Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Madoff and the LA Jewish community

From: The Jewish Journal

The stock market had been hammered for more than a year, but the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) was doing relatively well, David Polak, chair of the JCF's investment committee, told the board of directors early this month.

The JCF's common investment pool, which manages the endowments for some of Los Angeles Jewry's biggest social service agencies, was down for the year -- but only by about 19 percent. Its performance could be attributed, at least in part, to one of the investment pool's money managers. Polak didn't identify this apparent financial all-star, which in terrible economic times had managed this year to produce almost a double-digit return on investment.

But less than 10 days later, everyone knew the name: Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.

Last week, as the largest Ponzi scheme in history claimed hundreds of millions of dollars from Jewish organizations and institutions, the JCF reported it had lost an $18 million investment that had grown to $25.5 million on paper. Overnight, 9 percent of the money some L.A. Jewish nonprofits use to generate cash for their programs vanished.

"No one is happy, including us," said Marvin Schotland, JCF president and CEO. "But there has been an enormous amount of understanding about the unique set of circumstances that caused this to occur that could not have been foreseen or expected. It's a testament to the strength of the community, at least with respect to donors who have funds with us."

"They have not been engaged with blaming," he said. "They have not been happy, but they have understood this is an aberration."

Such a scandal -- any scandal -- had not touched the JCF before. But, then again, a Ponzi scheme on this scale had never occurred anywhere before.

The fraud has cut deep into not only Los Angeles' Jewish community but throughout the country and internationally. The list of victims has only grown since Madoff's arrest on Dec. 11.

The Jewish Community Centers Association of North America reported losses of as much as $7 million; American Technion Society no longer has $72 million. Hadassah is out $90 million and the Minneapolis Jewish community lost an estimated $100 million.

Revelations about Madoff's middlemen -- key money managers and machers across the country and the world who took a commission for directing investments to him -- have raised questions about how apprised individuals were of their investments and how knowledgeable these "fund feeders" were about Madoff's house of cards.

Stanley Chais, a Beverly Hills investment adviser, is clearly one victim. His family foundation, which annually gave $12.5 million to Jewish causes, suffered a fatal blow in the fallout. But now, Chais finds himself and his Brighton Co. the subject of a $250 million class-action lawsuit that accuses him of being not an innocent victim but a victimizer who mismanaged his clients' savings by investing with Madoff.

This is just one of many anticipated lawsuits that will likely drag on for years. Now, said Gary A. Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, "comes the inevitable search for the guilty."

The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission has already chided his staff, charged with regulating the U.S. financial securities industry, over "apparent multiple failures" in addressing all the red flags Madoff raised during the past decade.

Locally, the JCF has created a special committee to pursue the recovery of funds and investigate what procedures led the organization to invest in Madoff and whether those should be reformed. The committee includes JCF Chair Cathy Siegel Weiss and Lorin Fife, who will assume the chairmanship next month, as well as Richard Sandler, vice chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which lost $6.4 million and has a nonvoting seat on the JCF board.

"When something goes wrong, everybody has a thousand theories as to who did what wrong," Sandler told The Journal last week. "I've been watching all these congressional hearings for the last few months. Too much of the focus of the hearings was about who to blame instead of what to do now. I think that is a mistake."

"Obviously," he continued, "we could blame this guy Madoff. But when you look at the investment list, it is really hard to pick out a person. I am a great believer of the statement, 'But for the grace of God, there goes I.'"

The JCF made its first investment with Madoff in 2004. At the time, Madoff's fund was akin to the financial world's holy of holies -- divinely sanctified and even more exclusive. Getting in required a good connection, often from another financial titan.

Polak, chairman emeritus of L.A.-based NWQ Investment Management Co., opened that door and brought the proposal to the investment committee. They decided to invest $12 million. Two years later, in 2006, another $6 million was directed there from the common investment pool.

"We've all been surprised. The whole world has been surprised," said Polak, who stepped down last week from the investment committee. "But I'm under instructions as a member of the board from Cathy Siegel and Marvin Schotland to refer all questions to Marvin."

Schotland said the committee, whose membership hovers between eight and 10, made the decision after an "extremely robust discussion." They employed, he said, the same caution they use for each of the JCF's investments.

It is unclear whether the JCF's outside investment advisers, Cambridge Associates, recommended using Madoff. The firm was not hired until a few months after the first investment was made.

Schotland declined to speak for Cambridge, whose officials did not return calls for comment. The previous advisers, Consulting Services Group, also could not be reached.

Meanwhile, nonprofits have been re-evaluating how they will spend their money next year.

Organizations like Jewish Family Service (JFS) had already been wracked by an economy in turmoil. The California Legislature this year cut $700,000 from JFS' funding, and more state cuts are expected. While JFS' losses in the Madoff affair were relatively modest, about $425,000, they will remove another $25,000 in interest-generated revenue from the agency's budget -- an expense JFS can't afford.

"It's a convergence of factors all at once: The government is unraveling, the economy is hurting our supporters and now you have not only the decline on Wall Street but also this fraud. It's a perfect storm," said Paul Castro, JFS executive director and CEO. "We are hopeful, but it is going to be a big challenge. We are focused in on raising the dollars we can just to keep existing operations going."

Like many of the local Jewish nonprofits ensnared in the Madoff mess, JFS is a participant in the JCF common investment pool. The pool's roster has not been released, but Schotland said communal organizations, from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to Valley Beth Shalom, account for about 38 percent of the funds.

Family foundations exclusive from JCF's donor-advised funds, which account for about 70 percent of JCF's managed assets and were unaffected by the investor fraud, constitute another 6 percent. One percent of the pool comes from miscellaneous sources. And the bulk, 55 percent, belongs to the JCF and is used for grants.

In an e-mail, president Andrew Hyman of Valley Beth Shalom told the congregation that the synagogue had lost about 8 percent of its endowment, although he did not disclose the full value. The loss, he wrote, "will not have any significant negative impact on the endowment or its continuing support for the synagogue." But that doesn't mean the impact will not be significant and negative.

"It's tragic. And it has to be understood beyond one rotten apple," said Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of the Encino synagogue. "You have to look at the barrel. We are living in a culture, and have been living in a culture of greed, of success at any price, and we have allowed that scene in the movie, 'Wall Street,' to become reality -- greed is good, and you know that as long as money comes in it is justified."

If there was any good news for Beit T'Shuvah, the Culver City-based Jewish drug and alcohol rehab center, it was that a little more than half of its $8 million endowment was withdrawn from the JCF's common investment pool earlier this year, when the agency was considering buying a halfway house, and that money hadn't been reinvested, limiting the organization's exposure to $3.6 million.

"But I think the damage is greater than the numbers -- the damage in people's trust and the damage in the whole philanthropic ideal and the fact that this hit on top of the economy are making people not want to part with their money," said Harriet Rossetto, the center's founder and CEO. "We haven't seen the extent of the damage here. It is going to keep being a domino effect -- things people haven't even thought of yet."

The next domino to fall may occur when supporters of Jewish social service agencies that lost money with Madoff realize that they no longer have the discretionary income to contribute to their regular charities.

"We have seen reported in the media the names of some people and charitable bodies who are based out here and been contributors to us. We feel bad about them and that their ability to support things we do may be reduced or eliminated," said John Fishel, Federation president. "We have not heard as of yet any impact on a larger group of donors. That is not the case in some communities on the East Coast and down in the Southeast."

Indeed, a few significant donors have already told the New York-based Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, of which Schulweis is the founding chairman, that they will no longer be contributing. Madoff himself had given in previous years.

While some donors were completely insulated from Madoff, others were acutely exposed. Everyone, though, is feeling the pinch of a tumbling economy. And this, nonprofit leaders and experts said, remains a much bigger concern than this onetime loss in funds.

"We have really had here a tsunami of economic crisis and distrust as a result of the crisis in the nonprofit sector and more specifically the Jewish communal system," said Steven Windmueller, dean of the L.A. campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an authority on the federation system.

Still, the Madoff scandal has shaken the very core of Jewish philanthropy, threatening a key component of giving -- a donor's ability to trust that the money will be put to good use. To restore that, Windmueller said, organizations should ask a lot of questions about who is making investment decisions, what safeguard to add to the process and whether stricter investment guidelines should be self-imposed or government regulated.

"All of this is about trust, all of this is about confidence -- but before you even go through these new initiatives we are going to have a period of handwringing, the ability to take apart what happened and who's responsible."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Getting Jewish with Jesus

From: The Jewish Journal

Benyamin Cohen is not someone you'd expect to find at church.

The son of an Orthodox rabbi, the founding editor of the now-defunct American Jewish Life magazine, Cohen committed to marrying within the faith to the point that during his 20s, which preceded JDate, Cohen flew from his home in Atlanta to the deeper Jewish dating pool of New York twice a month.On a scale of Yiddishkayt, Cohen was a super Jew.

And yet there he was one day, projected 20-feet-tall, for all to see, on "Jesus' JumboTron."

"Oh, God," Cohen thought, "forgive me."

This scene, which took place at a black megachurch in Atlanta, opens Cohen's just-released memoir, "My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith" (HarperOne, $24.95), named by Publishers Weekly as one of 2008's best religion books. Cohen's experience on the first Sunday of his year-long spiritual quest makes clear that he won't just be able to blend in as he visits Baptist churches and Pentecostal revivals and Christian wrestling events.

