Suspect charged with Boston Marathon bombing


Prosecutors charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon bombings in an impromptu hearing on Monday in his hospital room, accusing him of crimes that could carry the death penalty if he is convicted.

Video taken by security cameras showed the 19-year-old ethnic Chechen placing a backpack near the finish line of the race one week ago, the criminal complaint said, alleging he acted in concert with his older brother, who was killed during a shootout with police early Friday.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later that day after a massive manhunt and taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds.

The criminal complaint did not mention a motive for the bombings, leaving that as one of the mysteries of the investigation.

But a sworn FBI statement in support of the criminal complaint did reveal new details, such as the recollection of a man whose car was allegedly hijacked by the brothers while they tried to escape on Thursday night.

“Did you hear about the Boston explosion?” one of the brothers is said to have told the carjack victim. “I did that.”

The brothers carried two backpacks containing pressure cooker bombs that ripped through the crowd near the finish line of the world renowned race, killing three people and wounding more than 200, the complaint said.

Ten people lost limbs from the bombs packed with nails and ball bearings. By Monday, Boston-area hospitals were still treating at least 48 people, with at least two listed in critical condition.

The charges were delivered on the same day Canadian police said they had thwarted an “al Qaeda-supported” plot to derail a passenger train. U.S. officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, but Canadian police did not confirm that.

The 10-page complaint in the Boston case drew from investigators' review of a mass of video and still images captured by security cameras, the media and the public at the race before and after the bombing.

Thirty seconds before the first explosion, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev started fidgeting with his cellphone, the complaint said. After the blast, virtually everyone around him turned to look in that direction “in apparent bewilderment and alarm,” while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared calm, the complaint said.

He then left his backpack on the ground and walked away, the complaint said. About 10 seconds later the second explosion ripped through the crowd.

The charges were issued shortly before the city paused at 2:50 p.m. (1850 GMT) to mark the moment a week ago when the bombs exploded. A funeral was held for Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager who was killed in the bombings, and a memorial service was planned for another victim, Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu, 23.

An 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, was also killed.

WOUNDED SUSPECT

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was wounded during at least one of two gun battles with police on Friday, suffering gunshot wounds to his head, neck, legs and hand, the complaint said.

He was mostly unable to speak due to a throat wound, managing to say “no” once in response to a question, according to a court transcript posted on the New York Times website. Mostly, he nodded in response to questions.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler found he was lucid and aware of the nature of the proceedings, the transcript said.

His capture capped a tense 26 hours after the FBI released the first pictures of the two bombing suspects, still unidentified, on Thursday.

Five hours after their faces were pictured on TV screens and websites around the world, the brothers shot and killed a university policeman, carjacked a Mercedes and sought to evade police by hurling more bombs at them during a shootout on the streets of a Boston suburb, police said.

Older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was shot during a close-range exchange of gunfire with police and run over by his younger brother during his escape, police said. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev later abandoned the car and fled on foot, evading police for nearly 20 more hours until he was found hiding and bleeding in a boat.

Those extraordinary days captivated the United States and reminded people of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Although our investigation is ongoing, today's charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston, and for our country,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

In choosing the civilian justice system, U.S. authorities opted against treating Tsarnaev, a naturalized U.S. citizen, as an enemy combatant.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a legal U.S. resident, visited relatives in the volatile region of Chechnya for two days during his six-month trip out of the United States last year, his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva and aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, told Reuters in Dagestan on Monday.

U.S. investigators were trying to piece together if he may have become radicalized and determine whether he became involved with or was influenced by Chechen separatists or Islamist extremists there.

That trip, combined with Russian interest in Tamerlan Tsarnaev communicated to U.S. authorities and an FBI interview of him in 2011, have raised questions whether danger signals were missed.

The Tsarnaev brothers emigrated to the United States a decade ago from Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim region in Russia's Caucasus. Their parents, who moved back to southern Russia some time ago, have said their sons were framed.

A grand jury was likely to charge Tsarnaev with more crimes, said former federal prosecutor and University of Notre Dame law professor Jimmy Gurulé, calling the prosecutors' complaint preliminary.

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel in Makhachkala and Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Tim McLaughlin and Samuel P. Jacobs in Boston; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Eric Beech

Israeli court dismisses charges in Rachel Corrie civil suit


An Israeli court dismissed all charges against the state in a civil suit brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed in Gaza after being run over by an Israeli military bulldozer.

In his verdict Tuesday, Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon ruled that the state was not responsible for Corrie’s death in 2003. Gershon said that Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist, entered the Gaza Strip despite knowing it was a war zone with live fire being exchanged daily. In addition, he cited a warning from the United States urging American citizens not to enter the Gaza Strip.

Corrie, 23, was an activist with the International Solidarity Movement, which protests on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. On March 16, 2003, she was acting as a human shield for a Gaza house set to be demolished by an armored bulldozer when she became enveloped in the pile of dirt created by the bulldozer as it moved toward the house. Corrie died soon afterward in a nearby hospital.

Her parents, Craig and Cindy, sued the state for responsibility in her death, claiming that the bulldozer advanced despite knowing that Corrie was in its path.

Gershon also said that because Corrie was standing behind the pile of dirt created by the bulldozer, the driver could not see her. The judge added that instead of moving away from the bulldozer as it advanced “as any reasonable person would do,” Corrie attempted to climb onto the pile of dirt created by the bulldozer.

“The party put herself in a dangerous situation opposite a bulldozer when he couldn’t see her,” Gershon said. “She didn’t move away like anyone of sound mind would. She found her death even after all of the IDF’s efforts to move her from the place.”

Gershon also dismissed charges that the state tampered with the evidence in an investigation into Corrie’s death.

