Gaming dispute

WHEN Bill Lockyer ran for attorney general two years ago, he never imagined that the state’s top legal job would land him in the middle of a nasty foreign policy dispute. But that’s exactly where he stands today.

A fairly routine decision facing Lockyer about the fate of a Los Angeles County gambling operation has morphed into a matter that some people believe will affect the future of peace in the Middle East. Really.

It’s a bizarre story involving a retired doctor and his card room – small-town politics played with some very high stakes. Lockyer has friends and supporters on both sides of this bitter dispute. Whatever he does will surely anger some of them.

The question at the heart of the matter is whether a card room owner can be denied a gambling license because he supports an Israeli movement that many people believe threatens the peace by provoking Palestinians into protests and violence.

The man at the center of the storm is Irving Moskowitz. A retired obstetrician, Moskowitz opened a bingo parlor many years ago in the town of Hawaiian Gardens, a tiny, impoverished, heavily Latino enclave just south of Los Angeles.

Displaying some shrewd business and political tactics, Moskowitz built his influence until he became a local kingpin. He then won city subsidies to expand his operation and eventually opened a card club next door to the bingo parlor. None of that would be very remarkable if not for what Moskowitz does with some of the proceeds from his gaming business.

He strongly opposes Israeli efforts to compromise with the Palestinians by ceding lands now occupied by the Jewish state. He is a big financial supporter of a movement by conservative Jews to buy land and homes in the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in the Arab territories occupied by Israel.

“These settlements are an impediment to peace,” said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, who has organized the coalition lobbying Lockyer to deny Moskowitz his license.

“Lockyer’s own personal views are 180 degrees different from Moskowitz,” Barankin said. “The question is, what difference does that end up making in terms of his authority under the law?”

Lockyer, in other words, is learning firsthand something he probably already knew in the abstract: Middle East politics are always a thorny thicket.

Even when they play out in California.