Led Zeppelin did not steal ‘Stairway’ anthem from Jewish rocker, jury rules


The British rock band Led Zeppelin did not steal the famous anthem used in “Stairway to Heaven” from another rock band, a federal jury decided Thursday.

The verdict on a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the late Randy Wolfe, aka Randy California, the Jewish frontman for the American psychedelic group Spirit, was announced in federal court in Los Angeles, The Associated Press reported.

The suit charged that Led Zeppelin stole the “Stairway to Heaven” riff from Spirit’s song “Taurus.”

Spirit toured with Led Zeppelin as its opening act in 1968. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page asked Wolfe in 1969 to show him how to play the intro to “Taurus,” and Led Zeppelin’s members were fans of Spirit and went to see their shows, even beyond the bands’ first tour together in 1968, according to court documents.

Page and Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant appeared in court for the trial.

Wolfe died in 1997 while saving his son from drowning off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii.

The trustee for Wolfe’s estate had filed the lawsuit more than 40 years after the songs were written.

The Settler and the Stone Thrower


I managed just a few words with Mohammed before the guards led him away. After I’d turned away for just a second, the only sound I could hear was the clink of his leg irons and he was gone.

I’d come to attend Mohammed’s trial at a military court as part of an Israeli group to show support for Mohammed and his family. I’ve gotten to know his family over the past year, particularly his father, Ziad, a prominent peace activist who has forged relationships with Israelis of all political stripes and affiliations. Now, with his 15-year-old son accused of throwing stones at Israeli cars near my home in Gush Etzion, we had come to show support for Mohammed and the family, and to encourage the judge to show leniency.

Not that I take a particularly forgiving stance vis-à-vis stone throwers. Like most Israelis, I understand the need for our expansive security regime in Judea and Samaria, especially at a time that Palestinian terror attacks are happening virtually every day. Many of my neighbours in Efrat, Tekoa, Alon Shvut and elsewhere have suffered stoning attacks, and the rocks being thrown are not pebbles. The attacks have killed more than one person and injured many more. It is significant to say openly that I do not have a better solution to dealing with Palestinian terrorists than court.

But to me, calling for stiff penalties for stone throwers means also seeing first-hand what that position looks like. And although the visit was my first experience in jail, it was the latest of a series of experiences I’ve orchestrated in the Palestinian world over the past several years, trying to understand the Palestinian experience of Israel. I’ve tried to listen to ordinary Palestinians, in refugee camps at checkpoints around Judea and Samaria, in the souks and casbahs of West Bank cities and more.

Lastly, at least in this case, I was convinced that that it would be better – both for Mohammed, and for Israel, to have him at home. There, at least his father would have the opportunity to demonstrate messages of peace and reconciliation, instead of the clear messages of hate and violence he would surely ingest in prison.

In many ways, our day in court was the closest I’d come to “experiencing” Palestinian life under Israeli rule, which in many ways is simply a life-long series of delays. Palestinian friends had warned us to plan to spend the whole day at the jail – the court does not issue hearing times, only dates, meaning families arrive early and wait. Through the iron bars, we could see dozens of Palestinian parents milling in an outdoor holding cell, surrounded by fences and topped by a corrugated tin roof that provides protection from both the summer sun and the winter rains. From the outside, it was not clear if there were any drinking fountains or bathrooms.

There is no accurate way to portray the look of despair on the faces waiting to see their loved ones, mainly teenagers and young adults. It was a look I’d seen before – every time I’ve joined Palestinians as they underwent Israeli security procedures at checkpoints, at Ben Gurion Airport, at the entrance to the local Rami Levi supermarket and elsewhere. It is a look that runs deeper than an immediate issue of being frisked or having a 19-year-old soldier gruffly ask to see an ID. It is a look that betrays a deep sense of emptiness, of humiliation, of utter hopelessness. Here, the Hebrew- and Arabic language sign reading Welcome to ____ Prison  seemed like a cruel joke, accented by the announcements shouted over the loudspeaker in what sounded to me like an aggressive, abrasive Arabic.

We greeted Ziad, shaking hands through the fence to his obvious joy and the bewilderment of the other Palestinians, who couldn’t quite grasp the fact that a group of Israelis – including Orthodox settlers – had come to court with him. Then, two hours after submitting our ID cards, we were finally admitted, again for a minor taste of the Palestinian experience. Each member of the group answered some basic questions, then waited for the soldiers behind the bullet-proof glass to open the iron turnstile leading to the first of three checkpoints. Two metal detectors and a body frisk later, we were inside a maze of iron and bars.

Inside the courtroom, the judge was professional, courteous and appeared to be caring. Reporters who cover West Bank Palestinians say that trials of teenage stone throwers routinely last fewer than five minutes, and that could certainly have been the case here were it not for our presence, and the plea for leniency, made by one settler on behalf of the group.

Eventually, the judge recessed the case to gather more information. (The hearing was a closed-door session because the defendant is a minor, so the Jewish Journal cannot reveal any more details about the case.) But he did appear to have been moved by our demonstration of support.

