Abramoff Prompts Native American-Jewish Gathering

By Nathaniel Popper

Published January 13, 2006, issue of January 13, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Jack Abramoff’s dealings with Native American tribes did not set the best model for cross-cultural communication between Indians and Jews, so a group of Californians came together last Sunday to create a better foundation.

Twenty-one Indians and Jews came together for a wide-ranging discussion just five days after Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding four Indian tribes. The meeting, which took place at a synagogue in Palm Desert, Calif., came about after three Jews involved with Indian causes wrote an opinion editorial in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, disavowing Abramoff’s treatment of the Indians with whom he worked.

“We were appalled by the way that Abramoff presented himself as a Jew and a religious figure in his work with the Indians,” said Gelya Frank, a Jewish anthropology professor at the University of Southern California. Frank works with Indian communities. “We thought the most positive way to approach this is to affirm the wonderful cooperation that’s gone on between these two communities.”

The 21 participants included a rabbi, two law professors, two Holocaust survivors and a leading casino consultant for Indian tribes. The Indians in attendance represented the Morongo and Torres Martinez tribes of California.

The discussion went well, participants said, although the shadow of the Abramoff scandal hung heavily over the gathering. One tribe that initially intended to take part in the proceedings — the Agua Caliente — had used Abramoff’s services as a lobbyist and decided to back out a few days before the event, which was to take place at a hotel owned by the Agua Caliente. The tribe’s withdrawal forced the organizers to move the meeting to a Reform synagogue in Palm Desert, 120 miles east of Los Angeles.

The Agua Caliente were not mentioned in the plea bargain that Abramoff struck last week with the Justice Department. In that deal, Abramoff acknowledged that he and his partner, Michael Scanlon, collected $43.3 million from Indian tribes in five states — $20 million of which was secretly skimmed off by Abramoff.

A number of participants in Sunday’s discussion said that they never had heard of a formal event bringing together Jews and Indians to discuss common causes and challenges. But one of the main points of discussion was the heavy involvement that Jewish lawyers have had in defending Indian rights. The most influential book on Indian law was written in 1942 by Felix Cohen. Another Jewish lawyer, Glenn Feldman, who was at Sunday’s gathering had successfully argued for Indian gaming rights in front of the Supreme Court.

“There is no way that the Indian people would have achieved the level of prosperity — and court victories — without Jewish intellectuals and Jewish professionals,” said Michael Lombardi, a consultant to Indian casinos. Lombardi organized the event from the Indian side.

Talk on Sunday turned to the struggles facing both communities — particularly the issues of education, as Jews and Indians seek to retain ancient traditions while preparing youngsters for the modern world.

While no other events have been planned yet, organizers have said they want to create a formal organization and Web site for Indian-Jewish dialogue.

“There’s a lot of contact and interaction, but it’s now well understood,” said Dwayne Champagne, a Chippewa Indian and a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.