Newsdesk May 27, 2005

Police: Indict Chief Rabbi

Police investigators recommended Sunday that Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger be indicted, after they wrapped up a probe of allegations that he received illicit perks from a Jerusalem hotel last year. It was the most serious criminal investigation against a serving chief rabbi in Israel’s history. Metzger has denied wrongdoing.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is to decide whether the case should be prosecuted. Mazuz recently cleared Metzger’s Sephardic counterpart, Shlomo Amar, of complicity in the assault and abduction of a young man who had courted his daughter, though Amar’s wife and son are to be prosecuted in that case. The leader of Israel’s Conservative movement is calling for the dismantling of the rabbinate, citing the recent police questioning of both chief rabbis, and asserting that the rabbinate has no precedent in Jewish tradition and is a vestige of British Mandate rule.

First Lady Jostled

First lady Laura Bush was jostled in Jerusalem by protesters calling on the United States to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. During a Middle East tour aimed at boosting Muslim good will toward the United States, Bush visited the Western Wall and Temple Mount on Sunday.

During her trip to the region she met with Israeli and Palestinian women, who pressed her for greater American involvement in brokering peace.

“People that I talked to in civil society who talked about the Palestinian-Israeli issue want the United States to stay involved; they want the United States to push, actually, to make sure there is a withdrawal from Gaza this summer,” Bush said Tuesday on her way back from a Middle East tour.

“They just want the U.S. to continue to be involved,” Bush said of her meetings with female leaders on both sides. “They want the U.S. to press both” Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Air Force Criticized

A task force investigating religious intolerance at the U.S. Air Force Academy admitted that it had not met with two critics. Among those not interviewed by the task force, which is expected to issue its report to the acting secretary of the Air Force on Monday, is Mikey Weinstein, a Jewish graduate of the school. Weinstein said that his son, a cadet at the Colorado school, has been called a “Christ killer” by fellow students.

Jews Back L.A. Winner

Jewish voters in Los Angeles helped Antonio Villaraigosa, a Hispanic, become mayor of Los Angeles. Jews backed Villaraigosa by 55% to 45% over incumbent James Hahn in the May 17 vote, reversing Hahn’s victory over Villaraigosa four years ago. Villaraigosa was a supporter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League while serving as speaker of the state assembly. He frequently cites his affinity to Jews as another people who have suffered discrimination. Overall, Villaraigosa, the son of Mexican immigrants, triumphed by 59% to 41%. With less than one-third of registered Los Angeles voters going to the polls, Jews accounted for 17% of the votes.

Israeli Wins At Cannes

Israel’s Hanna Laslo took the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival. “I want to share this prize with my mom, who is a Holocaust survivor,” said Laslo, 52, said in accepting the honor May 21 for her role in “Free Zone,” an Israeli road movie about Jewish-Arab co-existence. “Also, [with] the victims on the Arab and Palestinian side,” she said, adding, “It’s time we sit and try to solve the problem.” Prior to Laslo’s Cannes win, her role in “Free Zone” had been largely overshadowed by that of her co-star, Natalie Portman. Laslo is best known in Israel for a range of comedic roles, and has most recently appeared as the host of the Israeli version of the game show “The Weakest Link.’’ Her win at Cannes, the world’s most famous film festival, was Israel’s first since 1967.

Soldiers To Get Bibles

Jewish texts will be sent to American soldiers overseas. The Jewish Publication Society and the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council will send 2,750 copies of the Book of Psalms and the Torah to soldiers overseas in time for Shavuot.

Nobel Winners Fight Ban

Twenty-one Nobel Prize winners published an open letter calling on a British teachers union to overturn its academic boycott of Israel. “Academic freedom has never been the property of a few and must not be manipulated by them,” the letter read. “Therefore, mixing science with politics, and limiting academic freedom by boycotts, is wrong.”

Among the signatories were Nobel Peace Prize winners Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel, and Israeli scientists Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover. The letter expressed the hope that “academic reasoning will overcome political rhetoric.” The controversial motion, passed last month by Britain’s National Association of University Teachers, called for the severing of ties with Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities. The motion was expected to be overturned Thursday at a teacher’s union meeting.

Algerians Visit Former Home

A group of 130 Algerian-born Jews, who were expelled from their town in 1962, went back Sunday for a visit. The Tlemcen exiles, who now live in France, were welcomed by the town’s mayor and residents. The group’s leader, Andre Charbit, met informally with a former president of Algeria, Ahmed Ben Bella. “I welcome you warmly,” Ben Bella said. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s president, whose family is from Tlemcen, encouraged the visit. About 140,000 Jews fled Algeria in 1962, when France lost its colony. Only a handful of Jews live there today.

Rights Groups Blast Israel

Amnesty International accused Israel of committing war crimes. In its annual report on the state of human rights around the world, the group said that certain practices conducted by Israel, “including unlawful killings, extensive and wanton destruction of property, obstruction of medical assistance and targeting of medical personnel, torture and the use of Palestinians as ‘human shields,’ constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

Israel strongly denied the charges, calling the report one-sided and extremist. On Wednesday, in a report called “Take No Prisoners,” the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accused the army of deliberately killing 89 Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza in 2004 during missions officially described as arrest raids. The army rejected the report as baseless. While Israel has openly assassinated terrorist chiefs believed to be planning imminent attacks, military officials insist that capturing enemy fighters is always preferable to killing them, since they can provide valuable intelligence.

Gold Medalist Tapped

Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg will be the captain of the American team at this summer’s Maccabiah Games in Israel. Maccabiah USA officials said Wednesday that Krayzelburg was given the honor at this summer’s games in part because he skipped the 2001 World Championships to be flag bearer for the American team during the 2001 Maccabiah Games, The Jerusalem Post reported. Thousands of athletes from around the world will take part in the July competition.

Tel Aviv Subway Eyed

A subway has been proposed for Tel Aviv. The city’s planning commission decided Tuesday that the second line of a metropolitan light railway system slated to be ready in 2012 should run underground. But the Transportation Ministry came out against the proposal, saying that a subway would cost more than five times as much as an aboveground railway. The Tel Aviv project, dubbed Green Line, is budgeted at $2.2 billion and intended to accommodate up to 50 million commuters a year. The only Israeli city with a subway is Haifa, with its single-line railway.

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Newsdesk May 27, 2005

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