The attorney for Corrie’s parents called the verdict a “failure to hold the Israeli military accountable.”

“This court has given a stamp of approval to the flouting of illegal practices that fail to protect human life,” said the attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein.

A lawyer for the state, Nirit Kalman, said, “We showed there was no negligence.”

Cindy Corrie told reporters following the verdict, “We are of course deeply saddened and deeply troubled by what we heard today from Judge Oded Gershon. This was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.”

Jewish school teacher arrested on possession of child pornography


A teacher at a Jewish elementary school in the New York area has been arrested on charges of possessing child pornography.

Evan Zauder, a sixth grade teacher at the Modern Orthodox school Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, N.J., was arrested after the FBI reportedly raided his Manhattan department and discovered on his computer hundreds of images and videos of boys engaged in sex acts. His bail hearing is set for Friday. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and a maximum fine of $250,000.

The Forward reported that Rabbi Chaim Hagler, principal of Yeshivat Noam, was unavailable for comment, but issued a statement to parents May 2 stating that the school had “no reason to believe that any of our students are in any way involved or directly affected.”

Zauder is also a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University. The Forward quoted Y.U.‘s spokesman, Mayer Fertig, as saying that he was “saddened and dismayed” by the charges.

Following the news of Zauder’s arrest, Rabbi Shaul Feldman, director of the U.S. and Canadian wing of the Orthodox youth movement Bnei Akiva, issued a mass email message to parents informing them about the arrest and Zauder’s stint the past two summers as a head counselor on the organization’s Israel summer tour. “We learned of this arrest in the news and have not been contacted by the authorities,” Feldman said. “This arrest is not related to his employment at Bnei Akiva and we have no reason to believe any inappropriate behavior occurred while he was employed in any of our programs or camps.”

UPDATE: Shooter of Trayvon Martin arrested, charged with murder


A Florida prosecutor filed a murder charge on Wednesday against the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed, black teenager Trayvon Martin in a case that has captivated the United States and prompted civil rights demonstrations.

George Zimmerman, 28, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Martin, according to Angela Corey, the special prosecutor appointed by Florida’s governor to investigate the racially charged case.

Corey said at a news conference on Wednesday that Zimmerman turned himself in to authorities, who then arrested him. He remains in police custody.

Zimmerman, who is white Hispanic, said he acted in self-defense during a confrontation in a gated community in the central Florida city of Sanford on Feb. 26. Police declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger of getting killed or suffering great bodily harm.

The shooting that took place 45 days ago received only scant local media attention at first and went unnoticed nationally until Martin’s parents and lawyers kept making public calls for Zimmerman’s arrest, eventually leading to a fire storm of media coverage, and celebrity tweets, and a comment from President Barack Obama: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”

The disputed facts of the case have been picked apart endlessly by television commentators while dominating the headlines and reigniting a national discussion about guns, self-defense laws and what it means to be black in America.

Zimmerman went into hiding shortly after the shooting.

Zimmerman’s relatives and supporters say he is not racist and has been unfairly vilified. They said he feared for his life during his altercation with Martin and was justified in using deadly force.

Egypt demands prisoner exchange for Grapel


Egypt is calling for the release of dozens of Egyptians being held in Israeli prisons in return for alleged spy Ilan Grapel.

Seventy-eight Egyptians are now held in Israeli prisons, accused of infiltrating the border, the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reported. Other demands reportedly also have been made for the release of Grapel, a dual American-Israeli citizen.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a visit last week to Egypt reportedly expressed concern about Grapel’s continued detention but was unable to secure his release. The Egyptian news service MENA reported that the United States had offered Egypt additional aid and political support in exchange for Grapel’s freedom.

Grapel is a New Yorker who moved to Israel following his graduation from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He joined the Israeli army, served as a paratrooper during the Second Lebanon War and was wounded in Southern Lebanon in August 2006.

Egyptian security officials said Grapel entered the country shortly after the start of the Jan. 25 uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and posed as a foreign correspondent.

A law student at Emory University, Grapel allegedly said he was Muslim on the visa application that he filed with the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and then entered Egypt using his American passport.

Grapel denies he is a spy. He says he came to Egypt to intern for a nongovernmental organization that assists refugees from Sudan and elsewhere.

Drop charges against 'Irvine 11,' Jewish faculty urges


Thirty University of California Jewish studies faculty members asked the Orange County district attorney to drop criminal charges against 11 Muslim students.

The faculty members, from seven University of California campuses, are the second Jewish group to come out in support of the students, who have been charged with disrupting a February 2010 speech by Israeli U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine. The Jewish Voice for Peace organization also supports dropping charges against the students.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Zionist Organization of America are among the Jewish groups supporting prosecution of the nine UC Irvine and two UC Riverside students.

In a March 3 letter, the 30 members of Jewish studies departments said they disagreed with the students’ actions, but do not believe “such peaceful protest” should be criminally prosecuted. They also noted that the students and the Muslim Student Union already have been punished by the University of California, Irvine, and called those sanctions “sufficient.”

Those who signed the letter include David Biale, Jewish history professor at UC Davis; Daniel Boyarin, Talmud professor at UC Berkeley; Deborah Hertz, history professor at UC San Diego; and David Myers, history department chair at UCLA.

During Oren’s Feb. 8, 2010 speech, the 11 defendants stood one by one and shouted at the ambassador, calling him a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal,” among other insults. The disruptions, organized to protest Israeli actions in Gaza, prompted Oren to walk off the stage twice.

Arraignment is set for March 11 in Santa Ana, Calif.

