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Katsav: I Was Blackmailed

Israel’s attorney general opened a probe into an alleged attempt to blackmail President Moshe Katsav. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz made the decision Tuesday. Details of the case are in dispute, but it apparently involves a former employee’s attempt to extort money from Katsav.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Saturday that Katsav summoned Mazuz earlier this week to tell him that a woman had falsely accused him of sexual harassment and was trying to extort money out of him. Yediot Achronot on Sunday identified the alleged would-be blackmailer as a former director in Katsav’s office. Mazuz, addressing the Israeli parliament’s Law Committee on Sunday, confirmed he had met with Katsav to hear about allegations of “improper conduct” lodged against him but said there was no mention of blackmail.

Activist Murdered in D.C.

A former chairman of the British Union of Jewish Students was killed in an apparent robbery and rape attempt in Washington. Alan Senitt, 27, was walking his girlfriend home in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood before dawn on Sunday when he was stabbed to death.

Two adult males, a minor male and a woman were charged Sunday with murder. One of the males was also charged with assault with intent to commit first-degree sexual assault, said Washington police spokesman Sergeant Joe Gentile. The Web site said Senitt had been active in Labour Party politics, pro-Israel activism and Muslim-Jewish dialogue in the United Kingdom.

Court Rules on Satmars

A New York appellate court decided Tuesday to uphold the legal status quo in the leadership fight in the Hasidic Satmar sect. The ruling would appear to benefit Rabbi Zalmen Teitelbaum, whose control over many of the community’s assets had been challenged by his older brother, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum.

Both brothers have claimed to be the Satmar grand rebbe since their father, Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, died in April. Along with religious authority, the grand rebbe exerts authority over hundreds of millions of dollars of Satmar assets. Before his death, Moses Teitelbaum had appeared to give his older son, Aaron, control of the Satmar community of Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York, while his younger son, Zalmen, was given control of the larger Brooklyn community.

The appellate court was considering a challenge that Aaron’s followers had made to Zalmen’s control of the Brooklyn community and assets. The judges declared that they could not adjudicate over what amounts to a religious dispute, thus maintaining the division of property that prevailed before the lawsuit. Leaders of the community have said since Moses Teitelbaum’s death that the community will likely split in two, with separate communal infrastructures linked to the two brothers.

Threats Against Gay March

Unidentified vigilantes called for attacks on next month’s gay pride parade in Jerusalem. Fliers distributed Tuesday in several religious districts of Jerusalem offered a $4,500 bounty for anyone who “brings about the death of the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah,” a reference to the WorldPride 2006 events scheduled to take place in the holy city August 6-12. It was unclear who wrote the fliers. Police said a probe is under way.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergymen and rightist Israeli politicians have been trying to block the parade or have it moved to Tel Aviv. A smaller gay parade in Jerusalem last year saw a stabbing attack by an Orthodox Jew in which three people were injured.

Attendant Survives Crash

A Jewish flight attendant who is credited with saving a number of lives in a plane crash last week is recovering in a Moscow hospital. Viktoria Zilberstein opened the emergency hatch in the rear of the aircraft and let a number of passengers out in the July 9 crash, Russian emergency officials said.

At least 137 people died when the Russian Airbus veered off a runway, slammed into a concrete wall and burst into flames while landing in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. There were more than 200 people on board the plane, and 63 survived.

One of Russia’s two chief rabbis, Berel Lazar, visited Zilberstein on Wednesday in a Moscow hospital. The federation said it would send Zilberstein to Israel to undergo psychological treatment after she is released from the hospital. Zilberstein, whose condition is described as satisfactory, said she appreciates the attention she is getting from the local Jewish community in Irkutsk. Doctors say she may leave the hospital within a week.

Deaths on Egypt Border

Two Palestinians reportedly died while stranded in intense heat on the closed Egypt-Gaza border. Egyptian health and security officials told Reuters that an 18-month-old boy died of heat stroke Tuesday and a 19-year-old woman who had undergone abdominal surgery in Egypt died while standing in line.

The Egypt-Gaza terminal at Rafah has been closed since Palestinian militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier two weeks ago. There have been four deaths since the closure began. A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Cairo said up to 7,000 Palestinians were stranded in Egypt. Palestinians control the Rafah crossing, but its operations are overseen by European monitors and can be blocked by Israel.

Arab Travel Ban Denied

There has been no change in visa procedures for Americans and Europeans of Palestinian descent who want to visit Israel as tourists, Israel said. A recent article in Ha’aretz and anecdotal reports from Arab Americans said Israel was preventing Palestinians who are citizens of other nations from entering. The Arab American Institute threatened to sue Israel, accusing it of violating a commerce treaty with the United States.

An official at Israel’s embassy in Washington said Tuesday that the difficulty applies only to Palestinians who are entering Israel or the West Bank as residents of the West Bank. Those Palestinians are required by agreements with the Palestinian Authority to obtain permission to enter from the authority, but Israel does not currently deal with P.A. officials because the authority is led by Hamas, a terrorist group. Palestinian Americans who wish to enter Israel as tourists should have no problem, the embassy official said.

Senator Slams Terror Cuts

Senator Barbara Mikulski denounced the elimination of federal funding that would protect high-risk nonprofit institutions from terrorist attacks. The Maryland Democrat on Tuesday criticized cuts to the 2007 Homeland Security spending bill. Mikulski has joined Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter in introducing an amendment to the legislation that includes $25 million for institutions that provide vital health, social, cultural and educational services to the American people. The amendment is now under consideration on the Senate floor.

“We must protect the institutions that are vital to our communities and the physical, social, spiritual and educational well-being of all Americans,” Mikulski said. “This is a federal investment in added security to help protect organizations at risk of terrorist attacks.” United Jewish Communities, the Orthodox Union and the American Jewish Congress all have supported Mikulski’s efforts.

New Camp Dedicated

The Reconstructionist movement dedicated its first permanent summer camp site. Camp JRF was dedicated Sunday in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. The camp is open to boys and girls entering the third through 12th grades. The camp runs two sessions that combined last for six and a half weeks as well as a 12-day mini-camp for campers entering the third and fourth grades.

Shabbes House’ Suit

A coalition of Orthodox Jewish groups cited federal law in seeking to keep open a residence for Jews visiting sick relatives. The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs filed an amicus brief with the New York District Court in the case of Bikur Cholim vs. Village of Suffern. Suffern wants to shut down what has become known as the “Shabbes house” for zoning reasons. Sabbath-observant Jews stay at the house while visiting relatives receive treatment at the Good Samaritan Hospital across the street. In the brief filed last week, the Jewish groups argued that closing the house would violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

A Wimbledon First

Andy Ram became the first Israeli to win a Grand Slam professional tennis title. Ram teamed with Russian Vera Zvonareva to win the mixed doubles championship Saturday at Wimbledon with a victory over Americans Bob Bryan and Venus Williams. Two Israelis, Anna Smashnova and Shahar Peer, have won juniors titles at Grand Slam events.



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