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July 12, 2013

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 12, 2013 By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Reps. Eric Cantor and John Lewis stood together recently ataMontgomery, Ala., memo- rial to martyrs of the civil rights struggle,joining hands to sing "We Shall Overcome." With the Supreme Court decision two weeks ago gut- ting the 1965 Voting Rights Act--one of the landmark pieces of legislation from that era--Virginia's Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the U.S. House of Rep- resentatives, and Georgia's Lewis, a Democrat and civil rights hero, now have that to overcome. The June 25 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated Section 4 of the law, which designated nine Southern states and a number of other smaller precincts as requiring Justice Department clearance before changing any voting laws. The court found that the section was outdated. By leaving the act's basic architecture in place, how- ever, the court left the door open for Congress to update the clearance standards. "This is an issue that has enjoyed immense bipartisan support, overwhelming bi- partisan support from the very beginning of the VRA regime," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center. "There's no reason to expect it would not continue to do so." Except that there are rea- sons--not least of which are differences between national Republicans like Cantor, who believes that outreach to minorities and other Demo- cratic constituencies are key to turning around the party's fortunes, and local ones Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Reps. Steny Hoyer (left), Eric Cantor and John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, sing 'We Shall Overcome" March 2 at a memorial to martyrs of the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Ala. eager to seize on the court's decision. Republican governors and legislatures in Texas, Missis- sippi and Alabama already have said they will go forward with voter identification laws that civil rights groups say discriminate against the poor and the elderly. A similar divide exists in the Jewish community. National groups--includ- ing the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Anti-Defa- mation League, the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Jewish Women--lined up in decry- ing the removal of voting protections for minorities and pledging to join efforts to restore them. In local communities, however, opinion is much less uniform. "It's amazing how people who are not in these states can comment," said Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel and a lawyer in Arizona, one of the states subject to Section 4. "I see the need for protec- tions against discrimination, but not for discrimination that hasn't occurred in 30 years. To apply an unbalanced rule for something that doesn't currently exist doesn't seem right." Jews once were central to the struggle for civil rights in the South, an alliance symbol- ized by Cantor's appearance with Lewis in Montgomery in March. Outrage over the 1964 murder of two New York Jews attempting to register blacks to vote in Mississippi helped galvanize public opinion and led to the passage of both the Voting Rights Act and its pre- decessor, the Civil Rights Act. But the powerful alliance has frayed in the South. Bill Nigut, the Anti-Defamation League's regional director in Atlanta, said a decision by local black groups to invite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to campaign in Birmingham, Ala., on the vot- ing rights issue exacerbated tensions with local Jews. "Certainly in Alabama there are probably some bridges to repair," Nigut said. "I think the Jewish- and African-American commu- nities of Alabama--it'll be interesting to see how they get back on track." In Birmingham, the local federation director, Richard Friedman, said his organiza- tion would stay out of the Vot- ing Rights Act fight because there was no consensus on the matter. "Some members of our community are concerned over what they see as a weak- ening of the Voting Rights Act that could lead to renewed vot- ing difficulties for blacks and other minorities," Friedman said. "Others in our commu- nity, while sensitive to these minority voting concerns, are comfortable with the court's opinion and ruling in favor of Alabama's Shelby County." Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a Jewish lawmaker from a majority black district around Memphis, said the Jewish and black communities faced a common enemy on this issue and urged Jewish voters to lobby their representatives. "The people trying to re- press the black vote are the same people who don't wel- come Jews into mainstream society," Cohen told JTA. "The same mamzers that were there in 1963 are there today." Cantor, the only Republi- can Jewish member of Con- gress, will likely find himself navigating this divide in the months ahead. In the wake of the ruling, Cantor said he was hopeful that Congress would find a respon- sible path forward to protect voting rights. But given the realities on the ground---not to mention a polarized Con- gress and a reluctance among lawmakers to finger their own districts as needing special oversight--it's easy to doubt that congressional action is imminent. "I'm very skeptical on Congress," said Larry Gold, an Atlanta