Al-Manar TV has Australia mulling broadcasting changes


Australia’s media regulator is proposing to prohibit content that advocates terror after an investigation found that a radical Islamic TV station breached the broadcasting standards code.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority said in its report Dec. 9 that Hezbollah’s Al-Manar Television, which is banned in the United States, that two programs breached Australian standards.

One was the current affairs show “With the Event,” which the report said “was likely to gratuitously vilify a group on the basis of ethnicity and religion.” The other show noted was “With the Viewers.”

The executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, cautiously welcomed the report, but urged the Australian government to formally request that the Indonesian government stop further Indosat transmissions of Al-Manar programming into Australia.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council concurred.

“Anti-Jewish hatred on Al-Manar has long been a feature of the station,” said its executive director, Dr. Colin Rubenstein. “Al-Manar’s raison d’etre is to radicalize Muslims around the world, including in Australia, to support Hezbollah’s terrorist methods and goals. AIJAC believes any media organization owned and/or operated by any banned terrorist organization should also be banned in Australia.”

The Arabic-language station has twice been banned in Australia, but was cleared in 2009.

Car Wash Brothers Face Labor Abuse Charges


Since two local Iranian Jewish brothers were charged with a 176-count criminal complaint by the L.A. City Attorney’s Office in February for alleged labor law violations at their car washes, many area Iranian Jewish business owners are quietly expressing support for the pair. And some believe they are being singled out for political reasons.

The complaint alleges that Benny Pirian, 38, and Nissan Pirian, 31, the owners of four car washes in Northridge, Hollywood and Los Feliz, routinely refused to pay their workers minimum wage, failed to pay their workers overtime, prevented their workers from taking rest breaks and required their workers to purchase uniforms and equipment from them, in addition to other violations of state labor laws. The complaint also alleges that workers who attempted to unionize the car washes with the help of the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers were intimidated and harassed, and that a manager at one of the car washes brandished a machete and a club in two such union-busting incidents.

The City Attorney’s Office also alleges that the Pirians failed to provide medical attention to workers who were seriously injured by acid burns, deep puncture wounds and severe lacerations while on the job. If convicted on all counts, the Pirians could face more than 80 years in county jail and more than $1.25 million in fines and restitution.

“This was a joint investigation involving the investigators from our office and from the United States Department of Labor,” said Max Follmer, a City Attorney’s Office spokesperson. “Our offices investigated this case for some time, interviewing more than 40 witnesses.”

The Pirians’ arraignment is scheduled for May 7 in L.A. Superior Court.

The criminal charges are just the latest troubles for the Pirians. Bet Tzedek, the L.A.-based Jewish nonprofit law firm, first filed a civil class-action suit against the brothers and their four car washes last May on behalf of nearly 250 current and former workers for unpaid wages as well as denial of rest and meal breaks.

The Pirians declined to speak on the record with The Journal about the criminal charges and other litigation, directing inquiries instead to their attorney, Mark Werksman.

Werksman denied his clients’ wrongdoing and said the criminal and civil cases brought against his clients were retaliation stemming from the Pirians’ lack of support for unionizing activities at their car washes.

“The criminal charges are baseless and rely on frivolous, unproveable allegations made by union organizers who are trying to punish the Pirians and their employees for resisting their union drive,” he said. “The union has launched a campaign of harassment and frivolous litigation to bludgeon the Pirians into submission, and this prosecution is their latest weapon.”

While many local Iranian Jewish community leaders declined to comment on the Pirians’ case, business owners in the community have been quietly supporting the brothers over the past few months.

“This criminal case is politically motivated since the outgoing City Attorney [Rocky] Delgadillo wants to curry favor with the unions before he leaves office in June,” said Houshang F., an Iranian Jewish car wash owner in the San Fernando Valley who asked that his last name be withheld. “These brothers are just being made an example of by Delgadillo to scare the rest of us car wash owners into bowing down to the unions.”

Follmer said that the criminal charges brought against the Pirians were not politically motivated. “The charges were brought by experienced career prosecutors and based upon evidence developed over the course of lengthy and complete prosecutions,” he said.

Bijan Yaghoobia, an Iranian Jewish former car wash owner, said many in the Iranian Jewish community are standing in support of the Pirians despite the numerous allegations of wrongdoings.

“There was shock in the community over the charges but a lot more compassion for these guys because they were the ones singled out over others. The belief is that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Yaghoobia said.

Several Iranian car wash owners said their business has long had problems with monitoring laborers since many of their workers are undocumented; they often come on their off days to work for tips alone and sometimes they leave the country for long periods of time.

“I think the car washes are an easy target in the city for these labor violations, even though there are plenty of garment businesses, light manufacturing companies and even restaurants using illegal labor,” Houshang F. said.

According to California State Labor Codes, a person’s immigration status is irrelevant when it comes to their employers’ duty to pay employees minimum wages, allow for rest and meal breaks and follow all other labor laws.

Yaghoobia, who owned several car washes for 13 years, said car washes have long been popular among Iranian Jews and Muslims in Los Angeles since it is a profitable, low-skill cash business. He added that many car washes use illegal labor to reduce costs and prices, which in turn puts financial pressure on owners who follow labor laws and hire documented workers.

“The problem arises when you’re in an area where there are other car washes who are hiring illegals, or not paying minimum wages or hiring tip workers. You have to compete with them since they have lower prices,” Yaghoobia said.

Bet Tzedek’s current civil case against the Pirians is also not the first, said Kevin Kish, Bet Tzedek’s director of legal services. In 2005, Bet Tzedek represented a Pirian car wash employee in a lawsuit for failure to pay minimum wages and overtime in a case that was eventually settled, he said.

Kish said the latest health and safety citations received by the Pirians’ car washes were in December 2008 from the California Department of Industrial Relations, Occupational Safety and Health division.

