wearing brown shirts and red, white and black armbands with swastikas.

The Nazis belonged to a growing movement of white supremacists in L.A. that included many American brothers in hate: the Ku Klux Klan, a group of Hitler supporters known as the Silver Shirts, and a dozen like-minded organizations with vaguely patriotic names such as the American Nationalist Party, the Christian American Guard, and the National Protective Order of Gentiles.

Some weeks ago, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Their predecessors were even less subtle: They called for “death to Jews.”

Unwilling to wait and see if any of them would act on their threats, Leon Lewis, a Jewish lawyer and World War I veteran who had helped found the Anti-Defamation League, decided to investigate the anti-Semitic hate groups. In August 1933, mere weeks after the rally, Lewis recruited four fellow World War I veterans, plus their wives, to go undercover and join every Nazi and fascist group in the city.

“Leon Lewis understood that hate knows no national boundaries.”

Lewis’s recruits did not know there would be another world war. And they certainly did not know a Holocaust would occur in Europe.

But once they had infiltrated the groups, they understood that they had to take the Nazi threat seriously. They repeatedly heard fellow Americans talk candidly about wanting to overthrow the government and kill every Jewish man, woman and child.

Lewis’s operatives were all Christian, save for one Jew. They regarded their mission as an American one. Their intention was to gather sufficient evidence of illegal activities by the groups, then turn it over to the appropriate government agencies, after which Lewis planned to return to practicing law. What Lewis did not anticipate is that local authorities would prove indifferent to — or supportive of — the Nazis and fascists.

Within weeks of going undercover, Lewis’s network of spies discovered a plot to wrest control of armories in San Francisco, L.A. and San Diego — part of a larger plan to take over local governments and carry out a mass execution of Jews. Lewis immediately informed L.A. Police Chief James Edgar “Two-Gun” Davis of the Nazi scheme to seize weapons and, as Lewis warned in a memo later, to “foster a fascist form of government in the United States.”

Lewis was shocked when Davis interrupted him to defend Hitler. The police chief, he noted in the memo, told him: “Germans could not compete economically with the Jews in Germany and had been forced to take the action they did.” The greatest danger the city faced, Davis insisted, was not from Nazis but from communists living in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights. As far as Davis was concerned, every communist was a Jew and every Jew a communist.

Lewis got a similar response from the Sheriff’s Department and local FBI agents, many of whom were sympathetic to the Nazis and fascists. He decided he had to continue the operation, and his spies agreed.

From the summer of 1933 until 1945, while many Americans closed their eyes to the hate growing around them, Lewis’s spies and informants, who numbered close to two dozen at the height of operations, risked their lives to stop Hitler’s minions and alert citizens to the danger these groups posed.

They uncovered a series of Nazi plots. There was a plan to murder 24 Hollywood actors and power figures, including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Charlie Chaplin and James Cagney. There was a plan to drive through Boyle Heights and machine-gun as many Jewish residents as possible. There were plans for fumigating the homes of Jewish families with cyanide, and for blowing up military installations and seizing munitions from National Guard armories on the day Nazis intended to launch their American putsch.

These plans for murder and sabotage failed because Lewis’s operatives penetrated the inner circles of the hate groups and foiled them. Charles Slocombe, Lewis’s ace spy, thwarted two of the most deadly plots to kill Hollywood figures, one of them by turning Nazis and fascists against one another and raising fears that they might be arrested for murder due to leaks inside the German American Bund and Silver Shirts. Slocombe stopped a second mass murder plot by convincing three of the plotters that the mastermind behind the plan, the British fascist Leopold McLaglan, was about to betray them.

Knowing their inner circles had been infiltrated, but not by whom, and unwilling to risk prison, the groups postponed their plans. Permanently.

Without ever firing a gun, Lewis and his spies managed to defeat a variety of enemies. Only after Congress declared war on Germany did government authorities finally relieve Lewis — “the most dangerous Jew in Los Angeles,” as Nazis called him — of the burden of tracking down these dangerous elements. Nevertheless, he and his operatives continued to monitor the groups throughout the war years.

Leon Lewis understood that hate knows no national boundaries. Foreign-born Nazis and American-born Silver Shirts and Klansmen gladly joined together in targeting Jews and communists. And few Americans, either inside or outside the government, tried to stop them in those early years.

