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Newsdesk June 11, 2004

Barghouti Sentenced

Marwan Barghouti, general secretary of Fatah in the West Bank, was sentenced this week in Tel Aviv District Court to five consecutive life sentences and 40 additional years in prison.

A three-judge panel convicted Barghouti on May 20 of involvement in five terrorist murders between January and June 2002, in the course of his leadership role in the intifada. He also was held responsible for an unsuccessful attempt by suicide bombers to detonate an explosives-laden vehicle at the Jerusalem Mall in Malcha.

Barghouti is generally considered the second most popular figure in the West Bank, following Yasser Arafat, and his arrest and trial have angered Palestinians who view his role as a political one. He emerged during the first intifada, between 1988 and 1992, as an outspoken advocate of a two-state solution and coexistence with Israel, and was known as a critic of Arafat and a foe of corruption. Israeli officials say that he became directly involved in terrorism during the second intifada — possibly in hopes of maintaining his standing amid growing Palestinian extremism.

Before his sentencing Sunday, Barghouti delivered a political speech in Arabic in which he said the judges were cooperating with the occupation and were as bad as Israeli Air Force pilots who dropped bombs on children. Barghouti’s statements caused uproar in the courtroom, and the judge was unable to read the entire sentencing.

The court acquitted Barghouti of most of the charges against him, including the direct responsibility for 37 attacks resulting in the deaths of scores of people. In most cases, the court concluded that the attacks were carried out under the direction of local leaders of the paramilitary Tanzim. Although affiliated with Barghouti, who was the official head of the organization, no proof was brought linking him to the decisions.

Palestinians reacted to the verdict relatively moderately. Several leaders, including Arafat and his prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, questioned the court’s right to try Barghouti. Palestinian Legislative Council speaker Rawhi Fattuh, citing what he called Barghouti’s “diplomatic immunity” as a council member, called legislators from around the world to pressure Israel to release him.

Dozens of Fatah youth demonstrated near Barghouti’s home in Ramallah, and posters with his picture were pasted around the town. There were unconfirmed threats of retaliation by terrorist cells, but few rallies or demonstrations outside Ramallah itself.

The reason for the understated reaction, some observers said, is that despite Barghouti’s popularity, the public sees him as merely one of approximately 7,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Some Palestinians suggested that Barghouti’s jail time had improved his odds of succeeding Arafat by burnishing his political image among Palestinians. The Tel Aviv court, they said, had confirmed Barghouti’s reputation as “the engineer of the intifada,” something that could only benefit him later.

Turkey Recalls Envoys

Jerusalem played down Turkey’s decision to recall its ambassador to Israel.

Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu and his consul to Jerusalem were recalled this week for what Ankara described as “routine consultations.” Israeli officials called the move a signal of Turkish displeasure at recent Israeli operations in the Gaza, but said that no further diplomatic escalation was expected. Turkey, a strategic ally of Israel, recently has stepped up its rhetoric against the Jewish state in what analysts called an effort to strengthen ties with the Arab world.

Israel, Lebanon Turn to U.N.

Israel and Lebanon both appealed to the United Nations after clashes this week.

Israel is calling for U.N. intervention to help stop Lebanese shelling of Israeli towns, and said that it was sending a letter Tuesday to the secretary general of the U.N. and the president of the Security Council asking them to help halt recent Lebanese rocket fire into Israel. Israel’s complaint comes after Lebanon lodged a protest with the United Nations regarding Israel’s bombing of a suspected Palestinian terrorist camp near Beirut. Lebanese terrorist groups shot six rockets at an Israeli navy vessel Monday and fired Tuesday into Shebaa Farms, a town that straddles Israel’s northern border.

Suit To Recoup Art Okayed

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a California woman can sue Austria to recoup art stolen by the Nazis. The court ruled 6 to 3 on Monday that Americans can sue foreign countries over actions taken before U.S. laws restricting such lawsuits by Americans were passed. Maria Altmann, who fled Austria, sued the country to retrieve six paintings. Austria had displayed the works, including two paintings depicting Autmann’s aunt, in the Austrian Gallery after the Nazis looted them.

Sabbath Games Fought

The West Bloomfield Jewish Academy lost on the field Monday, but still wants to win in court. The Michigan school is currently fighting the Michigan High School Athletic Association, claiming that the organization unduly discriminates against Sabbath observers.

Under the athletic association’s guidelines, district tournament baseball games must be played on a Friday or Saturday, and never on Sunday.

West Bloomfield, a fledging interdenominational school in its first year in the sports association, requested a deferment because of the Sabbath. But the association denied the request, even though it would allow a Saturday game to be postponed to a Monday in the event of inclement weather.

Unable to settle the matter out of court, the school won a temporary restraining order last week, forcing the league to reschedule the district tournament from Saturday to Monday. West Bloomfield lost and is out of the tournament, but is pushing ahead with its lawsuit. “Since it’s no longer an emergency to hear our case, we’re now going to have a regular court schedule,” said Larry Garon, incoming president of the school and head coach of the baseball team. Garon cited a recent Michigan federal district court decision, which ruled that although the athletic association is a private organization, it is a public actor and is therefore subject to federal anti-discrimination laws.

John Johnson, a spokesperson for the athletic association, which organizes tournaments for dozens of sports, said that his organization is currently appealing that court decision and similarly will fight this suit. “We will defend this rule like all of our other rules, because the rest of membership expects us to,” Johnson said. “We are a voluntary organization, so you make the decision to join.”

Board, Rabbi Feud

In the latest development in the ongoing quarrel between Rabbi Adam Mintz and his Manhattan congregation, Lincoln Square Synagogue, the institution’s board of directors voted down a proposal to renew the rabbi’s contract. The rabbi’s current contract expires June 30.

Mintz was elected last month to serve a two-year stint as president of the New York Board of Rabbis. According to board’s executive vice president, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the position is not “predicated on serving a congregation,” and his organization does not “get involved in internal synagogue politics.”

The feud highlights what many observers describe as a long process of decline at the synagogue following the departure of its charismatic founding rabbi, Shlomo Riskin. During his tenure, the congregation emerged as one of the flagship synagogues of Modern Orthodoxy, and became known for a vibrant singles scene and for Riskin’s popular sermons. Since Riskin left to found the West Bank city of Efrat, the synagogue has been beset by internal disputes and has had difficulty maintaining steady rabbinic leadership.

According to one board member, Mintz can either accept the board decision or he can press the issue to a full membership vote, which has the power to veto the board’s decision. After being informed of the board decision, the rabbi showed up to synagogue last weekend for Shabbat services, but has not issued a public call for support from the general membership.

The bitter power struggle between the rabbi and his board was publicized in a series of internal synagogue e-mails in which the rabbi, protesting the choice for the board’s next president, declared his resignation, saying that he has “been abused, time and again, by the leadership of LSS.” He soon retracted his resignation, but the synagogue’s president, James Kaufman, questioned the rabbi’s vacillation and whether he had the good of the synagogue in mind. Neither Kaufman nor Mintz returned calls for comment. Amos Alter, the incoming board president, hung up the phone when reached by the Forward.

Tel Aviv Wins Prize

The Israeli metropolis of Tel Aviv became a Unesco World Heritage Site on Monday in recognition of its 4,000 buildings in the modernist style popularized in 1920s Germany. “This is a treasure for all of human culture,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said at a ceremony, calling for government subsidies to preserve the Bauhaus buildings, many of which are in a state of disrepair.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz proposed passing a law protecting the buildings from being razed.

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