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Newsdesk May 9, 2003

Syria Sanctions Bill Revived

Encouraged by an apparent reversal in the Bush administration’s position toward Damascus, Congress is reviving the Syria Accountability Act.

The original bill ran out of steam last fall in the face of stiff administration opposition. But this week, a new version of the bill was introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican. The bill mentions a long list of Damascus’s sins, from production of weapons of mass destruction to support for terrorist groups, and applies a list of sanctions to curb Syria’s rogue behavior. Among the punitive steps are severe trade restrictions, travel restrictions on Syrian diplomats serving in Washington and New York and a reduction of Syria’s diplomatic corps in the U.S. The bill requires that the administration file an annual report on Syrian compliance.

Last fall, a similar bill had the support of more than 200 members of the House of Representatives. But the Bush administration, indebted to Syria for providing intelligence on Al Qaeda, asked Congress to halt its efforts to pass the bill. The House concurred, as did the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill, which ceased to press for the bill.

But according to the Bush administration, following the war against Iraq — during which Syria supported Saddam Hussein’s regime — Washington has been seeking tools to pressure Bashar Assad’s regime into submission.

A bill similar to the Boxer-Santorum measure was introduced in the House last month by Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, with 46 co-sponsors.

Cuts at UJC Applauded

North American Jewish welfare federations are applauding a decision by their roof body, the United Jewish Communities, to trim its $42.5 million budget by 10%.

UJC’s budget had been criticized by, among others, federations in Boston, San Francisco and Houston. “I think it’s fantastic,” said Gary Weinstein, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. Weinstein and other charity executives, however, said they would like to see further cuts in the future. The cut is expected to be approved at UJC’s board meeting in June.

Relocation Due to SARS

The Society for Humanistic Judaism held its recent conference in Detroit, after abruptly deciding to move the event from Toronto due to the outbreak of SARS.

The decision was made April 22, after the Center for Disease Control issued a travel advisory for people visiting Toronto, according to Rabbi Miriam Jerris, community development associate for the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Two-thirds of the registered participants were still able to attend, despite the switch. “The issue, real or not, is to protect our community members and be responsive to their fears,” Jerris said. It “was an ethical decision.”

The conference celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Humanistic Jewish Movement and honored Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, its founder, who is retiring as a congregation rabbi. In addition, the American Humanist Association honored Wine as its “Humanist of the Year.”

Court Rules on Telemarketing

A Supreme Court ruling allowing states to sue telemarketers will not affect Jewish charities, experts said. The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 Monday that states can sue telemarketers that mislead potential donors into thinking that most funds raised will go toward charitable use when, in fact, most will be kept by the fundraiser.

“I think the implications for the Jewish community are rather slim,” said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. “Jewish organizations that use telemarketing firms don’t use those kinds of firms. Why would they?”

Scandal in France

Jewish religious institutions in France and a leading Israeli bank may have been involved in a money-laundering operation. More than 100 people and institutions, including heads of religious organizations and a number of rabbis, were placed under investigation by presiding Judge Isabelle Prevost-Duprez. The money-laundering involved passing fraudulent checks in France that were then cashed at exchange bureaus in Israel.

Blair Slurred on Mideast

A veteran British lawmaker accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of “being unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers” regarding the Middle East.

Eric Moonman, president of Britain’s Zionist Federation, called the remarks by Tam Dalyell, the longest-serving member of the British Parliament, “outrageous and highly inflammatory” and said he is considering bringing racism charges against Dalyell.

Dalyell named Blair’s envoy on the Middle East, Peter Mandelson, whose father was Jewish, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had a Jewish grandfather. In response, Mandelson reportedly said: “Apart from the fact that I am not actually Jewish, I wear my father’s parentage with pride. As for Tam, he is as incorrigible as ever.”

Liaison Leaving White House

The White House’s liaison to the Jewish community is stepping down. Sources say that Adam Goldman, who began working with President Bush in Texas in 1993, is leaving to pursue opportunities in the private sector. Goldman was named by the National Journal in November as a “person to watch” in politics.

Hillel Names Interim Director

Avraham Infeld is expected to be appointed interim director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Sources said that Infeld, an Israeli who headed the Melitz educational organization and who has been a consultant to Hillel, could be approved as interim director this week.

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