According to records from the L.A. City Attorney’s Office, while criminal charges were not previously brought against the Pirians, a different car wash owner was previously convicted of labor law violations in November 2005. In that case, the owner was ordered to pay more than $160,000 in restitution to 11 workers and to complete community service requirements with Caltrans.

Yaghoobia said that while individuals may be quick to blame car wash owners like the Pirians for labor violations, the fault in such cases often lie with both workers and their employers.

“Both sides are at fault because, for example, you tell your worker to take a lunch break but he works through it to make tips and everything is hunky dory until one day the laborer gets upset with the owner for some reason so he goes to the Labor Board and claims he’s been mistreated,” he said. “At the same time many of the owners are uneducated about the state labor laws and the accountants they hire don’t always educate them about these laws.”

For more about this story and local Iranian Jews, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.

Report: Respect for Religious Freedom Downl in Israel; Grandfather, Mother Charged in Girl’s Murd


Report: Respect for Religious Freedom Fell in Israel

Respect for religious freedom in Israel has declined, according to a new U.S. State Department report.

An increase in “societal abuses and discrimination” against “some evangelical Christian groups as well as Messianic Jews” has contributed to a “slight decline in respect for religious freedom” in Israel, according to the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

The report also stated that “relations among religious and ethnic groups” were “often strained during the reporting period, which was “due primarily to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Government’s unequal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews, including the Government’s recognition of only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews.”

The report covered the period from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008.

The report also states that Iran has seen “a rise in officially sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda involving official statements, media outlets, publications, and books.” In addition, “the Government’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens of the country support Zionism and the state of Israel, continued to create a hostile atmosphere for Jews. The rhetorical attacks also further blurred the line between Zionism, Judaism, and Israel, and contributed to increased concerns about the future security of the Jewish community.”

Venezuela also was named as a state sponsor of anti-Semitism in the document “because of statements by the president, other government officials, and government-affiliated media outlets.” It added that “the local Jewish community expressed strong concerns that such statements and publications fostered a climate permissive of anti-Semitic actions, creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust of the community.”

Grandfather, Mother Charged in Girl’s Murder

The grandfather and mother of a 4-year-old girl whose remains were found in a Tel Aviv river were charged with murder.

Ronny Ron and Marie Pizem were charged Monday with killing Rose Pizem and dumping her body in a red suitcase into the Yarkon River.

Rose was buried Monday in the town of Montesson, west of Paris.

An autopsy performed last week at The Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv could not determine the cause of death.

Ron confessed to police during his arrest more than a month ago that he accidentally killed Rose by hitting her when she bothered him while he was driving. He told police to search the Yarkon River for a red suitcase carrying her remains.

Ron later recanted his confession.

Jewish community leaders, and a representative from Israel’s police force attended Rose’s funeral, which was conducted in “religious Christian” tradition, according to the CRIF Jewish umbrella organization vice president, Meier Habib, who participated, reported the French Press Agency.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

PETA hidden camera expose costs Agriprocessors support of key expert [VIDEO]


An undercover video shot last month at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant has raised new questions about the company’s slaughtering practices and cost it the support of one of the country’s leading experts on animal welfare.

Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who has served as consultant to scores of slaughterhouses across the country, said the practice shown in the video — in which two workers make “gouging,” saw-like cuts into the necks of animals immediately after the ritual cut performed by a rabbi — is inhumane.

Grandin said she hasn’t seen that type of second cut at any of the approximately 30 kosher slaughterhouses she has visited, nor did she see it when she toured the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2006, at which time she declared it satisfactory.

The practice also was not in evidence in a video released by a Long Island Jewish newspaper of a visit to Postville by 25 Orthodox rabbis on July 31. After visiting, the clergymen said the plant adhered to the highest standards of kosher practice.

The new video, shot Aug. 13 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has led Grandin to conclude that slaughterhouse visits are useless in determining whether animals are being treated properly. She has called for Agriprocessors to install round-the-clock video cameras on the kill floor that can be independently audited by a third party over the Internet.

“There’s no point,” Grandin said of the visits. “I’ve been in business 35 years, and I’m getting sick and tired of [it]. They act good when you’re there, and they don’t act good when your back is turned. They did the same thing for the rabbis they would do for me — put on a show.”

Agriprocessors did not respond to Grandin’s comments, but the company released a statement Sept. 5 after the PETA video was first reported by The New York Times.

“Agriprocessors fully complies with federal humane slaughter laws and is monitored by inspectors of the United States Department of Agriculture,” the statement said. “All kosher slaughter procedures are under the exclusive direction of the supervising agencies and rabbis who certify the kosher status of the animals, as is provided by law.”

Grandin’s criticism comes as Agriprocessors is working hard to revive its image, following a massive federal immigration raid in Postville on May 12 that led to the arrests of nearly 400 illegal workers.

Unlike other critics of Agriprocessors, which the company has sought to dismiss as “radical” or “fringe” groups pursuing narrow agendas, Grandin is a nationally renowned figure, whose judgments were previously touted when they were favorable to the company.

After PETA released a similar undercover video made in 2004, pressure mounted on Agriprocessors to have Grandin inspect its procedures, which she did two years later. Grandin concluded that the company had improved its procedures since the first video was shot, a fact publicized in news releases by both Agriprocessors and one of its supervising agencies, the Orthodox Union (OU).

“Temple is really important,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s head of kosher supervision. “She’s universally accepted. I think she’s a very honest person. Generally, Temple is someone who is accepted as an arbiter in terms of these issues of animal welfare. She doesn’t have an agenda against shechita [ritual slaughter] in any way.”