He and his network of spies understood the importance of vigilance. They refused to allow their city and country to be threatened by hate. With their actions they show us that when a democratic government fails to stop extremists bent on violence, citizens must protect one another, no matter their race or religion.

Steven J. Ross is a professor of history at USC and the author of “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America.”

 

How Palestine “Occupies” Itself

By: Dr. Asaf Romirowsky; besacenter.org

Nabeel Shaath, Member of Fatah Central Committee, Representative of the State of Palestine at the UN in 2016, UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 606, October 7, 2017

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: “Occupation” has become an all-purpose Palestinian tool. On the one hand, the Palestinians claim the Israeli “occupation” makes serious negotiations with Israel impossible. On the other, they claim the “occupation” makes the development of local institutions and civil society impossible. Western and Israeli diplomats have largely avoided criticism of this strategy, possibly because it has become a central tenet of Palestinian identity.

A consistent Palestinian strategy for seeking statehood while blaming Israel for its absence has been codified through the narrative of “occupation.” The anniversary of the 1967 war brought this to the forefront in endless accusations regarding the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank. There is even an assertion that Gaza is still “occupied.”

Occupation is a Palestinian tool to avoid negotiations, since “no tactical brilliance in negotiations, no amount of expert preparation, no perfect alignment of the stars can overcome that obstacle.” Nor is progress in Palestinian economics, institution-building, or civil society possible, because –  as Nabeel Kassis, Palestinian Minister for Finance, put it – “Development under occupation is a charade.” Even the Palestinian Authority’s own repression and crackdown on freedom of the press is, according to Hanan Ashrawi, caused “of course [by] the Israeli occupation.” And despite the palpable underdevelopment of Palestinian institutions and civil society, Europe must keep funding them, since “Preparedness for several possible scenarios with a long-term focus on functioning institutions is what is required from the EU and other donors in Palestine.”

In 2011, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put forward the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) at the UN, we saw this process in action. The approach is specifically designed to prevent any direct negotiations with the State of Israel. Some Palestinian supporters even opposed the UDI precisely because Palestine “lacks the most essential elements of statehood: independence and sovereignty, and effective control over its territory. The fact is that Israel, the occupying power, has the final say in most matters affecting the destiny of the Palestinian people.”

Despite the high-sounding rhetoric about the declaration, which followed the 1998 Palestinian “Declaration of Independence,” its goal was to put the onus for a Palestinian state on the UN. But Palestinians are already treated by the UN like no other entity, whether state or people. Vast financial and administrative resources are dedicated to the “Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.” Despite these efforts, which have cost many millions and have lasted almost 70 years, long predating the 1967 “occupation,” there is still no Palestinian state.

Palestinians and their supporters want to have the occupation both ways. It is the trump card for their own refusal to negotiate and failure to develop their own society, but it is also a useful tool for further internationalization of the conflict and prolongation of their international welfare status.

This pattern has been clear for decades. Even Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, understood the façade. “There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting peace,” she said. “That is the only path that will lead to the fulfillment of the Palestinian national aspirations … Nor is it viable to build the institutions of a future state without the negotiations that will ultimately create it.”

Until now, however, successive American administrations have challenged only Palestinian rhetoric, not Palestinian methods – and the rhetoric of “occupation” has not been directly challenged at all. This is because, alongside “refugee-ness” and victimhood, it stands close to the center of Palestinian identity, at least in political terms.

The UDI strategy was a diplomatic way of selling the so-called “occupation.” Nothing can happen in Palestinian society or politics, such as the development of Palestinian state institutions or a culture of peaceful coexistence with Israel, because of the “occupation.” Empty symbolism like the UDI shrewdly facilitates the long-term Palestinian goal of eradicating Israel by co-opting the UN and the international community of NGOs. This long march through the institutions has broadened the global delegitimization of Israel at a low cost. The inevitable failure of UDI efforts to create a viable Palestine nonetheless rally the cause, while its political successes undermine Israel. The speed of change is slow enough to maintain the illusion of peace and all-important Western aid.

