World Briefs

Foxman Presses Vatican on Film

Abraham Foxman wants the Vatican to take a stand on Mel Gibson’s controversial film on Jesus. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, met with Vatican officials Tuesday. He urged Vatican officials to tell bishops around the world to inform Catholics that the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” is Gibson’s interpretation of the Gospels, and not a factual record. The movie is slated to open in the United States on Feb. 25. Foxman also scheduled meetings with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other Italian officials during his two-day visit. Foxman stopped in Rome en route to Brussels, where European Commission President Romano Prodi will host an international seminar on anti-Semitism and minorities in Europe that begins Thursday.

Gibson: Anti-Semitism ‘a Sin’

Mel Gibson denied he is anti-Semitic and insisted his new movie does not blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion. Gibson, in an interview with Diane Sawyer on the ABC News show “Primetime Special Edition,” which aired Monday night, said “The Passion of the Christ” echoes his belief that “we all” are responsible for the death of Jesus.

“To be anti-Semitic is a sin,” he told Sawyer. “To be anti-Semitic is to be un-Christian, and I’m not.”

Some Jewish leaders have warned the movie will fuel anti-Jewish attitudes because it asserts the Jews pushed the Romans to kill Jesus. Gibson denied that, saying the movie is “not about pointing the fingers.”

No-show No Good?

Israel’s justice minister opposed Israel’s decision to abstain from The Hague’s hearings on the West Bank security barrier.

“This is basically a worldwide tribunal where your opinions should be broadcast and reported everywhere in the world,” Yosef “Tommy” Lapid told Reuters on Tuesday, referring to hearings at the International Court of Justice set to begin Feb. 23. “If you do not put up an argument, you will not have publicity for your views.”

Israel has decided to sit out the hearings at The Hague after filing an affidavit describing the fence as a counterterrorist measure and challenging the authority of the court to rule on the fence’s legality. Lapid said Cabinet colleagues overruled his call for Israel to argue its case in the court.

Conservative Rabbis Support Fence

Conservative rabbis from around the world approved a resolution supporting Israel’s West Bank security barrier. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority Feb. 12 at the close of the Conservative movement’s annual Rabbinical Assembly, held this year in Jerusalem. The subject of the fence had been one of the most controversial items at the conference, and a revised version passed after a debate over the language. The final version stressed Israel’s right to self-defense while cautioning that Israel should do all it can to “avoid unnecessary hardships to innocent Palestinians” and maintain “the Jewish and democratic character of the state.”

U.S. Backs Gaza Pullout

The Bush administration announced its clearest support to date for Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The United States government seemed to be caught off guard by the Israeli prime minister’s plan to uproot 17 Gaza settlements; U.S. officials were concerned that the move could undermine prospects for a peace treaty. After Israel explained the plan, however, administration officials warmed to the idea. On Wednesday, the State Department said in a statement that “Israeli moves to ‘disengage’ by removing settlements could reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, improve Palestinian freedom of movement and address some of Israel’s responsibilities in moving” toward the vision of peace that President Bush outlined in a June 2002 speech. The speech called for regime change in the Palestinian Authority, an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state by 2005.

Israel Gets Time on Falash Mura

Israel’s High Court of Justice agreed Feb. 12 to give the government more time to bring Falash Mura to Israel from Ethiopia. The government agreed to verify within the next 90 days those eligible to immigrate. The government will be working off a list of people who claim to be Falash Mura — Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now are returning to Judaism. There are an estimated 20,000 Falash Mura waiting to emigrate from Ethiopia. The next court hearing on the case will be held in four months.

Birthright Funding Restored

A new matching grant will allow Birthright Israel to more than double enrollment for its summer programs. The free trip to Israel for young adults who never have been on a peer tour to the Jewish State notified its trip providers Sunday that it had secured funding for more than 8,200 spots for its summer programs. Due to funding problems, Birthright had planned to accept only 3,500 people, all but 500 of whom would come from North America. The Avi Chai Foundation announced it would provide Birthright with a “challenge grant” of $7 million, which they expect will be matched by philanthropists. In a statement, the foundation said it decided to give the grant in response to the cutback in funding for the program by the Israeli government, which reduced its funding for Birthright to a token amount for 2004 due to budget constraints.

Landau Takes Charge at Ha’aretz

English-born journalist David Landau was named editor in chief of Ha’aretz. Landau is to replace Hanoch Marmari, who resigned last month after a 13-year tenure, the Israeli daily announced Feb. 12. Landau, 56, was Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s longtime Jerusalem bureau chief. Landau began his career at the Jerusalem Post but left after the newspaper was sold to Hollinger International in 1990. Following a stint at Israel’s daily Ma’ariv, he co-founded Ha’aretz’s English-language edition in 1993. Landau also is a contributing writer at The Economist.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.