His story is also laden with Jewish guilt, a theme that runs throughout Cohen's Jewish journey, as if hell hath a special place for wandering Jews.

Cohen, 33 (the "same age as Jesus when he died"), never thought he would find himself worshipping God with the help of a gospel choir. Yet all his life he had been tantalized by Christianity, gazing from the outside at the seemingly easier lives that Christian children led. While Cohen observed the Sabbath, his Christian neighbors played baseball; while he kept kosher, they ate bacon cheeseburgers; while he said a blessing after using the bathroom, they just washed their hands.

"I am, for better or worse, burdened for all eternity by my religion," Cohen writes.

And over time it began to feel it was for worse. Judaism's rules and ritual left Cohen feeling a bit crazy. Attending synagogue, praying, worshipping God, all these things had become rote, stripped of value. Cohen felt spiritually suffocated by tradition.

"What kind of religion was it that worshiped minutiae over meaning?" he writes. "Don't get me wrong. There are brilliance and beauty in this faith. I just haven't found them yet."

Jesus, as you can imagine from the book's title, helped Cohen find that brilliance and beauty. Cohen kept his journalistic guard up and didn't drink the Jesus juice, though he did take communion. But by spending a year with Christians, Cohen's own faith was invigorated.

"Stepping outside my comfort zone and hanging out with other people gave me a fresh perspective," said Cohen, who will be on a panel and sign copies of his book on Sunday as part of the Celebration of Jewish Books at American Jewish University.

In a phone interview, he told The Journal that his journey got out of his system what had been gnawing at him for years. "I finally got to taste the forbidden fruit. I think that was always a hurdle in my spiritual growth. No matter what, I was always looking across the street at the Christians. I was finally able to experience that, and I learned the grass isn't always green at the church across the street. And I learned to appreciate my own Judaism."

His Jewishness was, in essence, born again.

"I'm getting a fresh start and being reborn," Cohen writes a little more than halfway through his journey. "At the Georgia Dome, among forty thousand Christians, on Easter, the day of resurrection."

I had looked forward to reading Cohen's memoir -- written in the Jewish tradition of A.J. Jacobs' "The Year of Living Biblically," Mark I. Pinsky's "A Jew Among the Evangelicals" and Daniel Radosh's "Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture." Cohen's tale seemed particularly poignant for me because it was, at heart, a mirror image of my own travels.

I joined The Jewish Journal last year for reasons that were as personal as they were professional. It wasn't until I became a journalist that I learned more than the most basic details of Judaism and Jewish history -- this despite three Jewish grandparents and a face that can't evade the advances of Chabadniks.

On my own Jewish journey, I've learned a lot about my family history, but I've also learned how to be a better Christian; not by pretending to keep kosher or observe the Sabbath -- not through some Messianic hybrid -- but by applying Jewish cultural values to Christian observance and appreciating the common ground between two faiths that worship the same God.

Cohen's experiences have been quite different from mine, but the life lesson -- that Christians and Jews can learn a lot about their own faiths from the other -- is the same.

Cohen's interest is not in celebrating "Jon Stewart Judaism," though he worships in that temple every night. Cohen wants to engender, or at least encourage, excited-to-be-observant Jews. And, after 52 weeks spent going to church and to Christian rock concerts and even to confession, Cohen found that Christianity can reveal many secrets to the Jewish kingdom.

In the way Christians use pop culture, such as the cartoon "VeggieTales," to teach biblical stories and spread the gospel; in the way megachurches are so welcoming to newcomers -- even being greeted by a stranger with a kiss made Cohen feel uncomfortable -- and in the way Christians get big organizations, like the Atlanta Braves, to target them with Faith Night at the ballpark.

"We shouldn't take their theology," Cohen said, "but just from a marketing perspective, there is so much we can learn from Christianity."

Near the end of the book, Cohen thanks Jesus for changing his life, for breathing new life into an ancient faith that's been in his family since Aaron. And he sounds a lot like a Christian in free-form prayer.

"Thank you, Jesus, for making me less of a cynic," Cohen writes. "Thank you for teaching me that prayers can be recited in many ways and in many languages, and that God listens anyway. Thank you for miracles, even those of the golden dental variety. Thank you for small synagogues. For big churches. For gospel choirs. For holidays. Thank you for gratitude. For sickness and health. For repentance. For the lessons gleaned from death and loss. And, most of all, thank you for rebirth."

More at The God Blog

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama or McCain: The fight for the Jewish vote

From: The Jewish Journal

Gov. Sarah Palin was effusive during the vice presidential debate when given the chance to express her affinity for Israel. Given the chance, Sen. Joe Biden, her Democratic counterpart, was quick to point out that he loved Israel too. In American politics, most people do.

But in this presidential election, American Jews have not been convinced that Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, the Democrat and Republican headliners, are equal when it comes to the future of Israel. McCain has been painted as a hawk willing to wage war with Israel's enemies, Obama a naïve peacemaker who would rather talk things out.

Viral e-mails, based on half-truths and un-truths, have furthered fears about Obama. They claim he's a Muslim; he Hamas' choice; he's not who he claims to be. (He's not; he isn't; and who is?) Recently, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has aimed attack ads -- including "Barack Obama's Friends: Pro-Palestinian. Anti-Israel. Hostile to America." -- at Israel-first voters.

The combination has taken its toll.

Jewish voters are the evangelicals of 2008, the holy grail of the electorate, and an ungodly amount of news ink has been spilled on Obama's "Jewish problem."

Back in the spring, it seemed more like media groupthink than plausible pitfall. But the reality is that only one Democratic nominee since the Jewish political realignment under FDR has received less than 60 percent of the Jewish vote (President Jimmy Carter in 1980) -- and polls from Gallup and the American Jewish Committee show Obama struggling to achieve even that minimum level of support.

"If Barack Obama doesn't become the next president of the United States, I'm gonna blame the Jews," comedian Sarah Silverman says in a public service announcement for The Great Schlep, which last weekend sent about 100 Jews from around the country to Florida to convince their bubbes and zadies to vote for Obama. (See story page 18.)

While oddsmakers say they expect Obama to be at least on par on Election Day with past Democratic candidates -- if not receiving the 80 percent of the Jewish vote of Gore-Lieberman, certainly 70 percent or above -- many Jews, Republicans and Democrats, leaders and laypeople, remain unconvinced.

"It terrifies me," said Rabbi Sharon Brous, spiritual leader of IKAR and one of the 300 members of Rabbis for Obama.

Brous' fear is shared by many Obama supporters. Talk with the candidate's backers about the election, and you hear optimism tinged with terror, their hope for a new American future bridled by a tight presidential race and anxiety at the possibility of another four years with a Republican in the White House. Many of McCain's supporters, by contrast, can't imagine a United States led by a liberal who would, as Palin repeated several times recently, "pal around with terrorists."

The contest has split the country and the Jewish community. Feelings of anger and division have only intensified as the tactics of the campaigns, and their proxies, have gotten nastier.

"One of the most depressing developments from the past months has been the barrage of negative information I am getting from both sides of the Jewish community," a middle-age man said during a town hall discussion of the election at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Yom Kippur. "It's just which hot-button issue is going to scare people to action. Not only is this not enlightening, but it speaks incredibly poorly to what the Jewish strategists think of the Jewish community."

To be sure, the Jewish vote, like any other group, cannot be counted on to vote as a bloc, but reading the tea leaves this year has become more difficult because of the unknowns of race, let alone the economy.

Obama supporters have said that at least some Jews supporting McCain do so because they can't bring themselves to vote for a black man. McCain backers have said their liberal co-religionists are putting domestic issues, on which McCain is to the right of the non-Orthodox Jewish community, ahead of Israel and, by extension, national security.

"This is not an election where Jews feel they can wholeheartedly embrace either candidate," said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. "I've had this conversation numerous times, particularly with older people. But at some point you have to make a decision, and I doubt Jews will sit out this election."

So how will they vote? Plenty of predictions have been made -- Sarna anticipates Obama getting a "strong majority"; Michael Berenbaum, an adjunct professor of theology at American Jewish University, guarantees 70-30 favoring the Democrat, at worst. A few doubt the incumbent Republican Party can escape the election without losing voters angry about the plummeting economy, and even Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol has said McCain's presidential hopes are probably doomed.

But, of course, it's all a betting game until Nov. 4.

helly Mandell's endorsement was a surprising one. Mandell, a Westside attorney, is the Los Angeles president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the leader in feminist activism, and there she was at a Carson rally on Oct. 4, introducing Republican vice presidential nominee Palin.

"This," Mandell said, "is what a feminist looks like."

Booed when she identified herself as a lifelong Democrat, Mandell continued by stating that Palin "is a reformer who will break up that ol' boys network" and expressing hope that she might be able to change Palin's mind regarding Roe v. Wade.

The move was not appreciated by NOW's national office. Its political action committee had endorsed Obama a few weeks before. Mandell's endorsement, though, was indicative of the traditionally Democratic voters who aren't inspired by their party's candidate this year.

For her part, Palin really didn't need an introduction.

Few people had heard of the Alaskan governor when McCain tapped her to be his running mate Aug. 29. But she immediately became a preferred story subject, from her teenage daughter's pregnancy and conservative Christian worldview to her political experience and press-shy blunders. She also breathed new life into "Saturday Night Live," bringing her doppleganger, Tina Fey, back to that show's cast.