Threats are part of any diplomatic toolbox, and Palestinians excel at them. Insufficient American trumpeting of “even-handedness,” and, above all, any challenges to Palestinian narratives of victimhood (and the resulting need for international aid), produce new rounds of threats. The Palestinian Authority now sees stagnation and lack of appetite within the Trump administration, especially after Jared Kushner’s last visit. Thus did Ahmad Majdalani, an aide to Abbas, comment after the meeting that “if the US team doesn’t bring answers to our questions this time, we are going to look into our options, because the status quo is not working for our interests.”

A new approach to internationalizing the conflict and promoting the Palestinian narrative is being developed. Hence the plan to change the international definition of “Palestinian territories under occupation” into “a Palestinian state under occupation.” This would shift attention back to the “occupation” while requiring nothing from the Palestinian Authority.

Of course, declaring a de facto state does not make it a reality. Nor will declaring that state to be “under occupation.” The reality is that both the essential non-existence and the victimized character of the Palestinian state represent a conscious decision to embrace failure. This will not change unless there are direct negotiations, a choice the PA has consistently refused.

While a functioning Palestinian state remains desirable, it is telling that the Palestinian leadership has refused to directly negotiate with Israel and uses bodies like the UN to endorse a “virtual” state with no viable institutions. Is the Palestinian goal a state of their own, or just the erasure of Israel? If the latter, it is to be followed by what? Insisting upon a Palestinian state must go hand in hand with reviving the moribund Palestinian political system and institutions that would support it, like a free press. But these are demands that should come first from Palestinians. When such demands come from Israel or Western countries, they collide with the narrative of “occupation.”

Palestinian nationalism has never seen the conflict as one between two national groups with legitimate claims and aspirations. Israel’s existence – indeed,  Zionism itself, the very idea of Jewish nationalism – is regarded as wholly illegitimate. Palestinian acceptance of the two-state solution was a means of appeasing the West and its stated desire for all parties to live in peace according to democratic, national ideals. But for Arafat in his day and now for Mahmoud Abbas, the two-state solution was a mechanism with which to buy time until the Palestinians can finally overcome and defeat Israel. The language of “occupation” plays a key role.

Whether Palestinians think they are an “occupied state” or “Palestinian territories under occupation,” as long as Palestinians cling to the notion of being “occupied” and Israel remains the “occupier” we are destined to see more of the dynamics of the past and fewer possibilities in the future. Until we see more self-awareness, self-criticism, and a sense of accountability, Palestinian identity and statehood will remain occupied in perpetuity. Palestine is indeed “occupied” by shadows of its own making.

Dr. Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets

By: Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane; nytimes.com

Kaspersky Lab’s products require access to everything stored on a computer in order to scour it for viruses or other dangers. Credit Sergei Ilnitsky/European Pressphoto Agency

It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs.

What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool — antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, that is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen American government agencies.

The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers.

The Russian operation, described by multiple people who have been briefed on the matter, is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky’s antivirus software was installed. What additional American secrets the Russian hackers may have gleaned from multiple agencies, by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, is not yet publicly known.

The current and former government officials who described the episode spoke about it on condition of anonymity because of classification rules.

Continue reading the main story

Like most security software, Kaspersky Lab’s products require access to everything stored on a computer in order to scour it for viruses or other dangers. Its popular antivirus software scans for signatures of malicious software, or malware, then removes or neuters it before sending a report back to Kaspersky. That procedure, routine for such software, provided a perfect tool for Russian intelligence to exploit to survey the contents of computers and retrieve whatever they found of interest.

The National Security Agency and the White House declined to comment for this article. The Israeli Embassy declined to comment, and the Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Russian hackers had stolen classified N.S.A. materials from a contractor using the Kaspersky software on his home computer. But the role of Israeli intelligence in uncovering that breach and the Russian hackers’ use of Kaspersky software in the broader search for American secrets have not previously been disclosed.

Kaspersky Lab denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, the Russian hacking. “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts,” the company said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. Kaspersky Lab also said it “respectfully requests any relevant, verifiable information that would enable the company to begin an investigation at the earliest opportunity.”

The Kaspersky-related breach is only the latest bad news for the security of American intelligence secrets. It does not appear to be related to a devastating leak of N.S.A. hacking tools last year to a group, still unidentified, calling itself the Shadow Brokers, which has placed many of them online. Nor is it evidently connected to a parallel leak of hacking data from the C.I.A. to WikiLeaks, which has posted classified C.I.A. documents regularly under the name Vault7.

