Death of Jewish Construction Worker Being Looked at as Terror Attack

JERUSALEM — Police in Israel are investigating the death of a Jewish construction worker in Petach Tikvah as a terror attack.

Nathaniel Roi Arami, 26, fell 11 stories from the side of a high-rise building where he was doing exterior work when both of his rappelling
cables snapped in an incident on Sept. 16. His co-workers had finished work and had walked away from the site before he fell.

A court-imposed gag order was lifted Tuesday in the investigation, which is looking at Arami’s death as a possible nationalistic murder.

An Arab co-worker had been taken in for questioning following the death but was released later, according to reports.

Arami was the father of two.

— JTA

An About-Face

The leader of France's far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, seen here at a May Day demonstration in Paris in 2012, has a growing following among Jews. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

The leader of France’s far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, seen here at a May Day demonstration in Paris in 2012, has a growing following among Jews. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

From the window of his Paris home, Michel Ciardi can see into the waiting room of a government welfare agency, where a predominantly Arab and African crowd awaits government checks.

A former communist, Ciardi once believed the scene at the agency was a necessary element of French efforts to help integrate new immigrants. But that changed in 2000 after the second Palestinian intifada triggered a massive increase in anti-Semitic violence, much of it committed by Arab and African immigrants.

The violence was enough to shift his political allegiance to the National Front, a far-right party long demonized by French Jews as anti-Semitic and a threat to republican values.

“I never considered voting National Front,” Ciardi said. “But I realized you need to defend yourself, your community, society and country against those seeking to subdue us.”

French Jewry has long viewed the National Front as an enemy, an abominable vestige of the pro-Nazi Vichy state. But under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, the photogenic daughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, a political provocateur convicted multiple times for hate speech and Holocaust denial, the party has tried to shed its image as decidedly outside the mainstream.

The younger Le Pen has aggressively courted Jewish voters by emphasizing its opposition to “the Islamization of France” and asserting that Jews have far more to fear from Arab anti-Semitism than from the racist rhetoric of some far-right activists.

Her strategy appears to be working.

A recently published survey of 1,095 self-identified Jews showed that the National Front had more than doubled its share of the Jewish vote in the 2012 presidential elections, earning 13.5 percent of Jewish support — a finding that has set off alarm bells among leaders of France’s major Jewish groups.

“Rich community bosses and well-educated students don’t understand what’s happening because they don’t live with the Muslims in the workers’ neighborhoods,” Ciardi said. “There, Jews are realizing that the immigration policies and political correctness of past governments created a reality where they cannot wear their kippah outside.”

Marine Le Pen assumed the leadership of the National Front in 2011, replacing her father. He had run the party with his deputy, Bruno Gollnisch, who was also convicted of denying the Holocaust, though the ruling was overturned by a higher court. Together, they seemed happy to make the National Front the bete noire of the political establishment.

Since taking the helm, Le Pen has worked to elevate the party to a level of respectability it could never achieve under her father, whose often blunt racism cost National Front many votes and left the movement isolated.

After assuming the party leadership, Le Pen stripped Gollnisch of his duties at the European Parliament, leading him to observe last year that she “seeks to keep me and her father in a certain state of virginity” — a phrase pundits took to be a euphemism for impotence. She repeatedly has condemned anti-Semitism and punished a party official who made anti-Semitic statements. In 2011, Le Pen dispatched her life partner and National Front Vice President Louis Alliot on a bridge-building mission to Israel.

“The fact that Marine Le Pen took the party in a more moderate direction is a major factor for many Jews,” said Gilles Goldnadel, a prominent attorney and a former member of the executive board of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities. “Today in France, there is a greater danger from Islamo-leftism than the danger posed by the far right. It’s not surprising some Jews, like non-Jews, vote for the far right as a reaction to this threat.”

Under Marine Le Pen, party officials for the first time began courting Jewish votes by addressing letters to their communities. One such letter was sent this month by Julien Leonardelli, a party regional secretary from the Toulouse area, to a local Jewish community center that assailants earlier this year attacked with firebombs.

Leonardelli wrote of his “grave concern at the increase of anti-Semitic attacks” in France, which he said were the result of irresponsible immigration policies by the Socialist Party and the UMP party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“As a National Front representative and spokesperson for Marine Le Pen, I express deep indignation over these acts and assure all our Jewish compatriots of our full support in the fight against all forms of anti-Semitism,” Leonardelli wrote.

Within the party, such efforts have prompted a backlash from the old guard, including Le Pen’s father and Gollnisch, who wrote a 1,700-word blog post earlier this month in response to the IFOP survey in which he bemoaned the party’s failure to follow the ideological course set by its founders.

After Le Pen briefly removed her father’s blog from the party website after he said that a Jewish singer should be “put in the oven,” he accused his daughter of cowering before “the blood hounds that constantly search for anti-Semitism.”

“She is being criticized internally within National Front for her choices because there is still an anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying element within the party,” Ciardi said.

With Jews representing less than 1 percent of the French population, the bump in support is negligible in electoral terms. But the survey by the IFOP polling company grabbed headlines in major publications because it was seen as a worrisome indicator that a party once shunned by the mainstream is gaining traction.

“The glass ceiling that prevented National Front from becoming a majority party is beginning to seriously crack,” Valerie Igounet, a historian who specializes in the French far right, told Le Figaro.

