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Newsdesk February 17, 2006

Omri Sharon Sentenced

The son of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was sentenced to nine months in prison for campaign-funding violations in his father’s 1999 race for Likud Party leadership. Last Tuesday, Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court sentenced Omri Sharon to another nine months of suspended imprisonment and fined him some $65,000.

Because of the condition of the prime minister, who has been in a coma since a January 4 stroke, the start of Omri Sharon’s prison term was postponed by six months to August 31, Ha’aretz reported. His attorney said that Omri Sharon would appeal the sentence.

Azerbaijan Weighs Ties

The president of Azerbaijan told a group of American Jewish communal leaders that his country might upgrade its relations with Israel and open a trade mission there. The delegation of 50 American Jews, under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, met Monday in Baku with President Ilham Aliyev and other top officials. Azerbaijan, a Muslim state, has had some diplomatic relations with Israel for more than 10 years but has yet to open an embassy in Israel; though Israel has an embassy in Baku. Azerbaijan has said that its complicated geopolitical situation — particularly its proximity to Iran — as well as its membership in international Islamic organizations prevent it from opening a mission in Israel.

On Monday, the last day of the delegation’s four-day visit to Baku, the Jewish leaders also met with the Central Asian nation’s foreign minister and chief Islamic religious authority.

Poll: Jews Seen as Target

Thirty-seven percent of British Muslims see British Jewry as a “legitimate target as part of the struggle for justice in the Middle East,” according to a new poll. More than half the 500 Muslims surveyed in the poll believe that British Jews exert too much influence over British foreign policy. The results of the poll were reported in the London Jewish Chronicle.

Mosque Attack Probed

Israeli settlers in the West Bank are suspected of desecrating a Palestinian mosque. Israeli police said Sunday that a criminal investigation was under way after settlers were spotted spray-painting a Star of David and graffiti against the Prophet Muhammad on the wall of the mosque in Nabi Ilyas, a Palestinian village near the West Bank boundary. Palestinians responded to the vandalism by stoning Israeli cars and troops. At least two Palestinian rioters were hurt when soldiers used tear gas to disperse them. Israel is on high alert for any local escalation of Muslim protests linked to last year’s publication in Denmark of cartoons satirizing Muhammad.

Jewish Symbols Approved

A federal appeals court upheld New York City’s policy of allowing symbols of Jewish and Muslim holiday scenes in school displays, but not Christian nativity scenes.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed February 9 with a lower court judge who maintained that allowing secular symbols neither advanced nor inhibited religion.

The appeals court determined that no objective observer would believe that the city wanted to communicate to its students “any official endorsement of Judaism and Islam or any dismissal of Christianity.” Instead, the court held, the purpose was to use holidays to encourage respect for diverse cultural traditions.

Dissenting Judge Chester Straub said that the policy “utilizes religious symbols of certain religions, but bans the religious symbols of another.”

Lesbian Couple Wins Case

An Israeli lesbian couple won state recognition as joint parents of their children. In a ruling hailed by gay rights activists, Israel’s Family Affairs Court this week allowed Tal and Avital Yaros-Hakak to legally adopt three boys they had borne between them after being artificially inseminated. It marked the end of a 17-year legal battle for the Yaros-Hakaks, but activists said it would take a long time before Israel fully recognizes single-sex unions.

Chabad Stamp Issued

Israel is issuing a stamp honoring the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, featuring an artist’s rendering of concentric waves of light emanating from the Hasidic group’s Brooklyn headquarters. The three Hebrew words for “wisdom,” “understanding” and “knowledge” that make up the acronym for Chabad are above the building. The stamp is slated to go on sale February 28.

Feds Eye Aipac

Federal investigators are asking questions about ties between lay leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and two former staffers charged in a classified-information case.

The renewed investigation comes as Viet Dinh, a former assistant U.S. attorney general and a principal architect of the Patriot Act, argued in a brief on behalf of former Aipac staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman that the case against them lacks merit because it violates their First Amendment rights.

Taken together, the defense and government actions suggest the shape of the trial to start April 25. The defense will argue that culling and distributing inside government information was a routine lobbying activity.

It also anticipates the sort of media event that Aipac insiders have said they fear: one that picks apart, in a public forum, exactly how the organization goes about its business.

No one suggests that Aipac’s activities are in any way illegal, and the prosecutor in the case already has made clear that the organization is not suspected of wrongdoing. But Aipac guards its lobbying practices closely, and it is loath to reveal them to the general Washington community.

FBI agents’ questions to other former Aipac staffers interviewed in recent weeks suggest that the government is trying to assess whether receiving and disseminating classified information was routine at the organization.


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