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Newsdesk November 14, 2003

Lobbyist Lands New Post

A pro-Israel activist recently dismissed from the Zionist Organization of America quickly found a new home with the American Jewish Congress.

Sarah Stern, who headed the ZOA’s Washington office for six years until she was dismissed earlier this month, will assume the same post at AJCongress. Stern left the ZOA on a sour note, after repeatedly clashing with its president, Morton Klein.

In her new job, Stern will be directing both the international and domestic policy of AJCongress, said Neil Goldstein, the group’s executive director. Stern’s falling out with Klein does not seem to have damaged her solid professional reputation in Washington.

Some observers questioned whether Stern was a good fit for AJCongress, which is generally more left wing than the ZOA. Goldstein dismissed such questions as “absurd.” Stern, he said, “is a professional who will follow the policies of the AJCongress.”

A chief consideration in the hire, said a source familiar with the matter, was Stern’s strong contacts with conservatives, both in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill. Stern is replacing Charles Brooks, who recently left AJCongress to direct the legislative office at the Department of Homeland Security.

Fights at Vienna Ceremony

Clashes erupted at a ceremony in Vienna commemorating the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Sunday night’s clashes erupted after protesters at a commemorative event waved Palestinian flags and yelled anti-Israel slogans. The ceremony marked the anniversary of the 1938 pogroms when Nazi-inspired rioters set synagogues and Jewish stores ablaze in Germany and Austria.

Zyklon B Firm Bankrupt

The company that produced the gas used at Nazi death camps, IG Farben, filed for bankruptcy Monday. During World War II, an IG Farben subsidiary produced Zyklon B gas, which was used in the Nazi gas chambers. The pre-World War II chemical company also built a plant on the outskirts of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland to produce artificial rubber and synthetic gasoline, mostly using slave laborers from the camp.

Study: Keep Circumcision

Male circumcision has significant health benefits for both men and women, according to a new Australian study. Circumcision protects men from HIV and lowers the chance of cervical cancer in their partners, researchers at Melbourne University said.

Following a report from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians — which said there was little benefit, but a chance of harm, in circumcision – the circumcision rate fell to 10% of males born in Australia.

French Schools Face Ban

Wearing religious symbols in French schools soon will become illegal, according to media reports.

The Europe 1 radio station reported November 5 that both French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin now support legislation banning the wearing of crosses, yarmulkes and Muslim scarves in state schools.

Leading left- and right-wing politicians have recently called for such a law. A presidential commission set up earlier this year to examine the secular nature of the French state now appears almost certain to recommend the legislation in its final report next month.

Jewish leaders in France are backing the proposed legislation.

Sharon Backs Chirac

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said French President Jacques Chirac is committed to fighting antisemitism in France. “I know that Chirac is serious about fighting antisemitism,” Sharon said Sunday during a speech to more than 400 French Jewish leaders who were on a solidarity visit to Israel. Sharon’s remarks were echoed by the head of CRIF, the central organization of French Jews, Roger Cukierman, who said he is “satisfied by the government’s action in fighting antisemitism.” But Cukierman added that French Middle East policy remains “unbalanced” in favor of the Palestinians.

Snag in Prisoner Deal?

Hezbollah reportedly is insisting that a prisoner swap with Israel include a man who killed four Israelis in 1979. But Israel says Samir Kuntar is not among the 400 Arab security prisoners who could be released as part of a deal, in which Israel would receive businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers, all kidnapped by Hezbollah. Israel insists it will not release prisoners who have committed deadly attacks. Israel’s Cabinet narrowly approved the exchange deal Sunday.

Bush to Egypt: Democratize

President Bush called on Egypt to “show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.” Speaking November 6 in Washington at the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush applauded Saudi Arabian efforts at democratization and said, “Palestinian leaders who block and undermine democratic reform, and feed hatred and encourage violence are not leaders at all; they are the main obstacles to peace and to the success of the Palestinian people.”

BBC Takes Cover

The BBC appointed an ombudsman to monitor its Middle East coverage. The naming of veteran journalist Malcolm Balen comes after the network has endured criticism for what some see as its pro-Palestinian coverage and its opposition to the war in Iraq. Earlier this year, Israeli officials stopped granting interviews to BBC journalists after the government decided a documentary produced by the network was anti-Israel.

Senate Backs Syria Bill

The Senate passed a bill to punish Syrian support for terrorism. On Tuesday, the Senate passed the Syria Accountability Act by a vote of 89 to 4. The act calls for the United States to punish Syria for harboring terrorist organizations and seeking to acquire nuclear technology. The legislation, passed by the House of Representatives last month, is backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and several other Jewish groups. The Bush administration, which once opposed the legislation, has said it would back it. The four lawmakers who opposed the measure were Senators Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat; Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican; Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, and Jim Jeffords, a Vermont independent.

Arafat Controls the Money

Some $34 million of the Palestinian Authority’s budget is managed solely by Yasser Arafat, the International Monetary Fund has found. The Palestinian Authority president transfers the money to undefined organizations and individuals who cannot be traced, Ha’aretz reported. In addition, the report says that from 1995 to 2000, some $900 million in P.A. money “disappeared.”

The report also puts the P.A.’s security services at 56,128 men, almost 20,000 more than the number allowed under the Oslo accords.

News of the IMF report comes after CBS’s “60 Minutes” reported that Arafat has diverted $800 million in aid money for the Palestinian Authority to a private account for his family in Paris.

Meridor Slams Burg

Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor slammed Labor Knesset member Avraham Burg in front of the Israeli Zionist Congress this week, in response to his column in the August 29 Forward lamenting what he described as the collapse of Zionism.

In particular, Meridor took aim at Burg’s claim that “the Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice.”

“Zionism is the most ethical movement in the world,” said Meridor, who succeeded Burg as Jewish Agency chairman. “We are the nation that fights but is careful of purity of arms. Our society keeps up a high ethical standard, despite the fact that our arms that are extended to peace are burned time and time again by hatred. [Burg’s words] hit the lowest of the ethical rock bottom.”

Meridor added: “I read the things written by Avraham Burg… and I thought I would be here alone today, because his words were a eulogy to Zionism.”

Composer Blasts Jews

Jews are the “root of evil,” a leading Greek composer said. At a news conference this week publicizing his new book, Mikis Theodorakis, who scored the music for the film “Zorba the Greek,” also said that the Jews “are full of self-importance and evil stubbornness,” Israeli media reported. He said Greeks are less aggressive than Jews “because we have more history.”

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