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Newsdesk June 4, 2004

Ruling Helps Converts

Those who convert to Judaism after immigrating to Israel can receive automatic citizenship, Israel’s high court ruled. Monday’s ruling, which capped seven years of deliberations, was seen as a victory for those who move to Israel and then convert abroad, usually under the auspices of Reform or Conservative rabbis.

Until this week’s ruling, the Law of Return was only applied only to people who converted before moving to Israel. While the court said people who first move and then convert would now be eligible, it stopped short of formally recognizing non-Orthodox conversions performed in such circumstances. It gave the state 45 days to weigh in on that issue.

Currently, for purposes of immigration, Israel recognizes Reform and Conservative conversions that are performed before a person moves to Israel. For the purpose of naturalizing someone already living in Israel, the Interior Ministry accepts only Orthodox conversions.

The ministry is currently controlled by the secularist, anti-clerical Shinui Party, which has some Reform and Conservative officials predicting a change in policy.

Court: Release Bibi Report

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz must release the position paper of former state prosecutor Edna Arbel, which recommended that then-premier Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for fraud and for breach of trust. The recommendation dealt with alleged violations committed in the early 1990s.

Mazuz is now expected to release a summary of Arbel’s position paper within 90 days. The court ruled in response to a petition filed by Ha’aretz.

In 2000, Arbel recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud and breach of trust, and that he and his wife, Sara, be indicted for attempting to fraudulently obtain large sums of money from the prime minister’s office to pay a contractor for work he did on the Netanyahus’ home before and during his term as prime minister.

Netanyahu also was suspected of removing some 700 gifts from the prime minister’s residence with the goal of taking all or some of them for private use.

Then-attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein rejected Arbel’s position recommending the Netanyahus be prosecuted, and decided to close the case due to an absence of sufficient evidence for a criminal indictment. Both Rubinstein and Arbel recently were appointed to the Supreme Court.

The justices harshly criticized Rubinstein yesterday for refusing to make Arbel’s position paper public.

Rabbi Urges Marriage Shift

A former Sephardi chief rabbi, Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, called Tuesday for the dismantling of the Orthodox monopoly over marriages in Israel. It is believed to be the first time that any leading rabbi associated with Israel’s state-supported rabbinical establishment has publicly urged such a step.

Speaking at a rabbinical conference in Jerusalem, Bakshi-Doron urged the repeal of the law requiring that marriages in Israel must be conducted according to religious law.

“Today, everyone marries as he sees fit in any case,” the rabbi said later. “This law was very important in its day, but today it is completely neutralized, and merely creates hatred.”

The other rabbis at the conference greeted Bakshi-Doron’s statement with silence, but later, many described it as a “bombshell.”

In his speech, Bakshi-Doron gave several reasons why he thought the rabbinate’s monopoly on marriages must end. First, he said, the law has become irrelevant, as growing numbers of Israelis are choosing to marry in civil ceremonies abroad that are then recognized within Israel. Second, he said, the law encourages hatred of the rabbinate, since it is seen as the primary expression of religious coercion in Israel. No law exists requiring male babies to be circumcised, he noted, yet most Israeli parents do so anyway.

Moreover, Bakshi-Doron said, hundreds of thousands of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not considered Jewish by the state’s Orthodox-controlled chief rabbinate. Bakshi-Doron argued that very few of these immigrants would choose to convert. He said that it was impossible to continue to prevent them from marrying in Israel.

Groups Spar at U.N.

Critics are accusing the World Jewish Congress of trying to take over an informal group of Jewish NGOs working at the United Nations.

At a meeting of the so-called Jewish NGO caucus May 17, representatives of the American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith, the Orthodox Union and Hadassah objected to what they perceived as a power grab by the WJC, according to two officials familiar with the meeting.

“The WJC is trying to take over things at the U.N.,” one of the officials said. “They tell us they will go talk to [U.N. Secretary General Kofi] Annan in the name of Jewish NGOs. A number of us refused because we are running our stuff.”

Elan Steinberg, the executive vice president of the WJC, flatly denied the allegations.

“The WJC does not want to take over the Jewish NGO caucus. We just offered to host the meetings and nothing more,” he said. “We are just normal participants.”

Another Jewish official said that Steinberg had denied any intentions of a power grab several times at the meeting, but suggested that the caucus lobby the U.N. more aggressively and use the WJC’s national organizations to do so.

Israeli Spy Site Mobbed

The Web site of Israel’s Mossad spy agency was deluged with visitors. The new site attracted more than 350,000 viewers, drew 2,500 job applicants, and numerous tips during its first 48 hours online, the Jerusalem Post reported last week. The site promises that any information submitted will remain private.

Al Qaeda Recruit Convicted

An Australian recruited by Al Qaeda was sentenced to nine years in jail Tuesday for planning to bomb the country’s Israeli Embassy. An Australian court sentenced 50-year-old Jack Roche after he confessed to the plot. Roche, a British-born Muslim convert, joined Osama bin Laden’s group during a 2000 trip to Afghanistan. Australian authorities arrested him in 2002.

NYC Water Unkosher

Some Orthodox rabbis in New York City are saying that city water is not kosher. They made their declaration after copepods, tiny crustaceans, were found in the water, the New York Times reported.

Crustaceans are not kosher. City officials say the water, long considered very clean, is not filtered but is safe to drink.

Court Backs Gun Suit

A federal court ruled last week that three U.S. families whose children were shot by white supremacist Buford Furrow Jr. can sue the makers of the weapons used in the attack. The ruling, issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, was greeted with relief by the three families whose children were shot during the 1999 attack on a Jewish community center, and by the mother of mailman Joseph Ileto, who was slain by the same gunman in a separate attack. Furrow opened fire August 10, 1999, at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in suburban Los Angeles, leaving three children, one teenager and one adult wounded.

Abortion Ruling Cheered

Several Jewish groups welcomed a judge’s decision overturning a ban on late-term abortions. The decision, made Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, applies to 900 Planned Parenthood clinics, where half of all abortions in the United States are performed. “It’s a victory for women’s health and privacy rights,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the director of the Washington office of the National Council of Jewish Women. The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center hailed the ruling, as well. Two similar cases are pending in Nebraska and New York.

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