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Newsdesk February 21, 2003

Affirmative Action Backed

The American Jewish Committee Tuesday filed an amicus brief, co-signed by a coalition of Jewish organizations, defending the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies now being challenged before the Supreme Court.

“Disallowing the consideration of race as one factor among many in university admissions would have the effect of eliminating meaningful diversity on American campuses,” the AJCommittee’s general counsel, Jeffrey Sinensky, said in a statement.

Jewish groups signing onto the AJCommittee’s brief include Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance and three affiliates of the Reform movement: the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Central Conference of American Rabbis and Women of Reform Judaism.The National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, also signed on.

The last time the high court visited the issue of affirmative action in university admissions, in the landmark 1978 Bakke case, AJCommittee and the two other major Jewish civil rights groups, the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Congress, filed amicus briefs opposing the affirmative action policies at issue. The move contributed to heightened tensions between Jewish and black groups.

The AJCommittee maintains that it has remained consistent in its opposition to racial quotas and its support for other forms of affirmative action.

Last month, the ADL filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing the University of Michigan’s admissions policies, making it the only major Jewish organization to do so. The ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America issued a statement last month praising President Bush’s announcement that his administration opposed the university’s policies.

Rome Mayor Snubs Iraqi

The mayor of Rome refused to meet Sunday with Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, after the Iraqi snubbed an Israeli journalist at a news conference.

Menachem Gantz, Rome correspondent for the daily Ma’ariv, asked Aziz, following the Iraqi’s audience with Pope John Paul II last Friday, whether Baghdad might attack Israel should the United States go to war against Iraq. Aziz reportedly responded: “When I came to this press conference, it was not in my agenda to answer questions by the Israeli media.” Aziz’s response prompted boos and whistles from several of the 100 or so journalists in the room.

In a letter to Aziz, Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, canceled a scheduled meeting with him, writing: “I cannot accept that a public figure like yourself, the representative of another country, can set a veto and discriminate against someone, denying them the right to express themselves, no matter what position they may represent.”

Hoenlein: Alert Overstated

Reports about possible terrorist attacks against Jewish targets in the United States have been overstated, according to an American Jewish leader. “A lot of these reports have been based on misinformation, especially in the last two weeks,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said this week in Jerusalem at the opening of the group’s annual meeting.

“Information that is of a very general nature has been interpreted as being more specifically directed at the Jewish community than is the reality.”

Tay-Sachs Almost Beat

Genetic testing has virtually eliminated a Jewish genetic disease in the United States. According to The New York Times, an aggressive 30-year effort has reduced the number of babies born with Tay-Sachs in the United States to five per year. Ashkenazi Jews are more prone than the general population to carry the gene that leads to Tay-Sachs, a progressive neurological disorder.

Most children born with Tay-Sachs die before they are 5 years old. Doctors and others who worked in the effort now want to eliminate other genetic diseases that are found among Ashkenazi Jews.

Shuttle Conspiracy Theories

Holocaust deniers and Israel bashers are promoting conspiracy theories on the Internet about Jewish or Israeli involvement in the Columbia space shuttle disaster, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Several conspiracy theorists suggest that the shuttle accident was staged by Israel and the United States to distract attention from events in the Middle East. Others suggest that Colonel Ilan Ramon, the Israeli who perished along with six NASA astronauts on the mission, was really a spy who was collecting information on Iraq, according to the ADL. “Even in times of tragedy for the American people, the antisemites and hatemongers never let up,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. “The antisemites and the bigots are quick to contort the facts to suit their own purposes.”

El Al To Sell Public Shares

El Al will sell a 49% ownership stake in a public offering in May. The Israeli government will retain majority control of the national airline for the time being, but the other 51% of the shares will be sold at some point in the future, said El Al’s president, Amos Shapira. The public offering is in line with a government decision taken about a year ago to privatize the airline, Shapira said. Even after all shares are sold, the government will be able to commandeer El Al planes in case of a national emergency, but shareholders would be able to reconsider El Al’s policy of not flying on the Sabbath, Shapira said.

Poll: Lack of Trust in Arabs

Most Americans do not believe that Israel’s Arab neighbors are ready to accept Israel’s right to exist, a new poll says. The poll, conducted by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, says most Americans believe the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all refuse to accept Israel’s existence. According to Gary Tobin, the research firm’s president: “Perhaps it should not be surprising, given the virulently anti-Israel atmosphere that prevails in the Middle East, that even Jordan and Egypt — the countries that have signed peace agreements with Israel — are viewed by most Americans as being hostile to Israel.”

Yad Vashem Hosts Arabs

Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies was scheduled to hold a training session Wednesday for a group of Israeli Arabs who are planning to visit Auschwitz. The group is visiting the former Nazi death camp in an effort to obtain a better understanding of the Holocaust.

Neo-Nazis Confronted

A Jewish group confronted fascist demonstrators in Budapest last weekend. About 200 neo-Nazis gathered Saturday in front of the city’s Parliament building to commemorate Nazi and Hungarian troops who defended Buda Castle against Soviet forces in February 1945. They were countered by more than 1,000 participants in a demonstration organized by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities. Police separated the two groups, who heckled each other, but there were no serious incidents.

Members of the neo-Nazi Blood and Honor Society erected a wooden cross and laid wreaths to the facist soldiers. The counter-demonstrators paid tribute to the victims of fascism and protested contemporary neo-Nazi groups.

Court Rejects Mask Petition

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a petition calling on the state to distribute gas masks to all Palestinians. The petition, brought by human rights groups, argued that the army is in full control of the territories and is therefore obliged to provide gas masks for all Palestinians in case of an attack by Iraq. But the state argued that the military only enters Palestinians areas in cases of self-defense and had not imposed a full military takeover.

The state also noted that Israel had already decided to provide gas masks to any Palestinians living in areas under full Israeli control. But it said the Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing such services in areas under total Palestinian control. The state said that if the P.A. requests gas masks in a case of real need, Israel would consider it, Army Radio reported. In another development, the army agreed Wednesday to begin making gas masks available to foreign workers in Tel Aviv instead of waiting for an emergency situation.

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