There has been hand-wringing since the get-go about whether she would be good for the Jews, not least because Palin is a self-styled Mrs. Joe Six-Pack.

Officials with the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) spoke glowingly of Palin, noting that the only flag in her governor's office is a small Israeli flag.

"She keeps that flag in her office because she keeps Israel in her heart," said Matthew Brooks, RJC executive director. "She, like John McCain, understands how to stand by Israel and support Israel and get a comprehensive peace agreement in the region."

But questions persisted.

Palin had been in the audience of her church only two weeks before joining McCain, when the national director of Jews for Jesus, David Brickner, said terrorist attacks in Israel were God's "judgment of unbelief."

"When a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people," Brickner said, "judgment -- you can't miss it."

And people began to wonder about Palin's real view of the Jews. (She hasn't spoken about Jews, only Israel, though Larry Greenfield, RJC's California director, asserted the day Palin was selected that she was "close to the Frozen Chosen!")

The McCain campaign responded by saying Palin did not agree with Brickner's remarks. But that brouhaha was quickly followed by news that Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention used direct passages from the writings of the notorious anti-Semite, Westbrook Pegler, a mid-century columnist for the Hearst newspaper chain who once wished, in print, for the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Like Obama, Palin also was immediately plagued by a handful of untrue rumors: That she backed Pat Buchanan for president in 2000 (she supported Steve Forbes); that she moved to ban books from the Wasilla library (she asked "what if?"); and that she is a secret secessionist (she was never a member of the Alaskan Independent Party).

Amid all this noise, a few people also raised concerns about Palin's politics.

"Some of the hostility and mocking of Gov. Palin," Greenfield said, "is simply anti-Christian bigotry and discomfort with this common sense sort of Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington kind of leadership that she offers."

he acrimony surrounding Sen. Hillary Clinton's long goodbye from the Democratic presidential primary left a terribly sour taste in her supporters' mouths. This, in turn, led to much worrying that these folks would, in anger, vote for McCain. And that was before he picked a woman as his running mate.

One of Clinton's biggest backers, Lynn Forrester de Rothschild, made the move last month.

"I believe that Barack Obama, with MoveOn.org and Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean, has taken the Democratic Party -- and they will continue to -- too far to the left," she told the Associated Press. "I'm not comfortable there."

Rothschild, who has resigned from the Democratic National Committee's planning committee, said she feels McCain would run a "centrist" government.

But Rothschild has been the exception to the rule. For an indication of just how difficult it's been for Clinton supporters, look to Daphna Ziman.

Ziman was one of Clinton's bundlers here in California. She and her husband, Richard, hosted several fundraisers for Clinton at their Beverly Hills home. And Ziman was terrified about what Obama might mean for her native Israel.

"I don't really know what he is going to do for Israel. It is a big question mark," she said in a January interview. "And we can't afford the risk."

But Ziman recently changed her tune, and this month she co-hosted with Clinton a fundraiser for Obama in downtown Los Angeles.

Why? Reproductive rights.

McCain has expressed a desire to see Roe v. Wade overturned; Palin is even more passionately pro-life. For Ziman, who founded the charity, Children Uniting Nations, which mentors inner-city kids, voting for a conservative who would likely replace at least three Supreme Court justices was out of the question.

"When I look at Islamofascism across the Muslim world, it is based on the lack of women's rights, and the ability to sacrifice that in an election is not an option for me," Ziman said.

As for Israel, Obama's selection of Biden as a running mate calmed, though it did not allay, those fears. Other prominent Los Angeles Jews have felt no discomfort regarding Obama and Israel.

Stanley P. Gold, chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and a substantial giver to the Democratic Party, had backed Clinton. Now, he's known to be supporting Obama. (Gold declined to comment because of his role as the Federation's lay leader.)

Additionally, several luminaries in the L.A. rabbinate are among the leaders of Rabbis for Obama -- the first time rabbis have banded together to endorse a candidate. The organization's co-chair is Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector at American Jewish University.

"Sen. McCain has voted for President Bush's policies 95 percent of the time, and he promises to continue those policies if elected president," Dorff said when he introduced Obama in a conference call last month with 900 rabbis. "That, though, is disastrous. Absolutely nothing is better now for our country than it was eight years ago."

"Obama, by contrast," Dorff continued, "offers us intelligence, caring, individual rights; well thought out programs for improvement in education and health care; programs to stimulate American productivity and to develop alternative sources of energy; respect and honesty in dealing with our fellow citizens and our allies -- and, yes, wise and firm support for Israel and for peace in the Middle East."

Like many, Carmen Warschaw, a matriarch of L.A. Jewry, needed no convincing. She's been in Obama's camp all along.

Back in June, her home was filled with a coterie of Hollywood's who's who -- including Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, and Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures. The mission of the Obama Los Angeles Jewish Community Leadership Committee, organized by the campaign, was to convince Jews that Obama should get their vote.

But other well-known L.A. Jews, like Ozzie Goren, the 86-year-old former Federation president, haven't been moved by Obama's message.

"Obama is a brilliant speaker. But does he say anything? Nope," Goren said. "It's just 'hope' and 'change' and 'my time.'"

One media macher you wouldn't have found at Warschaw's Beverly Hills home is Harry Sloan.

As chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Sloan is an anomaly. It's unusual for Jews to be Republicans -- only about 17 percent of Jews identify as such, according to the American Jewish Committee -- but it's almost unheard of for a Hollywood insider.

He twice held fundraisers at his home for McCain, first in January 2007 and again last January. On Oct. 1, he introduced Cindy McCain at a fundraiser at the Century Plaza Hotel that brought in $3.5 million from business folks and a few Hollywood stars, including, Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer.

Sloan, a lifelong Republican, said in an interview that, like most Americans, he is frustrated with where our country is now and headed in the future. He doesn't lay the blame squarely on the Bush administration but disperses it over all of Washington's insiders. And McCain's willingness to stand his ground when convinced of the correct course -- with unpopular immigration reform or the surge in Iraq, for example -- is exactly what he believes Washington needs.

"He is not Mr. Congeniality because he tries to make changes. We have a country that seems to be on the wrong course," Sloan said. "I don't really think he is afraid to take on anybody."

Certainly not with Iran. That's one distinction between the candidates that has highlighted the differences between hawks and doves, of varying degrees, in the Jewish community.

Both candidates have said Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons; on this there is no disagreement. But Obama seems more interested in talking softly, while McCain wants to wield a big stick.

Contrary to what is commonly repeated, Obama has said he would be willing to talk with leaders of rogue nations but never said he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust and wants to see Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. Indeed, Ayatollah Khamenei is actually the head of Iran .

Not surprisingly, both sides have spun their candidate's position as being in the best interest of Israel.

"I believe that to some degree this election is a referendum on what are the most important issues of our time," said Rabbi Isaac Jeret of Congregation Ner Tamid. "To my mind, the security of the State of Israel, the security of our own country, our financial wherewithal, are the major issues of the day."

"Who selects which Supreme Court is less my immediate issue," Jeret continued, "Is the environment our national priority, for many people it is. But I want to be around for many years to address those issues, and there are many existential issues for our country and the State of Israel that are at hand."

bout 150 liberal-minded Jews were standing in the backyard of a massive house located just down the street from the mayor's official residence in Windsor Square. Projected onto the side of the house was the world premiere of a pro-Obama video readymade for YouTube that its producers hoped, and likely everyone knew, would soon go viral.

"If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, would you?" Silverman asked in the opening of the video. "Of course you would."

In the four-minute short, Silverman goes on to argue that young Jews have more power to rock the vote in Florida by convincing their grandparents to vote for Obama than by staying home and simply voting for Obama in a blue state like California or New York. And so, she says, they should remember Al Gore's fate in Florida and join The Great Schlep, an effort organized by JewsVote.

Characteristic of the tit-for-tat actions of Republican and Democratic Jews this year, the RJC responded with a two-minute video from Jackie Mason, a Jewish comedian from a very different generation and caste.

Mason took issue with Silverman's insinuation that every Jew who doesn't vote for Obama is a racist -- in the video she uses her characteristic wry humor to explore how much elderly Jews and young black men have in common: they love track suits, Cadillacs, their grandkids and bling, and "all their friends are dying" -- her claim that elderly Jews don't like Obama "because his name sounds scary; it sounds Muslim, which he is obviously not."

To which Mason replied: "You're not a bigot and don't let her convince ya you are. She's a sick yenta for mentioning it."

The schleppers aren't the only Jews heading to battleground states in hopes of making a difference as Nov. 4 gets closer.

Writer Sharon Rosen Leib will head with her friend, Karen Gross, both 45, to West Palm Beach for the final days before the election. With their husbands in charge of their kids back home, they'll be staying at a friend's house and spending every waking minute promoting Obama.

On Election Day, Leib said, they plan to use their rental car as a voting booth shuttle for those who can't or don't want to drive. After all, the election could hinge on Florida, which could swing on the smallest margin of votes, and Leib needs to know she did all she can for her candidate.

"There is just too much at stake this election," Leib said, "and I felt powerless sitting at my computer, watching all the e-mails go back and forth."

Indeed, there seems to be an even greater awareness of what Berenbaum, the adjunct professor of theology, told The Journal in January:

"The last four years of the Bush administration have been disastrous. If we don't get ourselves squared away, it could be the end of the American Century and the end of the way the American Jewish community has been American in this era."

