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Newsdesk March 19, 2004

Beilin To Lead New Party

TEL AVIV — Foreign policy maverick Yossi Beilin won the election Tuesday as leader of the newly formed Yahad Party, edging out veteran Meretz lawmaker Ran Cohen.

Beilin won 53.5% of the votes, showing strongly in big cities and Arab communities, while Cohen took 46.5%, doing well among kibbutzim.

Yahad was created this year in a merger of the left-wing Meretz party and the dovish Shahar movement, which Beilin formed after leaving the Labor Party. Turnout was 70% for the party’s first primary, with 16,000 out of 21,000 registered members voting.

Beilin, a former justice minister, who is known as the author of the Oslo Accords, promised at a victory party Tuesday night that he would lead the party “without factionalism.” Cohen, an Iraqi-born social activist, also vowed full cooperation.

“The peace camp has had its say. This means yes to peace, yes to Geneva, yes to social justice and a welfare state,” Beilin said.

Beilin called on the Labor Party not to join the coalition government led by Ariel Sharon, saying that if it did join, Yahad would fight it more vehemently then it had the Likud Party.

Patriarch Decries Bigotry

The spiritual leader of more than 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide has endorsed a proposed U.N. General Assembly resolution that would be the first stand-alone condemnation of antisemitism.

When he met with leaders of the World Jewish Congress during a weeklong trip to the United States, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I also announced plans for a conference of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Istanbul this fall.

East German Claims Due

Owners and heirs of Jewish property in the former East Germany must file a claim to their assets no later than March 31, 2004.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany extended the deadline in June after deciding to publish a list of former owners of East German property to which the conference had laid claim.

But some advocates for Holocaust survivors say the deadline does not give survivors and their heirs enough time to file claims.

Reform Suit Threatened

The German branch of Reform Judaism is threatening to sue the German government for unequal treatment, saying it’s illegal for the government to offer financial support only to the Central Council of Jews in Germany. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder signed a historic contract in January 2003 that pledged the government would give the Central Council $3 million annually to be used for all streams of Judaism that define Jewish identity according to matrilineal descent. The Union for Progressive Jews in Germany — or UPJ, as the Reform movement is known in Germany — accepts this definition, but claims it has repeatedly been snubbed by the Central Council, according to Union president Jan Muhlstein. Though the Central Council is not legally required to fund the Union, and thus can’t be sued, the federal government is required to provide equal treatment under the constitution, Muhlstein said. But Nathan Kalmanowicz, a Central Council board member, said the Council has given the UPJ funding.

The legal suit is the latest development in a campaign by German Reform Jews to gain more recognition from authorities. Reform Judaism was the dominant denomination of German Jews before the Holocaust. There are currently 13 Progressive congregations in Germany, with two more expected.

Fastow Request Denied

A judge has denied the request by the wife of former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow to delay her sentencing until after Passover. Lea Weingarten Fastow, heiress of a wealthy Houston Jewish family, will be sentenced on April 7, the second day of the holiday.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who is Jewish, wrote in his decision this Tuesday that he “was personally cognizant of this religious holiday and specifically selected a sentencing date after the traditional two days of primary observance.” Yet it appears that the judge blundered; while April 5 is the first night of Passover, April 7 is, in fact, the second day of primary observance.

Lea Fastow’s lawyer, Mike DeGeurin, made the request last week, claiming he was “unaware of the date of the Passover celebration” when the sentencing date was originally scheduled.

Under Lea Fastow’s January 14 plea bargain, she would receive a five-month prison term and another five months under house arrest. Hittner refused to accept this sentence outright, reserving his ruling until April, following an investigation by federal authorities.

Mussolini Implored Hitler

Mussolini may secretly have attempted to persuade Hitler not to persecute Jews. The London Times’ Rome correspondent reported that he saw documents to this effect from the Vatican’s secret archives. One document, he wrote, was from the office of the Vatican Secretary of State, dated April 1933, soon after Hitler became German chancellor. It said that “the head of the Italian government” had given “an oral exhortation and then a secret message to Hitler imploring him not to allow himself to be carried away by an antisemitic campaign.” Mussolini was not considered antisemitic in the early part of his rule, but in 1938 he became allied with the Nazis and enacted harsh antisemitic laws. A mass of documents in the secret archives dealing with the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Germany before World War II was opened to scholars a year ago.

‘Passion’ Petition Pleaded

The Justice Department is being urged to rule whether Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” constitutes a hate crime. An Internet petition by the Messiah Truth Project urges Attorney General John Ashcroft to determine whether the controversial movie about Jesus’ death violates hate-crime statutes because its portrayal of Jews amounts to an “antisemitic diatribe.”

De Klerk: No Israeli Help

The former South African president said the country developed atomic arms alone, dispelling reports of Israeli cooperation. “We developed our own uranium-enriching process which is unique in the world,” F.W. de Klerk, the last white president of South Africa, told reporters in Johannesburg on Monday. Based on reports of the exchange of military expertise between Israel and the South Africa’s former apartheid regime, independent analysts had assumed that Israeli know-how fueled South Africa’s atomic program.

Real IRA Schooled PFLP

A radical Irish group taught Palestinian terrorists how to turn cell phones into bombs, a senior Northern Ireland politician said. “Israeli security forces last year learned that a Real IRA suspect was involved in instructing members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in building and using the mobile phone bombs,” David Trimble told the Washington-based Heritage Foundation in a speech Monday. “Bombs very similar to the Real IRA devices were found in Israel and have since been used in several attacks in Iraq.”

The Real IRA splintered from the Irish Republican Army after the IRA agreed to a cease-fire in the U.S.-brokered peace accords of the mid-1990s. Trimble, formerly the chief minister in the British-ruled province, heads the moderate Protestant Ulster Unionist Party.

Group Protests Bulldozers

American activists protested the sale of U.S.-made bulldozers to Israel. Sixty members of Jewish Voice for Peace gathered at a San Francisco-area Caterpillar dealership on Tuesday to protest the manufacturer’s sale of its bulldozers to the Israeli army. The group chose to demonstrate on March 16 because it was the first anniversary of the death of American activist Rachel Corrie. Corrie, a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, was crushed to death by an army bulldozer while trying to prevent Israeli troops from demolishing a Palestinian house as part of an anti-terrorist operation.

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