Billboard Call to Stop Aid to Israeli Army Agitates Congressional Candidates

Article excerpt

Never underestimate the determination of a peace activist, could well be the motto of JeffWarner. A case in point is the 23 billboards he succeeded in erecting all over Los Angeles County urging voters to demand that Congress stop sending $3 billion in annual aid to the Israeli army.

In the end, however, it was too good to be true. The billboards started going up June 11 and, some time before 2:30 p.m. on June 18, they abruptly disappeared. CBS Outdoor, the billboard vendor, said it would refund the money paid. So far it has done so only partially, according to Warner, and has made no mention of covering the $65 printing cost for each of the 23 billboards.

Warner says CBS Outdoor claimed he violated his contract by using its name in a petition he sent asking activists to thank the vendor for putting up the billboards. It seems remarkably coincidental that Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), one of Congress' most pro-Israel members, issued a press release stating that his constituents objected to the billboards' "anti-Israel" message-which, moreover, he wrote, contradicted Washington's commitment to Israel's security. Since no poll was conducted as to how many of Berman's constituents actually were offended by the billboards, the congressman's statement could not be verified.

Berman, the former chairman and now ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee-who told a Jewish newspaper that "Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist"-has represented California's 28th congressional district for 30 years. As a result of redistricting, he currently is running against fellow Zionist Democrat Brad Sherman, formerly of the 27th congressional district, in the newly drawn 30th congressional district (see May 2012 Washington Report, p. 30). Although Berman has the backing of Madeleine Albright and Dennis Ross, Sherman received more votes in the state's June primary. Since Sherman and Berman came in first and second, respectively, they will face each other yet again in November. Among the district's Jewish constituents, Berman is favored.

Not to be outdone in kowtowing to Israel, Sherman jumped into the billboard bandwagon and was quoted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as saying that the billboards' message "would have us abandon our closest ally in the Middle East."

Warner is quick to point out that the financial support for the Los Angeles billboard project came largely from the Albuquerque-based Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel, which for the past three years has been putting up similarly worded billboards in U.S. cities. Now the coalition's L.A. representative, Warner raised funds for four of the L.A. billboards, one of which he paid for himself.

This isn't Warner's first struggle with Zionism. A member of L.A. Jews for Peace, the retired geologist has made three trips to the Middle East since 2005 and contends that the U.S. shouldn't financially support the Israeli army because it kills Palestinians with U.S. weapons. "We're not liked in most of the world because we support the Israeli military when it does really bad things," he argued.

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David Lesch Discusses Syria

"Reformer to Tyrant: The Corruption of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian System" was the title of a May 24 talk by David Lesch during UCLA's 2012 Levi Della Vida Award for Excellence in Islamic Studies honoring Prof. Roger Owen. Lesch, who teaches at Trinity University in San Antonio, explained that, from 2004 to 2009, he met regularly with the Syrian president while writing his book, The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Asad and Modern Syria.

In the spring of 2000, Lesch noted, Assad gave an enlightened inaugural speech that gave Syrians hope for reforms, including amnesty for political prisoners and a free press. "Today," the author said, "he's reviled by all."

According to Lesch, the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in the spring of 2011 shocked Assad: because he couldn't believe Syrians disliked him, he claimed the uprisings were supported by foreign interests, and empowered his security police and shabbiha militias to stamp out dissent. …