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Newsdesk December 26, 2003

WJC Meets With Envoy

The World Jewish Congress has met at the State Department with America’s newly confirmed special envoy for Holocaust issues to request that funds from Holocaust restitution agreements be used to fight antisemitism.

In the meeting with the envoy, Ambassador Ed O’Donnell, the WJC’s governing board’s chairman, Israel Singer, said he asked that monies from restitution foundations in Germany, France and Norway be used to educate against Holocaust denial and other forms of antisemitism. The request wades into a heated debate over whether restitution funds should be used for education while indigent survivors lack basic services. But WJC officials insisted they would only tap funds already earmarked for education.

Singer said his organization also discussed with O’Donnell ways to increase high-level participation in the second international conference on antisemitism, slated to take place in Berlin in April under the sponsorship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In related news, Elan Steinberg was brought back as executive vice-president of the WJC less than two years after handing over the post to the WJC’s veteran Jerusalem director, Avi Beker. Beker’s resignation and Steinberg’s return come amid an ongoing power struggle between the WJC’s president, Edgar M. Bronfman, and its senior vice president, Isi Liebler. The organization recently received a proposed reorganization plan drafted by a panel led by former Tel Aviv University president Yoram Dinstein.

Steinberg said the first task of his revamped organization will be to urge the United Nations General Assembly to pass a stand-alone resolution against antisemitism.

Egyptian Official Attacked

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher vowed this week that the attack on him by Muslim extremists during a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem would not affect Egypt’s involvement in the peace process. Arriving back in Cairo, Israel Radio reported, Maher vowed that the attack would simply spur Egypt to forge an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Two top Israeli doctors from Hadassah Hospital accompanied Maher, who was lightly injured, on the flight home.

Jerusalem police detained seven Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem in connection with the attack.

The office of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak issued a statement denouncing the “irresponsible” attack, pledging that it “will not derail Egypt’s efforts to achieve a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli talks, with the effective participation of other peace-loving partners.” The Palestinian Authority also condemned the attack.

The Waqf Islamic religious trust blamed Israel for the incident. Waqf chief executive Adnan al Husseini told Israel Radio that the minister arrived two hours late and entered through the Mugrabi Gate, generally an access route for non-Muslims.

Maher was the highest-ranking Egyptian to visit Israel in two years, reflecting Egypt’s stepped-up role in seeking to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians. As a gesture to Israel, Maher refrained from meeting Yasser Arafat during the visit, which reportedly was one reason for the extremists’ anger at him.

Lawmakers Keep Immunity

In a rebuke to Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, the Knesset House Committee voted twice this week not to strip the parliamentary immunity of two freshman Likud lawmakers accused of double-voting during a crucial budget vote last May.

The panel decided Monday in a narrow 8-7 vote, with two abstentions, not to withdraw immunity from Yehiel Hazan, who faces charges of forgery, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly voting twice on a budget amendment. Hazan had earlier asked that his immunity be lifted so that he could prove his innocence in court.

The following day the panel voted 11-6 not to strip the immunity of Michael Gorlovsky, who faces similar charges.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid called the decision “wild behavior that embarrasses the Knesset,” and called for the creation of an outside body to rule on the lifting of Knesset members’ immunity.

Education Dept. To Close

Israel’s Education Ministry is set to close its department for education ties with the Diaspora at the end of the month.

The department was set up four years ago to promote the study of world Jewry by Israeli students and to join in projects with Jewish educational institutions overseas.

Closing the department, which consisted of two employees, is expected to save about $230,000 a year.

The closure announcement elicited letters of protest from teachers and organizations promoting educational ties with the Diaspora.

“Already today, when army officers in the National Security College return from the United States, they say they discovered basic concepts about the Diaspora for the first time,” said the Israel director of the American Jewish Committee, Eran Lerman. “If the education system doesn’t address these issues, there will be a big vacuum.”

Rabbi’s Resignation Urged

A leading member of the British Jewish community has called on the country’s chief rabbi to resign. Sir Stanley Kalms wrote in London’s Jewish Chronicle that the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, should quit because he has not provided leadership to the community and has failed to lead the way in supporting Israel. “On the great Middle East crisis in which Israel is embroiled there is little word from him,” said Kalms, previously one of Sacks’s backers.

Putin Pledges Protection

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged in a Chanukah meeting with Jewish leaders to fight antisemitism. In a meeting last Friday with Berel Lazar, one of the country’s two chief rabbis, and local leader Alexander Boroda, Putin vowed to treat Russia’s special diversity “with care and, when necessary, protected.” After the meeting, Lazar praised Putin’s attempts at religious tolerance.

Commandos Discharged

Thirteen reservists from Israel’s top commando unit face dishonorable discharge for refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Veterans of the Sayeret Matkal, including Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former prime minister Ehud Barak, were united Monday in attacking the decision by the 13 soldiers.

In a letter to Prime Minister Sharon made public Sunday, the signers said they would no longer support the “settler crusade,” and called Israel’s actions against the Palestinians “dehumanizing.” “I signed up to defend Israel, but that is not what we have been doing,” one of the signatories, identified only as Sergeant Zohar S. for security purposes, told Channel One Television.

Israel’s army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon, himself a former commander of the unit, said the petitioners would have a chance to recant before facing a court-martial and dishonorable discharge. The protest follows a similar letter by more than 20 reserve fighter pilots in September.

Muslim Blasts Bombings

Indonesia’s former president criticized Palestinian suicide bombings. Abdurrahman Wahid made his comments December 21 at an interfaith gathering in Jerusalem sponsored by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, The Associated Press said. The meeting included Native Americans, Israeli lawmakers and American Baptists, the report said.

An Elvis Miracle

A Tennessee synagogue used an Elvis Presley impersonator and Presley’s songs to retell the Chanukah story. The program at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Memphis, Elvis’s hometown, featured students from the local Solomon Schechter Day School singing “Blue Suede Jews” and “Heartbreak Kotel,” a reference to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, The Associated Press reported. “Since we’re in Memphis and Elvis is such a force here, we thought it would be a perfect way to blend modern culture and ancient customs,” said Jonathan Ross, who helped produce the program.

Up, Up and Away

El Al’s profits are up 40% from this time last year. The Israeli national air carrier said its net third-quarter profit jumped from nearly $43 million in 2002 to $61 million in 2003, while passenger revenue was up 6.6% to $370 million and cargo income up 8.2%. Nira Dror, vice president and general manager for El Al in North and South America, said the increase stems from a general increase in tourism to Israel, better El Al services and reduced spending by the company.

Claims Deadline Near

The last day to file Holocaust-era insurance claims is December 31, 2003. The International Commission for Holocaust Era Insurance Claims will stop accepting claims after that date. Individuals seeking more information on the claims process should immediately call 1-800-957-3203 or visit the ICHEIC Web site:

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