Among Jewish leaders, the party remains well beyond the pale. CRIF President Roger Cukierman recently told the RCJ Jewish radio station that Le Pen’s disavowals of anti-Semitism are mere “lip service” from a party that still harbors “Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites in it ranks.”

But even he credited Le Pen with “taking care not to offend our community and making a step in the right direction.”

A ‘Murderous’ Debate

Researchers search for human remains in Wasosz, the site of a massacre of Jewish villagers in 1941. (Podlaska Archaeological Laboratory)

Researchers search for human remains in Wasosz, the site of a massacre of Jewish villagers in 1941. (Podlaska Archaeological Laboratory)

In September 1941, a group of villagers wielding axes and other tools descended upon the homes of their Jewish neighbors and murdered every last one, according to testimonies gathered by Holocaust scholars.

Not much else is known about the massacre in Wasosz, a village 100 miles east of Warsaw, including basics such as the number of victims. Current estimates range widely, from 180 to 1,200.

In an effort to provide conclusive forensic evidence about the massacre, in July, a Polish prosecutor asked Jewish community leaders for permission to exhume the bodies. The plan has split the community, with some passionately supporting what they see as a last chance for justice and others claiming it would violate the dignity of the dead and Jewish religious law, or halachah.

“Once the bodies are in the ground, halachah teaches us they are not to be disturbed except when it is done to protect the dignity of the dead or to save lives,” Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said. “I and other rabbis and the leadership of the Jewish community in Warsaw, among others, feel neither stipulation applies to Wasosz. A desire to clarify history is not enough.”

Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, the country’s main Jewish umbrella group, called Schudrich’s position “a serious mistake, with detrimental implications.”

“We have tools to determine details about both victims and perpetrators in a matter which is still a criminal matter,” said Kadlcik, who is seeking an exhumation followed by Jewish burial of the human remains. “If we let this chance go, the case of Wasosz will become history — an unclear one and subject to falsification.”

In a move to undermine opponents to exhumation, Kadlcik has requested an opinion from Rabbi Yakov Ruza, a prominent authority in Israel on forensic medicine. Polish prosecutors have also reviewed the Israeli law that permits exhumation in cases involving a murder investigation, Kadlcik said.

Meanwhile, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance — the government body whose prosecutor, Radoslaw Ignatiew, initiated the investigation of Wasosz — is holding off on any exhumation until at least 2015 while the issue is discussed within the Jewish community.

The debate has ramifications well beyond an internal Jewish dispute over halachah and forensics. In the background are echoes of Jedwabne, an earlier investigation of another wartime mass murder of Jews by Poles.

The opening of that probe in 2001 was a watershed moment for Poland, according to Joanna Michlic, a historian at Bristol University, who wrote a 43-page paper chronicling how the debate split the Catholic Church, generated ultranationalist protests featuring anti-Semitic hate speech, led to the replacement of a memorial plaque that blamed the Germans for the murders and, finally, yielded the first admission by a Polish president of Polish guilt.

Before Jedwabne, Holocaust-era crimes by Poles were taboo because they undermined the communist narrative that all Poles were equal victims of Nazism. The subject remains divisive today because it undermines the current government’s focus on Polish wartime heroism and resistance to
totalitarianism.

From a forensic perspective, the dig in Jedwabne was inconclusive. Though an excavation of the site revealed some human remains, it never progressed to include exhumation — as per understandings reached between Polish authorities and rabbis, including Schudrich.

Without exhumation, it was impossible to answer such basic questions as how many people died, which in turn left the door open to revisionism in far-right circles. Several nationalist lawmakers, clergymen and journalists continue to dispute Polish complicity.

“Jedwabne was ultimately a missed opportunity,” said Jan Gross, the Princeton historian whose research triggered the 2001 debate. “Some important findings were recovered, but questions persisted because the probe was interrupted before basic facts could be recovered.”

For Kadlcik, Wasosz is a chance to correct the opportunity missed at Jedwabne.

“For the ultranationalists, the bottom line from Jedwabne is as follows: The Jews made accusations but hid behind their religious laws at the first attempt to corroborate,” Kadlcik said. “Well, this time we need to settle this and serve justice.”

But Schudrich also drew painful lessons from the Jedwabne probe.

“The entire place was littered with human remains — not just the area where we thought the bodies lay,” he said. “So as soon as the digging began, we saw bones fused together in fire, earrings of little girls. We found children’s bones. To any reasonable person, that settled any doubts there may have been about a massacre. There is no justification to violate the dignity of the dead.”

As for serving justice, Schudrich said, “The perpetrators will get justice from God. The small minority that refuses to face reality and historical evidence, no exhumation is going to change their minds.”

Landmark Ruling

Sixteen people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up on this Jerusalem bus. One of the injured was New Jersey Sen. Robert Singer’s daughter, Sarri. (Quique Kierszenbaum/Getty Images)

Sixteen people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up on this Jerusalem bus. One of the injured was New Jersey Sen. Robert Singer’s daughter, Sarri. (Quique Kierszenbaum/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Following a five-week landmark civil trial and two days of deliberation, a Brooklyn jury found Arab Bank liable of knowingly supporting terrorism in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to the U.S. District Court ruling on Sept. 22, the Jordan-based bank provided material support to Hamas — backing that helped facilitate 24 terror attacks between 2001 and 2004.

The case was brought by nearly 300 U.S. citizens who had been injured or lost family members in the attacks, which took place during the second intifada.