"We are voting as if our lives and futures depend upon it," he continued. "Not because we fear someone is going to come out and kill us, but because we fear that if we don't get this right, our children and their children will not enjoy the privileges this generation has enjoyed as Americans -- the economic opportunity, the prosperity, the education, all of those elements that have characterized our existence and our flourishing.

"After Florida in 2000, everybody knows that every vote absolutely counts."

More at The God Blog

A Christian makes teshuvah

From: The Jewish Journal

My first mistake was arriving when the Yom Kippur morning service at Valley Beth Shalom was scheduled to begin. The flier said 7:45 a.m. and, this being my virgin voyage, I didn't want to be late.

Naive? Certainly. I didn't realize Jews attend High Holy Days services like Dodgers fans frequent Chavez Ravine: arriving in the third inning and leaving in the seventh.

The first hint of my folly came when, after poking my head into a nearly empty Niznick Sanctuary, I returned to my car, parked a half-mile away, and bumped into one of the temple's main rabbis.

The morning rush, it turned out, was about two hours away.

It may be surprising that a reporter at The Jewish Journal named Greenberg wouldn't know the standard practices of synagogue attendance on the holiest day of the Jewish year, but this ignorance hints at a more complex story of guilt, confusion and married identities.

I wasn't raised Jewish. Both my grandmothers were, and so too was my paternal grandfather. But my mother was raised Catholic down south and my father as a non-religious Jew here in Los Angeles. (You may know a few like him.)

When I was young -- 6 or 7 -- my parents both began attending a non-denominational Protestant church. Soon they were baptized, and, as a teenager, so was I.

My sister and I identified as Jewish in name only, or, more aptly, by our name: When it comes to anti-Semitism, it's not about whether you consider yourself Jewish but whether others do -- and others did.

I still go to church most Sundays, but though I'm not with Jews for Jesus or a Messianic -- that's worth emphasizing -- I've become increasingly interested in my Jewish cultural history. Yom Kippur, it seemed, was something I should experience.

So I selected three synagogues where I thought I would feel comfortable and find something meaningful to take home: IKAR, where Rabbi Sharon Brous has been recognized for her alternative, spiritually engaging community; Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), to hear Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, one of the leading voices of Jewish conscience from the last half century; and Temple Israel of Hollywood because, well, I have a screenplay to sell.

I didn't anticipate a problem blending in.

"The High Holy Days," a friend had remarked before Rosh Hashanah, "is the time of the year when secular Jews pretend to believe in God and religious Jews pretend to believe them."

The High Holy Days draw the biggest crowds of the year, and, just like Christmas and Easter services, you can hear the outreach from the bimah.

"To the privatized Jew, hell is other people," Schulweis said during his morning sermon, paraphrasing the philosopher Sartre.

Yes, he said, huddling close causes pricks and pain, but so does remaining alone outside of a community.

"This is the porcupine's dilemma. This is the human condition," Schulweis said, soon adding, "Judaism depends on Jews being Jewish.... In Judaism, believing means belonging. For we are a family."

At that moment, I felt a part of this family, the Tribe. I was praying and singing in Hebrew, wearing tallit and a kippah, and at 5:30 p.m. on erev Yom Kippur I had begun my fast, which I might have completed had I not driven past Pita Kitchen en route from VBS to Temple Israel of Hollywood. (They make a ridiculous lamb shawarma.)

Guilty? Maybe a little. But the day before I read on Ynet that only 63 percent of Israeli Jews planned to fast. And, besides, I'd already achieved a greater level of observance than at any point in my life.

Temple Israel hammered home what Schulweis had spoken of. I had been bored at VBS; tired from little sleep, with falling blood sugar, and, most importantly, no one to chat with in the surprisingly social hallways. But at Temple Israel I recognized people from the moment I walked into an afternoon breakout session on the presidential election -- friends, sources, current and former colleagues.

As the time, spent in community and talking about shared concerns, passed quickly by, I several times reflected on my experience the night before, when I celebrated Kol Nidre at IKAR.

I felt strikingly comfortable in a packed gym at the Westside JCC. It might have been a shvitz because of a broken air conditioner, but when I looked around I saw a packed, spiritually moved house of Jews, many who looked a lot like me: Chuck Taylor sneakers, thick plastic glasses, the curly hair that always has reminded me of my family's story.

When we prayed, I told myself the room was praying to my God, that I was praying to my God. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. The God of the Exodus. The God of all creation.

Of course, there was no mention of Jesus, but the sermon was one I have heard in one form or another in churches all my life:

God is good. People are not. But we can do good, we can fulfill God's will on Earth by stepping outside ourselves, by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless and helping the helpless -- by, in two words, tikkun olam.

Faith is not bad, Rabbi Brous said, specifically taking aim at anti-god avenger Bill Maher, whose new movie "Religulous" ridicules godly observance. Yes, man has used God for his own selfish gain, Brous said, but we can change the course.

"It's nice to see you here," a friend said to me as I digested Brous' sermon. "You should come for Shabbat."

I wondered: Could I? Could I be part of a religious Jewish community without practicing Judaism, with -- and there's no other way to put this -- believing in something that was a heretical outgrowth of Judaism?

Probably not.

Maybe I could just come around on the High Holy Days. I hear people do that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bill Maher's battle against religion

From: The Jewish Journal

Bill Maher is on his soapbox, looking like a lunatic and holding court in London's Hyde Park. A crowd forms around the American talk show host, who is disguised in glasses and a funny hat as he preaches that aliens have infected our souls and only Scientology provides the answer.

"Xenu brought us here 75 million years ago, stacked us around volcanoes and blew them up with an H-bomb. You have to rid yourself of the implants from the extraterrestrial dictators," Maher says, imploring folks to use an e-meter, Scientology's primary tool, to measure their Thetan level and determine the imprint of these aliens.

This scene appears in Maher's new documentary, "Religulous," and it prompted roars of laughter from an audience at a screening last month. But it is just the setup. Maher's punch line, which comes from a comedy club clip, has nothing to do with the 55-year-old religion -- often called a cult -- that's turned Tom Cruise into such a weirdo.

"Jesus with the virgin birth and dove and snake who talks in a garden -- that's cool," Maher says. "But the Scientologists, they're the crazy ones."

Comedian and political commentator Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" and before that "Politically Incorrect" on ABC and Comedy Central, has become known for attacking drug laws, organized religion and PC sensibilities.

On Oct. 3, his biggest battle -- Maher v. God -- will hit theaters.

It's not a mockumentary, but some of the real-life religious folks in "Religulous" could well have been in "This Is Spinal Tap."

The film is a series of interviews, often more debates than conversations, tied together with Maher's reflections as he travels between locations. With a talk show host's benefit of always getting the last word, Maher outwits, outquips, outthinks and outperforms his victims. And his subjects -- the evangelical Christian who directs the Human Genome Project, a U.S. senator, an anti-Zionist rabbi and a Muslim rapper who loves suicide bombers -- are the victims here.

Maher's bias is clear even in his title's marriage of "religious" and "ridiculous."

"What I am saying is if you are religious at all, you are an extremist," Maher said in a phone interview last week, later adding, "There is no doubting that there are brilliant people who are religious.... People find ways to wall off areas of their mind -- that is why I use that phrase, 'neurological disorder.'"

So why did Maher's subjects sit down with him? It's difficult to imagine any religious person familiar with his politics and godlessness actually agreeing to an interview.

The fact is, nobody knew whom they were dealing with until it was too late.

"We never, ever used my name," Maher told the L.A. Times' Patrick Goldstein of how the interviews were arranged. "We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it 'A Spiritual Journey.'"

This art of deception is only one of the very evident fingerprints of director Larry Charles, who mastered this skill as director of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." "Religulous" avoids Eastern religions, worrying only about fanaticism in the Abrahamic faiths -- Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Maher considers himself a former member of two of the three.

His father was Irish Catholic, and that was how Maher was raised as a child. "It wasn't relevant to my life," Maher says in the film, "Superman was relevant, and baseball cards." In his teens, Maher discovered why his mother never joined the rest of the family at church: She was Jewish.

"I never even knew I was half-Jewish until I was a teenager," he said on "Larry King Live" in 2002. "I was just so frightened about the Catholics and everything that was going on there in the church -- and I was never, you know, molested or anything. And I'm a little insulted. I guess they never found me attractive. And that's really their loss."

Irreverence is Maher's trademark. In the film, he calls Jesus "nuts" and Moses "cuckoo." He considers himself a contemporary, though much younger, of the late George Carlin, founder of frisbeeterianism. (When I asked readers of The God Blog for any questions they had for Maher, a career church leader wanted to know whether "he's always been a douche bag, or is this a new look and feel for him.")

"I always felt religion was a giant elephant in the room of comedy gold and that people don't laugh at it simply because they are used to it," he said.

This is what could make "Religulous" so difficult for the God-fearing: It is positively entertaining.

Maher visits the Creation Museum in Hebron, Ky., and Orlando's Holy Land Experience; he tongue-ties the brilliant geneticist Francis Collins and walks out of an interview with Rabbi Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta International -- "Never again, rabbi."