For years, there has been speculation that Kaspersky’s popular antivirus software might provide a back door for Russian intelligence. More than 60 percent, or $374 million, of the company’s $633 million in annual sales come from customers in the United States and Western Europe. Among them have been nearly two dozen American government agencies — including the State Department, the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Justice Department, Treasury Department and the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The N.S.A. bans its analysts from using Kaspersky antivirus at the agency, in large part because the agency has exploited antivirus software for its own foreign hacking operations and knows the same technique is used by its adversaries.

“Antivirus is the ultimate back door,” Blake Darché, a former N.S.A. operator and co-founder of Area 1 Security. “It provides consistent, reliable and remote access that can be used for any purpose, from launching a destructive attack to conducting espionage on thousands or even millions of users.”

It is not clear whether, or to what degree, Eugene V. Kaspersky, the founder of Kaspersky Lab, and other company employees have been complicit in the hacking using their products. Credit Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

On Sept. 13, the Department of Homeland Security ordered all federal executive branch agencies to stop using Kaspersky products, giving agencies 90 days to remove the software. Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine C. Duke cited the “information security risks” presented by Kaspersky and said the company’s antivirus and other software “provide broad access to files” and “can be exploited by malicious cyber actors to compromise” federal computer systems.

That directive, which some officials thought was long overdue, was based, in large part, on intelligence gleaned from Israel’s 2014 intrusion into Kaspersky’s corporate systems. It followed months of discussions among intelligence officials, which included a study of how Kaspersky’s software works and the company’s suspected ties with the Kremlin.

“The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky,” D.H.S. said in its statement, “could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security.”

Kaspersky Lab did not discover the Israeli intrusion into its systems until mid-2015, when a Kaspersky engineer testing a new detection tool noticed unusual activity in the company’s network. The company investigated and detailed its findings in June 2015 in a public report.

The report did not name Israel as the intruder but noted that the breach bore striking similarities to a previous attack, known as “Duqu,” which researchers had attributed to the same nation states responsible for the infamous Stuxnet cyberweapon. Stuxnet was a joint American-Israeli operation that successfully infiltrated Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, and used malicious code to destroy a fifth of Iran’s uranium centrifuges in 2010.

Kaspersky reported that its attackers had used the same algorithm and some of the same code as Duqu, but noted that in many ways it was even more sophisticated. So the company researchers named the new attack Duqu 2.0, noting that other victims of the attack were prime Israeli targets.

Among the targets Kaspersky uncovered were hotels and conference venues used for closed-door meetings by members of the United Nations Security Council to negotiate the terms of the Iran nuclear deal — negotiations from which Israel was excluded. Several targets were in the United States, which suggested that the operation was Israel’s alone, not a joint American-Israeli operation like Stuxnet.

Kaspersky’s researchers noted that attackers had managed to burrow deep into the company’s computers and evade detection for months. Investigators later discovered that the Israeli hackers had implanted multiple back doors into Kaspersky’s systems, employing sophisticated tools to steal passwords, take screenshots, and vacuum up emails and documents.

In its June 2015 report, Kaspersky noted that its attackers seemed primarily interested in the company’s work on nation-state attacks, particularly Kaspersky’s work on the “Equation Group” — its private industry term for the N.S.A. — and the “Regin” campaign, another industry term for a hacking unit inside the United Kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

Israeli intelligence officers informed the N.S.A. that in the course of their Kaspersky hack, they uncovered evidence that Russian government hackers were using Kaspersky’s access to aggressively scan for American government classified programs, and pulling any findings back to Russian intelligence systems. They provided their N.S.A. counterparts with solid evidence of the Kremlin campaign in the form of screenshots and other documentation, according to the people briefed on the events.

It is not clear whether, or to what degree, Eugene V. Kaspersky, the founder of Kaspersky Lab, and other company employees have been complicit in the hacking using their products. Technical experts say that at least in theory, Russian intelligence hackers could have exploited Kaspersky’s worldwide deployment of software and sensors without the company’s cooperation or knowledge. Another possibility is that Russian intelligence officers might have infiltrated the company without the knowledge of its executives.

