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Newsdesk August 15, 2003

Prison Confab Protested

The state of Ohio is being accused by Jewish groups of violating the separation of church and state.

At issue is an August 12 conference, sponsored by Promise Keepers, an Evangelical Christian men’s ministry, which took place at Ohio’s Marion Correctional Institution and was broadcast to prisons across the country. Reverend Gary Sims, religious services administrator of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, wrote that his office was “sponsoring” the conference and urged other chaplains to “join with us… in carrying out the Great Commandment of making disciples of all men (Mathew 28:19-20).”

The American Jewish Congress is arguing that the conference is aimed at proselytizing inmates and violates the Constitution.

“Among the primary goals of the Establishment Clause is forestalling government sponsorship of religious speech, particularly speech aimed at proselytizing,” wrote Marc Stern, the assistant executive director of the AJCongress, in a letter to the director of the state’s corrections department, Reginald Wilkinson. “The Supreme Court has made it clear that, absent a wide range of available private choices available under neutral criteria, the government is forbidden to spend tax dollars to advance religious teachings. All of these fundamental principles have been violated here.”

Wilkinson, of the state correction department, wrote in a letter to prison chaplains that Sims misspoke in his letter and that the prison is merely hosting the conference, not sponsoring it.

Although Wilkinson claims that no state funds were used in organizing the event, the conference was held on a weekday at a time when the inmates would have otherwise been at work, and the prison plans to pay all inmates their normal wages — thereby, according to Stern, facilitating the conference.

Wilkinson denied any claims that his office was proselytizing or giving preferential treatment to any religious organization. The department, he said, “will host any conference that will benefit the inmates irrespective of religious affiliation.” Wilkinson’s office refused to release a list of events that have taken place at Ohio prisons or are currently being planned.

ADL: Change Gibson Film

Mel Gibson’s new film will fuel antisemitism if it is released without changes, the Anti-Defamation League said. The organization says “The Passion” blames Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion and relies on sinister medieval stereotypes and historical errors. Christians and Jews have long worked to negate the teachings about Jewish complicity in Jesus’ death that “The Passion” features, the ADL said. Gibson is a member of a fundamentalist Roman Catholic sect that repudiates Vatican teachings clearing the Jews of the charge of deicide.

Bronfman Feud Escalates

Former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres is coming to the defense of the president of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, who has taken heat for criticizing an Israeli government policy.

Bronfman co-signed a letter to President Bush earlier this month stating that Israeli efforts to build a security fence in the West Bank are “potentially problematic.” In response, the senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress, Isi Leibler, sent a highly charged letter to Bronfman insisting that the beverage magnate “retract and apologize forthwith” or resign.

Peres backed Bronfman in a letter to the philanthropist: “Clearly, issues that are open for debate in Israel, are also open for discussion in the Jewish world.”

Peres added, “The Jewish people should never be taken for a rubber stamp. Such a role would enfeeble the Jewish people and undermine the people of Israel.”

Bronfman continued to defend his letter, saying he did not write it on WJC stationery or invoke his WJC title.

The chairman of the congress, Israel Singer, said that more than 150 WJC members had backed Bronfman’s letter, which he co-wrote with Lawrence Eagleburger, who served as secretary of state in the administration of George Bush Sr.

Leibler, however, said “it was not just a letter, but it was canvassing the president of the United States to take up a position contrary to that of the government of Israel on a security-related issue that could affect the lives and deaths” of Israelis.

Bronfman said he would ask the WJC executive committee to strip

Leibler of his title at the group’s next meeting. The leadership meets twice yearly, but the next meeting has not been set.

“His title is honorary. It’s a title we’ve given to a lot of people who are old and have done a good job,” Bronfman said. But now Leibler “is abusing it.”

Leibler vowed to continue challenging Bronfman, the former owner of Seagrams. The struggle is largely to establish clear rules in the WJC, Leibler said.

“Nobody wants to take on Edgar Bronfman; he’s an extremely powerful personality,” Leibler said. “But I will take on this battle if it means we have a man who has the title of World Jewish Congress president and who lobbies against the security interests of Israel.”

Nazi Fashion Nixed

A top Hong Kong fashion chain is pulling a new line of Nazi-themed clothing amid protests.

I.T. Ltd., the company that owns the chain, put up Nazi banners and flags in its stores this past weekend to advertise the new line of clothes with swastikas and other Nazi symbols, Reuters reported. When Israel, Germany and some consumers complained, the company removed the flags but kept selling the clothing, until the Israeli Consulate in Hong Kong protested.

Jewish Agency Makes Cuts

About 850 workers at the Jewish Agency for Israel and World Zionist Organization agreed to pay cuts, and 50 staffers will be laid off.

Overseas emissaries will also be reduced by about 10%, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. The wage cuts range from 1.75% to 17% and will last for at least two years.

Donor Busted Over Fish

A major donor to Israel’s Ben-Gurion University was arrested for smuggling fish into the United States

A front-page report in South Africa’s Cape Times newspaper on Arnold Bengis, recently arrested in New York on charges including smuggling South African lobster and toothfish into the United States, highlighted Bengis’s ties to Israel.

Bengis, who has received an honorary doctorate from the university, reportedly has given several million dollars to the university through his support of The Bengis Center for Desert Aquaculture and The Bengis Center for Entrepreneurship and Hi-tech Management.

Boeing Increasing Ties

Boeing is increasing its links with Israeli firms. The American defense firm is expected to ask Israel Aircraft Industries and Elbit Systems to bid on the production of unmanned aerial vehicles, which transmit intelligence information to battlefield forces, according to Globes newspaper. IAI and Boeing have signed a preliminary agreement to transfer the manufacture of the Arrow anti-missile system to the United States, the newspaper reported.

Crash Exposes Hate Store

A recent car crash inadvertently exposed an underground white supremacist group in Chalmette, Louisiana.

Francis Dardis, 59, lost control of his 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis, crossing both the eastbound and westbound sides of the local highway, before plowing through a brick storefront, according to a report in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Dardis found himself surrounded by racist and antisemitic publications in what had been advertised as a home improvement center.

After the July 31 crash, Dardis was treated and released for minor injuries at Chalmette Medical Center.

An unidentified man inside the building noted the sign out front, identifying the business as the Southern Home Improvement Center. However, that business hasn’t been in operation at the location since the building was sold in 1991 to the New Christian Crusade Church and its president, James Warner.

The building is reportedly now the headquarters of the Christian Defense League, which is operated by Warner, a founding member of the American Nazi Party.

“He’s been part of the Christian Identity movement for years,” said Cathy Glaser, an official in the Anti-Defamation League’s regional office in New Orleans. “ADL has been aware of Warner and who he is and that he has a ‘church.’”

She added that he was “more vocal in the 70s and 80s.”

Warner’s group still operates a Web site.

According to Glaser, Warner had not violated any laws by selling the hate literature out of the storefront because he owned the building.

The former owner of the building, who still operates several stores with the name “Southern Home Improvement Center,” reportedly plans on sending someone to take down the sign.

Warner could not be reached for comment. He reportedly told one local journalist inquiring about the crash to “go back to Israel where you belong.”

Rabbi Pleads Guilty

An American rabbi pleaded guilty to arranging a sexual encounter with an undercover officer he thought was a 13-year-old girl. Israel Kestenbaum of Highland Park, N.J., is expected to be sentenced to five years probation. Kestenbaum is an ethics watchdog for a national group of pastors and has been honored for his work at Ground Zero. He is slated to be sentenced in October.

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