It was the first civil case against a bank to be tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991, which allows victims of foreign terror attacks to sue for damages in the United States. The case had been tied up in litigation for a decade before finally going to trial in August.

The plaintiffs’ team of lawyers, led by Gary Osen, argued that Arab Bank knowingly processed large payments to Hamas leaders from a Saudi charity as well as “martyr payments” — payouts of $5,300 — to the families of suicide bombers.

Shand Stephens, a lawyer for the defense, contended that the bank had followed all the guidelines set forth by the United States and other governments in determining which payments to allow and which to block. Stephens said that Arab Bank used software designed to flag the names of terrorists designated by the U.S. government.

The defense insisted that the financial institution should not be held liable for transactions that passed muster with the U.S. government.

Among the plaintiffs in the case was Sarri Singer, who was injured in a 2003 suicide bombing.

“I started crying when the email came in,” Singer, the daughter of New Jersey state Sen. Robert Singer, said shortly after the verdict was announced.

Singer was on the No. 14 bus in Jerusalem on June 11, 2003, when the suicide bomber — standing a few feet from her — blew himself up. Sixteen people on the bus were killed, and 100 others were injured. Singer broke her clavicle, and she still has shrapnel lodged in her mouth.

“I feel very validated and acknowledged as a victim of terror,” Singer said. “The jury has given us a sense that there is someone responsible for what happened to us.”

A separate phase of the trial will determine how much the bank must pay the 297 terror victims and their families.

In a statement following the verdict, Arab Bank vowed to appeal and said the court proceedings amounted to a “show trial.”

Specifically, the bank said that due to foreign privacy laws, it could not turn over the documents requested by the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the lawsuit’s pretrial phase. As a result, sanctions were imposed, and the bank was not allowed to refer to those documents, precluding much of their defense, according to the statement.

“Today’s decision, if it stands, exposes the banking industry to enormous liability for nothing other than the processing of routine transactions and the provision of conventional account services even if all governmental requirements are followed and the parties receiving services were in good standing with these governments,” the bank wrote in its statement.

This precedent, the bank wrote, would “create vast uncertainty and risk in the international finance system,” thus limiting access to financial services in parts of the world. Other terror-financing trials are pending.

The case is significant in that financial institutions can be held responsible for the actions of their clients.

A similar case was thrown out in 2012 by a U.S. District Court over this issue.

“Hamas is not the defendant,” the judge, Jack Weinstein, wrote in explanation at the time.

A Good Start

Anti-fascist protesters hold signs and a banner in front of the Athens  municipal amphitheater during a swearing-in ceremony for Golden Dawn party member Ilias Kasidiaris on Aug. 29.

Anti-fascist protesters hold signs and a banner in front of the Athens
municipal amphitheater during a swearing-in ceremony for Golden Dawn party member Ilias Kasidiaris on Aug. 29.

ATHENS, Greece — Jewish groups say the passage of a bill banning Holocaust denial and imposing harsher penalties for hate speech is an important milestone in the fight against Greece’s rising neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

 
“This comes very late but not too late,” World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer said. Greece’s parliament passed the bill on Sept. 9 following more than a year of political wrangling.

 
Riding a wave of fear and despair brought on by Greece’s devastating economic crisis — coupled with a large influx of illegal immigrants from Africa and Asia — Golden Dawn emerged from obscurity in 2012 to become the country’s third-largest political party, with 18 members of parliament.

 
Golden Dawn, which uses Nazi imagery, has been blamed by the government, prosecutors and law enforce- ments for hundreds of xenophobic attacks. The incidents include the killings of at least four Pakistani immigrants and the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a noted anti-fascist Greek rapper known as Killah P.

 
The new law increases jail time to three years for instigating racist violence and imposes fines of up to $34,000 for individuals and up to $130,000 for groups convicted of “inciting acts of discrimination, hatred or violence.” It also criminalizes denial of the Holocaust and other recognized genocides, with the same penalties.

 
In a move that will allow the government to target political groups such as Golden Dawn, organizations found to incite racism can be barred from receiving state funds. However, the law cannot be applied retroactively.

 
Anti-racism laws dating to 1979 did not provide for prosecuting groups or parties that incited bias crimes. They also barred police from investigating suspected hate crimes if the victim chose not to press charges.

 
“We have anti-racism laws already, but the reason they were not applied was that immigrants, for example, were afraid to report the crimes because they did not hold proper travel documents, lived here illegally and feared deportation,” Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou told parliament ahead of the debate on the legislation.

 
There were also no prior provisions against Holocaust denial. So there was little the authorities could do when a Golden Dawn lawmaker proudly declared himself a Holocaust denier or when party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, in a television interview, denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps.

 
Following the 2013 murder of Fyssas, which Greek prosecutors blamed on Golden Dawn activists, many Golden Dawn leaders and lawmakers were arrested and accused of running a criminal organization. Their trials are scheduled for December.

 
Even with top party leaders jailed, including Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn maintained its popular support in recent municipal elections.

 

“We really hope the law will limit racist and anti-Semitic statements and will deter Holocaust deniers, who have multiplied in the last two years, including inside parliament,” said Victor Eliezer, the secretary general of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.

 
Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece today. The prewar community of some 78,000, most of whom lived in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, was almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust.
It is also hoped that the law will curb expressions of anti-Semitism. A recent Anti-Defamation League survey found Greece to be the most anti-Semitic country in Europe, with 69 percent of the population holding anti-Jewish views.