But experts on Russia say that under President Vladimir V. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, businesses asked for assistance by Russian spy agencies may feel they have no choice but to give it. To refuse might well invite hostile action from the government against the business or its leaders. Mr. Kaspersky, who attended an intelligence institute and served in Russia’s Ministry of Defense, would have few illusions about the cost of refusing a Kremlin request.

Steven L. Hall, a former chief of Russian operations at the C.I.A., said his former agency never used Kaspersky software, but other federal agencies did. By 2013, he said, Kaspersky officials were “trying to do damage control and convince the U.S. government that it was just another security company.”

He didn’t buy it, Mr. Hall said. “I had the gravest concerns about Kaspersky, and anyone who worked on Russia or in counterintelligence shared those concerns,” he said.

President Trump Did the Right Thing by Walking Away from UNESCO — for Now

By: Alan M. Dershowitz; gatestoneinstitute.org

  • By withdrawing from UNESCO – again – President Trump is sending a powerful message to the international community: that we will no longer tolerate international organizations that serve as forums for Jew-bashing.
  • This important message was encapsulated in a powerful statement made by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley: “The purpose of UNESCO is a good one. Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment… US taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”
  • “There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” — Charles de Montesquieu, French lawyer and philosopher (d.1755)

The State Department announced on Thursday that the United States would be withdrawing from the UN agency UNESCO.

The U.S. agency citied financial reasons, the need for reform and the body’s “continuing anti-Israel bias.” President Trump’s decision to leave UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – as of December 31, 2018, was an appropriate foreign policy decision that will hopefully prompt a much-needed rethink of the United Nations, its purpose and practices. It will also send a strong message to the Palestinians that statehood cannot be achieved on the basis of UN resolutions alone, and that the only way forward is to engage in direct negotiations with Israel, during which mutual sacrifices will be required.

In the aftermath of WWII, the intended goal of the Paris-based UN body was a noble one: to promote basic freedoms and security through international collaboration on education, science and cultural projects. UNESCO-sponsored projects focused on literacy, vocational training, equal access to basic education and preservation of human rights and historical sites are indeed praiseworthy. In practice, however, the 195-member body – with its automatic anti-Israel majority that exists in every institution of the UN – has become a springboard for Jew hatred and the rewriting of history.

To be sure, UNESCO is far from the only UN agency regularly to single out Israel for reproach. Yet, its anti-Israel adoptions have been abhorrent even by the low standards established by the broader multilateral institution. Consider a resolution introduced in May, which denied Israel – and the Jewish people’s – legal and historic ties to the city of Jerusalem, including its holiest sites. It called the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron – considered the resting place of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs – and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, “Palestinian sites.” Shamefully, this vote was deliberately held on Israel’s Independence Day. Only two months later, the cultural body convened in Krakow, Poland – a city soaked in Jewish blood – and declared the city of Hebron, holy to Jews, an endangered Palestinian heritage site.

Even for some of the harshest critics of Israel, this historical ignorance is sometimes too much to swallow. In October 2016, for example, when UNESCO passed a resolution denying Israel’s connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall – referring to them only by their Muslin names – UNESCO chief, Irina Bokov (whose intentions and motivations are themselves often curious) questioned the text of the Arab-sponsored resolution on Jerusalem.

This egregious distortion of history is not particularly surprising when considering the anti-Semitic political culture that has come to underpin UNESCO, particularly since 2011, when it became the first UN agency to admit the Palestinians as a full member. Hillel Neuer of the watchdog organization, UN Watch, noted that between 2009-2014 the cultural body has adopted 46 resolutions against Israel, yet only one on Syria and none on Iran, Sudan, North Korea, or any of the other known violators of human rights around the world. In fact, a representative of the regime of Syrian dictator and mass murderer Bashar al-Assad sits on a UNESCO human rights committee.

Neuer further highlights this double standard: “UNESCO paid tribute to mass murderer Che Guevara, elected Syria to its human rights committee, and created prizes named after the dictators of Bahrain and Equatorial Guinea, whose ruler Obiang says God empowered him to kill whomever he wants. UNESCO has a noble founding mission, but that has been completely hijacked by the world’s worst tyrannies and supporters of terror.”