lawyer and chair- man of the JCPA. "I think the political will is not there to do it, the clout is not there to do it." Saperstein, who works in the building where the original Voting RightsActwas drafted in the 1960s, remains optimistic. He described his own stunned reaction seeing Cantor and Lewis, hands held, belting out the civil rights anthem at the Montgomery event. Whispering to a compan- ion, he likened the scene to seeing snow in Alabama. Then, he noticed, it began to snow. By Jana Banin (JTA)--"World War Z" gives us the basics of a summer blockbuster--a star actor worth looking at (Brad Pitt) and a far-fetched action- packed plot (hero races to stop virus that is turning all of humanity into zombies). So can'twe alljustbuysome popcorn, suspend our disbelief and enjoy the show? Well, no. The movie features another equally well-known newsmaker, if in this case less publicized: Israel. The zombie plague is spreading like wildfire, and Pitt's character, Gerry Lane, a former U.N. official turned stay-at-home dad, learns that only two countries have been able to successfully stave off infection. One is North Korea, where in a 24-hour period, the gov- ernment has removed the teeth of its citizens, making it impossible for the disease to spread. Then there's Israel, which has built a wall in Je- rusalem between the undead and the uninfected. In the movie we don't see Jerusalem for very long. As zombies storm the city's streets, flights of people hop- ing for refuge are landing in aplace founded by people who not so long ago were refused refuge by most of the world. Pitt, off to solve the next piece of the puzzle, hops on one of these planes (run by Be- larus Airlines), with his new pandemic-fighting partner, a tough female Israeli soldier played by Danielle Kertesz. But that's all the blogo- sphere needed to start buzzing for weeks about the deeper meaning of the Israel-related plot line and the message that it sends about Israel and its policies. Some see the cinematic version as a pro-Israel state- ment, justifying the existence of a wall in the real-life, non-zombie-ridden West Bank--the wall is extreme, but it keeps people safe. Interestingly, in the film the wall actually brings Israe- lis and Palestinians together. In apocalyptic Jerusalem, background is irrelevant. As long as you're not a monster with an appetite for humans, you're cool. Pitt is there to find out how Israel could have possibly built a structure of that magnitude so quickly--not to mention a full week before the pandemic hit in full force. From a member of the Mossad intelligence agency he learns that the tip came from an intercepted email mention- ing zombies. It seemed crazy, but so had the prospect of the Holocaust, the Munich mas- sacre and the Yom Kippur War. Israel has committed to imag- ining the unimaginable--and preparing for it. Ultimately, though, the experiment in segregation doesn't work. In a twist, cross-cultural harmony is the wall's downfall. Celebrating their survival, everyone joins together in song. Unfortunately, the joyous masses don't realize that noise arouses the zombies. Oops. Peace, one might deduce, is untenable--no matter how much people are willing to move past their differences. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik offered up a more optimistic, albeit still daunting, takeaway. "It may well be that there's no single message intended by the film," he wrote. "Still, when it comes to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict--and, for that matter, conflict in general--"World War Z" of- fers what seems like at least one clear takeaway. The most aggressive policy won't be useful in the face of a serious threat. A long-term solution probably involves even the most creative form of reac- tive thinking--it requires a willingness to contemplate the root cause." Try telling that to the folks at A1Jazeera, who compiled a roundup of online commen- Paramount Pictures A scene from the film 'World War Z' showing zombies trying to climb a wall surround- ing Jerusalem. tators and posters who have panned the film as pro-Israel propaganda. And it's not just Israel bash- ers who think it. As A1Jazeera noted, Jeffrey Goldbergadmir- ingly tweeted, "'World War Z' is the most pro-Israel movie ever made. Or at the very least the most pro-Israel zombie movie ever made." At the same time, he added, "With Israel's highly lauded defense reputation, the wall breach surprised me." Complicating any attempt to discern a concrete message were the deviations from the 2006 novel on which it is based. In "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War," by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks and Anne Ban- croft), it is not zombies who ruin everything but haredi Orthodox Jews, who rebel after the government decides to pull back to the pre-1967 borders and welcome in Jews and Palestinians. That said, in the book Israel's success does hold up. Back to the film. Togeth- er Pitt and his Israeli friend battle zombies and find the answers that will finally help to pretty much save the day. The movie closes with a voiceover from the lead actor, reminding us that we should always "be prepared for anything"-- yeah, like the Internet peanut gallery's ability to turn anything into an Israel debate. Hey, Hollywood, next time could you just save us all the headache and set the Middle East plot line in Cairo or Istanbul?