Newsdesk April 4, 2003

FBI Seeks Out Arab Community

FBI Director Robert Mueller has directed his field offices to establish contacts with local Muslim and Arab activists, in order to encourage the reporting of hate-crime victims, and to promote cultural sensitivity and tolerance.

In Washington, the FBI’s field office last week established the first Arab-American Advisory Committee, to be followed by others across the nation. The Washington metropolitan area is home to a large Arab-American community of about 70,000 people.

The new advisory committee will work to improve relations between Arab Americans and the FBI, and will serve as an integral link between the Arab-American community and the Washington field office, according to a press release issued by the Arab-American Institute. The group’s president, James Zogby, was appointed to the new committee. Jewish and Latino members of Congress, along with representatives of both communities, launched the Latino-Jewish Leadership Council, a forum that will encourage cooperation concerning issues of mutual concern. The inauguration took place on Capitol Hill last week in the form of a roundtable discussion between Latino and Jewish members of Congress, moderated by journalist Ray Suarez of PBS’s “News Hour with Jim Lehrer.”

One of the main themes discussed was the disparity in political power between the communities. The Latino community is the largest minority in the United States, comprising about 13% of the population, yet there is no Latino senator and only 25 Latino members of the House of Representatives. Jews are only 2% of the population, but 11 senators and 26 House members are Jewish.

A key policy issue on which Jewish and Latino members of Congress attempted to find common ground was immigration. Latino representatives complained that Hispanics suffer as a result of new immigration policies targeted at fighting terrorism.

Georgetown Creates Wiesel Chair

Georgetown University announced the establishment of a Jewish studies professorship Monday named in honor of Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and his wife, Marion.

The president of the Jesuit institution in Washington, John DeGioia, called the new Elie and Marion Wiesel Chair in Jewish Civilization a “vital first step” in the establishment of a larger “Center for Jewish Civilization.”

Elie Wiesel gave a lecture and participated in a pair of panel discussions at the university to commemorate the establishment of the new chair, which is funded by Thomas and Jo Anna Ernst.

DeGioia said that the chair and the new center will be housed in the Catholic university’s world-renowned Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, which is already home to a well-known Arab studies center.

The proposed Jewish studies center has been eagerly anticipated by members of the campus’s sizable Jewish community, some of whom have said that additional Jewish-related courses are sorely needed. Others have complained about a perceived tilt against Israel in Georgetown’s academic offerings on the Middle East.

Report Blasts Israel, Palestinians

Israel committed “numerous, serious human rights abuses” in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the State Department. In its annual human rights report, released Monday, the department found that at least 990 Palestinians and two foreign nationals were killed in violence with Israel last year, and that Israel carried out targeted killings in “crowded areas when civilian casualties were likely, killing 25 bystanders, including 13 children.” The report also criticized the Palestinians for not complying “with most of their commitments, notably those relating to the renunciation of violence and terrorism, taking responsibility for all PLO elements and disciplining violators.”

Bigotry in Muslim Textbooks

Textbooks used in Islamic schools in New York teach antisemitism, according to a newspaper investigation. The New York Daily News reported recently that the books teach that Jews betrayed the Islamic prophet Mohammed and believe in racial superiority.

The books, which also denigrate Christianity, are published by companies that distribute textbooks to Islamic schools in the United States. The founder and director of one of these companies, Abidullah al-Ansari Ghazi, told the Daily News that some passages need to be changed.

But the other publisher, Yahiya Emerick, stands by the books. “Islam, like any belief system, believes its program is better than others,” he said.

Rabbi Mutes Anti-War Stand

The head of the Conservative movement’s main rabbinical seminary has decided to mute his public opposition to the war in Iraq.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, told The New York Times he ordered the rabbinical school’s public relations department to issue a retraction of anti-war comments he had made during a March 20 prayer service, which he did not expect to be publicized.

“I did not think that I should go on a crusade while the war is on,” Schorsch said.

Starbucks Closes in Israel

Starbucks is shutting down its cafes in Israel. The six cafes in the Tel Aviv area are slated to be closed at the end of the week. Analysts attributed the failure of Starbucks, which is ubiquitous in many American cities, to competition from established cafes. Security issues and Israel’s recession also contributed to the chain’s failure.

Acquittal in Rabin Case

An Israeli undercover agent was acquitted of charges that he failed to prevent the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Avishai Raviv was acquitted Monday. Raviv, a right-wing activist, was working for Israel’s Shin Bet when Yigal Amir gunned down Rabin in November 1995. Amir is serving a life sentence for assassinating Rabin.

Some Reform Jobs Saved

Reform rabbis and their congregants dug into their pockets to save some specialists in outreach to interfaith families from being fired.

The Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations was due to drop part-time interfaith outreach coordinators for each of its 13 regions nationwide in a budget-saving move Monday, but grassroots campaigns raised enough money to pay for three positions for two to three years.

Aipac Web Site Hacked

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Web site was hacked during the group’s annual policy conference. While there were no visible protesters during the Washington conference, the main page of the site was replaced Monday with a statement that included expletives and said “try lobbying for some peace.” The site also greeted “all Muslims and all people across the world who are opposed to this “Zionist-American oil war.” A link on the site directed people to an Al Jazeera television Web page that showed Iraqi casualties of the American-led war in Iraq. The site remained hacked Tuesday morning. Aipac officials were unavailable for comment.

Court Dismisses Beshara Case

An indictment against an Israeli Arab legislator for organizing trips of Israeli Arabs to Syria was throw out. But at the same time it threw out the case against Azmi Beshara, the court allowed cases on similar charges against his two aides to go forward. The court said Beshara could not be tried for illegally organizing trips to an enemy country because he is a member of Knesset. Beshara’s lawyer said he would appeal to the court to drop the charges against the aides as well.

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Newsdesk April 4, 2003

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