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


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Part III of a 3-part series by Dan Aznoff

Irving Moskowitz' attorney Beryl Weiner countered the attacks on his client by pointing out that the Arab homes purchased with Moskowitz money "had been owned by Jews until the rightful owners were forced out in the early 1900's." According to Weiner, the American millionaire often paid twice what the land and homes were really worth.

"These people are taking the money for their homes and land," said Weiner. "Most of them are happy with the exchange. Nobody is putting a gun to their head and forcing them to take the money."

A year ago, Jerusalem granted approval for another Moskowitz group to build a 200-unit Jewish settlement in Abu-Dis, an area once considered as a possible site for a Palestinian capital and a controversial piece of real estate that is a key element in the compromise settlement in the current round of peace talks.

Construction in Israel and the gambling controversy have left a trail of victims back in Hawaiian Gardens. Besides costing Julia Sylva her job with the city, the debate has been blamed for the defeat of Assemblyman Scott Wildman in his attempt to secure a seat in the California state senate, the early retirement of Hawaiian Gardens Police Chief Walter McKinney--and for Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, the loss of his pulpit at Temple Ner Tamid in the neighboring city of Downey, CA.

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak first became aware of the Moskowitz activities while he was working in Israel from 1988 until 1990. When the congregation at Ner Tamid became available in 1997, he took the position to be closer to the controversy. A year later he founded The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem (, and persuaded attendees at a meeting of Reform rabbis to picket the casino.

His former congregation in Downey is now without a rabbi. Beliak claims that he resigned because he was too busy serving as the spiritual leader of two other Conservative congregations, Adat Chaverim in Los Alamitos (where Julia Sylva and her family are active members) and Beth Shalom in Whittier. Weiner claims that Beliak was forced out of Downey because of his preoccupation with the politics in Hawaiian Gardens. (A spokesperson at Ner Tamid declined to settle the disagreement.)

"Building homes for Jewish settlers right in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods or on sacred Arab ground is like trying to put out a fire with kerosene," said Beliak. "We are trying to save the peace process in Israel by cutting off his [Moskowitz'] primary source of funding."

Irving Moskowitz is confused by the controversy that has surrounded him since the day he was invited to run the struggling bingo operation in this one-square-mile urban municipality 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles. A 73-year-old retired physician who made his fortune building and managing hospitals in Southern California and Florida, he proudly declares that he is using his "personal fortune to help rebuild Jerusalem." Moskowitz has labeled his investments in Israel as "Jews helping Jews."

His opponents argue that gambling money generated in the low-income, mostly Hispanic community of Hawaiian Gardens is not being used as originally intended to help rebuild the economic health of the city, but instead is being sent to build settlements in Israel that have derailed the peace process.

Weiner does not consider the casino or the alleged misuse of public funds to be a Jewish issue. He dismisses the entire controversy as a one-man vendetta by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak conducted from the pulpit of local synagogues against his client. He described Beliak as a "crusader."

"Dr. Moskowitz wants peace as much as anybody," according to his attorney, Beryl Weiner, "but a secure peace. The rabbi blames every failure of the peace process in Israel on Dr. Moskowitz," said Weiner. Beliak laughed at this characterization, and at the term "crusader."

Beliak's hopes to cut off the Moskowitz funds at their source, through legislative action in California.

"It's not enough to stop Moskowitz from getting his casino license or controlling bingo," said Beliak. "We want to free the city to repair the social damage that has been done."

The casino is currently operating with a temporary gambling license while the state gambling commission investigates critics' claims that the doctor's moral character disqualify him from holding a gambling license. A special agent with the commission explained that he is authorized to look into the allegations that public money was misused to build the casino, but has no authority over how or where the profits are spent.

A release issued by The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem on June 17 questioned why Moskowitz was being paid an annual salary of $320,000 by his own foundation.

The use of monies generated by bingo parlors would be limited to charities within the state of California under proposed Senate Bill 832. An assembly version of the same legislation had been sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Wildman before he was forced out of office this year. Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) is spearheading the bill during the current legislative session with support from former members of Wildman's staff.

Lawmakers have postponed any possible vote on the measure until 2002, the second year of the two-year legislative session. A Joint Legislative Audit Committee report released last year focused on state law that expressly prohibits redevelopment funds from being used for gambling establishments. The report concluded, "Hawaiian Gardens provides an example of what can go wrong when redevelopment is manipulated for the benefit of one rather than for the benefit of the community as a whole."

Rabbi Beliak urged any person (whether Jewish or not) who supports peace in Israel to visit The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem website.

"Read. Read all the background information. Read the story of Irving Moskowitz and how he has used the people of Hawaiian Gardens for his own personal gain and to delay the possibility of peace in Israel," said Beliak.

"If you read, you will take action. That much I know."

Beliak suggests the following for those concerned about the Foundation's operations:

Get updated information and background from the Coalition's website.

Ask California Attorney General Bill Lockyer to deny Dr. Moskowitz a permanent gambling license and close down the bingo hall. Call (916) 445-9555, ext. 5 or P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.

Phone the state Division of gambling Control at (916) 322-3360, ext 7. Plead with them to enforce the Isenberg Amendment that would return gambling profits to the people of Hawaiian Gardens.

Join the effort to support Senate Bill 832 in California.

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