That put the other members of the group on a bit of a high as the guards led us back to the prison gate, nearly eight hours after we had arrived but hopeful that the judge would show leniency when it came time to sentence Mohammed…

For me, however, I headed home to hug my children, thankful for the safety provided by our security establishment but haunted by the sight of Mohammed’s mother, trying hard to suppress her tears as she headed home for another night without her son, with the clink of leg irons ringing in her ears.

Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

Cartoon: The same-sex marriage party poopers


Accused sex offender pleads not guilty, released on bail


On Nov. 8, accused sex-offender Mendel Tevel pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn to charges that he sexually abused a minor for several months six years ago, according to CBS New York. Tevel accepted the court’s offer for $100,000 bail and is no longer in custody.

Tevel was working at the JEM Center, a Beverly Hills Jewish youth center, at the time of his arrest on Oct. 29 by Beverly Hills police who were acting on a warrant issued by New York officials. He was extradited to New York on Nov. 7.

In an article in the Jewish Journal in August, four men alleged they had been victims of Tevel as minors. Each claimed Tevel performed acts, which included spanking on bare skin, as well as sexually suggestive rubbing. The instances described by those who spoke with the Journal took place as early as around 1995 and as recently as around 2004.

Tevel was indicted by a grand jury before the DA’s office pressed charges against him. It is not known how many alleged victims appeared before the grand jury in the case. All of the allegations of abuse for which he has been charged occurred in New York and Pennsylvania. 

Tevel’s wife, Bracha; their 3-month-old daughter; and other relatives accompanied Tevel in court, according to CBS New York. 

Avigdor Lieberman cleared of corruption charges


This story orignally appeared on themedialine.org.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was acquitted of charges of fraud and breach of trust in a verdict that paves the way for his return to the foreign ministry, and sets him up as a possible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision came as US Secretary of State John Kerry met the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in attempt to nudge negotiations forward. His arrival coincided with reports of an “explosion” in the talks, and Palestinian threats to quit the Kerry-brokered process unless Israel promises to stop all construction in post-1967 areas, a demand that Israel says is unacceptable.

Speaking after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry said Washington is not giving up on a peace deal.

“As in any negotiation there will be moments of up and moments of down, and it goes back and forth,” Kerry said. “But I can tell you that President Obama and I are determined, and neither of us will stop in our efforts to pursue the possibility (of peace).”

Israeli analysts played down the reports of a collapse saying both sides are trying to win concessions from the Americans. In fact, speaking in Bethlehem, Kerry announced a gift of $75 million to the Palestinian Authority earmarked for jobs and upgrade for its infrastructure.

“I don’t think they’re on the verge of collapse,” Jonathan Rynhold, a professor of political science at Israel’s Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “If you follow the history of the negotiations, every time the Americans come there’s a crisis.”

He said that both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders are negotiating seriously. Their representatives have met 17 times since negotiations restarted in July after a three-year hiatus. At the same time, there is a sense that the gap between the minimum each side is willing to accept is growing, and the talks seem unlikely to produce a real agreement.

“They have to show the Americans that they’re negotiating seriously,” Rynhold said. “But they’re also preparing for the day when the negotiations will collapse, and they’re getting into position to blame the other side.”

The new tensions came as Moldavian-immigrant Avigdor Lieberman celebrated his acquittal on all counts after a 17-year-investigation and legal proceedings. Lieberman, the founder of Yisrael Beytenu [Israel is our home] – a party considered to be hard-line and right wing that is supported by many of Israel’s one million Russian immigrants, celebrated with a visit to Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall.

“This chapter is behind me,” a smiling Lieberman said after the verdict. “I’m focusing on the challenges that await us – and there are plenty of challenges.”

Israeli politicians rushed to congratulate Lieberman, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been filling in as foreign minister while Lieberman’s legal woes lingered on. Lieberman is widely expected to return to the foreign ministry, although that must be approved by the cabinet and the parliament.

“I am happy to welcome him back to the government,” Orit Struck, a parliament member from the right-wing Bayit Hayehudi [Jewish Home] party told The Media Line. “Lieberman is right-wing and he knows how to use his political power to support the state of Israel.”

Struck lives in the West Bank city of Hebron, which has been a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Earlier this week, a bus she was traveling on between Jerusalem and Hebron was firebombed, although she was not injured.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi said Lieberman will strengthen Israel’s “racist” policies.

“Unfortunately being racist is not a criminal violation in Israel,” Zoabi told The Media Line. “He is powerful and he was cleverer than the investigators.”

Lieberman has angered Israeli’s Arab citizens, who make up one-fifth of the population, by calling for a loyalty oath before they will be allowed to vote. He has also called on redrawing Israel’s borders to allow the annexation of parts of the West Bank in exchange for ceding land heavily populated by Israel’s Arab citizens.

Even if Lieberman returns to the foreign ministry, he is unlikely to have a major effect on Israel’s policies, at least in the short-term. Netanyahu has made it clear that he is the one in charge of the talks with the Palestinians. He has also steered Israel’s relationship with the US, keeping Lieberman in Israel during most of his trips to Washington.

Israel does not have term limits, and Netanyahu can run for prime minister as many times as he wants. Yet, if the PM does try to push through a peace deal, Lieberman could become the leader of the opposition to any deal.

