Protest in Front of U.N.
An estimated 4,000 people protested in front of the United Nations on Monday, calling for international action to free three Israeli soldiers who were captured last summer by Hamas and Hezbollah.
The event marked the one-year anniversary of the abduction of soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The protest was organized by a broad coalition of Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the UJA-Federation of New York.
This week’s event was the fourth protest that the coalition organized for the soldiers. The war in Lebanon started in July 2006 after the capture of Goldwasser and Regev.
Protesters came in from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Toronto, including 1,000 teenagers bused in from Jewish summer camps. Among those who spoke at the rally were Miki Goldwasser, mother of kidnapped soldier Goldwasser, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
“In choosing kidnapping, Hezbollah and Hamas have excluded themselves from the code of the family of nations, and they deserve universal disdain and condemnation and punishment,” Wiesel said.
A petition addressed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with 50,000 signatures asking for the liberation of the soldiers was handed to a U.N. security official at the end of the protest. U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, drafted in August 2006, calls for the release of hostages taken during last summer’s war in Lebanon.
— Claire Levenson
WJC Official Aids Hillary
Stephen Herbits, the controversial secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, is putting his political skills to use by helping Hillary Clinton round up the gay vote in 2008. Herbits, a longtime gay activist, was recently appointed to Clinton’s LGBT Americans for Hillary, a national committee of more than 65 people tasked with raising funds and reaching out to gays and lesbians as the presidential campaign season swings into gear.
Herbits is helping the Democratic senator’s presidential bid after working for every Republican administration since Richard Nixon. Most recently, he was a consultant and right-hand man to Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, where he was influential in the planning of the Iraq War. Herbits has said he left that position partially because of the Bush administration’s view on gays in the military.
This is not the first time that Herbits has thrown his weight behind Clinton. Between 2005 and 2006, he gave $10,000 to Clinton’s war chest, according to a report in Newsday.
Herbits became WJC secretary general in 2005 and has had a rocky tenure. He recently landed in hot water for racist remarks he made about a French Jewish leader.
Since the election last month of a new WJC president, Ronald Lauder, it has been reported that Herbits will be replaced at the WJC by B’nai B’rith executive Daniel Mariaschin. The change has not been publicly announced. On the Clinton campaign press release, Herbits was listed simply as a “businessman.”
— Rebecca Spence
A feud between the two leading organizations promoting immigration to Israel from North America is turning increasingly bitter.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental agency that has processed new immigrants to Israel since the Jewish state’s founding, and the upstart Nefesh B’Nefesh, a privately run American-based non-for-profit group that recruits and provides grants to new Israeli immigrants, decided recently not to renew their three-year working agreement.
Under the deal, each partner, as well as the government of Israel, paid $1,000 per new immigrant from North America.
In interviews with reporters, Nefesh B’Nefesh has accused the Jewish Agency of failing to live up to its financial commitments. The agency counters that it is owed a refund of $1.2 million to $1.5 million — money paid in advance to Nefesh B’Nefesh in 2004 and 2005 based on immigration targets the Jewish Agency says that Nefesh B’Nefesh failed to meet.
Also, in discussions with the media, agency officials claimed that Nefesh B’Nefesh targeted only Orthodox recruits. The officials warned local Jewish federations that they could face legal problems if they donate to the organization.
The split comes as the low rate of North American immigration to Israel reaches its highest point in two decades, increasing to 3,201 in 2006 from 2,640 in 2004. Jewish Agency officials claim that the total falls well short of the 5,000-10,000 new immigrants per year that Nefesh B’Nefesh had promised.
With both organizations pledging to push forward on their own, the stage is set for a battle over donations from the network of local Jewish charitable federations and other North American philanthropic services.
Nefesh B’Nefesh officials adamantly denied claims that they favor Orthodox Jews, who in recent decades have constituted the bulk of North American immigration to Israel.
UJC To Fund Evacuees
The umbrella organization of Jewish federations is providing assistance to settlers evacuated from Gaza, after being asked to do so by right-wing Jewish groups.
United Jewish Communities will allocate $2.6 million to help the 9,000 evacuees VIA education, community services and vocational training.
UJC’s president and CEO, Howard Rieger, said that the money “can ease some of the challenges facing this population by helping to reduce the intolerable tension that many in the area are experiencing, in a way that governmental and other institutions might not be able to do.”
The organization has already provided $2 million in psychological and cultural aid to the settlers.
UJC sources told the Forward that the decision to allocate funds for the settlers, who were evacuated almost two years ago, was made after urging from right-wing groups in the United States and Israel and after learning about the difficulties the evacuees still face.
The decision was approved unanimously by the UJC board of directors with only one member arguing that the umbrella organization has other priorities in Israel, mainly those regarding Ethiopian Jews and the residents of the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which has come under fire.
— Nathan Guttman