Court upholds conviction of Irvine protesters

A California state appeals court has upheld the conviction of 10 students at the University of California, Irvine, who disrupted a 2010 speech by then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.

During the speech, the protesters interrupted Oren repeatedly, calling him a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal.” The heckling caused him to pause his speech amid calls for order, and he curtailed his hourlong speech to 12 minutes.

In 2011, the students were charged and subsequently convicted of violating a state law prohibiting the disruption or breaking up of a lawful assembly. The appeals court upheld the conviction. The defendants face up to a year in prison.

General Counsel Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the prosecution along with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish National Fund, said his group was “pleased that the appellate division concurred with our view that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech may not be invoked to protect those who intentionally disrupt a lawful meeting.


Katsav denied new hearing in rape conviction sentence

An Israeli Supreme Court justice denied a new hearing for former President Moshe Katsav to request a reduction in his seven-year prison sentence for a rape conviction.

Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut on Sunday denied the motion for a new hearing, meaning that the only possibility that Katsav has for a reduction of his sentence is through presidential pardon.

Katsav, who was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset over Shimon Peres, resigned in the wake of rape allegations shortly before the end of his term in 2007. Peres succeeded Katsav in the post and continues to serve.

Israel’s Supreme Court upheld Katsav’s rape conviction and prison sentence last November.

Rubashkin appeals conviction, sentence to Supreme Court

Former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin has appealed his conviction and sentence for bank fraud to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rubashkin on April 2 filed a petition for writ of certiorari from the High Court. The court can decide to review the case or allow a federal appeals court ruling to stand. 

Last September, the U.S. appeals court in St. Louis denied Rubashkin’s bid for a new trial, in which he presented evidence that the original trial was unfair because of the involvement of Judge Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa in planning the May 2008 federal immigration raid on Agriprocessors. The raid led to the company’s bankruptcy later that year.

Rubashkin, who headed what once was the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and packing plant, in Postville, Iowa, was convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud in 2009 and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Rubashkin is in a federal prison in New York state.

Rubashkin also is appealing to the Supreme Court to shorten his 27-year sentence, which the appeals court upheld as “reasonable.” Rubashkin says it violates federal sentencing laws for a first-time, nonviolent offender. In the federal raid on the plant in May 2008, 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were arrested.

More than 52,000 people have signed a petition on the White House’s “We the People” Web site urging an investigation into misconduct by the prosecution. In addition, 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written letters to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an investigation into the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Last June, 75 U.S. Attorneys and law professors sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility calling for an immediate investigation into allegations of improper communications between Reade and prosecutors.

Demjanjuk conviction hailed as long-awaited victory for justice

The guilty verdict pronounced May 12 against John Demjanjuk in a Munich courtroom was a long time coming.

Following a trial that lasted a year and a half—capping more than three decades of legal drama—the 91-year-old former Ohio autoworker is now officially recognized as a war criminal. He was found by the court to have been complicit in at least 27,900 murders at the Sobibor death camp, one of the most horrendous killing grounds in the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

The case drew the attention not only of Germans but of people around the world to events of 68 years ago. Family members of Sobibor victims, and two survivors of the camp—including Thomas Blatt, one of the rare escapees—provided riveting and emotional testimony about the suffering they had seen, as well as their lifelong anguish.

All the while Demjanjuk lay, impassively, in a hospital bed that had been brought into the courtroom, wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses.

He was sentenced to five years in prison but was released pending an appeal. In the interim, prison authorities have taken him to a nursing home.

On May 16, Munich state prosecutors appealed the court’s decision to release Demjanjuk from prison pending his appeal. They also appealed the five-year sentence for being too lenient.

Some decried Demjanjuk’s immediate release.

“It is a slap in the face of any survivor and the relatives of the victims,” Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told JTA.

Kramer went on to say, however, that the fact that he “was tried and judged and for the last days of his life is confirmed as a perpetrator” is the most important point.

“This court ruling now is a very important step in the direction of justice after more than 65 years of injustice,” he said.

The decision sent the message that “no matter how long it takes, mass murderers are accountable to justice,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office.

Cornelius Nestler, the attorney for 12 Dutch plaintiffs in the case, called the conviction “a milestone in the history of prosecution of Nazi criminals.”

“It serves notice on all human rights violators that the passage of time will neither erase the world’s memory of their terrible crimes nor end its commitment to holding them to account.”

Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said “the conviction sets the precedent under which people who served where horrible crimes were committed can be prosecuted.”

But it is premature to call this the “last big Nazi trial,” as so many are doing, he added in a telephone interview from Jerusalem with JTA.

“People have been saying that for the last 24 years,” he said. “They said that about the [1992] trial of Josef Schwammberger, the first case in unified Germany … and there have been over 100 trials since then.”

