Nation & World Briefs

Sharansky Quits Cabinet

Forever the rebel with a cause, Soviet-refusenik-turned-democracy-proponent Natan Sharansky has left the Israeli government rather than take part in the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Sharansky tendered his resignation as Diaspora affairs minister Monday, accusing the Sharon government of failing to demand Palestinian reform as a prerequisite to peace moves.

“As you know, I have opposed the disengagement plan from the beginning, on the grounds that I believe any concessions in the peace process must be linked to democratic reforms within Palestinian society,” Sharansky wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “I no longer feel that I can faithfully serve in a government whose central policy — indeed, sole raison d’etre — has become one to which I am so adamantly opposed.”

Sharon, who lost two right-wing coalition partners and a Cabinet member from his own Likud Party last year over the plan to withdraw from Gaza and the northern West Bank this summer, took Sharansky’s walkout in stride. It was not immediately clear who would inherit the Diaspora affairs portfolio.

Some speculated that Sharansky — who is now outside the government because he does not hold a Knesset seat — will tour to promote his recent bestseller, “The Case for Democracy.”

In any case, Sharansky pledged in his letter, “I will continue my lifelong efforts to contribute to the unity and strength of the Jewish people both in Israel and in the Diaspora.”

Arrest Made in AIPAC Scandal

A Pentagon aide was arrested on suspicion of passing classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Larry Franklin turned himself in to the FBI on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office told JTA, and will answer charges that he passed information to two senior AIPAC staffers during a June 2003 lunch in Virginia. The staffers — AIPAC’s policy director, Steve Rosen, and Iran specialist Keith Weissman — were fired last month. AIPAC declined immediate comment on Franklin’s arrest. According to the federal complaint, the information Franklin allegedly passed was classified top-secret and related to potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. The complaint goes on to say Franklin told the AIPAC staffers, who aren’t named in the complaint, that the information was “highly classified” and asked them not to use it.

New Chair for Conference

Harold Tanner was elected chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The past president of the American Jewish Committee was unanimously confirmed Tuesday afternoon at a meeting of the umbrella organization for 52 U.S. Jewish groups. Since the nominating committee announced its choice of Tanner on April 7, the heads of the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League questioned the nominating process, suggesting Tanner was a last-minute candidate who had not been vetted properly. Tanner will assume his duties on June 1. At Tuesday’s meeting, only Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, raised a point of procedure, suggesting that future candidates provide a brief presentation to the group so that members know their positions. After Tanner’s nomination, Klein complained that he knew nothing about the candidate.

Palestinian loses U.S. Citizenship

A U.S. court stripped a Palestinian man of his citizenship for not reporting $6.4 million in cash withdrawals and for illegally sending the money abroad. Federal authorities declined to say where Hasan Ali Ayesh sent the money. Ayesh, who owned a convenience store in Memphis, immigrated to the United States in 1984 and became a citizen in 2002.

Iran Lashes Out

Iran said Israel’s assumed nuclear arsenal endangers world peace. Addressing a United Nations conference on the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Tuesday that Israel “has endangered regional and global peace and security” because it has nonconventional weapons, believed to include atomic warheads. Iran, which signed the treaty, has been censured by the United States for its pursuit of nuclear technology that can be used to make weapons. Israel, which has never confirmed having a nuclear arsenal, is not a signatory to the treaty and thus is not attending the U.N. conference. “Israel has continually rejected calls by the international community to accede to the NPT,” Kharrazi said in his speech.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.