Grandin’s latest remarks strike at one of the central public relations vehicles the company has employed in its struggle to restore its flagging reputation: tours of the plant. The largest of these was the rabbinic visit on July 31, paid for by Agriprocessors and organized by the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue group. After a three-hour tour, the rabbis concluded that the company’s image as a chronic rule-breaker was inconsistent with reality.

“The current situation at the Agriprocessors plant is diametrically opposed to the rumors and innuendos that we had heard before we got here,” Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the council’s executive vice president, said following the visit. “We saw a state-of-the-art plant, a tremendous emphasis on safety and excellent standards of kashrut. While we have no personal knowledge of what may or may not have happened in the past, the Agriprocessors plant that we saw today is far different than what has been reported.”

Lerner declined to respond to Grandin’s comments. However, Genack said that the Orthodox Union had opted not to participate in the July trip for fear of being used as Grandin had — as a tool to buttress the company’s image.

“It was meant to give confidence on the public relations side,” Genack said of the rabbinic visit. “We didn’t want the OU to be either critic or apologist…. With all these issues remaining still unresolved, we didn’t attend because [we] wanted to be objective and separate from the story itself.”

Two OU rabbis accompanied the rabbis on their tour, but Genack said they were there solely to illustrate the plant’s kosher supervision, and he had specifically requested that they not be identified as members of the delegation.

After filming the controversial method on Aug. 13, PETA, which makes no secret of its opposition to all forms of animal slaughter, turned the footage over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and pressed for an investigation. According to the department, a so-called “second cut” is permissible only under direct rabbinic supervision.

USDA spokesperson Amanda Eamich said the department cited the company for a second-cut violation subsequent to Aug. 13 but added that the violation was “not egregious” and that the company was currently in compliance.

Agriprocessors has accused PETA of illegal conduct in producing the video, including breaking and entering, trespassing, industrial espionage and misrepresentation as an employee. PETA said the company is trying to deflect attention from its own misconduct.

“Our investigations are entirely lawful,” said Hannah Schein, a PETA investigations specialist. “Agriprocessors’ conduct is not.”

Iranian Jews stand by their man Katsav in rape and sexual harassment case


Despite a flurry of criticism directed at Israeli President Moshe Katsav over rape and sexual harassment allegations, support for Israel’s embattled president remains strong among Southern California’s Iranian Jews.

“Many in the community here know President Katsav on a personal basis,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. “The feeling is that he is not the type of person who is capable of committing the sorts of crimes attributed to him.”

Katsav’s ascension to the presidency nearly seven years ago marked the first time an Iranian Jew was elected to such a high political office in any government. The achievement served as a source of pride for many Iranian Jews worldwide.

Katsav, 61, has been accused of sexual harassment and rape, but no formal charges have been filed. A hearing is scheduled for May 2, after which Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will determine whether to indict the president.

Allegations that Katsav sexually harassed or assaulted female workers surfaced in July 2006. Katsav suspended himself from office on Jan. 25, after Israeli prosecutors drafted a rape indictment. Other allegations being considered against Katsav include breach of trust, obstruction of justice, harassment of a witness and fraud. He denies any wrongdoing.

“The charges against me have nothing to do with reality,” he said during a Jan. 24 press conference. “When the truth emerges, the citizens of Israel will be shocked.”

Katsav also accused Israeli journalists of libel and suggested that the Israeli media, motivated by racism, has been trying to discredit him ever since his 2000 victory over Shimon Peres for the presidency.

Calls made to Katsav’s attorneys in Israel seeking comment were not returned.Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik is filling in as president during Katsav’s self-imposed three-month suspension, which ends on April 23, Israeli Independence Day. According to Israeli law, the president is immune from prosecution while in office and can only be tried after the end of his term or if he resigns.

Katsav is expected to ask the Knesset for a second three-month extension to accommodate the May 2 hearing. Katsav’s term ends in July, and he has vowed to resign if formally indicted. Earlier this month, a Knesset committee voted against impeaching the embattled president.

Dr. David Menashri, chairman of the modern Iranian studies program at Tel Aviv University, said despite the negative press Katsav has received in the Israeli media, various Israelis of Iranian descent have by and large been sympathetic to him.

“Some prominent figures in the Iranian Jewish community expressed public support for Katsav, blaming the media for blowing the issue out of proportion and coming out with a verdict even before President Katsav has been brought to trial,” Menashri said.

A number of Southern California’s Iranian Jewish leaders said they were disturbed by the backlash against Katsav in Israel, given the fact that no formal charges have been filed.

“Mr. Katsav was not judged, not taken to court and the accusations have not been substantiated. So how can a whole country consider him guilty?” said Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills. “It’s against the Jewish teachings of the Talmud to do so.”

Local Iranian Jewish leaders said they have been urging the larger L.A. Jewish community to show restraint when it comes to judgment on Katsav until after his trial.

“As people who are concerned for Israel’s well-being and who are not always happy with what they see on the political scene, I think we should all be very interested in seeing that Mr. Katsav has the full opportunity to defend himself and make sure the whole truth comes out,” said Kermanian, the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s secretary general.

Ebrahim Yahid, a West Los Angeles resident and 40-year friend of the Israeli president, said the allegations made against Katsav were not typical of the president’s behavior. He said the accusations caught local Iranian Jews by surprise.

“The news was a major shock for our community, and we wanted to organize some sort of demonstration supporting President Katsav,” said Yahid, who chairs of the nonprofit Arbitration and Mediation Committee in Beverly Hills.

Ironically, the Iranian Jewish Woman’s Organization, a Los Angeles-based social group, honored the Israeli president’s mother Goher last year for her success in raising Katsav to become a source of pride for Iranian Jewry worldwide.

Other local Iranian Jewish leaders said they were confident the community’s image would not be tainted as a result of the scandal.