Lieberman’s expected return comes as Israel’s image abroad is taking a beating. There are growing calls in Europe to boycott Israeli-made goods, and to bring Israel’s military officials to trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Expressing a fear held by some of Israel’s advocates, Rynhold opined that “Lieberman’s return will have a negative impact on Israel’s image in Europe and especially among liberal American Jews. In Europe, many people don’t like Israel anyway. But in America, they do like us, and he could alienate our liberal supporters.”

Jewish groups ride roller-coaster week of Supreme Court rulings


A slight bump up on affirmative action, a plunge on voting rights, and on gay marriage, the mountaintop: federal legitimacy.

It’s been a week of roller-coaster highs and lows at the Supreme Court for liberal Jewish groups. Their collective pledge: Stick it out.

“These are critical decisions and it’s going to be a fight” on voting rights, said Sammie Moshenberg, the director of the National Council of Jewish Women, one of several groups that had weighed in on the recent cases with friend-of-the-court briefs.

The same tone — vigilance on voting rights, gratitude on affirmative action and gay marriage — informed statements from other groups.

On Monday, the court ordered lower courts to more stringently scrutinize the University of Texas’ affirmative action practices but did not otherwise reverse its earlier decision upholding the right of universities to make race a factor in accepting students.

Jewish groups praised the decision, with the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center celebrating it for upholding “the use of affirmative action, the principle of diversity, and the understanding that race conscious remedies may be necessary to ensure diversity, even as we are aware that the decision’s wording indicates the Court may welcome future opportunities to review and potentially restrict affirmative action.”

Tuesday’s decision on voting rights, a 5-4 call that split the court along its conservative-liberal lines, shocked Jewish groups. The decision kept in place the shell of the 1965 Voting Rights Act but gutted its key provision, which had mandated federal review of any changes in voting laws in areas and states — mostly in the South — where racial discrimination had been pervasive.

All three Jewish justices dissented from the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, which found that the 1965 rules were outdated. In a withering dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that Congress had overwhelmingly reaffirmed the 1965 rules as recently as 2006 and said the court was overstepping its bounds.

The decision drew strong condemnation from Jewish groups and vows to bring the case to Congress, although the likelihood is that current political realities — a Republican House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate — will preclude a review of the 1965 law anytime soon.

On Wednesday morning, the court issued two rulings on gay rights. One overturned a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which mandated that federal laws abide by a definition of marriage as between a man and woman. In the second ruling, the court said that individuals who sought to overturn a California Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage had no standing to sue.

The first case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a Jewish woman, Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay federal taxes on the estate of her late wife, Thea Spyer, who also was Jewish, although their Canadian marriage was recognized as legal by the State of New York, where they resided.

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” Kennedy wrote in an opinion joined by the four liberal judges, including the three Jewish justices: Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, as well as Sonia Sotomayor. “It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper.”

The marriage equality cases had Jewish groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs on both sides, with liberal groups defending the rights of gay couples and Orthodox groups seeking to push back against the California Supreme Court decision.

“Society’s mores may shift and crumble but eternal verities exist,” the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America said in a statement. “One is marriage, the union of a man and a woman. Its sanctity may have been grievously insulted by the High Court today, but that sanctity remains untouched.”

Liberal Jewish groups were elated.

“Having faced prejudice and bigotry throughout our history, the Jewish community does not tolerate unjust discrimination against others,” Alan van Capelle, the director of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that advocates on social issues and that had joined friend-of-the-court briefs in both cases, said in a statement. “Personally, as a gay Jewish man who has long been fighting for LGBT rights, it means so much to see our highest court rule that my family has as much right to happiness and protection under the law as any other.”

Lieberman at opening of fraud trial pleads not guilty


Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the opening of his trial for fraud and breach of trust pleaded not guilty on all counts.

The trial opened Sunday afternoon in front of a three-judge panel in Jerusalem District Court.

Witnesses will begin testifying after the Passover holiday, in late April. The timing of the trial means Liberman cannot be appointed as a minister in the new government being formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, ran second in last month's national elections to Netanyahu.

Lieberman resigned as foreign minister at the end of December, shortly before his indictment for fraud and breach of trust for allegedly advancing the position of Zeev Ben Aryeh, Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, in exchange for information on an investigation against Lieberman. The charges came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed a 12-year probe of Lieberman in other cases.

Lieberman has said he would resign from politics if he were convicted. If he were convicted and his actions were determined to involve moral turpitude, Lieberman would be forced to resign from the Knesset and to stay out of politics for at least seven years.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reportedly is the state's key witness in the Ben Aryeh case and reportedly will testify against Lieberman during the trial. Shortly before the indictment was formally issued, Lieberman announced that Ayalon would not be included on the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset list for the national elections.

Ayalon stayed on at the Foreign Ministry despite Lieberman stepping down.

Shangri-La juror said to have hidden her Jewishness


In court papers filed Jan. 7, attorneys for the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner allege that of 12 members on the jury that unanimously found their clients guilty of discriminating in 2010 against a group of Jewish patrons, one juror concealed her own Jewishness during jury selection. 

The attorneys’ assertion appears in a 21-page memorandum supporting their motion for a new trial, one of a number of post-trial motions filed in recent weeks in the same Santa Monica courtroom where the jury’s unanimous verdict against the Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, was first handed down in August 2012. 

In the memorandum, the hotel’s attorneys state that the judge who presided over the trial made errors in law, that the evidence presented was insufficient to justify the final verdict and that the damages awarded by the jury to the 18 plaintiffs — more than $1.6 million in all — were excessive. 

But of all the arguments advanced in the memorandum, the lawyers’ assertions about “misconduct” behind the closed door of the jury room stand out. 

According to the memorandum, Juror No. 7, identified as Yerha Vasquez, “failed to disclose her religious background, Jewish, during voir dire,” the process of jury selection that takes place before a trial begins, which lasted more than three full days before the Shangri-La trial officially commenced. 

The hotel’s lawyers cite another juror as the source for this assertion. In a three-page declaration also filed in court by the defense, juror Debra Clint says that Vasquez “often cried during deliberations about her pain and her past history.” 

Clint’s declaration does not include any mention of Vasquez’s religion.

Steven Richman, a partner in the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, LLP, who joined the legal team defending the Shangri-La and Adaya after the conclusion of the trial, would not say how he first became aware of Clint’s concerns about what took place in the jury room, but he stood by the memorandum’s claim about Vasquez’s concealing her Jewishness. 

“She [Vasquez] did not disclose her religion or the fact that she believed that she had been harassed before,” Richman said in an interview with the Journal on Jan. 10. 

Clint, who signed her declaration on Nov. 21, 2012, also complained about another juror, identified only as “Ms. Schellpfeffer.” Clint describes Schellpfeffer as “aggressive, forceful and outspoken during deliberations,” and also makes the claim that Schellpfeffer came into deliberations wanting to “ ‘stick it to’ the Defendants.” 

Clint’s statement alleges that Vasquez “aligned herself with … Schellpfeffer, and agreed and voted with Ms. Schellpfeffer on whatever Ms. Schellpfeffer said.” 

The defense memorandum describes Schellpfeffer’s conduct as “a manifest refusal to deliberate,” but one juror’s allegedly dominating deliberations may not be sufficient grounds for a judge to grant a new trial, according to an expert on the topic. 

“That’s not a basis for overturning a verdict,” Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the law school at University of California, Irvine, said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

In their memorandum, the defense attorneys presented other reasons to grant a new trial. They argue that because the organization with which the plaintiffs were affiliated, the Los Angeles-based young leadership division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, is not a religious group, the Unruh Civil Rights Act should not apply to them. 

James H. Turken, the managing partner of Dickstein Shapiro LLP’s three offices in California who represented the plaintiffs at the original trial, disputed the defense’s interpretation of the Unruh Act. 

Because Adaya is said to have instructed her staff to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the Shangri-La’s pool, Turken said the identity of the organization sponsoring the party that Adaya disrupted is irrelevant. 

“They could’ve been there with the United Way,” he said. “If they were Jewish people and she made that comment, that would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

The defense’s motion for a new trial is scheduled to be heard in court on Jan. 31.

Olmert sentenced to community service for breach of trust


Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six months of community service for a breach of trust conviction.

Olmert was sentenced Wednesday in Jerusalem District Court. He could have faced up to three years in jail.

The state prosecutors office also dropped a request that the court find that Olmert 's conviction amounted to moral turpitude, which would have prevented the 67-year-old from entering politics for seven years.

Olmert had agreed to forgo the perks awarded to a former head of state, including a secretary, an office and a car, in exchange for the finding.

The Jerusalem District Court in July acquitted Olmert on charges of fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and falsifying corporate records in what became known as the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. He was found guilty on a lesser charge of breach of trust in the Investment Center case.

Olmert is the first former Israeli prime minister ever to stand trial. He officially resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.

Following the verdicts, Olmert said he has no plans to reenter politics.

Olmert will be back in the courtroom, however. In January, he was indicted on bribery charges in one of Israel’s largest corruption scandals. Olmert is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes during the construction of the Holyland apartment project in Jerusalem when he was mayor of the city and then trade minister.

Seventeen others have been indicted in the case, including his bureau chief, Shula Zaken, and Olmert's successor as Jerusalem mayor, Uri Lupolianski.

Leiby Kletzky’s killer sentenced to 40 years to life


Levi Aron, the Brooklyn store clerk who pleaded guilty to killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

Aron, 37, was sentenced Wednesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court. He did not address the court.

He pleaded guilty earlier this month to kidnapping, killing and dismembering Leiby near his home in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn in July 2011. Aron’s attorney at first had attempted to pursue an insanity defense; Aron reportedly has a history of mental illness.

Leiby’s family did not attend the sentencing, The Associated Press reported. A statement from his father, Nachman Kletzky, that was read in court said that “God did not abandon our son nor our family for one second.”

Leiby, making his first attempt to walk home alone from camp, had stopped to ask Aron for directions and entered his car. Less than 48 hours later, the search for the boy came to a grisly conclusion when parts of his dismembered body were found in the freezer of Aron’s apartment in the nearby Kensington section of Brooklyn.

The story behind the Hotel Shangri-La anti-Semitism trial


It was late in the afternoon on Aug. 15, a Wednesday, when the jury delivered its verdict to a Santa Monica courtroom. The discrimination case that had been brought against the oceanfront boutique Hotel Shangri-La by a group of young Jews had been going on for nearly four weeks, and the jurors had taken five full days for their deliberations. It was so late in the day, in fact, that James Turken, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, and some of his clients who were still standing by, had to be let into the locked courthouse building in Santa Monica by a security guard.

And even though Turken was already hopeful that the jury’s prolonged deliberation might mean good news for his side, it wasn’t until the attorney took a seat in the courtroom that he found out for certain just how overwhelming their victory was.

A court employee had already begun reading the jury’s verdicts for each of the 18 individual plaintiffs, and, with each additional decision, the message became increasingly clear: The jury firmly believed Turken’s clients’ allegations that the hotel and its president, CEO and part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, had illegally discriminated against them, solely because they were Jewish.

The total amount in damages and statutory payments awarded to the plaintiffs on that day added up to about $1.2 million. On the following day, because the jury found the defendants had acted with “malice, oppression and fraud” against most of the plaintiffs, they would also impose a fine on Adaya and the hotel of $440,000 in punitive damages — bringing the size of the total penalties to more than $1.6 million.

But Turken was already elated on Wednesday.

“Home run,” Turken whispered to this reporter. “Home run.”

This story dates back to two years before, to July 11, 2010, when the plaintiffs, most of them affiliated with the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), all attended a pool party organized by the group at the Shangri-La.

The group had made arrangements for the event through an event promoter, Scott Paletz, who had been bringing people to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant since March of that year. Starting at 11 a.m. on that Sunday, the FIDF group had been allotted a cordoned-off area on the pool’s deck, where members had installed a pair of banners announcing their presence. At a check-in table in the courtyard, a blue shirt was displayed with the word “Legacy,” the FIDF program the group was fundraising for that day. It’s a program that brings the young relatives of Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty for a month-long stay at a summer camp in the U.S.

Adaya, 48, a Pakistani-born Muslim, was also at the pool that day, there to watch the World Cup final game in her cabana. After examining some of the FIDF group’s promotional literature, Adaya instructed members of her staff to take a number of actions against the group — including forcing the FIDF group to take down its banners, literature and other evidence of the organization’s presence. Many of the plaintiffs testified to seeing hotel security guards inform some of the FIDF guests, all easily identified by the blue promotional wristbands they were wearing, that they were not allowed to swim in the pool, or even dangle their feet into the water. The plaintiffs also alleged they heard from a hotel employee that Adaya had made comments about wanting to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the hotel or the pool.

The hotel staff did not forcibly kick out the attendees of the FIDF party, but their actions, the plaintiffs said, ruined the party. Though it had been expected to last into the evening, the day ended when the plaintiffs left the hotel, around 5 p.m., according to testimony during the trial.

Many of the plaintiffs (most, but not all, of them Jews) also testified that they could not believe they were experiencing discrimination of this sort, at a chic hotel in Santa Monica, in 2010. But that’s precisely what they came to believe had happened, and they were able to convince the jury that Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a far-reaching California state law that outlaws discrimination on the basis of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

The law entitles all Californians to “the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever,” and though it was adopted in 1959, a time when the most egregious forms of discrimination were directed against African Americans and other people of color, the statute clearly applies to religious groups, as well.

None of the legal experts interviewed for this article could point to a previous case in which the Unruh Act had been used to affirm the rights of Jews in the way that it was in the Shangri-La case, however. (One case, Sinai Memorial Chapel v. Dudler, had been brought in 1991 by a Jewish plaintiff and cited the Unruh Act, but in that instance the plaintiff was accusing other Jews of discriminating against her because she came from Russia.)

“I don’t think it makes new law, because it simply affirmed that there was a violation of existing law,” Turken said of the Shangri-La victory. “But do I think the case is important? Yeah, I think it’s important. My clients wanted the defendants held up to the world and found liable — and that happened.”

Built in 1939, the Art Deco Hotel Shangri-La is situated on the corner of Ocean and Arizona avenues, with a pool set in an interior courtyard, protected from any winds coming off the Pacific Ocean. The clean, white exterior of the 71-room facility glistens in the Southern California sunshine.

Tehmina Adaya’s father, Ahmad Adaya, purchased the hotel in 1983. Reading a March 2010 post on her blog, tamieadaya.com, one might imagine the Shangri-La to be the Santa Monica equivalent of the Chateau Marmont.

“I had the privilege of growing up in and around an LA institution that as Hollywood’s ocean front hotel had a long history of being a hideaway for high profile figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, Diane Keaton, Madonna and Sean Penn,” Adaya wrote, not long after a $35-million renovation of the Shangri-La was completed in 2009.

But if the hotel does, in fact, aspire to a degree of exclusivity, some of the evidence presented in court appeared to belie that aim. When Adaya took the stand as a witness on Aug. 1, Turken asked her if a formal policy exists as to who is allowed to use the hotel’s pool. Adaya responded that a sign now stands on the pool deck informing visitors that only guests of the hotel and people who have rented cabanas are entitled to swim in the pool.

Asked whether such a sign was posted on the day of the FIDF event, however, Adaya responded, “I’m not sure.”

Attorneys defending Adaya and the Hotel Shangri-La maintained throughout the trial that the FIDF group had not made a formal arrangement with the hotel to hold its party there, and therefore the hotel and Adaya were justified in their actions.

Yet in cross-examination on the witness stand, Adaya retreated from some of her previous allegations about the plaintiffs. Adaya acknowledged that, contrary to the report prepared by the hotel’s head of security, the FIDF group was not behaving in a raucous manner. And when Turken asked Adaya about a lawsuit she had filed against his clients, in which she alleged that they had posted libelous and defamatory comments on various Web sites about her hotel following the ill-fated event, the hotel owner admitted that she had no evidence that it was Turken’s clients who posted the comments.

“But their friends did,” Adaya said.

Whether it was Adaya’s own apparent uncertainty about the Shangri-La’s policies — including those governing the relationship between the hotel and the separate company that in 2010 was running the hotel’s food and beverage concessions — that impacted the jury’s verdict, it is impossible to say. At the close of the trial, before jury deliberations, Adaya declined to speak to this reporter. Adaya also was not present in court when the verdict was announced, nor, despite a request by the court, did she appear to hear the additional penalties read on the following day. Follow-up requests for an interview with Adaya for this article, submitted to her representatives, were declined.

A number of members of the hotel staff were present in the courtroom representing her, accompanied by a recently hired communications counselor with a specialty in crisis communications. They spoke in her defense, saying she intends to appeal the ruling.

Ellen Adelman, chief business development officer at the Shangri-La for the past two years, said she had spoken to Adaya that morning, who, Adelman said, was “disappointed” with the verdict.

“I’ve worked for Tehmina Adaya for over two years, and I have always received the utmost respect from her,” Adelman, who is Jewish, said. Adelman described her boss as one of the “most open people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” and said that the hotel employs staff from “over 12 countries” and welcomed guests from “over 21 different countries” in July.

Standing next to Adelman was Miles Lozano, the hotel’s director of public relations and marketing. Lozano, too, is Jewish, a fact he also made sure to note in a conversation during the morning recess.

“I went to Crossroads School with [Adaya’s] children, her children attended my bar mitzvah,” said Lozano, who declined to state his age but appeared young enough that his bar mitzvah might not be such a distant memory. “I’ve always known Tehmina Adaya to be amazingly open-minded as far as religion or anything like that.”

As for the plans to appeal the ruling, Adelman said that Adaya “firmly believes in the judicial system, and she will appeal this.” Defense attorney Philip Black, meanwhile, wrote in an e-mail to this reporter on the day punitive damages were assessed that he was “mystified, perplexed and extremely disappointed in the jury.”

“Appeal expected,” Black added.

Leiby Kletzky’s killer pleads guilty


Levi Aron, the Brooklyn man accused of killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and kidnapping.

Aron is facing at least 40 years in prison, according to The New York Times. Originally he had pleaded not guilty to eight counts of murder and kidnapping.

Despite Aron’s history of mental illness, New York State Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog told the defendant on Thursday that “a defense of not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect would not be a viable defense,” the Times reported.

“Today we close the door on this one aspect of our tragedy and seek to remember only the gifts that God has bestowed,” Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind said Thursday, “including the nine years Leiby was with us.”

Aron, 36, was charged with murdering Leiby near his home in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn in July 2011. The boy, making his first attempt to walk home alone from camp, had stopped to ask Aron for directions and entered his car. Less than 48 hours later, the search for Leiby came to a grisly conclusion when parts of his dismembered body were found in the freezer of Aron’s apartment in the Kensington section of Brooklyn.

Tucson gunman Loughner pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder


A 23-year-old college dropout pleaded guilty on Tuesday to killing six people and wounding 13 others, including then-U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in an Arizona shooting rampage last year, and will be spared the death penalty in exchange.

Jared Loughner entered his guilty pleas in federal court in Tucson shortly after he was ruled mentally competent to stand trial on charges, including first degree murder, by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns.

“I plead guilty,” Loughner, dressed in a khaki prison jumpsuit, said to each of the 19 counts read in court by Burns.

Giffords, a U.S. representative from Arizona who was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, was meeting constituents at a Tucson supermarket on Jan. 8 last year when she was shot through the head at close range. The six people killed include a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors, who originally charged Loughner with 49 criminal counts, have agreed not to seek the death penalty against him. Burns will sentence Loughner on Nov. 15, and he could face multiple terms of life in prison.

The 19 counts he pleaded guilty to include murder, attempted murder and the attempted assassination of Giffords.

During an exchange with the judge before formally entering his plea, Loughner admitted going to the Congress-on-your-corner event hosted by Giffords armed with a Glock pistol with a plan to kill the congresswoman.

He also admitted shooting other people there with the intention to kill them because they had attended the event.

GIFFORDS SATISFIED WITH PLEA ARRANGEMENT

Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband, said in a statement before the hearing that the couple had been in touch with federal prosecutors and were “satisfied” with the plea agreement.

“The pain and loss caused by the events of Jan. 8, 2011 are incalculable. Avoiding a trial will allow us – and we hope the whole southern Arizona community – to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives,” Kelly said.

Giffords resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recovery. Her former aide, Ron Barber, who was also wounded in the shooting spree, won a special election to fill her seat in June and will face re-election in November to serve a full two-year term.

Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Geneva on July 25. Photo by REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

Barber was in court for the hearing but Giffords did not attend.

“It is my hope that this decision will allow the Tucson community, and the nation, to continue the healing process free of what would likely be extended trial and pre-trial proceedings that would not have a certain outcome,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement following the hearing.

“In making the determination not to seek the death penalty, I took into consideration the views of the victims and survivor families, the recommendations of the prosecutors assigned to the case, and the applicable law,” Holder said.

Loughner was determined unfit to stand trial in May 2011 after he disrupted court proceedings and was dragged out of the courtroom. Court-appointed experts said he suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.

He has since been held at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where he has been forcibly medicated to treat psychosis and restore his fitness to face proceedings in his prosecution.

Additional reporting by Jazmine Woodberry, Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom

ZOA prevails in wrongful termination suit


A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge in Beverly Hills cleared the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) of all claims brought against it by a former employee alleging wrongful termination as well as pregnancy and sex discrimination.

Judge Richard A. Stone found that Julie Sager, who served as the national director of campus activities until she was terminated in May 2009, failed to prove she was fired because she was pregnant.

Stone rejected Sager’s argument that the multiple reasons given for her termination masked the fact that she was terminated for her pregnancy. Rather, he said the varying explanations stemmed from differing perceptions of events and circumstances, but together amounted to reasonable cause for termination.

Sager’s attorney, Charles J. Wisch, claimed ZOA promoted a male employee to fill Sager’s position immediately after she was terminated, challenging ZOA’s claim that eliminating her position was in part a cost-cutting measure. The judge accepted ZOA’s evidence that her primary responsibilities were assumed by then-Executive Director Gary Ratner.

ZOA is an Israel advocacy organization with a budget of more than $4 million. With fewer than 50 employees, it is not required to have a maternity leave policy.

The judge found there was not enough evidence to support claims that ZOA acted out of gender bias when it earlier fired the only two other employees who had requested maternity leave from ZOA. Stone also noted that ZOA President Morton Klein, who hired Sager in 2002, had increased her salary substantially after two prior maternity leaves while she was employed at ZOA.

Klein testified on June 13, at the end of the two-week trial.

Wisch said he and his client are evaluating all options for how to proceed, including an appeal. “Regrettably, [Judge Stone] did not find that the evidence was sufficient to show discriminatory intent,” Wisch said.

Sager had sought about $900,000 in back pay and lost potential future pay, as well as unspecified punitive damages and compensation for alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress.

ZOA attorney Rex Julian Beaber estimates the total costs of the case will be $350,000, and in a wrongful termination lawsuit a losing plaintiff is not required to cover the defendant’s legal fees. Beaber said while ZOA had the opportunity to settle, it declined because ZOA leaders viewed the charges as spurious.

Despite ruling in favor of ZOA, the judge was critical of the stream of current and former ZOA employees and lay leaders who took the stand over the course of the trial.

“As for the evidence presented, the court finds that there was not one witness in the case whose testimony was not tainted by some bias, interest or other motive,” Stone wrote in his ruling. “Both attorneys did an outstanding job highlighting inconsistencies, misstatements, dishonesty, personality issues and other interests that compromised the witnesses and their testimony.”

Steven Goldberg, a national vice chair for the ZOA and president of ZOA’s L.A. regional board, lauded the ruling: “The ZOA is gratified by its sweeping victory in the lawsuit,” he said. “Considering the actual evidence, Ms. Sager’s allegations of discrimination were not only groundless, they were obscene.”

Prosecutors drop charges in Brooklyn sex abuse case


Prosecutors dropped all charges against a group of men who were accused of sexually abusing a young Brooklyn haredi Orthodox woman for eight years.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges on Tuesday against four Crown Heights men accused of raping and forcing the woman to serve as a prostitute in their neighborhood since she was 13, according to reports.

A Brooklyn judge dismissed the case after questions arose about prosecutors withholding evidence that suggested the men were not guilty.

In addition, the accuser, who has a history of mental illness, apparently retracted her story in April, which caused the case to crumble.

Following the dismissal of the charges, the father of the victim released a statement criticizing the district attorney’s decision.

“Our family has the misfortune of living under the jurisdiction of the Brooklyn District Attorney, who regards the psychological confusion and fear my daughter experienced during her enslavement as proof that she sought out, enjoyed and deserved her victimization,” the father said in a statement, according to the New York television station WPIX.

ZOA sued for discrimination, national president Morton Klein takes the stand in Beverly Hills court


Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein took the stand Thursday in a Beverly Hills courtroom as the final witness in a sex discrimination and wrongful termination case filed against the ZOA.