The wait for justice in Demjanjuk’s case has been far longer than the duration of the trial.

Born in Ukraine, Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States after World War II. Hiding his Nazi past, he lived in suburban Cleveland starting in 1952. U.S. authorities uncovered his Nazi past in the 1970s.

Decades of legal drama ensued, including the well-publicized trial in Israel in which he was convicted in 1988 of membership in a Nazi organization and of being “Ivan the Terrible,” a notoriously brutal Treblinka guard. But the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the latter verdict in 1993 over questions about the evidence.

“There is no question there was a case of mistaken identity, so it was very good that he was not hung as ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ ” Zuroff said. “But he should [also] have been tried as another terrible Ivan—from Sobibor.”

Sobibor was constructed as an extermination camp in German-occupied Poland in 1942. By the time the camp’s operation came to a halt in November 1943, at least 167,000 Jews had been gassed with carbon monoxide, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Demjanjuk, a Soviet POW in German hands in 1942, was trained as an SS guard in the Nazi Trawniki forced labor camp in Poland. In 1943 he was sent to work at Sobibor, where he assisted in the murder of Jews, a knowing, willing accomplice in the “machinery of extermination,” Judge Ralf Alt said in his statement explaining the conviction.

The verdict came after 93 court days, elongated by monologues by Demjanjuk’s chief attorney, Ulrich Busch, who claimed his client was just as much a victim of Germany as any Jew. Busch insisted that Demjanjuk was a scapegoat who was used by German justice to cleanse its own conscience for its failure to prosecute German war criminals.

Zuroff said the fact that a Ukraine-born Nazi war criminal can be tried in Germany is something to celebrate.

“The German prosecutors changed their policy approximately three years ago, and we encouraged them to do so,” he said, noting that previously they would only prosecute individuals of German origin, with a few exceptions.

“This trial is the product of a different approach that is much more inclusive. That is the good news,” Zuroff said, adding later, “But if this had been instituted in the 1950s, the numbers of those convicted would have been higher and the punishment meted out much stronger.”

Bringing Nazi war criminals to justice remains a challenge.

On May 11, a German court decided not to extradite another accused war criminal to Holland. A court spokesperson said that Klaas Carel Faber, 88, who was convicted more than 60 years ago by a Dutch court of complicity in 22 wartime murders, would not be extradited because Faber’s consent as a German citizen was required and he refused, according to The Associated Press.

“This decision is absolutely outrageous,” Zuroff said. “It makes my blood boil.”

As for Demjanjuk, his five-year sentence likely will be reduced by the two years he has spent in jail during the trial. And his health may ultimately preclude further incarceration, if any appeals are lost, many have speculated.

But the question of “how long he is going to serve is secondary,” said Kramer. The conviction “is a very important step, but we have to admit it is not the last step.”

Nestler said his clients respected the court’s decision to release Demjanjuk pending his appeal.

“Under the rule of law,” the attorney said, “the court applied the presumption of innocence to Demjanjuk in the same way as it would to any other similarly sentenced defendant in Germany.”

Katsav appeals rape conviction

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav has appealed his conviction on rape and sexual assault charges and requested a delay of his prison sentence.

Katsav is scheduled to enter prison next week to serve a seven-year sentence.

His appeal was filed Monday with the Israeli Supreme Court; his attorneys requested that the former Israeli president’s imprisonment be delayed pending a final decision on the appeal. The conviction and sentence was handed down in the Tel Aviv District Court.

Katsav also was ordered to pay more than $28,000 to the rape victim and about $7,000 to the sexual assault victim. He will serve two years of probation after he is released from prison.

The 300-page appeal suggests that it would be undignified for Katsav to show up at the Supreme Court for his appeal in handcuffs, according to reports. The appeal also asks that “weighty consideration should be given to the fact that Katsav served as the president of the State and Israel’s official representative at home and abroad.”

The yearlong trial, which was closed to the public, ended with a guilty verdict on Dec. 30. Two years before the verdict was handed down, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain—one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence—saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset of Shimon Peres. In 2007, Peres assumed the post following Katsav’s resignation in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term.

Abramoff receives new four-year sentence, Phoenix community leader murdered

Abramoff Receives New Four-Year Sentence

Jewish lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison. Abramoff had pleaded guilty to corruption and tax offenses related to influence peddling involving Republican congressmen and midlevel Bush administration officials, some of whom were convicted.

The prosecution noted Abramoff’s cooperation in helping to build cases against some 10 other officials in recommending that he be given a reduced term, largely to motivate others to cooperate with investigators.

