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Gelt Complex: Feud Brews Over Frat, Like Father Like Son, NIF Kicks Off Series

Feud Brews Over Frat

A hawkish Jewish organization is joining cause with the American Civil Liberties Union in calling for a private California university to allow a Jewish fraternity to organize on campus.

The Zionist Organization of America last week sent a letter to the president of Chapman University in Orange, Calif., arguing that the school had violated its students’ rights to free speech and association by prohibiting them from both recruiting members to Sigma Alpha Mu, a national Jewish fraternity, and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the brotherhood’s Greek letters.

The feud over establishing a SAM chapter on the 5,700-student campus dates back two years to when Pascal De Maria, now a 21-year-old Chapman senior, applied with 19 other students to form a SAM chapter.

After the school rejected the fraternity’s application, De Maria and others continued to wear T-shirts and set up a recruiting table during rush week. According to De Maria, the T-shirts have not mentioned Chapman, and their recruiting stand was set up across the street from campus.

In September 2006, De Maria received a letter from the dean of students, Joseph Kertes, who is himself Jewish, instructing him to stop all SAM-related advertising and activities and threatening disciplinary action if he didn’t comply with the demands. Citing student privacy regulations, a spokeswoman for the school, Mary Platt, said that she could not comment on the letter.

The ZOA, for its part, is raising questions about why the school would go to such lengths to prohibit De Maria from continuing with his efforts to establish a SAM presence there.

“I’m really not certain what is motivating the administration,” said Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice. “I can’t draw any definite conclusions, but I’m not ruling out that there might be antisemitism.”

Kertes said that school administrators are in the process of meeting with the ACLU and that Chapman “expects a resolution very soon.”

— Rebecca Spence


Like Father, Like Son

Neoconservative journalist John Podhoretz is following in his father’s footsteps. Podhoretz will succeed Neal Kozodoy as the editor of Commentary, the magazine that Podhoretz’s father, Norman, edited for several decades, shepherding it from the left to the right and shaping it into a leading organ of what became known as the neoconservative movement. Today, the magazine publishes articles by mostly conservative writers on politics, culture and Jewish affairs. Commentary has been a vocal proponent of an aggressive stance toward Iraq, Iran and Muslim extremism, positions that the younger Podhoretz has also taken in his job as a political columnist for the New York Post.

Last year, Commentary, already editorially independent, severed ties with its longtime publisher, the American Jewish Committee. Podhoretz will join Commentary’s staff next month and will take the reins as editor in January 2009.

— Daniel Treiman


NIF Kicks Off Series

A liberal group that focuses on social justice issues in Israel is making a push to exert a more national presence. The New Israel Fund, a Washington-based charity, is kicking off a series of events in 10 cities around the country, with panel discussions addressing such issues as economic justice, civil rights and the environment in the Jewish state. NIForum 2007 is an expansion of last year’s inaugural event, which was held in New York. “We felt it was important to reach more communities,” said Larry Garber, NIF’s CEO and executive director.

The events, with such speakers as Naomi Chazan, former Knesset member and a leading Israeli civil rights activist, will speak to what NIF terms a “progressive vision” for Israel’s future. Linked to the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, the tour will hit Boston, Seattle and Chicago, among other North American cities.

In addition to the tour, the organization is hiring a full-time staffer in Los Angeles, where it hasn’t had an office since 2002. Ellen Barrie Aaronson, a former entertainment industry executive, is starting this week “to re-establish our presence” in L.A., Garber said.

— Rebecca Spence

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