Esther Kandel, an Orthodox Jewish mother of three, was a Zionist her whole life. But only recently has her heartfelt love of Israel burst forth in an explosion of activism.
Since 2002, she has gone undercover in Southern California to expose Muslim hatred of America and Israel; made endless calls to news stations with unreported pro-Israel stories; lobbied to shut down UNRWA, the UN organization devoted to Palestinian refugees; and helped raise money for Sderot and Gush Katif refugees.
Perhaps most fascinating, however, is her tireless work on behalf of Mithal al-Alusi, the former director general of Iraq’s National Commission for De-Baathification. Alusi’s two sons were murdered in 2005 after he made waves by visiting Israel. Largely due to her Kandel’s persistent lobbying, Alusi was subsequently transferred to the relative safety of the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Alusi remains a high-profile figure in Iraq. This past September, Iraq’s parliament stripped Alusi of his parliamentary immunity when he returned from his third trip to Israel. (Iraq’s highest court subsequently overruled the parliament.)
Currently Alusi is busy campaigning for his party, the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, in the upcoming January 31 provincial elections. In a brief conversation with The Jewish Press, Alusi, who recently escaped an assassination attempt, criticized the U.S. for supporting fascists in Iraq and said he supports Israel because “we cannot fight the terrorists alone.” He also said he is “not willing to forget that there are at least 400,000 Israelis of Iraqi origin” and that “the Jewish community was a very important part of Iraqi history.”
Iraqi MP Mithal al-Alusi
For more information and an insider’s perspective on Alusi, The Jewish Press recently spoke with Kandel, possibly Alusi’s biggest champion and advocate on American soil. Alusi, who talks to her every week, told The Jewish Press he considers her “my sister.”
The Jewish Press: When did you last speak to Alusi?
Esther Kandel: I just spoke with him today. He called me specifically to see how I was doing, knowing that I would be worried about Israel. He also told me that Israel must finish off Hamas. Incidentally, when I was with him in Washington in 2006 during Israel’s battle with Hizbullah, he said the same thing to every congressman he talked to: “Israel must be allowed to finish this war with Hizbullah.” Afterwards I said to Mithal, “If you can’t make it in Iraq, we’ll take you in Israel as prime minister.” He laughed.
When did you first get involved in Alusi’s cause?
In 2004, Mithal attended a counterterrorism conference in Herzliya, Israel. At that time he was second to [Ahmad] Chalabi in the interim government of Iraq. He stood up at the conference and thanked America for liberating Iraq, and said we need to make peace with Israel.Upon his return Chalabi fired him on the spot. Alusi then started sending e-mails to friends he had met at the Herzliya conference, asking for help. I had lobbied on behalf of Israel in the past and had developed various connections. And so, on a whim, someone from the Herzliya conference forwarded me some of these e-mails. One of them was in big, black, bold print and written in bad English. It said, “I’ve been arrested. If thrown in jail, the terrorists in jail will kill me.”
That e-mail really got to me, and I decided that I have to help this man. I took his case to several congressmen, who all tried to help. But ultimately it was Tom Lantos, who was the head of the House International Relations Committee with strong State Department connections, who got him moved to the Green Zone.
You just contacted various congressmen’s offices as an individual citizen and asked for their help?
Yes, people should realize that they can make a difference. If they want to do something on their own it can be done not always, but you have to try.
What’s the latest news concerning Alusi?
Well, this Supreme Court decision upholding an Iraqi’s right to go wherever he pleases was a huge victory for Mithal and for Iraq because the constitutional system that was set up was defended.
Mithal told me that much ado was made over his last visit to Israel (as opposed to his second visit in 2006, which no one made a fuss over) because he embarrassed the Iraqi government by telling Israeli media that Iraq is being bought up and infiltrated by Iran.
In terms of his safety, he has an “X” on his back. He’s constantly, literally, dodging bullets and bombs. He’s been quoted as saying, “I know I will be killed but I will not leave my country because my country needs me.” This man is still alive only by the grace of God.
Between helping Alusi and all of your other activities, do you also have a regular, “ordinary” job?
My regular job is being a mother. That’s really what I am.
What’s next on your agenda?
Well, I just recently was extraordinarily busy helping organize and attending many pro-Israel rallies and counter-rallies in Los Angeles.
But otherwise, in regards to Mithal, he hopes to soon be in Washington again and whether I’m there or not, I will make sure he meets the people he needs to meet with.