His religious journey takes him from the Valley of Armageddon in Israel to the Trucker's Chapel in Raleigh, N.C. An interview with a Muslim minister in Amsterdam is interrupted by the imam's cellphone ringtone, which is Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

When Maher asks Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) how people who believe in the Bible's creation story could be helping to run the most powerful country in the world, the senator plays into his hand: "You don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate, though," Pryor responds.

At times, Maher's interviews are frightening, like when the Muslim rapper Propa-Ghandi defends the 19-year-old fatwa against Salman Rushdie for "The Satanic Verses" and argues that his music, which praises suicide bombers, shouldn't be censored.

The so-called New Atheists -- bestselling authors who appeal to science, logic and intellectual elitism -- typically preach only to the choir.

"I don't like the term atheist because, to me, that is as rigid as religion is," Maher said. "I preach the doctrine of 'I don't know.' I don't know and I don't think it should matter. I don't think people should be so obsessed. Give yourself a break. You don't have to worship something, you don't have to worship something that is really just in your head, that you made up."

But Maher avoids two of these major trappings -- he can't help the high-minded snobbery -- and sticks to what he is good at: comedy.

"I think Jesus was probably an awkward teen -- big Jewfro, bad at sports," he says in the film, at which point a clip of Jonah Hill from "Superbad" flashes on the screen: "Here I am!"

And what better way to discredit something than to make belief in it laughable?

With his Catholic and Jewish backgrounds, Maher should feel guiltier than anyone about such heathen humor. But instead, the religious moviegoer is the only one worrying about God's forgiveness.

"Religion comes off as looking at best ridiculous in Bill Maher's new film 'Religulous.' But the early buzz has also been correct: Brilliant," I wrote on The God Blog the day after seeing a screening. "And so I've spent the past 13 hours wondering if there was something wrong with my enjoying the movie."

But quickly my feelings of guilt faded into an understanding that the film is a guilty pleasure. "Religulous" is hilarious and poignant because it pokes fun not just at things that bother Maher, but that bother countless among the faithful: violence in God's name, seeing science as a religious bogeyman, End Times theology.

"The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not arrogant certitude, but doubt," Maher says in the film's closing five-minute monologue, which shifts the tone to dead serious.

"The plain fact is, religion must die for man to live," he says.

For being anti-religious, he sure is preachy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Economy puts pressure on Jewish community

From: The Jewish Journal

The food pantry would not open for another 40 minutes, but already about a dozen people were waiting in the parking lot, many holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the blistering San Fernando Valley sun. Before day's end, more than 100 people, Jews and non-Jews alike, many coming on foot or by bus, would visit SOVA's Van Nuys pantry to apply for food stamps, register with a dietician and, most certainly, receive the groceries they need -- literally -- to put dinner on the table.

So began a regular day at one of the three pantries SOVA Community Food & Resource Program operates throughout the city, evidence of an experience that has become familiar for a growing number of indigent families across Los Angeles.

These are tough times for all Americans. The drama working its way through the economy -- surging gas and food prices, crises in the housing and financial markets, climbing unemployment rates and a dismal overall outlook -- has been written into the American Jewish story, too. That much is abundantly clear from a trip to SOVA.

Monthly traffic at the food banks has more than doubled since 2002, to about 5,600 client visits in June, the busiest month since Thanksgiving. Only about 10 percent of those who come are homeless; the overwhelming majority are unemployed or, increasingly, underemployed.

This is, of course, exactly the need SOVA exists to fill. But these days there is no way its 15-person staff can fully compensate for the swelling demand on resources and the shriveling of public and private support.

"You are really talking about a perfect storm in the social service world of not being able to raise private dollars to make up for the sagging or lagging public dollars," said Paul Castro, executive director and CEO of SOVA's parent, Jewish Family Service (JFS).

The scariest reality for many organizations is how unclear the future remains. So far, many charities report that fundraising is on pace with last year, but at the same time, officials admit the situation could go south in a hurry if the economy doesn't improve. The demand for resources continues to climb each month for many, but social service organizations' financial health won't be fully known until donors write their final checks for 2008.

Already there are signs of belt-tightening: Last month, when SOVA's executive director left for another job, she was replaced by Joan Mithers, JFS' director of community programs and staff training. Mithers new role was blended with her old, and that position was frozen. More trimming is expected as soaring food costs continue to push SOVA's $1.5 million budget upward. And that is assuming end-of-year fundraising can live up to budgeted expectations.

That story could be told this summer over and over throughout the world of philanthropy in general and Jewish communal service specifically.

"It's really a catch-22," said Jay Soloway, director of career services for Jewish Vocational Service, which through June this year has seen a 50 percent spike in referrals from SOVA and an increasing number of clients holding master's degrees.

At the same time, in May, United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization for North American federations, adopted a $37 million budget that was $3.2 million lighter than the previous years and included the reduction of 32 jobs.

Last month, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) announced that it would cut 60 jobs, including 52 in Israel, to deal with a $60 million budget deficit, due, in large part, to the dollar's dropping value and the rising cost of work abroad.

And locally, Steven Windmueller, dean of the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said the Reform college is evaluating the practicality of shaving a day off the workweek. Windmueller said other institutions and organizations are doing the same.

"The question [nonprofits] have to come up with," Windmueller said, "is whether this is viable for their operations, for meeting state law with hourly earners and whether the expectations of their donors and members and clients can be met in the context of a four-day workweek."

Some organizations will choose to borrow heavily to sustain programming, while many will cut back services and reduce staff, said Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Others will choose to collaborate or merge with another organization, and a few will likely call it quits.

Nevertheless, a broad survey of Jewish schools, synagogues and social service agencies big and small -- from the JDC to Project Chicken Soup -- depicts a mosaic of caution and pragmatic optimism, an awareness that the sky is not yet falling, but it very well could.

"We all have to proceed forward knowing that there is this ambiguity, there are a lot of pieces of a complex puzzle which are not filling in the gestalt of the communal reality," John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an interview last week. "I start from a premise of 'let's be practical; let's assume the best, but be aware that the best may not be able to be achieved.'"

That perspective is a reflection of just how jarring the decline in the American economy has been during the past 12 months.

Inflation nationwide was up 5.5 percent in June from the previous year. California's jobless rate climbed to 6.9 percent. Stocks have fallen sharply, with the S&P 500 off about 22 percent last week from its October peak.

Home prices are dropping fast, too, the result of a combination of prices artificially inflated by speculators, fraudulent or high-risk mortgage lending and some resultant mass hysteria. New construction, a huge source of labor in California and nationally, has stalled; lenders are struggling to stay afloat, with IndyMac leaving the loan business and laying off 3,800; the government is considering how to secure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and, according to PropertyShark.com, Los Angeles County foreclosures spiked to 14,505 in the second quarter, almost quadruple the number during the same period in 2007.

Bad news has been coming even from places that report the news -- the Los Angeles Times last week began its latest round of cuts, about 250 employees, including 17 percent of the newsroom. Questions about whether the United States is in a recession or on the cusp of one have been pretty much settled.

The query now -- tantamount to both individuals wrestling with life changes and the organizations seeking to help them -- is: for how long?

"The effects of the housing contraction and of the financial headwinds on spending and economic activity have been compounded by rapid increases in the prices of energy and other commodities, which have sapped household purchasing power even as they have boosted inflation," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told the House Committee on Financial Services last week.

"As events in recent weeks have demonstrated," he added, "many financial markets and institutions remain under considerable stress, in part because the outlook for the economy, and thus far credit quality, remains uncertain."

For Avi Edery, a 35-year-old Israeli native living in Woodland Hills, "sapped purchasing power" began a breakneck decline in the fortune of his home-improvement business.

"This winter was really bad," Edery, said. "Beforehand, we could just go into a house, and people would pull off money from their equity, whatever they wanted, and just roll with it. Now, nobody."

Edery and his wife fell behind on their rent. His credit was poor and their savings small. Traditional borrowing wasn't much of an option.

But Jewish Free Loan Association, with an interest-free emergency rental loan for up to $3,000, offered enough to stem the tide. Edery applied last month and was quickly approved.

"It's not a lot of money," he said. "But every penny helps when you are in need."

And who isn't in need when Jewish life can be so expensive? Synagogue dues, Hebrew school, summer camp, kosher food, the occasional trip to Israel -- the individual costs of Jewish involvement -- can significantly tap into "the discretionary income of practically every middle-class Jewish family in America," said Gary A. Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.

When times are tight, some families look to congregational membership and Jewish education as significant expenses they can cut.

"A year ago, people still had savings, and they did not think it would take a year for them to find another place of employment," said David Brook, executive director of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, a congregation heavy with real estate professionals. "Now we are seeing those same people come in, and they have not found employment, so they are either starting their own business or going into a new industry. We as a synagogue have to be there to help them. These are families that have children in our religious school and our preschool, and we will not deny a Jewish education to any of them."

Life was precarious enough last year for many congregants at Temple Aliyah, which budgeted about $50,000 for members needing dues reductions. These members, some paying as little as $180 for an annual membership that a family of four would ordinarily pay as much as $2,500 for, accounted for about 5 percent of the temple's 900 families.

"Seventy-five percent of the congregants who were asking for dues reductions were Realtors. And we also had two open administrative assistant positions, and we had Realtors applying for those," Brook said. "Then midway through the year, we had another open position, and we had Hollywood people applying because of the strike."

The temple budgeted 10 percent more for dues relief this year but won't know just what is needed until membership renewals roll in as the school year and High Holy Days approach. Unfortunately, Rabbi Stewart Vogel said, there are bound to be some who can no longer afford membership, but rather than ask for assistance, they will disappear from the synagogue community.

