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Newsdesk January 30, 2004

Judge Rules on Hamas

A U.S. federal judge ordered the Palestinian militant group Hamas to pay $116 million in damages for the deaths of an American citizen and his Israeli wife near the West Bank in 1996.

The ruling Tuesday upheld a judge’s decision last month on behalf of relatives of Yaron and Efrat Ungar, who lived in Israel when they were killed in a drive-by shooting. U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux awarded $30.5 million each to the Ungars’ children and $15 million each to Yaron Ungar’s parents, both of whom live in Israel. Three siblings were awarded $7.5 million each.

Family members of Yaron Ungar sued in March 2000 under a 1991 law allowing relatives of American victims of overseas terrorism to seek damages in U.S. courts. Efrat Ungar was an Israeli.

It was unclear whether Hamas would honor the verdict or whether the group has the money to pay. Hamas has had no legal representation in the lawsuit.

Turkish Leader Praised

The American Jewish Congress is calling on the European Union to admit Turkey to the E.U. as soon as possible. During a luncheon honoring Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in New York on Monday, AJCongress president Jack Rosen praised Turkey for its role as a bridge between the Islamic and Western worlds.

The EU is expected to rule on Turkey’s admission at a summit in December 2004. Some European countries have expressed misgivings about admitting Turkey because of its human rights record and its unresolved territorial disputes with Cyprus. Some European politicians have expressed concerns over the cultural and religious differences between largely Muslim Turkey and Christian Europe.

Rosen praised Erdogan, who heads the main Islamist party, for promoting democracy, fighting terrorism and maintaining close ties with both Israel and the United States.

Erdogan also met with President Bush for the first time since American-Turkish relations soured after Ankara’s refusal to allow American use of its base for the war in Iraq. Erdogan stressed that Turkey would not tolerate terrorism. “We will act in solidarity to wipe it from the face of the earth,” Erdogan said, recounting the deadly bombings that rocked Istanbul in late November. Two synagogues and the British bank HSBC were struck.

He said the culprits had been swiftly caught by security forces, and he pledged to protect the Turkish Jewish community. “There is no need for our Jewish friends to be concerned about the security of the Jewish community in Turkey,” he said. “Because they are our citizens and have been entrusted to us by the Jewish world.”

Victims Compensated

Starting this week, 1,778 victims of Nazi medical experiments will get one-time compensation payments from Germany. The Claims Conference identified the victims who, under an agreement with the German government, will receive payments of about $5,400 each. Under Nazi rule, German doctors and scientists conducted experiments on Jews including sterilization, amputation of limbs, organ removal, infusion of infectious diseases, immersion in ice water and the infamous experiments on twins. Most of the experiments tested how much pain, torture or disease human beings could endure before dying, so the vast majority of the subjects were killed. “For survivors, it is a day of muted triumph,” said Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, at the news conference in New York announcing the awards.

Brits Oppose Jewish P.M.

Nearly one in five Englishmen would prefer that a Jew not be prime minister. One in seven think the Holocaust is exaggerated, according to a poll published last week in Britain’s Jewish Chronicle.

The poll, which interviewed 1,007 people in England, Scotland and Wales, found that 18% disagreed with the statement, “A British Jew would make an equally acceptable prime minister as a member of any other faith.”

Last Friday’s Daily Telegraph suggested the findings could deal a blow to the electoral chances of Michael Howard, the current leader of the opposition Conservative Party. Howard, a former home secretary, belongs to a Reform synagogue. Britain’s home secretary, David Blunkett, told The Guardian newspaper that he was disappointed by the poll’s findings.

U.S. To File Fence Brief

The Bush administration will file a brief with the International Court of Justice in the Hague supporting Israel’s position that the court should have passed on taking up the legality of the West Bank security fence, administration officials said.

The administration does not intend to endorse Israeli arguments in defense of the fence or its claim that the court has no jurisdiction. Instead, sources said, the Americans are expected to argue that the fence would best be addressed during negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians within the framework of an ongoing peace process.

The administration’s apparent decision ended weeks of speculation among pro-Israel activists over how the administration would frame its discomfort with the court’s handling of the issue. The White House has publicly blasted the fence in the past.

Israeli officials are content with the administration’s decision, sources said.

