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Newsdesk March 14, 2003

Tisch Eyed for Conference

James Tisch has reportedly emerged as the leading candidate to be the next chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, according to a report in the New York Sun Wednesday.

The Sun reports that Tisch, the CEO of Loews Corp and chairman of the board of the United Jewish Communities, is set to take over for publisher Mortimer Zuckerman. The UJC is the roof body of North American Jewish federations.

One of the other two candidates, American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen, told the Forward he was not aware that any decision had been made by the nominating committee. The other candidate in the race is believed to be Leonard Cole, former chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Arafat’s PM Pick Approved

The Palestinian Legislative Council approved the creation of the post of prime minister. Meeting Monday in Ramallah, the council approved the motion in a 63-3 vote, with four abstentions. In an opening address, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat urged council members to endorse his choice for the position, Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s longtime deputy.

Abbas, 68, also known as Abu Mazen, is considered less hard-line than Arafat. On Sunday, Prime Minister Sharon welcomed the naming of Abbas, who has criticized the Palestinian decision to launch the intifada, but added that Israel would “closely examine the extent of authority he is given.”

Abbas has been criticized for his authorship of a 1982 book, based on an earlier doctoral dissertation, in which he argued that Zionist officials collaborated with the Nazis during World War II in order to build international pressure for a Jewish homeland. Israeli supporters claim he has long since abandoned his earlier views, pointing to his joint authorship with then-deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin of a 1995 peace plan that called for a demilitarized Palestinian state and recognized Israeli claims to Jerusalem.

JTS Lifts Newsletter Ban

Conservative Judaism’s leading theological seminary has rescinded its moratorium on publishing student- and faculty-written Torah commentaries in its weekly campus newsletter, enacted last month after its controversial refusal to publish an article criticizing Israel.

Rabbi Joseph Brodie, vice president for student affairs at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, announced in a March 7 e-mail to members of the JTS campus community that the newsletter would resume publishing Torah commentaries “regardless of the opinions expressed within them, except when these opinions fall outside even the widest spectrum of beliefs that the Conservative Movement deems acceptable.”

“I think this is a very good policy, and I think that if it were in place from the start we could have avoided an unfortunate situation,” said David Freidenreich, a second-year rabbinical student who resigned in early February as editor of the newsletter, after its publisher, the seminary’s Office of Student Life, refused to publish a Torah commentary by fifth-year rabbinical student Jill Jacobs that accused Israel of “ongoing human rights violations.” Freidenreich and Jacobs both served on the committee of students and administrators that developed the new policy.

While the student life office maintained that the commentary was rejected because the newsletter did not publish political articles, the incident prompted discussion over the legitimate boundaries of debate about Israel at the seminary and focused attention on what many see as the paucity of venues for student expression.

Pols Endorse Israel Aid

Senate leaders from both parties sent a letter to President Bush, urging him to back new aid for Israel. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, told the president that new loan guarantees “can help jump-start” the Israeli economy.

In a related development, several groups asked people to urge American lawmakers to reject $12 billion in extra aid to Israel. The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation joined the “Washington Wednesday” campaign to protest $4 billion in military aid and $8 billion in loan guarantees that the Bush administration may approve for Israel later this year. The aid would come in addition to the nearly $2.7 billion Israel receives each year from the United States.

Transsexual to Attend HUC

The Reform movement’s main seminary accepted a transsexual into its rabbinical program. The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati acknowledged this week that an Oakland, Calif., man who was formerly a woman will be entering the school this fall, opening the door to the first ordination of a rabbi who has changed genders. The student, who belongs to a largely gay synagogue in San Francisco, said he wants to work for peace and justice.

Muslim Preacher Convicted

A London-based Muslim preacher convicted on hate crimes charges was sentenced last week to nine years in jail. Abdullah el-Faisal was found guilty last month of encouraging followers to kill Jews, Hindus and other “non-believers.” At his sentencing, the judge recommended that the Jamaican-born cleric be deported after serving at least half of his sentence.

Health Ministry Slammed

Israel’s Health Ministry is being accused by Israeli healthcare professionals of misusing monies from a North American fundraising drive, the Israel Emergency Campaign. Hospital directors and healthcare organizations claimed last week that the ministry violated the stipulations regulating the United Jewish Communities-led emergency campaign by allocating millions of dollars to cover ordinary health costs. Campaign funds were to be designated only for services related to the intifada or a possible war with Iraq.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency ambulance service, reportedly used some $2 million to buy cookies and juice for blood donors, and soap and garbage bags for its office. Ministry officials countered that the money was allocated fairly and transparently, using clear criteria.

In response to the news reports, UJC and its affiliated network of local Jewish welfare federations released a statement saying they “continue to have confidence in the recommendations and assistance of the Government of Israeli in this process… The UJC relies on and has great trust in the diligent oversight by our provider [the Jewish Agency for Israel] in these matters in order to ensure that funds are used for the exact purposes for which they are raised.”

DeLay Blasts ‘Road Map’

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay condemned the so-called “road map” peace plan being advanced by the diplomatic quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia. A Texas Republican, DeLay described the plan as an “absurd scheme” and said it was “a road map toward destruction, not a road map to peace.” DeLay made his remarks during a speech Wednesday in Washington to a visiting delegation from the Orthodox Union.

DeLay said that by promoting the road map, the State Department was attempting to pressure Israel and undermine President Bush’s true vision for obtaining Middle East peace. The majority leader also said that Israel has the right to oppose any plan that will harm “ts “fundamental ability to defend itself.” He condemned supporters of the road map as “neo-appeasers,” comparing them to former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain.

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