This is not the first time that the United States has pulled out of the hypocritical UN cultural body. Under President Reagan in 1984, the United States walked away from UNESCO owing to financial mismanagement and “hostility toward the basic institutions of a free society.” It was only in 2002 that President G.W Bush re-joined the body and stated that the United States wanted to “participate fully in its mission to advance human rights, tolerance and learning.” But this vision was upturned when President Obama halted funding to the UN body in 2011 (US funding at the time accounted for one-fifth of UNESCO’s budget) when Palestine was accepted as a full member. This original level of financial support has not been restored and the cultural body has since missed out on close to $600 million of American funding.

Among the reasons are that by withdrawing from UNESCO – again – President Trump is sending a powerful message to the international community: the United States will no longer tolerate international organizations that serve as forums for Jew-bashing. This important message was encapsulated in a powerful statement made by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley: “The purpose of UNESCO is a good one. Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment…US taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called UNESCO’s “extreme politicization” a “chronic embarrassment.” Photo: Getty Images.

The political thinker Charles de Montesquieu famously said: “There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” It is precisely because UNESCO purports to be a cultural and educational body that its false credibility masks its pervasive bigotry.

On Friday afternoon it was announced that former French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay – a Jewish woman – was elected as UNESCO Chief. Azoulay said that “UNESCO is going through a profound crisis” but that she hopes to fix it from within. I hope she succeeds in this mission. I hope she can turn UNESCO from an organization that promotes bigotry in the false name of culture, into one that opposes all forms of bigotry. Given the nature of its voting membership, this will not be easy, but with pressure from the U.S., it may have a chance of succeeding. Perhaps then the U.S. will maintain its membership in and financial support for UNESCO.

 

US, Israel to Exit UNESCO Over Its Alleged Anti-Israel Bias

AP News; townhall.com

PARIS (AP) — The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” in the agency. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit.

While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department’s statement was unexpected. The Paris-based agency’s executive board is in the midst of choosing a new chief — with Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the heated election heading into Friday’s final vote.

Outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision and tried to defend UNESCO’s reputation. The organization is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

Bokova called the U.S.’s planned departure a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. The U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now with “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism,” she said.

The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a “permanent observer” status instead. It cited U.S. belief in “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”

Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel also plans to withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a “theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

Israel has been irked by resolutions that diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and have instead named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.

Praising Trump’s decision as “brave and moral,” Netanyahu said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also praised Washington’s move as heralding “a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel.”

“The United States stands by Israel and is a true leader for change at the U.N,” Danon said. “The alliance between our two countries is stronger than ever.”

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and it was not discussed with other countries. The officials were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called UNESCO’s July designation of Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Palestinian territory the latest of many “foolish actions” that had made the agency “a chronic embarrassment.”

Haley also criticized UNESCO for “keeping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protesters”

The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003.

The State Department informed Bokova it intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member “observer state” on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

“We will be carefully watching how the organization and the new director-general steers the agency,” Charge d’Affaires Chris Hegadorn, the ranking U.S. representative to UNESCO, told The Associated Press. “Ideally, it steers it in way that U.S. interests and UNESCO’s mandate will converge.”

UNESCO’s 58-member executive board plans to select Bokova’s successor from among three finalists remaining from the field of seven candidates under consideration at the beginning of the week.

Along with al-Kawari, Qatar’s former culture minister, the finalists are Audrey Azoulay, a former culture minister in France, and former Egyptian government minister Moushira Khattab. The board’s pick then goes to the full UNESCO general assembly next month for final approval.

___

Lee reported from Washington. Edith M. Lederer in New York, Aron Heller in Jerusalem and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

 

Jewish, Israeli groups provide emergency relief to hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico

Jewish News Service; jns.org

Damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Kris Grogan.

“To see the utter devastation firsthand and so close to home is shocking,” Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, co-director of Chabad of Puerto Rico, told Chabad.org. “Thousands of homes are locked in by the filthy floodwaters, even six days post-storm. With gratitude to the Almighty, we were able to locate the families we were looking for, and bring them food and water.”

More than a week after powerful Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory is facing a massive humanitarian crisis amid complaints that the American government has lagged in its response.

According to various media reports, nearly half Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents remain without drinking water, while hospitals are struggling to stay open amid gas shortages, food is scarce and 97 percent of the island has no power.

