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Newsdesk February 27, 2004

Quebec Nixes Speaker

A civil servant in the Quebec government has been blocked from participating in a lecture series on Montreal Jewry, after his supervisors discovered that it includes a discussion of fascism and antisemitism in Quebec during the 1930s, according to one organizer of the program.

The series on Montreal Jewry, to be held in New York in March, is being offered by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and features a symposium and movie screenings.

The Quebec government claimed it pulled out the scheduled speaker, Yiddish scholar Pierre Anctil, because of scheduling conflicts and the government’s policy of preferring academics, instead of civil servants, to appear at such events. Anctil would have attended as a Yiddish scholar, not in his official capacity with the Quebec government. “We’re sorry about this, but he wasn’t entitled to make a commitment before asking us,” said Yven Turcotte, who helps supervise Anctil and serves as an assistant deputy minister in the Quebec minorities and immigration department.

Anctil would not comment on the matter. But Alan Nadler, a professor of Jewish Studies at Drew University who is helping organize the series for YIVO, said he does not believe the Quebec government’s story.

“One afternoon is not worth it to make him renege on his commitments,” said Nadler, who is a native of Montreal.

Nadler said that Quebec officials were upset by the decision to screen the documentary “Je Me Souviens,” based on the work of the highly controversial Esther Delisle, an academic known for her hard-hitting look at fascism in Quebec during the World War II-era. Delisle is scheduled to speak after the screening.

Nadler claimed that the Quebec government pulled Anctil from the program soon after discovering in February that Delisle would participate in the series — even though Nadler had agreed to add another speaker to counterbalance Delisle.

Israel Raids Banks

Israeli forces clashed with stone throwers during a raid on banks in Ramallah. Medics said at least 18 Palestinians were injured in Wednesday’s confrontations as troops entered the West Bank city to search its Cairo-Amman Bank and two branches of the Arab Bank. Security sources said the raid came in response to warnings that the banks were funding terrorist activity. Yasser Arafat and his Ramallah compound were untouched.

Rabbi Avoids Prosecution

A New York rabbi will not be prosecuted for allegedly diverting federal money.

Federal prosecutors said they would not prosecute Rabbi Milton Balkany, who has admitted that some $700,000 in grant money was misdirected to pay for administrative and operating expenses at the Children’s Center of Brooklyn and at Bais Yaakov, a Jewish school in Brooklyn. The funds from money administered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development were supposed to be used for direct services at the Children’s Center. Balkany must make restitution to HUD and engage in “good behavior” for six months. Prosecutors originally had charged Balkany with using the money to pay for insurance premiums, electronics and restaurant bills.

Support for Israel Wanes

American public support for Israel has declined slightly over the past year.

In its annual “favorability of nations” poll, Gallup found that 59% of Americans hold a favorable view of Israel to various degrees, versus 35% unfavorable, with 6% having no opinion. One year ago, the results were 64% favorable, 29% unfavorable and 7% neutral.

Hezbollah: Wrong Body

Israel may have sent Hezbollah the wrong body. Kul Al-Arab reported that a Lebanese family expecting the body of Muhamed Biro, a drug dealer who died in an Israeli prison when he was 70, instead received the body of what appeared to be an Orthodox Jew. Now, the paper reported, Hezbollah wants an additional 30 bodies as compensation for the mistake. The body was transferred to Lebanon as part of an exchange of 400 Arab prisoners for one live Israeli citizen and three dead Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army confirmed to Israeli news outlets on February 20 that the case was under review, but said it had not heard of any new demands from the Lebanese terrorist group.

Orthodox Injure Women

A woman was lightly injured in Jerusalem this week when ultra-Orthodox Jews threw rocks at the private bus in which she was traveling. The attackers were protesting the desecration of the Sabbath. The woman was hospitalized after being hit by glass fragments .

Elsewhere in the capital, ultra-Orthodox Jews hurled rocks at vehicles traveling on Bar Ilan Street, smashing the windshields of two cars, but no injuries were reported in those incidents.

There have been no violent attacks on cars driving on Saturday in Jerusalem for almost one year. Sources in the Jerusalem municipality said ultra-Orthodox groups wishing to close Bar Ilan Street to traffic on a regular basis on the Sabbath instigated the rock-throwing.

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, the city’s first ultra-Orthodox mayor, condemned the attacks.

Court Takes Up Art Case

A case involving Nazi-looted art is slated to be heard this week at the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, justices will hear arguments in the case of Maria Altmann, who wants the court to help her recover six paintings seized from her family by the Nazis and now held by Austria’s National Gallery.

The works are valued at $110 million. The government-owned gallery says it acquired the works in 1948 as a gift from Altmann’s brother and that U.S. law does not permit Altmann to sue a sovereign nation for historic deeds.

Theology Student Loses

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that rejecting a theology student from a state-sponsored scholarship was constitutional. In a 7-2 decision released Wednesday, the high court said that in the case of Locke v. Davey, Washington state’s program “does not require students to choose between their religious beliefs and receiving a government benefit.” Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that “the state has merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction.” The case focused on a theology student who was denied the Promise Scholarship because the state said the aid would violate church-state separation. Jews were divided on the issue, which is expected to have implications for the use of school vouchers.

Bill To Tackle ‘Gold Train’

The New York City Council will hold a legislative hearing next week on a resolution urging the Justice Department to resolve claims that the U.S. Army looted treasures from Holocaust survivors aboard the Hungarian “Gold Train.”

The City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs will meet March 3 to discuss a resolution introduced by Councilmember David Yassky, a Brooklyn Democrat, urging “justice for the survivors,” according to a press release. More than 1,000 Hungarian survivors live in New York.

In 1944, the Nazis confiscated the property of Hungary’s Jewish community and loaded it onto a train for plunder. At war’s end, the train was turned over to the U.S. Army. A class-action lawsuit in federal court charges that senior military personnel looted much of the property. In 1999, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets found that the U.S. government had committed an “egregious failure” to follow its own restitution policy in handling the so-called “Gold Train.”

Judge Blasts Swiss Banks

The federal judge overseeing Swiss bank settlements with Holocaust victims excoriated the banks for focusing on their public image. Judge Edward Korman of the Eastern District of New York, who is in charge of the $1.25 billion deal to return Swiss assets to Nazi victims, accused the banks of filing “frivolous and offensive objections” in the past 18 months rather than returning the money, The New York Sun reported. The judge accused Credit Suisse and UBS of “spin and distortion” by denying they transferred Jewish money to German banks or lied about it. So far the banks have only distributed $150 million of $800 million earmarked for the initial group of claimants in the 2000 settlement.

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