"I've had families who I tell, 'This is the job of the synagogue,'" Vogel said, "and they still don't take the help, because it makes them uncomfortable."

At Shalhevet School, where a Modern Orthodox high school education runs about $23,000 a year, one-third of students receive financial aid, Rabbi Elchanan J. Weinbach said. There has been an increase in scholarship applications from middle-class families.

"The wealthier families, thank God, can afford the cost, and the families at the bottom are the easiest to get assistance for," said Weinbach, who took over as head of school last month. "It's really the families who are somewhere in the middle that become the most painful cases."

In an effort to expand Shalhevet's scholarship fund, the school has been reaching out to affluent members of the community who have the means to increase their giving. Shalhevet, however, is not the only Jewish institution or organization turning to this community of higher-earning, committed Jews.

"In these kinds of troubles, there are some people who reach back and become more generous," Tobin said. "In every war Israel has fought, for example, people reach back. The capacity to do so is there. It's a matter of leadership and will."

When the real estate market was piping hot two years ago, friends courted him to build new homes on two parcels they had bought in Woodland Hills. They told Doustan the plans had been finalized and approved, and they offered $250,000. He bit.

But there were problems, and those only got worse as the market cooled. The plans hadn't been approved, and the partners' construction loan application had been denied. Doustan's payment was C.O.D., so the longer the project lagged, the more he had to tap into his savings, and the more he felt compelled to finance building expenses himself.

"After I got all the plans approved -- building, soil report, everything -- and I am already short $70,000," Doustan said, "they applied for a construction loan."

It was approved this time around in April 2007, but then the credit market soured, and the loan was cancelled before being administered.

Doustan finally cut his losses -- 60 years old and single, he became the suddenly unemployed owner of a $457,000 two-bedroom Woodland Hills townhouse, in which he sunk another $50,000 in upgrades and has since watched it fall in value roughly 20 percent.

"I had a very good business; I have been living on my savings," Doustan said. "It's almost reached the end, because everything has a limit. I haven't been paid in two years."

"The worst thing for me is I am not doing anything," Doustan said, eating baba ganoush during lunch last week at the Green Cottage Persian restaurant. "I feel restless. In New York, I used to work seven days a week. I feel worthless."

Doustan now finds himself in the place that many recent college grads do: He doesn't know what he wants to do for a living or how to search for a job, having never even drawn up a resume. But unlike the typical career virgin, Doustan has a healthy home mortgage.

So, four months ago, he turned to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) after seeing an ad in The Jewish Journal. A career counselor helped him draft a resume and enrolled him in a four-week JVS course at the New JCC at Milken for seniors being pressured back into the workforce, as well as a logistics-training program at Santa Monica College. The counselor also is assisting Doustan with the job search.

"I am not financially desperate," Doustan said. "But I am desperate to do something."

The notion that a butterfly in Singapore could cause a tornado in Kansas seems an accurate parallel for the relationship between the health of industry and charity. When fortunes cool, donors, from the largest corporations and private foundations to the humblest of wage earners, have less money to give away. Soon, so, too, do governments. Eventually, reductions in prosperity trickle down to nonprofits.

"At our dinner last year, there were a number of financial service companies that had historically been big supporters, and when they are firing CEOs and laying off workers, one of the first things that gets cut is charitable donations," Mitch Kamin, executive director of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, said shortly after the organization's new fiscal year began July 1, on the eve of its big annual fundraiser, last Saturday's Justice Ball.

"Our overall fundraising numbers were not down, but I'm concerned about this coming year as companies and major donors and foundations are all looking at the impact of the economy on their giving," Kamin said. "It's not that people are walking away, but funders are cautious about what they support right now and how much they support."

At Project Chicken Soup, which delivers kosher meals two Sundays a month to 105 people in the county living with HIV/AIDS, slightly fewer volunteers have been participating lately. This partly is a symptom of summer, President Paul Chitlik said, but also could be tied to the cost for volunteers of commuting in and delivering the meals. What is clear is that donations, which usually increase this time of year, are flat. Food prices, on the other hand, are "spiraling."

"We have to do more fundraising to cover that," Chitlik said of the charity, which has a budget of about $100,000 and one 30-hour-a-week employee.

December represents the zero hour, the time for assessing just how close nonprofits came to their fundraising targets. This often is the case, but during a downturn in the economy it is especially so. A significant amount of supporters who commit in the first three quarters don't write their charitable checks until after Thanksgiving; many smaller-fund donors don't give at all until reviewing their year-end finances as New Year's Day approaches.

The Federation through mid-July, for example, was outstripping last year's fundraising, receiving donations and pledges of $35.1 million from donors who last year gave $30.3 million to a $49.8 million campaign. But Chairman Stanley Gold said in January he wants to increase fundraising this year by at least 10 percent, and the $14.7 million needed to equal last year's campaign isn't a gimme.

"We are going to be hopeful and just continue to push until Dec. 31, and then do the calculations on what we have," Fishel said.

Many organizations are now evaluating the easier decisions: prioritizing programming, paring travel expenses through reductions in staffing and frequency, looking for ways to work with other agencies. But there is no simple solution to the overall problem, and nobody knows how long the economic turmoil will last.

"Anybody who tells you they know the answer to that question is someone you should turn tail and run away from, because nobody knows," Tobin said. "This is one of those cases where you plan for the worst, and hope for the best."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The professor anti-Semites love

From: The Jewish Journal

Kevin MacDonald had just completed the first in a series of books that would come to define him. Awaiting feedback from his publisher 15 years ago, MacDonald sent his manuscript to a colleague in the psychology department at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). The feedback was not encouraging.

"What troubles me most is that your criticism of Jews may be taken seriously by groups and individuals who both fear and hate Jews," Martin Fiebert wrote in a 12-point reply. "Your manuscript, unintentionally perhaps, reinforces the stereotype that all Jews, be they assimilated or not, are clannish, deceptive, and exploitive. I'm sure you would be dismayed to find that your book has a treasured place in the bookcases of neo-Nazis along with 'Mein Kampf' and the 'Protocols of Zion.'"

How prophetic Fiebert's insight turned out to be.

MacDonald, 64, has been deemed America's "foremost anti-Semitic thinker" by civil rights experts. A tenured psychology professor who lent his expertise to Holocaust denier David Irving, MacDonald has suggested restricting college enrollment and increasing taxes for Jews to mediate what he perceives as inequities with non-Jewish whites.

His three-volume critique of Judaism as a "group evolutionary strategy" -- known collectively as "The Culture of Critique" and published by Praeger in 1994, 1998 and 1998 -- claims the religion discourages inclusion, eggs on anti-Semitism and uses study of Talmud to thin the reproduction of less intelligent members. The books have become sacred scripture for white supremacists, and a growing number of MacDonald's colleagues have urged the university to denounce his writings.

"He is repackaging traditional anti-Jewish beliefs in contemporary pseudo-scientific language," said Jeffrey Blutinger, a history professor leading the push against MacDonald. "If you think of classic anti-Jewish tropes of Jews as clannish, conspiratorial, opposed to Christendom, a threat to the nation, using contemporary ideas as a way of undermining traditional beliefs -- all of these show up in his writing."

These are strange credentials for a man who in person seems every bit a slice of Midwest Americana. Part German, part Scottish, raised to be a traditional Catholic, though he is now agnostic, MacDonald was reared in a small Wisconsin town best known for the children's clothes that carry its name.

"Oshkosh was a great town to grow up in," MacDonald said in a recent conversation. "There weren't any Jewish families at all. I guess there was one; I knew one Jewish kid in high school. Nobody talked about Jews. There was no anti-Semitism in town. It was an unknown."

He first discovered his future research subjects as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He had a few Jews as roommates, and many more were fellow travelers in the anti-war movement. Almost three decades later, when MacDonald began connecting Jewish power and success to evolutionary strategies, he would identify his leftist years as the first time Jews used his gentile face to promote what he considered their group agenda. It wasn't until the '90s that MacDonald began to see Jewish communities as inimical entities slowly destroying their hosts.

"Jews are inevitably going to be an elite," he said. "They are smart; they are well organized. The problem, from my point of view, is that there is a hostility there, a fear and hostility, that over the past 40 years has resulted in some changes that have not been in the interest of people like me. As simple as that."

MacDonald's core complaint is Jewish influence on immigration laws. He blames passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, which abolished national origin quotas and made immigration easier for non-Westerners, on a Jewish desire to oust European Americans from the majority.

"European people in this country will be a minority in a few years," MacDonald said. "I don't think that would have happened if we had had a sense of ourselves as a culture worth defending. Now, everything is up for grabs."

He sat for the first of two interviews in his cramped office on campus. Tall and lanky, with white hair and a disarming smile, MacDonald hardly looks like America's scariest academic. He is affable, even in light of the vilification he's received, much of it from -- and this shouldn't surprise -- Jewish peers and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

"Everybody who crosses them, they are going to have a price to pay," MacDonald said. "People won't be seen with me; they won't talk to me; they won't have lunch with me. I am pretty much a nonentity around here."

Until 2000, MacDonald was largely unknown on campus. Testifying for Irving in a lawsuit against Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt attracted a flurry of attention. But then the storm quieted, and MacDonald was left alone to develop and detail his theories on Jewish strategies to "destroy" Western culture, typing out page after page in his office on the fourth floor of CSULB's 1970s-era psych building.

