The Private, Jewish-Led Counterespionage Group That Took on American Nazis during World War II

By the end of the 1930s, Los Angeles had become an important base of operations for several U.S. pro-Nazi groups. In response, the lawyer Leon Lewis and the journalist Joseph Roos founded the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee (LAJCC). Leslie Epstein, reviewing two recent books about the organization, explains how it operated:

As Jews, [Lewis and Roos] could not risk going into the field (though both were eventually threatened and one of them, Roos, badly beaten); instead they hired a series of non-Jewish men and women to infiltrate the Friends of the New Germany, the German American Bund, the Silver Shirts, and as many as possible of the other like-minded groups working throughout Los Angeles. None of these spies was professional. At $30 per week, none was going to get rich. But each had his motives for despising Hitler’s Germany or for loving the idea of America, and all knew perfectly well that in winning the trust of those who wished to overthrow the government of their country they were risking their lives—and one of them, Julius Sicius, seems to have lost his in the cause.

Their tasks were to discover what they could, to sow dissension among the leaders and members of the groups they had joined, and ultimately to make it impossible for those dreams of [Hitler taking over the U.S.] come true. The first thing they discovered was that those dreams were not half-baked fantasies. Many of the pro-Nazi groups had formed cells that were following orders from Berlin. Their members met German ships that supplied them with propaganda matter and sometimes with personnel. These groups made plans to steal weapons from sympathetic guards at armories; arms were stored around the city in factories and private homes. Strategies for sabotaging power plants and naval facilities were studied, revised, and kept in waiting.

Armed paramilitary groups like the Silver Shirts—an American fascist group modeled after the Brownshirts, they sewed their own uniforms to prevent them from being touched by Jewish tailors—paraded in the Hollywood Hills. That same group also kept maps showing where prominent Jews lived and had allies in the LAPD, including Chief James E. Davis, who seemed to believe that all Jews were Communists. . . . There is no question that the network of LAJCC agents discovered a great deal. Nor is there any doubt that they spied so well that their targets, knowing information was being leaked to authorities, began to spy on themselves and so undermined each other’s efforts.

Yet a chasm remained between exposing the agents of Berlin and bringing them to justice. Lewis and his little army had to fight not only against the fifth column but against the entrenched network of their sympathizers and collaborators that stretched all the way from studio cops up through government prosecutors at every level, Congress and the State Department, and parts of the cabinet. Indifference to the threat of fascism, combined with zeal to deal with the red menace, allowed all too many of the conspirators to escape.

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More about: American Jewry, History & Ideas, Nazis, World War II

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem