Newsdesk August 5, 2005

FBI Eyes Diplomats

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is demanding that Naor Gilon, head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, be interrogated in connection to the Pentagon spy case, according to Ha’aretz.

It is possible the FBI will want to interrogate other Israeli diplomats, as well, in connection with Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin, an Iran expert who has been indicted for passing classified documents to Israel via former officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The American request was discussed a few weeks ago at an Israeli interministerial meeting in Jerusalem. The consensus was that neither Gilon nor other officials should be allowed to undergo investigation by the FBI, but that Israel would be prepared to respond in writing to questions.

According to accepted practice, Israeli civil servants have immunity and cannot be investigated by foreign countries about actions taken in their work capacity, and it appears that Israel would like this immunity applied in the current affair.

The demand to investigate Gilon’s role and possibly also that of other Israeli representatives is the clearest indication that the Justice Department believes that Israel is involved in the Franklin case.

According to a report on Israel’s Channel 10 last week, FBI agents are planning to come to Israel shortly to deal with the case.

Israeli sources confirmed that there had been developments with regard to the Franklin case but said that no federal agents had yet arrived in Israel. They said the legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, Ehud Keinan, is dealing with the issue in conjunction with the Justice Ministry.

Vatican, Israel Spar

A public spat over the Vatican’s attitude to terrorism — and to Israel — is straining relations between Israel and the Holy See just three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI is due to make a historic visit to a synagogue in his native Germany.

The dispute erupted a week ago, when Israel protested that the pope had failed to include terrorist attacks in Israel in a July 24 condemnation of recent terrorism in Egypt, Britain, Turkey and Iraq.

Escalating salvoes from both sides culminated July 28 with an unusually harsh Vatican statement that accused Israel of breaking international law in its actions against Palestinians and declared that Vatican policy would not be dictated by Jerusalem.

“It’s not always possible to immediately follow every attack against Israel with a public statement of condemnation,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in the statement. This was partly because “attacks against Israel were sometimes followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the norms of international law,” he said. “It would, consequently, have been impossible to condemn the former and remain silent on the latter.”

He added, “Just as the Israeli government understandably does not allow its pronouncements to be dictated by others, neither can the Holy See accept lessons and directives from any other authority concerning the orientation and contents of its own declarations.”

The statement came in direct response to assertions made by Israeli Foreign Ministry official Nimrod Barkan that Israel had quietly protested the reluctance of Pope John Paul II, Benedict’s predecessor, to codemn terror attacks in Israel.

Israel was now going public with such concerns, he said, in the hope that Benedict would change this policy.

Israeli and Vatican officials cooled their rhetoric over the weekend, but observers said the bitter dispute represented Benedict’s first major diplomatic crisis since he was elected pope in April following the death of his predecessor.

“This is a very undiplomatic escalation of mutual accusations — each one more lamentable than the next,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the Jerusalem-based director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee. Rosen assigned blame to both sides.

PETA Hailed as Model

Long a target of Jewish communal ire, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is now being held up by the Anti-Defamation League as a model for others to emulate.

In a statement released August 2, the ADL criticized the newly opened Madison, Wis.-based National Primate Research Exhibition Hall for drawing parallels to the Holocaust in its materials. Located between two laboratories that conduct experiments on animals, the hall is described by its backers — the Primate Freedom Project and the Alliance for Animals — as being “like a Holocaust museum at the gates of Auschwitz.” The ADL statement appeals to those behind the project to follow “the lead of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and stop comparing the abusive treatment of animals to the suffering of millions during the Holocaust.” The president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, apologized in May for the group’s 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” ad campaign, which juxtaposed photos from concentration camps with images of animal mistreatment.

IPF Head Leaving

Jonathan Jacoby, executive director of Israel Policy Forum, is leaving the group. Jacoby was one of the founders of the forum, which promotes Israel-Palestinian peace initiatives. He will leave his post in October, after he relocates to Los Angeles from New York, so that he can spend more time with his family, according to a statement released by the organization.

Israel Balks at Demand

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s top aide, Dov Weisglass, flew to Washington to argue against rearming the Palestinian Authority. Weisglass is expected to meet Monday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has called on Israel to supply the P.A. with weapons and ammunition with which to rein in Gaza gunmen.

General Denied Star

Johnny Weida, an official at the center of accusations of religious intolerance at the U.S. Air Force Academy, was denied a promotion.

Weida, the academy’s commandant of cadets, was taken off a list of Air Force generals slated to receive Senate confirmation for a second star last week, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported, but no explanation was given.

A Pentagon task force cleared Weida, who was accused of encouraging cadets at the Colorado Springs school to become evangelical Christians, in June of six out of seven charges of improperly sharing his faith. Defense Department officials would not comment on the final charge.

Jewish organizational officials praised the Pentagon’s decision.

Also, Mikey Weinstein, a Jewish academy graduate who has been critical of the school, said it was the “least the Air Force could do.” The Pentagon recently tapped Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff to address religious-liberty issues within the Air Force.

Flooding Ravages India

After a week of steady rain, flooding in western India has led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people and destroyed 10,000 homes.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee sent a memorandum to American Jewish communal leaders describing the destruction.

“The Indian Government has closed educational institutions and urged people to remain indoors,” wrote the organization’s executive vice president, Steve Schwager. “Throughout Mumbai and neighboring areas, there are electrical outages and water shortages, transport has been hampered as many train tracks and roads are flooded, and uncollected garbage is piling up, blocking drains. As government clean-up, rescue efforts and attempts to normalize the city continue, there are concerns about the spread of waterborne diseases. In response, health facilities are preparing to distribute free medicines and municipal workers are spraying insecticide to guard against malaria.”

The storms forced the JDC to close partially its office in Mumbai.

Low-lying areas in and around Mumbai have sustained the most damage, according to the memorandum. The international aid agency has made efforts to reach its welfare clients in the area, where JDC provides services to elderly Jews. Because meals on wheels deliveries have become impossible, the JDC has given clients cash to buy food locally.

Synagogues in Thane and Panvel were damaged during the flooding. The rabbi in Thane, who lived in a ground-floor apartment, was forced to relocate.

In the cleanup effort, the Indian government is focusing on water-borne diseases such as malaria, and is distributing free medicines.

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Newsdesk August 5, 2005

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