Briefs: Falwell gone; AIPAC to chip in defense costs; Russkis nab hate-kill suspect; B’nai B’rith ju

Jerry Falwell Dies at 73

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the televangelist whose relationship with the U.S. Jewish community was at times close and at times contentious, died at age 73. Falwell was declared dead Tuesday within hours of being found unconscious in Lynchburg, Va., in his office at Liberty University, which he founded.

The founder of the Moral Majority, Falwell united the religious right into a powerful political force. Stridently pro-Israel, he was among the first to make clear that presidential candidates must show deference to the U.S.-Israel alliance if they wanted the support of evangelicals. His hard-line views on social issues, however, alienated many Jews, especially when he appeared to say that gay and pro-choice activists had incurred God’s wrath, bringing about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Falwell reached out to liberal Jews last year, inviting Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement, to speak at Liberty University and noting that Reform Jews and conservative Christians shared concerns about the proliferation of violence and loose sexual mores in popular culture.

AIPAC to Pay Weissman’s Legal Fees

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) reached a deal with lawyers for its former Iran analyst, Keith Weissman, to pay for his defense against Espionage Act charges.

“AIPAC is fully paying for Keith Weissman’s defense through appeal if necessary,” a source close to AIPAC said on Saturday.

Sources close to the defense confirmed the deal.

Spokesmen for Arent Fox, the law firm representing Weissman, could not be reached for comment.

No such deal has yet been achieved with Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign policy chief who faces trial along with Weissman on charges that they dealt in classified information.

Arent Fox accepted a deeply discounted package, sources close to the defense said — as little as half of what its lawyers said was owed them. Critically, however, Weissman retains his right to sue AIPAC if he is acquitted or if charges are dismissed. Parallel negotiations between Lowell and AIPAC have apparently been complicated by Lowell’s recent move from the law firm of Chadbourne Parke to McDermott Will and Emery.

The case, alleging that Rosen and Weissman dealt in classified information about Iran, first came to light in August 2004, when FBI agents raided AIPAC offices. AIPAC at first strongly supported Rosen and Weissman, but fired them in March 2005, cutting off fees for their defense a few months later; it subsequently made a number of offers to resume payment contingent upon the defendants’ giving up their right to sue AIPAC.

The federal judge in the case, T.S. Ellis III, last week rejected the defense’s dismissal motion that argued that government pressure on AIPAC to fire the two men was unconstitutional. Ellis ruled that the men’s constitutional right to a legal defense had been met because their lawyers continued to serve despite the non-payment of fees. However, Ellis accepted the defense’s claim that the government had pressured AIPAC, something the pro-Israel lobby has always denied; Ellis blasted the pressure as “obnoxious.”

He also affirmed that AIPAC had a contractual obligation to advance legal fees for the defendants. Rosen and Weissman were indicted in August 2005; a firm trial date has yet to be set.

Suspect Held in Russian Jew’s Murder

St. Petersburg police arrested a suspect in the murder of a Jewish schoolteacher that authorities said was motivated by jealousy. Dmitri Nikulinsky, 22, a teacher and biology student at a Chabad-run school, was stabbed to death Saturday in what some thought was an anti-Semitic attack. Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, told Interfax on Sunday that “the information available for now breeds serious suspicions that the crime was ethnically motivated.”

On Monday, St. Petersburg police detained Georgiy Kulik for the crime, citing jealousy, not anti-Semitism, as the motive. Nikulinsky’s mother found him outside his home Saturday morning; he had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck.

Police told community leaders that Kulik, 26, had seen Nikulinsky escorting home Kulik’s ex-girlfriend the preceding evening, and that he had returned to kill Nikulinsky in a jealous rage. But community leaders are unconvinced.

“I think it’s still early to say that it’s not an act of anti-Semitism or ethnically motivated violence,” St. Petersburg’s chief rabbi, Mendel Pevzner, said on Monday. Police are scheduled to meet with St. Petersburg community leaders later Monday to discuss the case.

B’nai B’rith: Halt Wartime Pope’s Sainthood

B’nai B’rith International urged Catholic authorities to halt the canonization process for Pope Pius XII until his response to the Holocaust is clarified. B’nai B’rith wrote letters to Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and its Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, the group said in a Monday release.

It urged that the process toward declaring the World War II-era pope a saint be suspended until the Holy See’s secret archives from the period are opened and scholars are able to settle the ongoing debate over whether he responded adequately to the Holocaust. We “would not, as representatives of the Jewish community, normally express opinions regarding religious and symbolic steps taken internally by the Church,” the group said.

But it added that “to proactively elevate Pius XII as a saint before scholars are allowed to carry out an appropriate accounting of actions during an era when 6 million European Jews were murdered” would “represent a real injustice.” Pius XII was placed on the path to sainthood last week when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to approve his beatification. The current pope, Benedict XVI, must approve, and two miracles must be attributed to the wartime pope.

A Yad Vashem exhibit says that Pius “abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews” and “maintained his neutral position throughout the war.” The Vatican says it has evidence that Pius quietly intervened on behalf of Jews, but still blocks access to Vatican archives from that period.