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Newsdesk March 5, 2004

Saudis Relent on Visas

Saudi Arabia’s government last week dropped a reference on its official tourism Web site to “Jewish people” as a category of foreigners barred from receiving visas to visit Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington told the Forward that the online content was “unauthorized,” and that the kingdom’s government is trying to figure out why it was posted.

The Web site was changed after Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat and an outspoken critic of the Saudis, demanded in a letter to President Bush that the United States close its borders to Saudi nationals until their government’s visa policy is clarified and — if the exclusion proves to be true — to ban Saudis’ entry to America until the policy is changed. “No expensive public relations campaign can undo the stain of this kind of explicit antisemitism,” Weiner said.

At issue was a list of categories of people who are not eligible for visas. These included: Israeli citizens, non-Israelis with Israeli stamps in their passports, “those who don’t abide by the Saudi traditions concerning appearance and behaviors, those under the influence of alcohol,” and “Jewish people.”

Hours after Weiner’s office issued a press release to publicize his letter to the President, all references to people not eligible for visas were removed from the English and Arabic sections of the Web site. The Saudi embassy in Washington subsequently issued a press release stating that, “it is not the policy of the Kingdom to deny the issuance of visas on the basis of religion” and criticizing Weiner for sending the letter to Bush “after his office was advised by officials of the Embassy that the concerns he raised were not the kingdom’s policy.”

“That did not allay our concerns,” said Weiner’s press secretary, Anson Kaye.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy, Adel Jubeir, told the Forward that only people carrying Israeli passports would not be issued visas. “Once there is a comprehensive peace process, then that will be looked at,” he said.

The Saudi controversy comes on the heels of a similar debate in Iraq. The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Iraqi governing council has been debating whether to allow tens of thousands of Iraqi Jewish refugees who fled the country in the 1950s the right to return.

“My feeling is, as long as the Palestinian problem exists, then we should not allow the Jews to return,” said council member Muhammad Bahaddin Saladin.

Lobbyist Quits Amid Furor

Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist who is one of the nation’s most influential Jewish Republicans, has resigned from his firm amid a Senate investigation into the multi-million dollar fees that he has charged several American Indian tribes.

Abramoff, a major philanthropist in his Maryland community, stepped down from the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, Roll Call reported Wednesday.

A Washington Post exposé of the allegedly excessive fees Abramoff has collected from the tribes since 2001 triggered an investigation by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

In a statement, Greenberg Traurig said that Abramoff resigned after he “disclosed to the firm for the first time personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable to the firm,” according to Roll Call.

In his own statement, Abramoff said that recent press reports about “my lobbying practice has distracted from my efforts on behalf of my clients whose interests are now, and have always been, my number one priority,” Roll Call reported.

Congressmen Press FBI

Four Congressmen want the FBI to explain why it has not hired Sephardi Jews applying for jobs as Arabic translators. Democratic Reps. Anthony Weiner of New York, Peter Deutsch of Florida, and Frank Pallone and Robert Andrews of New Jersey submitted a list in November of 59 New York-area Jews of Syrian origin who applied for translation jobs with the FBI in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. U.S. officials at the time blamed the failure to stop the attacks in part on the low number of Arabic translators working for security agencies. The Brooklyn-based group Sephardic Bikur Holim organized a job-application drive in response. None of the applicants has been hired, however.

Judas Film Set To Air

ABC will broadcast “Judas,” a made-for-TV movie, next week. The two-hour movie, to be shown at 9 p.m. on March 8, will focus on the figure who, according to the New Testament, betrayed Jesus. The film, which follows on the heels of the controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” portrays a Judas initially convinced that Jesus will lead the Jews to victory over the Romans. But Judas only grows disillusioned, and he ultimately reveals Jesus’ identity to the High Priest Caiaphas and the Roman leader Pontius Pilate. Tom Fontana, who created the police series “Homicide: Life on the Street,” and the prison drama “Oz,” co-produced the movie and wrote the screenplay.

Pakistan Rips Israel

Pakistan criticized Israel’s decision to approve the $1.1 billion sale of three Phalcon early warning radar systems to India. “The sales of sophisticated weapons to India will accentuate strategic and conventional imbalance in South Asia,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan told a television station Sunday.

‘Fagin’ Slur Draws Ire

The chairman of Britain’s governing Labor Party was accused of using an antisemitic slur. Ian McCartney called the finance spokesman of the opposition Conservative Party, Oliver Letwin, who is Jewish, “a Fagin.” Reform Rabbi Jonathan Romain, a British broadcast commentator, said the reference to the Jewish thief in Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” was “highly offensive,” adding that “consciously or otherwise it is a reference to Mr. Letwin’s faith rather than his politics.” McCartney rejected the accusations of antisemitism, saying he had campaigned against racism all his life.

Rabbis Feud Over Article

A top Reform rabbi is predicting the death of Conservative Judaism, drawing protests from the Conservative movement’s leadership.

The objections surfaced this week in response to an essay by Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis. The essay argued that within several decades Conservative Jews likely will move either to the more liberal Reform movement or to the more traditional Orthodox world.

Wedges between the modernist movements will force this exodus, Menitoff argued, including: the Conservative movement’s opposition to intermarriage; its ban on ordaining homosexual rabbis and on same-sex marriages; and its opposition to patrilineal descent, all of which the Reform movement supports.

The Conservative movement may continue to attract those for whom Orthodoxy remains “too restrictive” and Reform “too acculturated,” but a more likely outcome will be “the demise of the Conservative movement,” Menitoff wrote.

“If the Conservative movement capitulates regarding these core differences between Reform and Conservative Judaism, it will be essentially obliterating the need for its existence,” he wrote. “If, alternatively, it stands firm, its congregants will vote with their feet.”

Conservative leaders called the argument “delusional” and the product of “immature” analysis.

“His description of the future is rather silly,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

The essay “is an immature look” at the currents shaping American Jewry, he said, “or maybe it’s wishful thinking.”

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