To address the situation, Chabad-Lubavitch has sent private planes full of essentials such as canned food, bottled water, medical items and other supplies to affected areas. Two planes loaded with 4,000 pounds of food and supplies arrived in Puerto Rico earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) announced it is partnering with IsraAID, an Israeli humanitarian relief organization, to providence emergency assistance to Puerto Rico.

“Our tradition commands us to help those who are in need, and the people of Puerto Rico are in a desperate situation,” said Dina Siegel Vann, director of AJC’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs. “In this Jewish New Year period of introspection and renewal, we are committed to the recovery and rebuilding of Puerto Rico.”

With AJC’s assistance, IsraAID is providing emergency relief including water, food and hygiene items as well as psychosocial trauma support.

 

Steven Spielberg: A Legend Behind the Camera

By: Amy Spiro; jpost.com

In new HBO documentary about his life, Steven Spielberg discusses his Jewish upbringing, his illustrious career and the movie that changed his life forever.

Steven Spielberg on the set of “Schindler’s List.”. (photo credit:HBO)

You can’t discuss film directing without mentioning his name.

Over his illustrious 50-year-career, Steven Spielberg has created some of the most iconic, beloved and critically acclaimed films ever made.

And now he has taken a turn on the other side of the camera lens, sitting for hours of interviews as part of the new HBO biography and documentary Spielberg.

Documentarian Susan Lacy has pieced together interviews with the director himself, his siblings, parents and colleagues over the years, interspersed with film footage and behind the scenes videos to create a comprehensive look at Spielberg’s life. The result is a two-and a- half hour glimpse into the director’s Hollywood career, from his first professional job at age 21 to his numerous box office hits and critical successes. It is telling of the breadth of his career that 150 minutes doesn’t serve as enough time to touch on dozens of his films.

The 70-year-old is a congenial interview subject, discussing the highs and lows of his career as well as his childhood and personal life with ease.

A who’s who of Hollywood – after all, who hasn’t worked with Spielberg – weighs in as well, including his close friends and compatriots Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. Actors Richard Dreyfus, Tom Hanks, Leonardo Dicaprio, Drew Barrymore, Liam Neeson, Dustin Hoffman and Daniel Day Lewis all show up to discuss their time on set with the legendary director.

The lengthy but jam-packed documentary weaves its way through Spielberg’s illustrious career, from his first big hit with Jaws, to the iconic E.T. and Jurassic Park and the critically-acclaimed The Color Purple and Saving Private Ryan. While Spielberg has been one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood, he didn’t shy away from creating feel-good box-office friendly franchises, like Men in Black (which he produced but didn’t direct) and Indiana Jones.

While for many years Spielberg shied away from his Jewish identity, he has long since embraced it as part of his life and his work.

“I don’t search for films consciously that have a spiritual core,” he said of his 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “There’s a spiritual part of myself that happens to bleed over into the work,” he added, saying he often “will find things that inherently have something of a belief system that’s beyond our understanding.”

In the interview with Lacy, Spielberg said he believes in God, and reflected on the role faith had in his upbringing.

“I was raised Orthodox, and tradition has been a huge part of my family – religious studies and Hebrew school and bar mitzvas and bat mitzvas,” he said. “But we always lived in neighborhoods where there were no Jews and there was a real cultural divide in those days.”

The director said while growing up he “certainly experienced being excluded and picked on and discriminated against.” Those experiences, he said, led in part to him beginning to “deny his Jewishness… deny everything that I had accepted as a child.”

But when he married his second and current wife, Kate Capshaw, who converted to Judaism before the wedding, he underwent a return to the faith of his childhood.

Certainly career-wise, however, there was no film that connected Spielberg to the Jewish people more than the iconic 1993 Schindler’s List.

“It was, emotionally, the hardest movie I’ve ever made,” the director recounted.

“Nothing could prepare me for my first visit to Auschwitz… I knew this couldn’t be just another movie, and it couldn’t be like anything I’d ever directed before.”

The film left more than just an indelible legacy – and Spielberg’s first Academy Award – it spurred the director to set up the Shoah Foundation.

That organization, founded with the profits of Schindler’s List (“I couldn’t take any proceeds from the film”), created an archive of filmed testimony by Holocaust survivors.