"He is not the type of guy who is going to dress up in a KKK outfit or swastika armband. The truth is that with his Ph.D and this veneer of respectability, he's very dangerous," said Heidi Beirich, who directs SPLC's research and special projects.

"The Nazi types are reading his stuff like it is the Bible," Beirich continued, "and they're using it to say why Jews should be exterminated, why they should be thrown out of the country -- because he says Jews are responsible for all this immigration that is destroying white culture. His books are like the new Bible of the movement."

Last spring, Beirich wrote a scathing profile of MacDonald for SPLC's magazine, Intelligence Report, and the local chapter of the ADL became more active in raising awareness. Then earlier this year, the ground ruptured beneath MacDonald when a few uneasy colleagues from a range of academic departments coalesced and began to urge CSULB President F. King Alexander to distance the school from its infamous academic.

Alexander so far has declined all such requests on the basis of academic freedom.

"Despite the fact that I personally disagree and even find deplorable some beliefs and opinions expressed by a few individuals on our campus, particularly those ideas that are hurtful of certain groups, I believe as Thomas Jefferson stated, that 'errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it,'" Alexander, who declined to be interviewed, said in a written statement.

"Universities should always ensure that good ideas always outweigh bad ideas," he continued. "Universities should also be firmly committed, even at times when it is against popular opinion, to freedom of thought, and when we act to restrict opinion from the far right or the far left, then it will not be long before we can no longer call ourselves a university."

But the pressure from the academic community to condemn MacDonald continues. During the past six weeks, the anthropology and history departments, as well as the Jewish studies program, all have issued statements denouncing MacDonald's work as "professionally irresponsible and morally untenable"; the psychology department voted to disassociate from his writings because of their popularity with "extremist groups."

"His approach to historical investigation is antithetical to our discipline in that he selects only those materials that support his preconceived thesis, while ignoring all evidence to the contrary," the history faculty's statement said. "MacDonald's misuse of historical methodology would be unacceptable in an undergraduate history paper; how much more disturbing, therefore, is the fact that in these writings he is identified as a professor at CSULB."

MacDonald's intellectual pursuits began innocently. In 1990, he'd been at Cal State Long Beach five years, teaching and researching child psychological development, when he read an article in the Los Angeles Times about the tight-knit 19th century Jewish community of Cheyenne, Wyo.

"They came with a distinct culture, community activities and forms of cooperation, and they practiced their religious rituals even in the most isolated conditions," the Times reported. "One child tells how before there was a rabbi in Cheyenne, his father dressed meat in the kosher tradition in the back of his furniture store."

The article made MacDonald think of animals.

He had graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1966 with a degree in philosophy and dreams of being a jazz musician. When reality sank in, MacDonald entered graduate school at the University of Connecticut in the mid-'70s, earning a master's in biology and then, four years later, a doctorate in biobehavorial science.

His research focused on the personalities of wolves, and by the time he left UConn in 1981 to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois, MacDonald was convinced that, like the lab wolves he'd studied, human behavioral tendencies also led back to specific genetic blueprints. And that is where his mind wandered when he read about Cheyenne's Jews.

"My adviser, Benson Ginsburg, wrote an article saying that wolves would be a better model for human behavior than chimpanzees, because of social bonds and their acting like a family," MacDonald said. "They have to police the boundaries and police in-group behavior; you can't have freeloaders. My earliest research on the behavior of Jews focused on that, and you see wolf packs do that."

MacDonald began to think of Judaism as the vehicle through which an evolutionary strategy was mechanized. He decided to read Paul M. Johnston's "A History of the Jews" and the Tanakh, or as MacDonald knew it, the Old Testament, and within short order, he was mentally outlining "A People that Shall Dwell Alone."

The book became the first in his series, "The Culture of Critique." "A People that Shall Dwell Alone" lays the foundation for MacDonald's theory of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy and briefly discusses other groups that he believes employ similar strategies: Gypsies, the Amish, Chinese living abroad.

Jews, he pointed out, are taught they are different -- God's chosen -- and they are encouraged to live lives that benefit other Jews. They also marry within the Tribe, and more often their neighbors within their extended family, MacDonald wrote. Focusing on the Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern Europe, he argued that competition for resources benefited Jews who chose niche businesses, like trading and banking. And in one of his most controversial claims, MacDonald wrote that, over time Jews have grown increasingly successful because of a eugenics program built into the religion -- Talmud study, which helped determine which men got the prettiest wives, the best business opportunities and the most children.

"These documents contain a vast amount of material for which there are no practical functions at all," MacDonald wrote. "The incredible elaboration of Jewish religious law in these writings suggests that this mass of material is the result of intense intellectual competition within the Jewish community and that the resulting Torah then provided an arena for intellectual competition within the Jewish community."

The second volume, "Separation and its Discontents," offers an evolutionary explanation for anti-Semitism, from the late Roman Empire to modern Diaspora life, and discusses Jewish strategies for combating discrimination. The most controversial portion of this book, Chapter 5, compares Nazism to Judaism.

"The National Socialist movement in Germany from 1933-1945 is a departure from Western tendencies toward universalism and muted individualism in the direction of racial nationalism and cohesive collectivism.... It may be usefully conceptualized as a group evolutionary strategy that was characterized by several key features that mirrored Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy."

MacDonald concluded that Nazi ideology "may well have been caused or at least greatly facilitated by the presence of Judaism as a very salient and successful racially exclusive antithetical group strategy within German society."

His final volume in the series, "The Culture of Critique," focuses on Judaism as a culture of belittling non-Jews and makes broad claims about Jewish dominance in media and the social sciences, identification with radical leftist politics and influence over immigration laws. He argues in the preface to the paperback edition (2002) that Jewish intellectuals and influentials have discovered, and are committed to, the best strategy for "destroying Europeans": convincing them of their own moral bankruptcy. "And thus," he wrote, "the intense effort among Jewish intellectuals to continue the ideology of the moral superiority of Judaism and its role as undeserving historical victim while at the same time continuing the onslaught on the moral legitimacy of the West."

MacDonald's newest addition to this library, "Cultural Insurrections," was published last month by Occidental Press. The book is a compilation of his essays from the past few years, with topics ranging from "Stalin's Willing Executioners" to "What Makes Western Culture Unique." In the book's final essay -- "Can the Jewish Model Help the West Survive?" -- MacDonald embraces Jewish "hyper-ethnocentrism" as a strategy to fight the "onslaught" of immigration that he believes has increased ethnic competition for resources and threatens white European American culture.

"We already see numerous examples in which coalitions of minority groups attempt to influence public policy, including immigration policy, against the interests of the European majority. And we must realize that placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability would be extremely risky, given the deep sense of historical grievance harbored by many ethnic activists toward Europeans," MacDonald wrote.

"This is especially the case with Jews, and of course Jews have shown a tendency to become part of the elite in Western societies. We have recently seen reports in the press of religious Jews spitting on Christian symbols in Israel, thereby resurrecting an age-old Jewish practice. Indeed, hatred toward all things European is normative among a great many strongly identified Jews."

In fact, there were reports from Ha'aretz and Christianity Today in 2004 of a spate of spitting incidents in Jerusalem, in which ultra-Orthodox Jews allegedly assaulted Christians. However, spitting, like the blood libel that claims Jews ritually slaughter Christian children and bake their blood into matzah, is not and never has been an "age-old Jewish practice."

Most of the essays for "Cultural Insurrections" appeared in The Occidental Quarterly, a Mount Airy, Md.-based journal that "unapologetically defends the cultural, ethnic, and racial interests of Western European peoples." In 2004, the journal awarded MacDonald a $10,000 prize.

"MacDonald's 'racism' is nothing more than the idea that European-descended peoples have as much right as any other people, including Jews, to preserve their people and their culture," Virginia Abernethy, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and, like MacDonald, an editorial adviser to The Occidental Quarterly, wrote in the book's foreword.

MacDonald's research rests on the assumption, based on interpretations of intelligence tests, that Jews are born with superior brains. The intelligence quotient sits on a sliding scale, with the average IQ at 100. The average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews, however, is a whopping 107 to 115, at the median higher than 70 percent of people, according to a few contested, though oft-cited, studies by Margaret E. Backman (1972), Julius S. Romanoff (1976) and Richard Lynn (2004).

The results have been dramatic: Freud, Einstein, Dylan. In the second half of the 20th century, Jews received 29 percent of the Nobel Prizes, while accounting for only 13 million of the world's 6 billion inhabitants -- about two-tenths of a percent.

"The profile of disproportionately high Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences since the 18th century, the reality of elevated Jewish IQ, and the connection between the two are not to be denied by means of data," Charles Murray, co-author of the controversial 1994 book, "The Bell Curve," which discussed the socioeconomic consequences of racial differences in intelligence, wrote in Commentary magazine last year. "And so we come to the great question: How and when did this elevated Jewish IQ come about?"

There is no accepted explanation. Some researchers have attributed higher IQ to medieval persecution, others to Jewish identity as the People of the Book and a few, maybe flippantly, to the fruits of being God's chosen.

But how researchers answer that same question depends heavily upon what school of thought they come from. Evolutionary psychologists like MacDonald credit better Jewish genes, while traditional biologists argue heightened IQ is the result of nurture, not nature.