However, on Sept. 4, Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court in Washington sentenced Abramoff to nine months more than the 39-month term suggested by prosecutors, citing the erosion of the public’s trust in government that Abramoff’s activities generated.

Wearing a yarmulke, Abramoff offered a wrenching apology to the court, saying, “I have fallen into an abyss,” according to the reports. “My name is the butt of a joke.” Abramoff currently is serving a two-year prison term in an unrelated fraud case.

Prominent Jewish Activist in Phoenix Slain

A prominent Jewish activist in Phoenix, Irving Shuman, 84, was murdered at his office on Sept. 2.

Shuman’s body was found Tuesday evening at his real estate office after he failed to show up for a dinner appointment, according to the Arizona Republic. His car was also stolen.

Shuman, who was active in Jewish organizations and pro-Israel lobbies, had received several honors, including the Tree of Life award by the Jewish National Fund in Arizona and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s Medal of Honor.

“Irv Shuman was a man of exceptional values,” said Rabbi Ariel Shoshan, who studied with Shuman and other Phoenix executives on Thursdays, according to the Republic. “He lived for causes like the well-being of Israel and the furtherance of Jewish education and was an active supporter of over 100 charities.”

Shuman’s gold Lexus was recovered in San Bernardino this week.

Court Case Could Be Key to Trying Arafat

When Israeli authorities chose to put Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti on trial in a criminal court, rather than a military court, prosecutors may have set the stage for an even bigger prize: Yasser Arafat.

That possibility was given a boost last week with Barghouti’s conviction on five counts of murder for Israelis killed in three separate shooting ambushes conducted by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in 2001 and 2002.

Barghouti, the West Bank leader of Fatah, the political faction of the Palestinian Authority president, was acquitted on 21 other counts of murder for lack of evidence.

Both outcomes bolstered the argument for putting Palestinian terrorists on trial in regular Israeli courts, rather than in military courts, where the standards of evidence are not as strict. Barghouti’s conviction shows that there is sufficient evidence to put terrorists behind bars using standard criminal procedures, and his acquittal on the other counts lends legitimacy to the argument that even Palestinian terrorists will get fair trials in Israel.

Though the trial served as a legal extension of the Israeli-Palestinian battleground, Israelis insisted that the trial was fair, and that Israeli judges do not function as rubber stamps for Israel’s security establishment — as evidenced by Barghouti’s acquittal on most of the charges.

The judges said Barghouti could be convicted only in cases where it was proven that he had prior knowledge of imminent terrorist attacks and that he approved the attacks. The prosecution sought a ruling that would have held the head of a terrorist organization personally responsible for all attacks carried out by organization members.

That made a future conviction of Arafat more difficult, because prosecutors could win a conviction only if they can prove Arafat is directly responsibility for specific attacks.

During the Barghouti trial, the Israeli judges found Barghouti had ordered his men to go forward with attacks or suspend them, "according to instructions he had received from Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat" — one sign that an Arafat conviction is not an impossibility.

Despite his conviction, Barghouti, 44, still is considered one of the prime candidates to succeed Arafat. Palestinians regard Barghouti as a national hero, and until the start of the intifada, Israel considered him a relative moderate who might make a good successor to Arafat. Until the late 1990s, Barghouti was considered one of the strongest Palestinian advocates for negotiations with Israel.

After 1993, he became a strong backer of the Oslo accords. He continued to rise in the Palestinian rank, and by the start of the second intifada in late 2000, Barghouti was Fatah’s leader in the West Bank. Disenchanted with the deadlock in peace negotiations, Barghouti, who also was responsible for Fatah’s militant offshoot, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, began giving approval to attacks against Israelis.

The Israeli court ruled that it was through the Al Aqsa Brigade that Barghouti issued orders to kill. He was brought to trial after Israeli commandos captured him in Ramallah two years ago. He was the most senior Palestinian figure ever to face trial in Israel.

He tried to turn the proceedings into a political trial. As a member of the Palestinian legislative council, he said, he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli court’s right to try him.

"The intifada will continue as long as the occupation," he told the court upon his conviction, speaking at times in fluent Hebrew.

The Palestinian Authority denounced the trial and demanded Barghouti’s immediate release.

With Arafat’s foundering popularity and the rising power of Hamas, a figure like Barghouti may make the perfect candidate for Palestinian leadership — both in Israel’s view and that of the Palestinians.

The conviction helps ensure that Barghouti is not suspected of having a hidden agenda of collaboration with Israel. That makes him a more favorable candidate for leadership than Jibril Rajoub, Arafat’s national security adviser, and Mohammad Dahlan, former minister of internal security, both of whom at times have been slammed as too close to the Israelis.

The Tel Aviv court is due to sentence Barghouti on June 6.