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Newsdesk March 26, 2004

Islamist Warns of Plot

Leaders of the Jewish community in Serbia received a letter from an inmate with links to Islamist militants stating that he had been ordered to attack Aca Singer, president of the Jewish federation of Serbia-Montenegro, during the High Holy Days last year and that the plot was still on, the Forward has learned.

Dated January 25, the letter was sent by Radomir Timotijevic to Singer and Isaac Asiel, chief rabbi of Yugoslavia. In turn they showed it to the Serbian police and to the Israeli embassy, according to Singer and an Israeli embassy official.

“I would like you to try to come to the Central Prison as I’d like to meet the person who… I was supposed to follow and who was supposed to be the target of the attack to happen at the end of September, 2003, at the time of some important Jewish holiday,” Timotijevic wrote, according to a copy of a translation of the letter obtained by the Forward. “I am writing to you in remorse [if I have such a feeling at all], as until recently I trusted and was friendly with those who planned and I believe still plan [as they are free] an attack on the seat of the Jewish community and on you.”

Terrorism experts have described the Balkans as a major training ground for radical Islamists who flocked to the region in the 1990s to fight alongside Muslims against Serbs. And Jewish officials and sites are considered prime “soft targets” for Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Timotijevic, who is jailed on murder and other charges, wrote that over the past decade, he mingled with Muslims in Turkey, Macedonia, Kosovo and Syria, including Shiites, Wahabbis and other more extreme ones, whose common element is hatred against Jews.”

Singer told the Forward in a phone interview from Belgrade that the letter was taken seriously because of the man’s links to Islamists and that the Serbian authorities were investigating it. Still, he added, the inmate might also be seeking a reduced sentence.

Timotijevic said the plot was funded by “some circles in Kosovo,” the largely Muslim region of Serbia under U.N. mandate.

Kosovo recently endured an outburst of ethnic violence and Serbs burned a mosque close to the Belgrade Jewish center in retaliation, Singer said. He added that the authorities had not increased security at the Jewish center following the letter.

“I am not scared,” Singer said, “I am 80 years old, and I survived Auschwitz.”

Clarke Fired Over Israel

The first Bush administration forced Richard Clarke out of the State Department in 1992 because it said he ignored Israeli arms transfers to China. Clarke, a White House counter-terrorism expert at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks, rattled the White House this week with allegations that the current President Bush ignored Clarke’s warnings about Al Qaeda.

Clarke moved to the White House in 1992 after leaving the State Department after its inspector general accused him of “looking the other way” when Israel transferred U.S. technology to China, The New York Times reported Wednesday. In 1999, Clarke argued that he had simply refused to go along with a plan to set up Israel in order to pressure it to make concessions in talks with the Palestinians.

Bronfman Raps UJC

As the search intensifies for the next professional head of United Jewish Communities, the roof body of North American Jewish communal federations, one of the group’s architects, philanthropist Charles Bronfman, issued a cautionary warning: Engage donors or risk losing their commitment to the organization.

Bronfman, who was the founding chair of UJC, serving until 2001, told the Forward that in his two and a half years in the group’s top lay position he was never once invited to participate in meetings with federation executives from larger cities. Bronfman, who as chairman had pledged to increase the number of women and young people in the UJC’s volunteer leadership rank, said his ideas for change were thwarted in part by a bureaucratic decision-making process and by an imbalance of power favoring professionals over lay leaders. He also blamed himself for not knowing how to maneuver through UJC’s political landscape.

“We need more vision and less process,” he said.

In an article by Yosef Abramowitz in the current issue of Moment magazine, Bronfman is quoted as saying: “I had hoped to break through all the Jewish organizational bull. I didn’t know there was a cabal of mainly professionals.”

Bronfman said that top federation lay leaders should be given more than two years to realize their visions and that donors need to be better able to earmark their funds for specific programs.

“We’re denying donors their passions because we say give to the general, don’t give to the particular,” he said.

ADL Report: No Change

According to a new Anti-Defamation League audit, there were 1,557 antisemitic incidents in 2003, down two from the year before and well below the high of 2,066 incidents reached in 1994. The ADL began tracking such incidents in 1983.

The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, cautions that the report is simply one “snapshot” among many that together form a broader picture. They include the ADL’s most recent biennial survey, in 2002, which showed that 17% of Americans, or 35 million adults, hold “unquestionably antisemitic” views, reversing a decade-long decline.

“There is enough to be worried about,” Foxman said.

Based on law-enforcement records and reports to the ADL, the annual audit categorizes antisemitic attacks as harassment — threats or physical assaults — or vandalism, including attacks on communal institutions, such as cemeteries and synagogues.

In 2003, 40% of the antisemitic incidents were categorized as vandalism, up 18% from the previous year, while harassment fell by 9%.

Continuing a trend, those states with the largest Jewish populations saw the most incidents, with New York leading.

Antisemitism in Toronto

Unknown perpetrators in Toronto broke seven stained-glass windows at the Pride of Israel Synagogue and spray-painted swastikas and antisemitic messages at various locations along Bathurst Street. United Jewish Appeal signs in the city were defaced, and swastikas were painted on a clothing donation box. The damage was discovered March 20. In a separate incident, 22 cemetery tombstones were toppled in the nearby Bathurst-Lawn Jewish Cemetery. The incidents took place only days after vandals spray-painted swastikas and hateful messages in a Jewish neighborhood in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill.

Reporter Lied About Israel

Among the stories former USA Today reporter Jack Kelley lied about were several concerning Israel, according to the newspaper. An investigation by USA Today, which announced recently that it had discovered that the veteran correspondent had fabricated large parts of his work, found that, among others, Kelley’s eyewitness account of a suicide bombing in Israel was false.

That story helped make Kelley a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Federation Stays in UJC

A Virginia federation voted to maintain its membership in the roof body of North American Jewish federations. In January, United Jewish Communities threatened to oust the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater over its delinquent dues payments. The Virginia federation had complained that the dues were too high, UJC services were poor and not enough funding went to UJC’s overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. However, the federation’s board voted Wednesday night to pay its dues of roughly $175,000, or 5% of the federation’s $4 million annual fundraising campaign.

Shooting Victim Ordained

Nachum Sasonkin, shot in an attack by an Arab terrorist 10 years ago on the Brooklyn Bridge, was ordained as a rabbi. Sasonkin was critically injured when he was 18 in the attack on a van full of chasidic Jews in New York on March 1, 1994, which killed Ari Halberstam, 16. Doctors had not expected Sasonkin, who was declared brain dead and had extensive physical injuries, to survive. But Sasonkin gradually recovered his physical functions and his ability to speak, and the young Lubavitcher chasid eventually resumed his yeshiva studies. Now a father, Sasonkin received his rabbinical ordination Sunday from the Rabbinical College of America, in New Jersey.


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