 
The new law brings Greece in line with most of the other European Union countries, which have barred Holocaust denial and impose similar jail sentences for inciting racial or ethnic violence.

 
An initial draft of the measure failed to garner enough support after right-wing elements in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy party proposed excluding the Orthodox Church and the military or police from prosecution under the law.

 
Other holdups were over which genocides to recognize, whether or not to include provisions for homophobic violence and a petition by 139 academics against the Holocaust denial clause in the name of free speech.

 
In addition to the Holocaust, the new law includes the mass killings of Armenians, Black Sea Greeks and other Christians in Asia Minor during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. Under the law, inciting violence or discrimination for homophobic reasons is illegal, but provisions allowing for civil unions of gay couples were removed.

 
In a measure of how problematic the law is, only 99 of the 300 members of parliament turned up for the final vote, with 55 voting in favor.

 
“What is xenophobia? The railings at my home stopping a Pakistani, or any foreigner, from raping my wife or killing me?” Golden Dawn lawmaker Michail Arvanitis told parliament,
according to Reuters. “Discrimination is a fact of life.”

 
But the nation’s Jews, its Jewish leaders and others who support the new legislation see things much differently.

 
“We hope [the law] will be applied rigorously by the courts,” the WJC’s Singer said.
“However, more efforts will need to be undertaken if the fight against extremist forces such as Golden Dawn is to be successful.”

Doing What It Takes

Students at Saadya Gaon Religious Public school participate in a program to enhance literacy skills in schools with large Ethiopian populations.

Students at Saadya Gaon Religious Public school participate in a program to enhance literacy skills in schools with large Ethiopian populations.

OFAKIM, Israel — In 2008, Asher Nachmani wanted to buy a computerized blackboard for his classroom, but the elementary school where he teaches technology in this low-income town didn’t have the money.

 
So Nachmani built one himself.

 
He downloaded a free program from the Internet, bought a controller for a Nintendo Wii video game console and connected it to an infrared bulb taken from his television remote control.

 
Using a Bluetooth connection, Nachmani was able to project his computer screen onto a wall and draw on it.

 
The story is a typical one at the Ashalim Experimental Public School, the oldest elementary school in Ofakim. Chronically short on funds, Ashalim teachers are often forced to improvise, making do with supplies donated by neighbors or paid for from their own pockets.

 
In one classroom, a window divider was cut from the principal’s coffee table. Teachers at times pay for lunches that poor children cannot afford, said Yael Segev, the school’s principal.

 
“The municipality can’t take the expenses,” said Segev, who says she donates about 10 percent of her salary back to the school as charity. “We approach this from a place of pride. We see this as our home, and we care for it.”

 
As two million Israeli students begin the school year this month, they face some of the most unequal educational conditions in the Western world.

 
According to a report this year by the Taub Center, Israel has the largest educational achievement gaps bet-ween rich and poor among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, an economic grouping of the world’s wealthiest nations.

 
The report also found that Israel performs second worst in international test scores, beating only Slovakia, and has above-average class sizes — 29 students per class compared to an OECD average of 20.

 
Israel’s Education Ministry has aimed to address these problems by providing more funding to poor districts starting this year, increasing the number of summer schools and enhancing school choice. But Nahum Blass, a senior education researcher at the Taub Center, said increased local education funding in rich towns, coupled with the hiring of private tutors by wealthier parents, cancel out the ministry’s efforts.

 
“What the system can give the weaker students is not enough to cover the gap between weak and strong,” Blass said. “A poor kid will get a little more from the Education Ministry, but what the [well-off] local authorities and the parents give can counteract that affirmative action and flip it.”
A number of educational nonprofits have launched efforts to address these issues.

 
Balanced Literacy, a program by the Israeli Center for Educational Innovation, runs programs at 18 schools with high concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants, beginning language classes with a half-hour of class reading time and up to three hours of language instruction daily. Another nongovernmental organization, Educating for Excellence, identifies the most talented students in low-income areas and provides them with enrichment, extracurricular activities and a quiet space to do homework for three hours several times a week.

 
But much of the burden still falls on teachers who take it upon themselves to give students in low-performing schools the extra attention they need to succeed.

 
Sarit Elmaliach, a first-grade teacher at the Saadya Gaon Religious Public School in the central Israeli town of Or Yehuda, has taken steps to make her lessons more relevant to the one-third of her students from Ethiopian families.

 
Like other Israeli minorities, Ethiopians come from less affluent families and struggle more in school. According to the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, a government-funded think tank that studies Ethiopian Israelis, as of 2010 only one-quarter of Ethiopian high-school graduates were prepared for college versus nearly half of Israeli Jews overall. Ethiopian college graduation rates also lag those of Israeli Jews.

 
Elmaliach reads to her students books with Ethiopian characters and focused one art class on an Ethiopian sculptor. When she visits the parents of her Ethiopian students at home, she takes care to abide by Ethiopian standards of politeness, even being mindful of things as simple as sitting down before drinking a cup of water. Before the school year starts, she learns the origins of her students’ Amharic names.

 
“You want to show them a little that you’re connected to them,” Elmaliach said. “Some kids would get embarrassed and want another name. I say, ‘You have nothing to be embarrassed about. That’s a respected name.’”

 
That sort of cultural sensitivity can only go so far toward compensating for the substantial funding gaps between rich and poor schools. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2012, Ofakim’s local government provided $1,629 of annual funding per student — a sum less than half the $3,613 per student provided by the wealthy town of Ramat Hasharon in suburban Tel Aviv. The Education Ministry did not respond to a request for information about how much extra funding it gives to low-income schools.

