Briefs: Olmert vows to solve conversion crisis, Israel names first female U.N. envoy

Ehud Olmert pledged to solve an Israeli conversion crisis prompted by a rabbinical dispute. The prime minister on Monday gave the government four months to address a recent decision by Israel’s Rabbinical High Court to fire Rabbi Haim Druckman as head of a state-sponsored conversion committee.

In dismissing Druckman, who was considered relatively lenient by Orthodox conversion standards, the court said it would annul thousands of conversions of immigrants from the former Soviet Union that he had approved. Israel Radio quoted Olmert as saying in a statement that such immigrants “include the best of our soldiers, the cream of our academia, and so the issue of conversion in Israel tops the national agenda.”

Egyptians Kill Sudanese Man Trying to Enter Israel

Egyptian police killed a Sudanese migrant who tried to cross illegally into Israel. The would-be border jumper was fatally shot Sunday near Egypt’s Sinai’s frontier with Israel. He was the 17th African known to have been killed by Egyptian forces en route to hoped-for jobs or sanctuary in the Jewish state.

Facing a deluge of undocumented refugees from Darfur or other illegal African immigrants, Israel last year asked Egypt to crack down on the foot traffic in the Sinai. Thousands of Africans attempt the dangerous trip each year, according to Amnesty International.

Israel Names First Female U.N. Envoy

Israel appointed its first female ambassador to the United Nations. Gabriela Shalev, rector of the Ono Academic College in Tel Aviv, was approved Sunday by the Cabinet. She was chosen by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to succeed Dan Gillerman.

“It was important to me to appoint a woman to represent Israel in such an important place,” Livni told the Cabinet. “In addition, her extraordinary talents will enable her to deal with the challenges facing Israel. Professor Shalev is internationally respected; she has fulfilled many public positions in Israel, and the appointment committee determined that her impressive reputation and background, as well as her personality, make her a fitting candidate for the position of ambassador to the U.N.”

Shalev has served as chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Trustees and a member of the committee for formulating ethics of Cabinet members.

Israel’s Military Chief Visiting U.S.

The chief of Israel’s armed forces is visiting the United States. This is Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s first working visit to Washington, D.C. During his weeklong stay, Ashkenazi will meet his U.S. counterpart, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and visit the headquarters of the various U.S. armed forces branches. Ashkenazi will also hold talks with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Ashkenazi’s visit comes at a time of heightened international speculation that Israel and the United States are closing ranks ahead of a possible military attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. However, Israeli military officials said the visit had long been in the works and was previously postponed.

Olmert Lawyer Accuses Witness of Lying

A lawyer for Ehud Olmert said the testimony of a key witness in the corruption probe of the Israeli prime minister is a lie. The attorney, Eli Zohar, made the remarks last week during a cross-examination of the witness, U.S. businessman Morris Talansky, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Talansky, who is undergoing several days of questioning by the prime minister’s lawyers, has testified that Olmert took approximately $150,000 in cash donations from him over the course of nearly a decade and a half. Olmert has denied wrongdoing and promised to resign if indicted.

JNF Building Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Bike Trail

The Jewish National Fund is building a bicycle trail that will connect Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The 75-mile trail, running from south of the capital to Tel Aviv’s northern port and taking in several forests and historical sites en route, is expected to be completed within six months. It is part of a JNF project in celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. The estimated construction cost is $400,000.

“This trail will be an international tourist attraction for cyclists,” Effi Stenzler, JNF chairman, told Yediot Achronot Tuesday. According to the newspaper, the ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv will take approximately five hours and will be mostly downhill. Ascending in the other direction will take much longer, but cyclists will be able to avail themselves of rest stops along the way.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.