"Jews may have been able to actualize their intelligence differently than other groups because we have an enormous, 5,000-year cultural history prizing learning and achievement," said Richard M. Lerner, a critic of MacDonald who directs the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. "There is no innateness."

Few people would deny that Jews number strongly among the American elite, but very few American Jews want to talk about it. Among those who will is J.J. Goldberg, author of the authoritative 1996 book, "Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment."

"A lot of the politics of Jewish advocacy, minority advocacy in general, is victimhood," Goldberg said in an interview. "You can't do that if you are not actually a victim. There are some people who think Jews are powerless and others, like Kevin MacDonald, think that Jews control everything. In fact, the truth is somewhere in the middle."

Another journalist eager to discuss this topic is Philip Weiss, who writes the blog, Mondoweiss, and, unlike Goldberg, is an anti-Zionist who can be a brutal critic of his co-religionists. In December, MacDonald mentioned Weiss on his Web site, kevinmacdonald.net, where he links to his articles about Jews and Western culture and writes lengthy responses to critics. MacDonald praised Weiss as a fellow traveler. On his own blog, Weiss quickly rejected the embrace.

"He is trying to examine some important ideas. I just wish he wasn't racist about it," Weiss said in an interview, adding, "There was scrutiny of Jewish power in Central Europe when the Nazis arose. Therefore there is no ability to scrutinize Jewish power now because it makes you a Nazi. But I think that it is a legitimate intellectual and journalistic exercise to scrutinize Jewish power. I know MacDonald is engaged in that, and I respect that. But it is his generalizations about Jews that I find disturbing."

Broad brushing, a central criticism of MacDonald's work, is a professional hazard in evolutionary psychology, a field of study whose legitimacy has been fiercely contested. For its advocates, it is scientific research that applies Darwinian principles to human behavior. Opponents liken it to Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories, " which explained contemporary phenomena with fantastic ontological accounts that traced the maze backward.

Nevertheless, MacDonald was once a respected member of this community. His first book was fairly well reviewed, though the second less so and the third almost not at all. From 1995 to 2001, he served as the elected secretary-archivist of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. That organization's president would come to repudiate MacDonald as an "embarrassment."

"The theoretical viewpoint expressed in MacDonald's books stands in the most extreme contradiction to nearly every contentful core claim of evolutionary psychology," said John Tooby, co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at UC Santa Barbara and a pioneer in the field.

Tooby's comment, which appeared on Slate.com, was prompted by MacDonald's decision on Jan. 31, 2000, to enter a British courtroom as an expert witness on Jewish behavior. On that day, MacDonald explained his belief that Jewish activists conspire against individuals who threaten the group interest, a model he alleged had been used to suppress, after publication, Irving's biography of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

"Yes, I think that anti-Semitism is, you know, a perennial problem, and Jewish organizations have developed very sophisticated ways of dealing with it," MacDonald said, in what ended up being a very short testimony. "This is one way of dealing with it. Anti-Semitism or any anti-Semitism is fought very, very intensely. They take it very seriously, and they do quite a job, obviously, of suppressing it, yes."

That statement surprised Irving, who didn't like being called an anti-Semite in court, and those few minutes have dogged MacDonald since. On his Web site and that of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a Holocaust-denying organizatin based in Newport Beach, MacDonald presented a lengthy explanation for why he agreed to testify.

He claimed that Lipstadt, following a pattern of Jewish activism, had "attempted to prevent the publication of writings conflicting with their constructions of reality" and exaggerated Irving's Holocaust denial. MacDonald also appealed to the academic importance of Irving's book, "Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich."

"He had access to original documents in the Soviet Union that nobody knew about. It was the kind of thing that any historian would have to read. And yet it was rescinded; they actually took it off the shelf. I thought that was ridiculous, just activism stuff," MacDonald added in an interview. "It was just suppression of free speech."

In Lipstadt's memoir, "History on Trial," she recalled the surprise of learning an expert on anti-Semitism would be a witness against her.

"I could not fathom," she wrote, "how a specialist on anti-Semitism would voluntarily testify on Irving's behalf, unless, I thought -- facetiously -- somehow he's for it."

Cal State Long Beach's Jewish studies program is located about 100 yards from Psych 417 on the second floor of a collection of history and sociology offices that looks 70 years old and smells older. The program is identified by a corkboard adjacent to the office of co-director Jeffrey Blutinger, who teaches Jewish intellectual and cultural history and post-communist Holocaust memorialization. Waiting outside, visitors are entertained by the printed phrases of "Jewish Buddhists" -- "If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?" and "Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis." -- and satirical headlines from a backdated issue of The Onion -- "Furher's Slaughter of Millions Blamed on Serious Self-Esteem Issues."

Blutinger's office is stuffed with six bookcases full of Jewish history, from Heinrich Graetz to pioneer Jews of the American West. And lumped on a pile of binders beneath the Encyclopedia Judaica lay first editions of MacDonald's first two books, checked out from the university library, and borrowed copies of "The Culture of Critique" and "Understanding Jewish Influence," an Occidental Quarterly monograph containing three MacDonald essays.

A former lawyer who joined the faculty four years ago, Blutinger has emerged as a leader in the battle against MacDonald, urging colleagues across campus to join the fight and authoring the Jewish studies' program statement denouncing MacDonald's research and the appended 18-page explanation.

"It's important that we take a stand," Blutinger said. "I teach the Holocaust every fall, and the thing I always end the course with is that, God willing, we will never have to make the choice people did back then, but all of us face the choice between what's right and doing what is easy or convenient. I tell them that I hope they will do what is right."

"If we are not willing to stand up when the risks are small," he continued, "why would we be willing to take a stand when the risks are big?"

Unpopular as MacDonald's views are, there appears little the university can do. He is protected by his status as a tenured professor, which he achieved in 1994, the year the first book in his "Culture of Critique" series was published. MacDonald also received a distinguished faculty award in 1995, and there is no record of any student complaint about anything MacDonald has said in 23 years, the administration, ADL and Hillel all reported.

Cal Sate Long Beach has been down this road before.

Nearly 30 years ago, Reinhard K. Buchner, a physics professor who from 1980 to 1983 was an editorial adviser for IHR's now-defunct Journal of Historical Review, drew protests from the ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center. The journal carried such Buchner essays as "The Problem of Cremator Hours and Incineration Time," which argued, using time-space calculations, that the number of Jews who possibly could have been killed at Auschwitz has been exaggerated.

Buchner eventually returned to Germany, but a former colleague on the editorial board, Arthur R. Butz, remains in American academia. A long-time associate professor of engineering at Northwestern University, Butz was an early Holocaust denier. In 1976, he wrote "The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry."

Many other tenured scholars, from the lowest to highest levels of academia, use their position to share unsavory opinions. The issue is one of academic freedom, designed to encourage bold research by protecting faculty from the political whims of capricious administrators. And even as it promotes experimental research in every discipline, it also frequently puts universities in uncomfortable positions.

MacDonald has publicly warned Cal State Long Beach administrators, responsible for the second-largest student body (population: 37,000) in the country's largest university system (23 campuses scattered from Arcata to San Diego), that the school could expect a lawsuit if he was terminated without just cause.

This is why faculty statements have urged only that the university distance itself from his theories about Jews and his support for ethnostates that create a haven for European American interests. Each of the four departmental statements professed a belief in his freedom to write about whatever he wants.

"We wish to make it clear that we do not seek to impede Kevin MacDonald's First Amendment rights," proclaimed the statement from the anthropology department, released April 28. "However, just as he has rights, we have the right, if not the obligation, to denounce his writings on race, ethnicity and intelligence that promote intolerance, as not only inaccurate, but as professionally irresponsible and morally untenable."

In the second of two recent interviews, MacDonald said he is not a fan of anti-Semitism. But he also described his opinions on a Palestinian American TV news program in 2005 as "rational" anti-Semitism and has joked that being branded a Jew hater was a "badge of honor," the knee-jerk reaction of a scared Jewish establishment.

The chief concern over MacDonald's writings about Jews is directed at his fan base: white supremacists like Stormfront.org and Vanguard News Network -- whose motto is "No Jews. Just Right." The members of these online communities have become his loudest defenders, often in language that is as offensive as possible.

"So the goddam Kikes are getting their way yet again, putting the thumbscrews to a White scholar whose ass they are not worthy to lick.... At least this oppression proves that Prof. MacDonald's great work is hitting the scum hard," a Vanguard commenter wrote in February below a republished story about MacDonald from CSULB's student paper.

"How much more of this humiliation is our race going to take? How long before this motherf---ing plague of repulsive, hook-snouted ticks is given a real Zyklon fumigation, as opposed to the fairy tale one?"

MacDonald repudiated such rhetoric as "crazy stuff" but said he supports the ideology behind it.

"White people have legitimate ethnic interests. To the extent that that is all they believe, then we are on the same page," he said. "I don't like to use words like white supremacists. You could say that Koreans in Korea are Korean supremacists if they want to maintain their culture. It is kind of a loaded word; it is a politically charged word of the left, basically, to pathologize any sense of having an ethnicity and culture by people like me. I reject that."

"I certainly reject the tactics and the rhetoric of these people. It's very crude," MacDonald added. "But to the extent that David Duke is trying to advance a white ethnic interest and so on, I don't have any problem with that."

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