 
Funding from NGOs also helps a bit. But at Ashalim, which doesn’t receive NGO funding, the school
depends on the commitment and ingenuity of its teachers.

 
“When I came here, I fell in love,” said Segev, the Ashalim principal. “It’s very warm, very embracing,
not like in the city. We all have the opportunity to move to other places, but it’s hard to leave this place.”

Against All Odds

Rambam Health Care Campus patients are transported to the facility's fortified underground hospital.

Rambam Health Care Campus patients are transported to the facility’s fortified underground hospital.

Not unexpectedly, southern Israel suffered more than other areas of the Jewish state during this summer’s conflict with Hamas. Yet, up in northern Israel, 30 doctors from the Haifa-based Rambam Health Care Campus (RHCC) were drafted into the Israel Defense Forces.

“Israel is a small country, so everything affects you whether you are in the conflict or not,” Prof. Rafael (Rafi) Beyar, a renowned cardiologist and director general of RHCC, said.

Now, in the aftermath of the 50-day summer war, RHCC is proving that medicine has “no borders,” in Beyar’s words. This week, doctors at the hospital conducted a successful kidney transplant on a 14-year-old boy from Gaza.

The largest hospital in northern Israel, RHCC serves more than two million residents of the area and functions as the primary medical facility for the Northern Command of the IDF. In addition to treating Gazan patients and training Palestinian physicians, the hospital is receiving wounded Syrian refugees.

Many of RHCC’s Gazan patients are children facing cancer and kidney diseases.

“These kids don’t have any other solutions,” Beyar said.

While suffering from kidney failure, the Gaza boy treated this week also had a blood condition that obstructed some of his blood vessels. Doctors needed to first check for useable blood vessels, and only then could they transplant his sister’s kidney into his body. When it became clear that the boy’s functioning blood vessels could not sustain the new kidney, doctors implanted a synthetic connector that saved his life.

On the Syrian front, RHCC has received nearly 100 wounded refugees over the past few months. IDF soldiers provide emergency treatment for injured refugees at the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights and then bring them to the hospital.

Most of the Syrian patients have sustained injuries from shock, bombs, and other blasts. When they are treated and recover, most return to Syria, but sometimes they don’t want to go back, said Beyar.

Like the patients from Syria, most of the Gazan patients are thankful for the treatment they receive from RHCC. Although Beyar doesn’t know what happens to the patients once they return to Gaza, he said, “Someone who is treated and whose life is saved knows how to appreciate that.” Bayern added that he believes Israeli medical treatment of Gazans “has a long-term impact” on how Palestinian civilians view Israel.

RHCC’s staff and management were tested heavily during the 2006 Lebanon War, when hundreds of rockets rained down on the hospital. Following that war, a planned parking lot was built as a dual-purpose facility capable of converting into a fortified 2,000-bed underground hospital for times of conflict.

Initially funded with a donation from Israeli philanthropist Sammy Ofer and afterward funded by the Israeli government, the underground hospital opened in June and is the world’s largest structure of its kind.

The parking garage “has the full capacity to convert to a hospital,” Beyar said.

“That means it has all the facilities that a hospital needs, in terms of air conditioning, lights, oxygen, all the medical gadgets,” he continued. “All the infrastructure is already in the walls. That means all the oxygen pipes and connections to the emergency machines. So you can roll down the patients, the respirators, the monitors and just install them immediately.”

To protect against chemical warfare, the parking garage can be sealed from the outside by special doors, and filters then clean the air in the area.Several IDF soldiers have been killed by errant mortar fire from the Syrian civil war, and with its fortified underground hospital, RHCC is prepared in case the war spills further into Israel.

“We are ready for any such event,” Beyar said.

After a drill conducted by RHCC, Beyar estimates that a full evacuation of the hospital to the underground area could take up to 72 hours. But with some preparation, “it only takes one hour” to move about four departments of 30 patients each underground, he said.

Concern over the looming threat of the Syrian conflict has not stopped RHCC from pursuing medical innovations beyond the fortified underground structure. The hospital often collaborates with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which is also located in Haifa, and with private companies. Beyar himself is known for inventing a robotic catheterization system that enables physicians to conduct remote surgery.

“You can sit next to the robot and operate the catheterization system, which will actually open up blockages in the [heart’s] arteries and implant stents,” Beyar said.

The other advantage of the system is that this keeps doctors away from radiation.

“[A doctor] doesn’t need to stand by the X-ray machine, and sits in the console,” explained Beyar. The catheterization system has been approved by America’s Food and Drug Administration and “is penetrating U.S. market,” he added.

Another recent development tested and utilized at RHCC is a focused ultrasound for the brain. Using technology developed by a company called InSightec, doctors “can actually treat your brain with a focused ultrasound beam and treat Parkinson’s [disease],” according to Beyar, who said that to date more than 10 patients have undergone this ultrasound at Rambam “with amazing results.”

“The patients come out of this procedure, which takes two to three hours, and they stop trembling,” he said. “There are no more tremors in their hands. … [The treatment] holds and [the shaking] doesn’t come back.”

‘A Jewish Disease’

The mutated BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes increase the rise of breast cancer.

The mutated BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes increase the rise of breast cancer.

