Newsdesk December 9, 2005

Arab Professor Acquitted

Jurors acquitted Sami Al-Arian, a Florida professor, on eight charges that he helped lead Islamic Jihad; they deadlocked on another nine. The verdict was widely seen as a stinging rebuke of the Justice Department’s terrorism prosecution efforts.

Al-Arian, formerly a computer-engineering professor at the University of South Florida, ended his five-month trial on Tuesday crying tears of joy. Jurors acquitted him of the most serious charge of conspiring to maim and murder people overseas, and deadlocked on charges that he aided terrorists. Al-Arian’s wife, Nahla, said she was “ecstatic.”

“My husband is an outspoken Palestinian activist who loved this country, believed in the system, and the system did not fail him,” she said. Al Arian, a 47-year-old Kuwait-born Palestinian, remains in jail until prosecutors decide whether to retry him on the charges that ended in deadlock.

Jewish communal officials expressed hope that the government would retry Al-Arian on the remaining charges.

While the jury cleared Al-Arian of several serious charges, notably conspiring to kill and maim Israelis on behalf of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, it deadlocked on counts of conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, racketeering and money laundering, crimes that typically carry hefty sentences.

“We respect the jury’s verdict, but we anticipate the government to go to trial on the remaining charges,” said Yehudit Barsky, a terrorism expert at the American Jewish Committee. “We are still grappling with how to prosecute terrorists in the U.S., especially when they are American citizens like Al-Arian.”

Steve Pomerantz, a former senior FBI official who is a consultant to several Jewish groups, said he was “surprised” by the outcome, but had no reason to believe that the prosecution had botched the case. “I just learned that you don’t win all the time,” he said, adding, “This doesn’t mean that there won’t be victories in the future.”

He and Barsky both asserted that the evidence allowed by the Patriot Act, first and foremost what they scribed as damning wiretaps of Al-Arian’s conversations with militants in the Middle East, should have helped convince the jurors, whose identity was carefully shielded from the public.

The prosecution took six months to lay out evidence that Al-Arian was using his university position to direct and finance Islamic Jihad attacks in Israel. His defense team decided not to present any evidence to counter the allegations. Barsky acknowledged that this seemed to indicate that prosecutors failed to understand the jury. Another factor, she said, was that the trial dealt with terrorism abroad rather than threats against the United States. In addition, she said, much of the evidence was more than a decade old.

Gibson Takes Up Holocaust

Hollywood star Mel Gibson is reportedly involved in the production of a nonfiction television movie about the Holocaust.

Gibson angered Jewish organizations with “The Passion of the Christ,” a film he paid for and directed. The movie depicted the death of Jesus. Critics complained that the film contained antisemitic imagery — a charge that Gibson denied.

Jewish groups were also upset over reports that Gibson’s father had openly denied that the Holocaust took place.

According to news reports, Gibson’s Con Artist Productions is developing “Flory.” The film is based on the true story of a Dutch Jew name Flory Van Beek who was hidden from the Nazis by her non-Jewish boyfriend.

Gibson was reportedly in Mexico working on Disney’s “Apocalypto” and could not be reached for comment.

The Associated Press reported that Quinn Taylor, ABC’s senior vice president in charge of television movies, criticized anyone who is raising objections to the project.

“I would tell them to shut up and wait to see the movie, and then judge,” said Taylor, who oversaw ABC’s Emmy-winning miniseries “Anne Frank.”

“I’m not about to rewrite history,” Taylor was quoted as saying. “I’m going to explore an amazing love story that we can all learn from and, hopefully, be inspired by.”

Sabbath Attack in Paris

Three young Jewish men were attacked Saturday afternoon as they exited a synagogue in Paris. One of the three, a 20-year-old identified only by his first name, Yoni, was sprayed with tear gas, sustaining injuries on his face and back. The two others managed to get away to alert police. Yoni was taken to the hospital and filed charges against his attackers. “We ask the police to do everything in their power to identify and seize this gang of anti-Jewish delinquents,” Sammy Ghozlan, president of the Office of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, said in a statement Sunday.

Green Party: Divest From Israel

The U.S. Green Party called for divestment from Israel. In calling for divestment, the party said it backs the “serious consideration” of replacing Israel with a secular democratic state in Israel and the Palestinian areas. The resolution “calls for divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized,” including a return of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s 1948 independence war and their descendants. The Green Party scored impressive numbers in 2000, when it was led by Ralph Nader on the presidential ticket, but it hardly registered in 2004.

Goldschmidt Gets Russia Visa

Moscow’s chief rabbi received a visa to return to Russia after being barred from the country for nine weeks. The one-month visa, which he hopes to extend, was finally issued Tuesday, Pinchas Goldschmidt said by phone from Israel.

Goldschmidt, a Swiss citizen who has been a Russian resident for 15 years, was denied entry to Russia when he arrived September 26 on a flight from Israel. Border guards at the airport canceled his one-year visa without giving any reason, and Goldschmidt was forced to return to Israel. Russian officials said last month that Goldschmidt had been denied entry for security reasons, but they would not go into details.

Officials in Israel, the United States and Switzerland, as well as Jewish groups in Europe and North America, worked to resolve the issue. Goldschmidt told JTA he may return to Moscow this week, joining his wife and five children.

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Newsdesk December 9, 2005

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