But the impact it had on Spielberg’s own life was also immeasurable.

“The experience of making Schindler’s List made me reconcile with all of the reasons… I hid from my Jewishness,” he said. “And it made me so proud to be a Jew.”

More than a decade later, the director tackled another – more controversial – film with 2005’s Munich.

That movie told the story of the Mossad’s secret plot to avenge the deaths of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

After 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the games by PLO terrorists, Israel embarks on a mission to kill the 11 PLO operatives involved in the murders.

“I knew it would be controversial from the very get-go,” Spielberg said. He noted that the film explored the ideas of revenge and its justification, leaving viewers with murky feelings on the morality of retribution.

“Munich is a prayer for peace,” he said. “But peace the hard way, peace by discovering within yourself your moral high ground.”

Spielberg airs in the United States on Saturday October 7. It will be available on YesVOD and HOT VOD starting October 8 and air on October 13 at 10 p.m. on YesDocu and October 14 at 10 p.m. on HOT HBO.

 

Sandy Koufax and Yom Kippur: The Link that Lasts Forever

By: Marc Brodsky; jta.org

(JTA) – As Yom Kippur approaches, Jewish baseball fans hark back to the fall of 1965, when Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax said he would not take the mound in Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins.

Mind you, this was no ordinary pitcher. Koufax dominated on the hill that season for Los Angeles and would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Koufax, now in his early 80s, and his choice would go down in Jewish lore, to be recalled annually on the Day of Atonement – or perhaps whenever his coreligionists have a tough call to make.

“There was no hard decision for me,” he would say later in an ESPN documentary released in 2000. “It was just a thing of respect. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, and I had no idea that it would impact that many people.”

Learn more about Koufax’s story in the video above.

 

Israel shuts down for Yom Kippur

By: TOI Staff; timesofisrael.com

Roads and airwaves fall silent, but security and rescue services remain on high alert.

Israelis ride their bicycles on a car-free highway on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, Friday, Sept 29. 2017. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel shut shut down on Friday for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

All flights in and out of Ben Gurion airport ceased at 1:35 p.m., while public transport gradually halted with buses and trains stopping their routes until after the fast day.

As sundown approached all local radio and television broadcasts gradually fell silent.

Yom Kippur begins Friday at sundown and ends Saturday night.

 

It is marked with a 25-hour fast and intense prayer by religious Jews, while more secular Israelis often use the day to ride bicycles on the country’s deserted highways.

Thousands of worshipers crowd the Western Wall in Jerusalem for traditional selihot prayers the day before Yom Kippur, October 10, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Security and rescue services, however, remain on high alert.

For the Magen David Adom Rescue service, Yom Kippur is one of the busiest days of the year with hundreds of extra medics, paramedics, ambulances and volunteers deployed across the country.

Most injuries over Yom Kippur come from accidents on the roads as tens of thousands of children and teens take advantage of the deserted streets to ride their bicycles. Other common Yom Kippur injuries are caused by parents leaving children unattended outside synagogues and, of course, dehydration and complications from fasting.

Israelis ride their bicycles on empty roads in Tel Aviv, on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays. The photo was taken on October 3, 2014. (Danielle Shitrit/Flash 90)

However, the weather this year is expected to be relatively mild, with even some light rain expected in the north.

Meanwhile, the IDF imposed a closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. The closure is expected to last until midnight on Saturday, “depending on a situational assessment,” the army said.

Israeli policeman stand guard as cement blocks are placed by Israeli security forces on a road linking the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina and West Jerusalem, on Oct. 11, 2016, ahead of Yom Kippur (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

The closure is a routine procedure during Israeli and Jewish holidays. However, in a less common move, the military also announced that Palestinian workers would be barred from entering Jewish settlements in the West Bank — a measure that is not normally taken during closures. The army said special permission may be granted in some cases.

This additional restriction is likely tied to a terror attack on Tuesday morning, in which a Palestinian gunman hid among a group of laborers waiting to enter the Har Adar settlement, outside Jerusalem. When he was called to stop, the terrorist opened fire with a handgun, killing three security officers and wounding a fourth.

In addition, the Jewish high holiday season, which began last week with Rosh Hashanah, is generally seen by defense officials as a time of increased tension in the region, when the risk of terror attacks is higher.