Baltimorean Jill Mull was just 32 when she learned she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. The young Jewish mother of twins was hoping the mark on her breast was simply a cyst, but a checkup resulted two days later in a lumpectomy.

“I had five surgeries in a year and nine months and underwent chemo-therapy,” said Mull. “I lost all my hair and was sick for a very long time, but I am now cancer-free.”

As an Ashkenazi Jewish woman, say researchers, Mull was already at a higher risk for the disease.

Roughly 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. But if they are a carrier of a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene — human genes that code for tumor suppressor proteins and that have been implicated in cancer formation — the chances of having cancer jumps to 50 percent by the time they are 50 years old and skyrockets to 80 percent by the time they reach 80, said Dr. Rachel Brem, director of breast imaging and intervention at the George Washington University Hospital. Roughly one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews, whose ancestors came from Central and Eastern Europe, are carriers of the mutated gene compared with one in 400 in the general population.

As a new debate in breast cancer prevention focuses on the benefits of genetic testing, Andrea Roth of Gaithersburg wishes she had known she was a carrier before she received her diagnosis.

“I think it’s a no-brainer to be able to fight with every power to avoid getting sick,” she said. “Put yourself into a power position.”

Roth had been counseled into being genetically tested — a blood sample or saliva swab is all it takes — only after a biopsy indicated that a lump she had was malignant. Armed with the resulting information that she was a carrier of the BRCA mutation, she decided to upgrade a lumpectomy to a mastectomy. She also plans to have a hysterectomy in the near future to head off further cancerous development.

Which is why Dr. Ephrat Levy-Lahad, director of the medical genetics institute at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, believes every Ashkenazi Jew over the age of 30, regardless of family medical history, should submit to genetic testing. Currently, only those with risk factors are advised to have genetic testing.

Levy-Lahad led a study that tested about 8,000 healthy Ashkenazi Jewish men and found that some 175 of them were carriers. The study then screened the females in the family of these male carriers.

While the study only focused on Israeli subjects, Levy-Lahad believes the results would be the same for Ashkenazi Jews in the United States.

“In so many cases, the carriers were identified only once they had cancer. That was one woman too late,” she said. Getting tested “is not as common as it should be. There are plenty of carriers who have not been identified.”

By finding carriers early, women can sit down with a genetic counselor and learn their options, the researcher added. “I personally think it’s time [for widespread testing]. The whole goal is for people to know they are at risk, and there are preventative measures.”

But Dr. Nancy Markus, a breast cancer surgeon at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, disagrees with universal testing. “The majority of Ashkenazi Jews don’t have the gene,” she said. “And I don’t feel they should be tested unless there is some family history.”

The testing would “create angst where they may not need to be any,” she explained. Also, carriers of the mutated BRCA genes don’t automatically get breast cancer. Another thing to consider is that if someone is found to be free of the mutated gene, “that can create a false sense of security that they are not at risk.

“You need to be educated about the pros and cons of the testing, what the results mean, what negative results mean,” she continued. “Once they are educated and informed, they can make a decision” as to whether or not to be tested.

Brem considers getting tested “a very personal thing,” adding that some women want to know and others do not. In her opinion, all Ashkenazi Jews should be informed of their odds and then be allowed to make their own decision about whether or not to be genetically tested.

Having everyone genetically tested “may not be cost-effective. Health care dollars are very limited,” she added.

While genetic testing is important, “the most important thing to do is get a physical exam,” said Larry Wickerham, associate chairman of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project.

Others are adamant that the ethnic aspects of breast cancer must be taken into account.

“Breast cancer is a Jewish disease,” said Leslie Ries, a breast cancer survivor who established the John Fetting Fund for Breast Cancer Research with her husband, Tom. “If Jews viewed breast cancer the way they viewed Tay-Sachs, more progress and research will get done. Rather than waiting to get breast cancer, we should fund the research. We are so close to unlocking the doors. The key is the money.”

Last week, researchers and scientists affiliated with the John Fetting Fund shared the latest findings of three studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Sara Sukumar, co-director of the Breast Center Program at Hopkins, says she is working on a new blood test that can detect the presence of cancerous DNA in the blood of metastatic breast cancer patients with 95 percent accuracy.

“Through research on breast cancer prevention, we will be able to detect breast cancer at the earliest moment possible,” said Sukumar. “If we are able to catch breast cancer quicker, we will be ahead of the game in treatment.”

Her colleague, Kala Visvanathan of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is working to identify genetic changes by monitoring normal breast tissue for early signs of a developing cancer.

“We want to find breast cancer before it is detected on the mammogram,” said Visvanathan. “The goal is to find who is at high or low risk. As soon as we realize who is at risk, we intervene earlier.”

Other research is looking at the use of natural treatments to combat breast cancer. Diplai Sharma said she discovered that honokiol, a natural extract found in the bark of magnolia trees, has the power to block the growth and migration of breast cancer cells. In addition, Sukumar recently discovered that curcumin, a prominent ingredient in Asian yellow spice turmeric, has anticancer effects. The Asian spice can help aid chemotherapy and improve its cancer-killing effects.

While many researchers know where their projects are headed, lack of funding has proved a drain on research.

“We need to buy them time,” said John Fetting, Hopkins’ associate director of clinical practices. “These ladies know where their research is headed. However, their research takes time. People want immediate results and won’t fund them.”

“We still need more of the basic research and of course, we need funding to do that,” said Wickersham. “There is clearly work to be done.”