“Why should one scandal tarnish the whole community?” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. “We [Iranian Jews] are not known as a community with a high crime rate, nor low education, nor a lack of interest in humanity or philanthropy.”

Some Iranian Jewish legal experts said that while there may be support for Katsav, the scandal has tainted his reputation and sparked rumors among certain circles within the community.

“The notion of you are innocent until proven guilty is a very new and alien concept in the Iranian Jewish community,” said Nazila Shokrian-Barlva, an attorney with Los Angeles County public defender’s office. “The whole idea of gossip is to assume the reverse, and even if you are never proven guilty, the cloud never goes away.”

Update 2007-07-20:
Local Iranian Jews shocked by Katsav plea bargain

A Guilty Plea in AIPAC Case


A Pentagon analyst at the center of an investigation that has rocked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will plead guilty.

Edward Adams, a spokesman for the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., announced last week that Lawrence Franklin had scheduled a guilty plea for this week. Edwards said he did not know what charge Franklin would plead to, or if the plea is part of a larger deal.

Lawyers for Franklin in the past have suggested that he would plead guilty to charges that he moved classified documents out of a designated area to his home in West Virginia, the least of the charges against Franklin. He also is charged with leaking classified information to Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two AIPAC staffers who have since been fired, and to Israeli diplomats. Franklin’s lawyers said in August that they would seek to try Franklin separately from Rosen and Weissman, who also have been indicted.

 

Briefs


ADL Assists in OC White Supremacists
Arrest

Orange County authorities arrested two white supremacist leaders this week, and charged them with having bomb-making materials in 1999, including enough gasoline – 50 gallons worth – to blow up the Anaheim apartment building in which they lived.

The Nov. 18 arrests were the results of an ongoing partnership between the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and law enforcement, “in monitoring these people and the extremists groups that they belong to,” said Sue Stengel, ADL Western States counsel.

Authorities searching the apartment of Christine Greenwood, 28, and her live-in boyfriend, John Patrick McCabe, 23, also found razor blades, BB pellets, nails, battery-operated clocks that could be used as timers and a shopping list of bomb-making materials. Authorities said that the couple did not appear to have a specific target.

“ADL knows that these individuals have recruited, held meetings and hosted white power concerts in Orange Country for the past several years. As many as 150 people have been known to attend some of the these events, which serve to indoctrinate attendees into lives dedicated to hate,” said Joyce Greenspan, director of ADL’s Orange County/Long Beach region.

Greenwood was active in Women for Aryan Unity and organized a clothing drive for racist families. Both were among Southern California’s most active and influential white supremacists, according to the ADL.

A third suspect, John Frederick Steele II, 29, was charged with perjury and falsifying financial statements required by his probation officer. Steele is the leader of California’s Aryan Nations chapter, known as the Brandenburg Division. A search of Steele’s home on Monday turned up a letter urging for white supremacists to align themselves with Palestinian extremists and target Jews.

The three were being detained in the Orange County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

“We’ve been working for several months on this case,” Stengel said. “Once we knew that there was going to be one or more arrests, we encouraged the Orange County D.A.’s office, which played an enormous role in capturing them, to hold a press conference announcing the arrests. The public really had a need and a right to know that there were white supremacists were active in the Orange County area.”

Meanwhile, in Northern California, white supremacist Benjamin Williams was found dead Sunday in his Shasta County Jail cell while serving time for torching three synagogues and awaiting trial for allegedly killing a gay couple.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Williams, 34, was discovered dead, with cuts to his legs and arms, after he didn’t respond to a call for breakfast at around 6:30 a.m., said Redding Police Sgt. Dan Kupsky. An autopsy is scheduled to determine the cause of death, police said. – Staff Report

Fund Helps Disabled Girls Attend Day
School

With the help of Etta Israel’s Ner Shoshana Fund, six developmentally disabled girls are now attending Bais Yaakov, an Orthodox girls’ high school in Los Angeles. The yeshiva is serving as the first host school to this new program, which was named for Shoshana Greenbaum, a New York and Los Angeles day school teacher who was a victim in the Sbarro pizza restaurant bombing in Jerusalem on Aug. 9, 2001.

Due to their limitations, the teens had no choice but to attend public school, as there was no day school program that could accommodate them.

“The [girls’] parents are in tears every day,” said Dr. Michael Held, the director of the Etta Israel Center. “They can’t believe [the girls] are in a Jewish day school.”

In addition to regular academic subjects, the students are offered classes like art therapy, music therapy, dance and physical education.

Students in the regular Bais Yaakov program have been reaching out to their new friends by visiting them in their new classroom and Etta Israel hopes to create other Ner Shoshana programs at other host schools. “It’s very inspiring,” Held said. “Instead of defensive isolation in a yellow school bus, these students get to interact with other kids.” – Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Jewish Home Holds Walk of Ages III

Let’s hope the nice weather holds. On Dec. 8, the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) is holding “Walk of Ages III,” their third-annual 5k walk/run. Proceeds from the event will be used toward new and upgraded facilities for JHA, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in April.

Last year, participants raised $170,000 to benefit JHA, and this year’s goal is to pass the $200,000 mark, according to Walk chairman Shelly Markman. He said he was a little worried about the economy’s affect on fundraising, but he has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of money already raised – $120,000 at press time. The event is being sponsored by a huge slate of local businesses and organizations including Wells Fargo, Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center and B’nai B’rith.

Actor Jon Voight is the honorary chair and 104-year-old Sylvia Harmatz, JHA’s oldest resident, will reprise her role as grand marshal.

