NATION/WORLD Briefs: Netanyahu Asks Peres for Coalition Help, Teachers Reject Israel Boycott

Netanyahu Asks Peres for Coalition Help

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Shimon Peres to help him form a unity government.

The two Israeli leaders met Monday night after talks between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party failed to reach an agreement, according to Israel Radio. The talks apparently broke down over Livni’s demand that Netanyahu commit to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu also reportedly met with Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who said his party will not join the government.

The Likud continued coalition was scheduled to talk Tuesday with the Shas Party.

Netanyahu is required to present Peres with a coalition by Sunday or request a two-week extension.

Conservative Group Hit With More Demands

A second group of Conservative Jewish leaders has issued a series of demands of the movement’s synagogue association.

About a dozen presidents of Conservative synagogues have hinted they will leave the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism unless serious changes are made to the organization within 90 days, The Forward reported Monday. Organizers say they eventually hope to garner between 25 and 50 signatures.

The news comes less than a week after a similar letter, signed by a group of Conservative clergy and lay leaders organized under the banner of HaYom, demanded a meeting with the United Synagogue President Raymond Goldstein. Goldstein told JTA a meeting was in the works.

The synagogue presidents echoed the complaints of the HaYom group, saying the United Synagogue is not sufficiently open and transparent. They also requested that United Synagogue publish its recent budgets and the contract of its current executive vice president, hold a series of open discussions for congregations and shrink its governing boards.

State Dept. Urged to Probe Islamic School’s Textbooks

A congressman urged the State Department to investigate the content of textbooks at a Virginia Islamic academy.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) wrote the department for the seventh time, but for the first time since Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of state, to ask that the department convene an independent panel to “definitively translate and interpret the textbooks and determine exactly what is being taught” at the Islamic Saudi Academy in northern Virginia.

Wolf said in the letter that he was spurred by an Associated Press story on March 12 reporting that while the school’s textbooks had been revised last year, they still contained enough “sensitive material to fuel critics who claimed the books show intolerance toward those who do not follow strict interpretation toward Islam.”

The school, which educates 900 students, overhauled its textbooks after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report stating that there were a number of problematic passages, including one saying “the Jews conspired against Islam and its people.”

The new books remove those passages, but according to the AP still disparage Jewish and Christian scholars for rejecting “the true path of Islam” and warn Muslims to be careful in accepting party and wedding invitations from non-Muslims.

U.S. Teachers Reject Academic Boycott of Israel

The American Federation of Teachers reiterated its opposition to an academic boycott of Israel.

“We believe academic boycotts were a bad idea in 2002 and are a bad idea now,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement released March 11. “Academic boycotts are inconsistent with the democratic values of academic freedom and free expression.”

In the aftermath of the war in Gaza, several Canadian and American professors and organizers have called for an academic boycott of Israel. The initiatives are similar to efforts by a group of British academics earlier this decade intended to block Israeli universities and professors from participating in academic conferences and other forums outside of Israel.

“We want to make clear that this position does not in any way discourage an open discussion and debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of ways to resolve it,” Weingarten said. “However, we expect that such a discussion would not be one-sided and would consider the behavior of all the relevant actors. An academic boycott of Israel, or of any country, for that matter, would effectively suppress free speech without helping to resolve the conflict.”

Injured American Fence Protester Improves

An American demonstrator seriously injured during a protest against the West Bank security fence is breathing on his own.

Tristan Anderson, 37, remains in critical condition and heavily sedated in an Israeli medical center, but has been removed from a respirator and is responding to voice commands, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Anderson, an International Solidarity Movement activist from the Oakland area, was hit in the head March 13 by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank town of Naalin.

Weekly protests against the security fence have taken place around Naalin. Four Palestinians have been killed since the protests began, and 73 police officers and soldiers have been hurt by demonstrators, according to the Post.

His parents arrived Monday in Israel.

Six years ago, another ISM activist, 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to block it from demolishing a Palestinian home. The death was ruled an accident by the Israeli military.

Rabbi: No Crosses at Western Wall

It is not appropriate for the pope to wear a cross at the Western Wall, the rabbi in charge of the holy site said.

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Israel in May and visit the Western Wall. He wears a large cross at all public appearances.

“My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch told the Jerusalem Post Monday.

The rabbi has refused to allow other Catholic leaders to visit the site after they refused to remove or hide their crosses. In 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site with his cross visible.

Israeli security forces also want to close the wall to worshippers beginning the night before and during the pope’s visit, which Rabinovitch also disputes.

Women’s Group Slams Israeli Supermodel

An advertisement featuring Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli was slammed by a women’s Zionist group.

The Israeli branch of the Women’s International Zionist Organization named Refaeli’s spot for Israeli water company Eden Springs the most sexist of the year, Ha’aretz reported. The group plans to launch a consumer boycott of the companies running the five most sexist ads.

“WIZO calls on the public not to buy products that advertise themselves through the denigration of women and the entrenchment of the sexist image,” said Gila Oshrat, chairwoman of WIZO’s Women’s Status Division.

JFN Offering Environmental Matching Grants

The Jewish Funders Network will give $750,000 in matching grants to first-time gifts for environmental projects in Israel.

The 900-member JFN, which made the announcement Sunday, is open to individuals and foundations granting at least $25,000 annually to Jewish and/or secular causes.

The Jewish Funders Network/Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund Matching Grant Initiative for the Environment in Israel are open only to JFN members and will be given to match either first-time gifts or gifts that are at least double a donor’s previous gift to an Israeli environmental nonprofit.

Applications for matching grants will be accepted online through July 31.

“The need for protecting Israel’s environment is a growing challenge, even as natural resource depletion and clean water shortages escalate,” said Richard Goldman, founder and president of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. “There is a pressing need to proactively and effectively address the environmental impact of rapid industrialization and population growth.”

Over the past four years, JFN’s matching grant initiatives have generated more than $60 million in new funds for a range of causes.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.