 

afreedman@jewishtimes.com
spollak@washingtonjewishweek.com

Controversy Up North

Photos: Interior and exterior shots of the $351 million Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. (Photos Flickr)

Exterior shot of the $351 million Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. (Photos Flickr)

TORONTO — On the fourth floor of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, visitors will find a gallery called “Examining the Holocaust,” which is devoted entirely to the story and lessons of the Shoah. On the same floor, in a smaller, adjacent space, a gallery called “Breaking the Silence” examines a cluster of five genocides officially recognized by the Canadian government: the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia; the Armenian and Rwandan genocides; the Holodomor, or the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s; and, once again, the Holocaust.

“Examining the Holocaust” is just one of 11 galleries at the $351 million human rights museum that opens in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Saturday. It is also the museum’s thorniest.

The permanent gallery has long been a source of controversy for the institution, which has fought accusations from a handful of Canada’s ethnic communities, ranging from Ukrainians to Armenians, that allowing the Holocaust its own space downplays the significance of the other human rights atrocities confined to a single room.

In interviews, museum officials defended their decision by asserting that the Holocaust is in fact exceptional, both as an act of 20th-century genocide and a pedagogic tool. As the trigger for international human rights legislation in the aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust is deserving of its own gallery, the officials said.

“It’s one of the most studied, most well-documented atrocities,” said June Creelman, the museum’s director of learning and programming. “One of the ways to educate is to start with something familiar and move to something unknown.”

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights grew out of several unsuccessful attempts by Jewish community leaders as far back as the late 1990s to attract government support for a national Holocaust museum, or a Holocaust gallery at the Canadian War Museum, in Ottawa. The efforts failed when the federal government, after staging parliamentary hearings, shied away from committing money to a project that memorialized only a single group’s history. (In August, Canada will unveil its first national Holocaust monument, an $8.5 million project steps from the Parliament in downtown Ottawa. The monument, designed by a team that includes renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, features six concrete triangles that together create points of a Star of David.)

It wasn’t until 2003 that the late Izzy Asper, a Manitoba-born media mogul and Jewish philanthropist, convinced Prime Minister Jean Chretien to sign on to a public-private partnership establishing a national human rights museum similar in scope to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Asper, whose family foundation chipped in $22 million, always had his eye on a stand-alone Holocaust gallery — indeed, early museum blueprints indicated a Holocaust section would occupy more than 20 percent of the available gallery space. In the final design, it takes up less than 10 percent of the space.

Other galleries examine contemporary cases of human rights abuse, the history of civil rights in Canada — including the “head tax” that Chinese immigrants were charged in the late 19th century — and the work of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer whose work on defining the term “genocide” led to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.

From the outset, museum fundraisers and programmers were adamant that the Holocaust serve as the intellectual and emotional starting point for the museum’s approach to human rights education. In 2008, a government advisory review wrote that the Holocaust “provides our paradigm for understanding the causes and processes of all mass, state-sponsored violence, as well as provides the inspiration for human rights protection on a worldwide scale.”

That sort of language, at a museum striving to tell multiple histories, has led to what Dirk Moses, a historian at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, has called a “traumatic memory competition between those who postulated the Holocaust’s uniqueness and those who rejected it.” Moses has written extensively on the new Canada museum.

For his part, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Canadian advocacy group, praised the museum for recognizing “that the pedagogic power of the Holocaust experience is of a fundamentally different scope and nature.”

But critics argue that the amount of attention focused on the Holocaust at the museum is woefully disproportionate, and they take strong exception to what is perceived as unfair precedence granted the Holocaust over other genocides.

The museum’s Holocaust exhibit occupies 4,500 square feet of space — 1,400 square feet more than the “Breaking the Silence” gallery. Maureen Fitzhenry, a museum spokeswoman, described the Holocaust gallery as having five sections, including the story of the Nazis’ rise to power and how
the genocide was implemented, an exploration of how everyday people were complicit in the genocide and a 10-minute documentary about Canada’s unwillingness to absorb Jewish refugees fleeing Europe during World War II.

Content for the exhibits — all designed by Ralph Applebaum Associates, the firm behind the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent exhibit — were developed with the input of independent scholars and public consultations involving thousands of Canadians.

The executive director of the Zoryan Institute, a Toronto-based think tank that researches Armenian diaspora issues, told the National Post last year he worried the Holocaust gallery would be so overwhelming that visitors would not “really absorb anything from the other galleries.”

Ukrainian-Canadian institutions have been especially rancorous, claiming the Holodomor, the Soviet-inflicted famine in 1932-33, is given insufficient consideration at the museum. In one provocative 2011 anti-museum campaign, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, or UCCLA, mailed postcards to Canadians featuring an illustration of a pig whispering to a sheep, “All galleries are equal but some galleries are more equal than others.”

There are an estimated 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians, and many have close ties to the Prairie provinces, including Manitoba, which absorbed waves of Ukrainian immigrants starting in the 1890s. Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College and a member of the UCCLA, called the museum “divisive,” but expressed confidence that its contents would be revised in the future.

“UCCLA’s position is that no genocide, however tragic, should be given pride of place in a publicly funded national Canadian museum, meaning no nation’s tragedy, however well-documented or evocative, should receive preferential treatment with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” Luciuk, a longtime critic of the museum, said.

Some scholars have cast doubt on the museum’s claim, as a justification for the stand-alone gallery, that the Holocaust had a larger impact on human rights legislation than did other acts of genocide.