Western Bagel and Big Chill Yogurt will be there with refreshments for Walk participants, and there will be a drawing for a trip to Hawaii, with each walker eligible for one ticket per every $500 they raise, to be held at a special dinner in January for major fundraisers.

For registration, call (818) 774-3100 or visit

World Briefs


Israel: U.S. Would Assassinate Saddam

Israeli officials reportedly believe that if the United States moves against Iraq, it will be to assassinate Saddam Hussein and members of his family. According to an assessment prepared for the prime minister and foreign minister, the purpose of the action is to bring about a regime change without causing the entire country to collapse, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Meanwhile, Scott Ritter, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector said that Israel should oppose an American attack on Iraq. An American strike on Baghdad would be a disaster for Israel, Ritter told Ha’aretz. He said it would make Israel vulnerable to an Iraqi attack, would undermine regional stability and further anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab public and would increase terrorism against Israel.

Five Wounded in Blast

Five Palestinian youths were lightly wounded Tuesday in an explosion in a school near Hebron. A second bomb was found in the schoolyard and defused. Israeli officials are investigating whether Israelis were responsible for the blast, which occurred in an area under Israeli security control. The explosion went off in the courtyard of the Ziff secondary school south of Hebron, said the principal, who accused Jewish extremists. Nearly all 380 students were in class at the time.

Peres Supports Diplomatic Efforts

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres applauded the efforts of an international team of diplomats to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After meeting Tuesday in New York with officials from the so-called Quartet — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — Peres reiterated Israel’s willingness to withdraw from Palestinian areas as soon as the security situation improves. On Wednesday, Peres spoke out against terrorism during an address before the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at the start of a Cabinet meeting that no progress could be made without “total cessation of violence and terror.”

Israel Warns Lebanon

Israel will not allow Lebanon to divert water from the Wazzani river, which is shared by the two countries, Israel’s defense minister warned, saying that it is a “violation of every agreement we have signed in the past,” Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Tuesday. The Wazzani feeds into the Hatzbani River, which provides about 10 percent of Israel’s water. On Monday, an American delegation, including a water expert, visited the region in an effort to mediate the crisis. The officials watched as Lebanese workers laid pipes to pump water from the Wazzani.

Al Qaida Linked to Pearl Death

A member of Al Qaida was identified as one of the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, according to The Associated Press. The identification was made by a Pakistani held but not charged in the January kidnapping of Pearl, who was killed earlier this year after admitting to his Jewish roots in a video made by his abductors. If the identification proves true, it would mark the first time that Al Qaida was linked to Pearl’s death.

Lanner Sentencing Postponed

The jail sentencing of New Jersey Rabbi Baruch Lanner on sexual abuse charges has been delayed until Oct. 4. Lanner, 52, was found guilty in Monmouth County, N.J., Superior Court on June 27 of endangering the welfare of two girls who attended the Hillel High School in Ocean Township, N.J., where he was principal from 1992 to 1996. He also was the girls’ supervisor in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the youth wing of the Orthodox Union. Lanner faces 10 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $300,000 fine at the sentencing, which was postponed from Sept. 13. Lanner has maintained his innocence, and has 45 days to appeal after his sentencing. He remains free on $100,000 bail.

Forward Sells Radio Station

The Forward Association reached an agreement to sell its radio station to ABC Inc. for $78 million. The planned sale of WEVD-AM by the publisher of a family of Jewish newspapers bearing the Forward name follows an agreement announced in September 2001, under which ABC’s ESPN subsidiary was granted the right to provide programming on WEVD and ABC acquired an option to initiate negotiations for the purchase of the station.

Briefs compiled by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

JDL Trial Set for October


The trial of Jewish Defense League (JDL) leaders Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel on criminal conspiracy charges in the alleged plot to detonate bombs at a mosque and a congressman’s office is scheduled to begin in October. As Rubin and Krugel await their trial in a shared cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center, information has slowly come out about the informant who helped the government build its case since the arrests in December.

At the heart of the case against Rubin and Krugel are hours of tapes recorded by an informant working for the FBI. The tapes have been turned over to defense lawyers but are still being transcribed.

However, Rubin’s attorney, Brian Altman, believes that there is more to the case than the version of events on the tapes. "The government has an agenda," he says, "so they’ve investigated along that agenda. Then they dump it on you and — bam!"

Altman believes the tapes, once they are fully transcribed, will help prove that his client — who was present at only two of the 11 recorded meetings — was convinced to go along with the alleged bomb plot by the informant. Listening to the tapes, says Altman, "there’s a strong suggestion that the government’s informant was critical to this plan: he’s the one who’s very animated."

The informant, Danny Gillis, 23, is a former Navy petty officer who, while in high school, was reportedly a member of a Jewish pride gang in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley. A source close to Gillis says that while he often fought with white supremacist youths while in high school, he has no arrest record.

While serving in the Navy, the source says, Gillis was the JDL’s "No. 1 kid in L.A.," who often threatened or fought with people identified by the JDL as anti-Semites. But Gillis ended his contact with the JDL in early 2001, after his honorable discharge from the Navy. Months before he was allegedly recruited by Rubin and Krugel for the bombings, Gillis had begun taking classes at a community college and working as a bank teller.

According to the source, Gillis turned to the FBI because of the targets chosen, not the violence he was asked to commit. Gillis’ interest in the JDL reportedly stemmed from his hatred of skinheads, especially a racist gang known as the Peckerwoods. The source says that Gillis has Muslim and Arab American friends and believed the JDL went too far in targeting a mosque,"where there could be innocent children." When Gillis learned the JDL wanted him to attack Muslim and Arab American targets, Gillis turned to the FBI and agreed to record their meetings, according to the source.