According to sources familiar with the process, the Russian government rebuffed an administration request to file a joint brief. Russian officials, however, have assured the administration that their brief will offer similar arguments.

Briefs to the court must be filed by Friday, January 30. Court hearings are scheduled to start in late February.

Bush administration officials recently said that despite their objection, they expect the court to take up the issue and to rule against Israel. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, was quoted as telling congressional staffers last week, in a closed meeting, that no one should delude himself into expecting a ruling in favor of Israel.

UJC Ousts Va. Federation

The North American federation system ousted the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Va., due to delinquency in dues payments. The move marks the first time a federation has been kicked out of the United Jewish Communities, said UJC chief executive officer Stephen Hoffman. The decision came in a unanimous vote by UJC officers Sunday night after a report on the federation by UJC’s chairman of the board, Robert Goldberg.

After talking with the federation for 18 months, the UJC concluded, “Tidewater really had no intention of changing its position,” said Hoffman, who added that the UJC had not yet given the federation the pink slip. No one could be reached at the Tidewater federation.

Birthright Slashes Spots

Birthright Israel is slashing the number of participants on its summer trips this year because of funding problems.

Some 3,500 participants, all but 500 of whom will come from North America, is all “we can manage in light of all the uncertainties,” said Michael Steinhardt, a key Birthright benefactor.

This winter, Birthright took more than 10,000 youths to Israel, including 8,000 from North America. Now in the last of its five pilot years, the free trip to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 has brought about 60,000 Diaspora youths to the Jewish state.

The future of the program — hailed as a revolutionary way to strengthen Jewish identity among Diaspora youths — is uncertain.

“We hold out as a serious option closing down the program,” Steinhardt said.

When the program began, the North American Jewish Federation system, along with Jewish communities worldwide, the Israeli government and a group of 14 philanthropists, had agreed to divide evenly the funding for the $210 million, five-year program.

But some of those sponsors have fallen short on their funding responsibilities.

While each party originally was slated to contribute $70 million for the first five years, the Israeli government severely cut its funding this year. And the federation system now plans to pay only $35 million, of which it is currently short $4 to $5 million. As a result, UJC’s overseas partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel, has increased its contribution. The philanthropists have “carried the deficit,” according to Marlene Post, chairwoman of Birthright.

Husbands Chain Wives

There are currently 150 women living in Israel whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, the director of the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, told the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday.

Ben-Dahan said that since a law was passed seven years ago giving the rabbinical courts powers to compel recalcitrant husbands to divorce their wives, the courts have issued 94 orders, prompting 77 men to agree to divorce their wives.

Under rabbinic law, a husband, being of sound mind and out of free will, must place the divorce decree, or get, into his wife’s hands in order for the divorce to be completed. A woman is otherwise considered an aguna, or “chained woman,” and is not free to marry.

The court has sentenced 16 men to short periods in solitary confinement (after which eight agreed to divorce their wives), and there are currently eight men imprisoned for refusing to divorce their wives. These husbands can be sentenced to up to seven months in prison.

The panel also approved a bill proposed by Knesset member Gila Finkelstein to extend the maximum period of solitary confinement from 5 to 14 days. Finkelstein said that in many cases the punishments imposed by the rabbinical courts are too light, and extending the maximum period of solitary confinement could help “free” the women and enable them to begin a new chapter in their lives.

Court Rules Against Nazi

A federal appeals court in New York has ruled that an 84-year-old accused Nazi collaborator, who admitted that he shot his gun over the heads of Jews as they waited to die in a pit, had assisted in the persecution of Jews and must give up his U.S. citizenship, the Associated Press reported.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Jack Reimer’s portrayal of himself as a victim who was captured by the Germans in the Soviet Union in the early 1940s and then forced to follow their orders or be killed.

Reimer, an ethnic German born in Ukraine, maintained that he was forced to be a German guard but that his duties were largely administrative, that he engaged in no personal act of persecution, and that he did not know people were persecuted because of their race, religion or national origin.

The appeals court judges said that to find in Reimer’s favor, “we would need to close our eyes to the facts as found by the district court and overlook that many of these same defenses have been rejected by prior decisions of this court and the Supreme Court. We will do neither.”

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