Blocking Mideast Peace
Bingo in America Feeds Arab-Jewish Conflict in Israel: Hawaiian Gardens, Jerusalem, and The Moskowitz Foundation, Part II
by Dan Aznoff
Originally published 01 July 2001


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By 1997 the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation was supporting Hawaiian Gardens with monthly installments of $200,000, an amount that was roughly half of the city's annual budget. When the funds abruptly stopped, the city was forced to shut down its police force and slash its employee payroll by more than two-thirds from 105 to 30.

Moskowitz' attorney Beryl Weiner explained that Hawaiian Gardens was spending more than $2.5 million on its own police force every year, while better protection was available through a $1.3 million annual contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"It's no secret that Dr. Moskowitz cut off funding for a police department that he judged to be wasting money when they could subcontract elsewhere for less money and better protection, just like most of the neighboring cities," Weiner told

The attorney also downplayed reports that Moskowitz bought the 1995 election to legalize gambling in Hawaiian Gardens. Public records confirm that proponents of gambling spent more than $540,000 to convince voters in the city of less than 15,000 residents.

"But nobody mentions that the opposition (other cities with legalized gambling) spent over $1 million to defeat the same measure," said Weiner. The proposal was approved by 57 percent of the voters in the first election and then by 63 percent in a second election three years later.

Gambling generates approximately $5 million in revenue for the city each year, with any amount surplus to the city budget earmarked to retiring the $12 million in redevelopment bonds the city sold to pay for the construction of the gambling hall.

Excess funds have also been utilized to expand community services for senior and youth activities as well as build a new library.

None of the programs or buildings bears the Moskowitz name. "The doctor is not that kind of individual," said Weiner. "He's not in this for personal gratification."

A Jewish Latina Comes Home Julia Sylva has come full circle.

As a Latina, she was a minority in the Russian-Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles until her family moved to the barrios known as Hawaiian Gardens. She thrived in the small-town Latino atmosphere, but eventually left the old neighborhood to attend college and law school.

Celebrating on the night she graduated from law school, she met the man who would eventually become her husband. Julia admits being confused when her friends pointed out the interesting charm on the chain hanging around his neck or his obviously Jewish last name.

It was not until the young couple discussed the possibility of marriage that Julia decided to convert to Judaism. She served one term as mayor during her tenure as a member of the Hawaiian Gardens City Council before applying to become the city attorney in her hometown in 1996.

"My new religion seemed much too important to some of the more powerful people who controlled the city [during public hearings]. Especially Dr. Moskowitz and his attorney [Beryl Weiner]," Sylva recalled. "We'd go to lunch often, but we never discussed religion [then]. Maybe they thought I would treat them differently because of my new-found Judaism."

Sylva was city attorney in Hawaiian Gardens during the time the city fathers voted to use community redevelopment funds to assist Moskowitz build a shopping complex. The city bought the property near a city park for $5.5 million in 1993, then turned around and resold the land to Moskowitz for half that amount with hopes the land would produce tax-generating revenue each year.

When the plans mysteriously changed from a grocery store to a card room in 1998, Sylva pointed out a state law in California that prohibited public funds from being used to build a casino. Sylva resigned her post on the same day the council was scheduled to discuss her termination.

Before she resigned, the fiery Sylva delivered a rambling condemnation of the city's ties to Moskowitz, to Weiner and the use of taxpayer money being used to benefit interests outside Hawaiian Gardens. She argued that millions of dollars had been raised at the bingo parlor, "And the city gets zero."

"Ms. Sylva did not understand the concept of win-win," said Weiner. "She saw the profits that Dr. Moskowitz was getting and could not see the benefits the arrangement had given to her own city. If there is a winner, it does not [necessarily mean that somebody else is coming out on the short end of the transaction."

Julia Sylva was being pulled in many directions. As a Latina, she felt empathy for the low-income residents of her town who had been forced out to make room for a gambling establishment. As a lawyer, she saw how the strategies used by Moskowitz and Weiner confused the members of the city council who served in dual capacity as the town's redevelopment council. As a Jew, she was appalled to learn that the monies generated from bingo by the non-profit Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation were apparently being funneled to Israel to displace Palestinians to make room for fundamentalist Jewish settlers in Jerusalem and along the West Bank.

"The residents of Hawaiian Gardens have suffered in a way that cannot be remedied or compensated with bingo or casino proceeds," said Sylva. "All gains have been for Moskowitz/Weiner, all the losses have been suffered by the residents of the city."

Members of both the Likud and Labor governments in Israel have criticized the estimated $25 million given to Orthodox settlers to establish Jewish communities in Arab neighborhoods. In 1997, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright described the "racist policy" of building of Jewish-only settlements as, "the seizing of Arab lands, demolishing Arab homes, settlement expansion and the construction of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem."

Louis Roth of American for Peace Now has come out publicly against the construction of flats for settlers. "What they are trying to do is establish a Jewish stronghold in Arab neighborhoods with the eventual goal of taking over."

In our next issue: Moskowitz' attorney responds; a trail of victims and Rabbi Beliak's crusade.

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