Press reports magnify violence in Israel, mayor says

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When Mayor Judy Nadler of Santa Clara attended the 21st annual Jerusalem Conference of Mayors, she saw things that gave her great hope. Among those was the Armand Hammer Guillford Glazer Arab Jewish Community Center.

"This community center was no different than a community center like the one in Palo Alto," said Nadler, referring to the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center on Arastradero Road.

"Kids were taking dance lessons, playing basketball, and moms were having discussion groups. The difference was that the groups comprised Arabs and Jews talking and playing together."

The American Jewish Congress sponsored the conference, and Nadler was selected to attend through the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Held March 25 to April 1 in Jerusalem, the conference attracted 46 mayors from 25 countries, including Bulgaria, Mozambique and South Africa. Eight of the mayors were from the United States, including Mayor Ralph Appezzato of Alameda. Nadler emphasized that only four of the attendees were women, two from the United States, the others from Yugoslavia and South America.

Though she left Israel with a great sense of hope, the mayor found the reports in the press about violence in the Middle East "disheartening."

"It's not as bad as the American press would have us believe, said Nadler. "I was there when the 'incidents' happened.

"Many of the mayors were in the Old City shopping, while I stayed back watching television. I saw on TV how people just walked around the kids throwing rocks and wondered whether they were so numb by all the violence that this was just an everyday occurrence to them."

Later, when she reconnected with her colleagues, they told her they had seen the same incident as it was happening, and in their opinion it was a planned event for the CNN crews, Nadler said.

"True, horrible things happen there. But there are many acts of violence every day in our country, yet that's not what has the world's attention," she said. "All the negative press is a shame because it's really hurt their travel business.

"You don't go where you aren't invited," Nadler added. "There are places I wouldn't go in Chicago either."

The conference was Nadler's second visit to Israel. The growth of new technology since her visit 20 years before certainly made the theme for this year's conference — "Excavating the Future: Tradition and Technology in the City" — understandable.

"The theme really hit close to home," she said. "With Santa Clara as a mission city and with Silicon Valley as a growing entity, we need to honor traditions but address technology."

Nadler expressed admiration for Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, host of this year's conference.

"Mayor Olmert was eloquent in his comments about how they have the two extremes of tradition and technology in Israel. How do you protect historic sites while building modern highways?"

It came as a surprise to Nadler that, as far as she knew, none of the participating mayors was Jewish.

The mayor herself isn't Jewish, though her husband of 27 years and her two daughters, ages 12 and 16, are. The family attends the Reform Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, where her daughter became a bat mitzvah.

"I have an understanding of prejudice greater than many people," said Nadler. "When a controversy arose over whether to allow a mosque into Santa Clara, the negativity wasn't based on fact but on a negative view of the Muslim community. This is identical to the prejudice traditionally suffered by the Jewish people."

According to the mayor, the purpose of the conference was to gather mayors from around the world and give them the opportunity to share ideas, discuss common issues and educate them about Israel.

"For example, I learned that one main difference between Santa Clara County and Jerusalem," she said, "is that we have an aging population, while in Jerusalem, about 45 percent of the population is between [infancy] and 19."

Another part of their education included extensive touring.

"We went from one end of the country to the other," the mayor said with a laugh. "It was jam-packed from 6 a.m. to midnight the whole week."

Highlights for Nadler included visiting the Western Wall, floating in the Dead Sea covered head to toe with mud, visiting the Bock Science Center — where there is a software incubator (an organization that helps support high-tech startup companies) — and planting trees in the Grove of the Mayors of the World, located in the Jerusalem hills.

One of the biggest highlights, however, was meeting Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

"Peres mentioned setting up a program," she said, "that gives Palestinian and Jewish children an Internet connection so they can be pen pals."

After a thoughtful pause, the mayor added, "Once you've met someone and get to know them, you can get through your prejudice and move towards peace."