The FBI paid Gillis "lost salary," an amount equal to what the informant had been making at his bank teller job before becoming an informant. Krugel defense attorney Mark Werksman says he has requested an interview with Gillis, but "I’ve been told that he wouldn’t speak with us." Altman has also been unable to speak with the prosecution’s star witness.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, who is prosecuting the case, says that Gillis is neither required nor forbidden to speak with Rubin’s or Krugel’s attorneys. "Informants are always protected," Jessner says. "If the informant wishes to speak to the defense, the informant may. Our job is to protect the informant, not to keep the informant from speaking to defense counsel."

Gillis is currently living outside of Los Angeles and plans to "disappear" after the trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

JDL’s Rubin, Krugel Indicted


Lawyers for Jewish Defense League (JDL) National Chairman Irv Rubin, 56, and Earl Krugel, 59, say that an FBI informant provoked the charges against the men, which led to a nine-count federal indictment last week. The two are accused of allegedly plotting to blow up a Culver City mosque and the field office of an Arab American congressman in Orange County.

Their lawyers said the charges were a “hysterical reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks.”

If convicted of the most serious charges in the indictment, returned on Jan. 10, the two men could be sentenced to life in prison.

The 24-page indictment charges that Rubin and Krugel recruited a person, described as someone who joined the JDL in his teens, to bomb the King Fahd Mosque and the field office, presumably in San Clemente, of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).

A third potential target was the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which is headquartered in a high-rise building in the Mid-Wilshire area, but Rubin allegedly struck this target from the list.

During the course of a dozen meetings of the three alleged plotters between October and December, the unidentified informant contacted the FBI and agreed to wear a concealed tape recorder during future sessions.

Rubin and Krugel were separately arrested on Dec. 11, after the informant had delivered five pounds of explosive powder to Krugel’s garage, according to the indictment.

In separate phone interviews, defense lawyers attacked the government’s charges.

“This is a classic example of an overcharged case,” said Peter Morris, who represents Rubin.

The second count, which accuses Rubin of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction against a U.S. government office, is “outrageous…. They’re trying to raise this to the level of the Sept. 11 attacks,” Morris said.

Rubin, who like Krugel, is being held in solitary confinement at a downtown detention center, is “very upset but ready to fight,” Morris said.

Mark Werksman, Krugel’s lawyer, said that “this case was initiated by, prodded along and overseen at every stage by an FBI informant. The informant provoked discussion about things that Krugel and Rubin would never have done on their own, if not propelled by the FBI.”

Steve Goldberg, a friend and one-time lawyer for Rubin, criticized mainstream Jewish organizations, which in public statements to the press have already “tried and convicted [the JDL leaders] without a fair hearing. These are very serious charges and demand a high burden of proof.”

The two defendants are to be arraigned Jan. 22 in a U.S. District Court. Defense lawyers said they would request bail for their clients after a judge is assigned to the case.

Rubin was named national chairman of the militant JDL in 1985 by its founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane. Since then, by his own count, Rubin has been arrested 40 times and has been investigated for murder and attempted murder. He has never been convicted of a felony.

Cleared of Charges?


Charges against a Brooklyn Chassidic rabbi of groping a 15-year-old girl during a transpacific flight were part of an extortion plot and will be dismissed by federal prosecutors.

So states prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin, who’s representing Rabbi Israel Grunwald, leader of a group of Pupa Chassidim in Brooklyn’s Borough Park section.

“The government has agreed to dismiss the misdemeanor charge [of abusive sexual contact with a minor] against Rabbi Grunwald, who is totally innocent of the allegations made against him,” Lewin declared in a written statement.

The U.S. government, at this point, is less certain. “The charges are still pending and trial is still set for Sept. 22,” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Lewin reaffirmed, in a phone interview, that he has a written agreement with the U.S. Attorney to drop all charges. Mrozek said that he could neither confirm nor deny this assertion.

Grunwald and his assistant, Yehudah Friedlander, both 44 at the time, were arrested on May 31, 1995, as they stepped off their plane at Los Angeles International Airport, following an overnight flight from Melbourne, Australia.

The arrests were based on allegations by a 15-year-old girl — who has residences in Australia and the United States — that during the darkened flight, Grunwald had fondled her breasts and Friedlander had touched her private parts.

Friedlander, facing a felony charge, subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a 22-month imprisonment. He is currently incarcerated at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center and is due for release in November.

Charges against Grunwald were dropped at the time but reinstated last October.

According to Lewin and a source familiar with the case, the father of the girl contacted a Jewish community leader in Australia last month and said that his daughter would retract her court testimony in return for a $1.2 million payment from the Chassidic communities in Australia and Brooklyn.

The demand was relayed to Australian lawyer Norman Rosenbaum, brother of yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum, who was killed in the 1991 Crown Heights riots, and the information ultimately reached Lewin.

Lewin notified federal authorities. On Aug. 24, two days before a previously scheduled trial date, a FBI undercover agent, posing as a friend of Rabbi Grunwald, turned over a “down payment” of $50,000 to the girl’s father in Burbank.

Kiara Andrich, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said that while the FBI was involved in the initial investigation of Grunwald and Friedlander, she could not comment on the alleged undercover operation.

Lewin said that he hoped that the U.S. Attorney’s office would “vigorously prosecute all parties involved in the attempted extortion of the Jewish communities in Melbourne and Brooklyn.”

The New York Post reported “real anger” in the Brooklyn Chassidic community over the government’s failure to arrest the father.

Grunwald leads a faction of some 100 Pupa Chassidim in Borough Park. He is the son of the late Josef Grunwald, the Hungarian-born founder and grand rabbi of the 12,000-member Pupa movement. On the founder’s death, the title devolved on his older son, Yakov Grunwald, who heads the main Pupa community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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