Adam Muller, a University of Manitoba genocide scholar, pointed to a trend in contemporary scholarship — notably the work of Columbia University historian Samuel Moyn — disputing the impact that Holocaust consciousness had on the international human rights treaties signed after World War II, especially the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and early understandings of the term “genocide.”

Muller, co-editor of a forthcoming book about human rights museums titled “The Idea of a Human Rights Museum,” is supportive of a special Holocaust gallery because of the wealth of scholarship available on the subject. But, he added, if it isn’t clear that the Holocaust precipitated the post-World War II human rights movement, “looking at the connection in the museum has kind of dubious value.”

Experts for Hire

U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk has been hit by critics for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk has been hit by critics for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Many think tanks, those collections of scholars who issue reams of reports and whose members help shape public opinion and government policy, take pride in being independent research organizations whose academics and former officials do rigorous, unbiased work.

But thanks to revelations that some of the most widely known of such groups, including the Brookings Institution, are benefiting from foreign dollars even as they educate policymakers in Washington, their rise-above-the-fray reputation is now in question.

Think tanks are a quintessential American institution. When a committee on Capitol Hill holds a hearing, think tank scholars often provide expert testimony. These scholars occupy a territory between policymakers and academics and often move freely between those professions.

“It’s a long tradition in America to put our trust in outside experts,” said Jim McGann, founder and director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “So the most important policy issues facing the country were entrusted not to civil servants, not to government officials, but to think tanks.

“If you look, for example, at the 9/11 commission, virtually everyone had an affiliation with a think tank.”

A recent New York Times article pointed out the potential for foreign-influence buying at policy shops such as the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development. The Times charged that think tanks are taking tens of millions of dollars from foreign donors while advocating their positions with the U.S. government.

Those donors range from Norway to Japan to Canada. But in what was a bombshell for many Israel supporters, the Times revealed that former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk accepted $14.8 million from Qatar for the Brookings Institution, where he now is director of its Foreign Policy Program. Other Qatari money funds Hamas, against which Israel fought a war this summer and which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.

Critics hit Indyk both for his revolving-door role in both Brookings and the U.S. peace team and for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism.

As the storm over the Times article peaked last week, the House of Representatives began to consider a proposed rule that would require think tank scholars who testify on Capitol Hill to disclose any support they receive from foreign governments. The proposal received bipartisan support.

What happens at Brookings, which has a center in Doha, Qatar, sets an example for other think tanks. Brookings — its motto is “Quality. Independence. Impact” — was named the most influential think tank in the world by the “Global Go To Think Tank Index,” an annual survey compiled by McGann of the organization’s global influence.

According to the Times, “12 percent of the annual budget at the Brookings Institution and as much as 20 percent of the funding at the Atlantic Council come from foreign governments.”

Many other think tanks receive corporate funding. One is the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which lists as donors Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Nestle and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others. Peterson was rated two stars (out of five) for transparency by Transparify, an international initiative advocating greater think tank transparency.

The Peterson Institute is to economic and trade expertise what Brookings is to foreign policy.

Writing in Inside Philanthropy, editor David Callahan asked, “Just how much intellectual integrity can the institute have, considering its dependence on donors with a strong financial stake in the issues that it works on?”

Callahan went on to describe the chilling effect corporate donors might have on the institute’s work.

McGann isn’t worried. He said that most of the older, more established think tanks have conflict of interest, peer review and donor guideline procedures already in place.

Nevertheless, he said that there have been incidents where individual think tank scholars were caught doubling as lobbyists, but it is rare.

The solution to conflict of interest is transparency, according to Hans Gutbrod, executive director of Transparify.

“Transparency communicates confidence in the integrity of your research,” he said. “If you know that your research can withstand critical scrutiny, there is no reason to hide that your donors may have particular preferences. So it is a key component.”

There are a number of other best practices, according to Gutbrod. They include “informing donors and clients early on what they will publish, independent of what the result is.”

“Some institutions have a strong code of conduct, which can become a point of reference for researchers who insist on their independence,” he said. “As the majority of think tanks are 501(c)3 organizations, practically all of them have a written conflict-of-interest policy. They are being asked to affirm this in their annual IRS 990 tax declaration form … and are asked whether they monitor and enforce that policy ‘regularly and consistently.’”

Mark Rom, director of the master’s in American government program at Georgetown University, said that he has confidence in the independence of think tank researchers.

Yet he admits that unlike in previous decades where think tanks like Brookings usually had a “pot” of funding that would finance all its research equally, he sees a greater push for scholars to fund their own projects.

“More scholars and think tanks have to raise their own funding, and when you’re raising your own funding, there is a least a possibility that you will research things in ways that would please those who fund it,” Rom said.

He also pointed to the proliferation of think tanks that have open political agendas, though not necessarily because of who funds their work.

What doesn’t seem to be changing is government reliance on think tanks and what McGann called the “revolving door” between think tanks and government service.

In the Indyk case, it can raise questions of propriety. In other situations, it helps government run more effectively.

“During the transition [between the Bush and Obama administrations] and the economic crisis, Obama was able to rely on the staff of think tanks, many of whom came into his administration before he took office,” McGann said. Because of that, Obama “was able to hit the ground running and respond to the crisis in a way that would not be possible elsewhere and is unusual in terms of the seamless transition from one administration to the other.”

JNS.org contributed to this article.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com
dholzel@washingtonjewishweek