Julie Sager, who worked for the ZOA for seven years, including five years as national director of campus activities, based in Los Angeles, is accusing the ZOA of sex and pregnancy discrimination for firing her when she returned to work after a short maternity leave following the birth of her third child in May 2009. The ZOA counters that Sager was a problematic employee for some time. ZOA also notes that it accommodated Sager through three pregnancies while she was employed at ZOA.

The ZOA is an Israel advocacy organization with a budget of around $4 million.

Taking the stand on the last day of two weeks of testimony from both sides, Klein testified for the defense regarding Sager’s employment history. He also stated that he harbored no bias against pregnant women. In fact, he said, the opposite is true.

“No one could be more thrilled than me when Jewish women have children,” Klein said, choking up a bit. “I am a child of Holocaust survivors. I lost many first cousins, aunts, uncles, and three of four grandparents to Hitler, and I’m thrilled when Jewish woman have children … I wish they’d have more.”

The plaintiff contends that ZOA has fired three women shortly after they took maternity leave. ZOA countered that the women were all terminated for cause, and that many other women have held and continue to hold important positions at the organization. As an organization with fewer than 50 employees, ZOA is not federally mandated to have a maternity leave policy.

ZOA says that it had to eliminate Sager’s position because of budgetary stress following the Madoff scandal and economic collapse of 2008. But in a brief filed with the court, Sager’s attorney, San Francisco-based Charles J. Wisch, says ZOA filled the position immediately and maintained the same number of employees in the campus activities department.

“Julie Sager successfully built and ran ZOA’s campus department for over 7 years before ZOA fired her,” Wisch said. “[Her] record speaks for itself about her competency and effectiveness.”

Steven Goldberg, a national vice chair for the ZOA and president of ZOA’s L.A. regional board, said ZOA refused to settle, because it is “outraged at being falsely accused.”

“Any type of discrimination is sickening, but it’s also pretty sickening to make an accusation that is completely false, especially when it’s done so cynically,” said Goldberg, an attorney who was co-counsel on the case but stepped down so he could be called as a witness.

The damages the plaintiff is seeking are not specified the brief, except to say they include compensation for back pay; intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.
The trial, which is expected to rest on Friday, will be decided by California Superior Court Judge Richard A. Stone, who is presiding over the jury-less bench trial, as agreed to by both sides.

The timing of the verdict is at Stone’s discretion.

Jerusalem court clears way for S. Sudanese migrants’ deportation


A Jerusalem court ruled that Israel could deport South Sudanese migrants who entered the country illegally.

Thursday’s decision in Jerusalem District Court was in response to an appeal by NGOs representing African migrants. The appeal was filed after Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai issued a decision to return the migrants.

Israel recognized South Sudan a day after it officially announced its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, and initiated formal ties three weeks later.

The decision paves the way for the deportation of about 1,500 South Sudanese who entered Israel illegally. Yishai said that he hoped the decision would be a precedent to allow the deportation of African nationals from other countries.

“This is not a war against infiltrators,” Yishai said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “This is a war for the preservation of the Zionist and Jewish dream in the land of Israel.”

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said last month that South Sudanese could be repatriated to their country now that it has achieved independence and is deemed safe by the foreign ministry. Each asylum application must be considered individually, he added.

The Jerusalem court said that the deportations could commence since the case had not proven that those South Sudanese to be deported would face “risk to life or exposure to serious damage.”

It is not known when the South Sudanese migrants will be deported.

Palestinian hunger strikers denied release


Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal for the release of two hunger-striking Palestinians.

In its decision on Monday, the court reportedly said that Bilal Diab, 27, of Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, of Hebron, both members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, remained a terror threat to Israel and that a hunger strike is not enough of a reason to release them.

They have been on a hunger strike for 70 days and are hovering near death, according to reports.

The men are protesting being held in administrative detention. A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months; it can also be renewed.

Diab has been in an Israeli jail for nine months, and Halahlah has been in custody for 22 months.

The court said that the length of the time that the men had been in custody merited a review of the concept of administrative detention and that individual cases should be investigated more thoroughly.

Some 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on an open-ended hunger strike launched three weeks ago. The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; for allowing families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and allowing prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels. It is also protesting administrative detention.

Ten of the hunger strikers reportedly are currently under hospital supervision.

Hamas has threatened consequences if any of the hunger strikers die. “If that happens, you can expect both the expected and the unexpected from us,” Gaza City Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya said over the weekend.

Israeli prisons commissioner Aharon Franco last week told Palestinian hunger strikers that he had named a panel to address the prisoners’ demands, according to Arab news sources.

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with some 320 in administrative detention.

Two high-profile hunger strikers were released earlier this year after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Lesbian couple can both be child’s mother, Israeli court rules


Both members of a lesbian couple who had a child together can be recognized as the child’s mother, an Israeli court ruled.

The egg of one of the women was fertilized with donated sperm and implanted in the second woman’s uterus. Only the woman who gave birth to the baby boy was allowed to register as his mother. The second woman was told to start adoption proceedings, Ynet reported.

Instead the woman sued for recognition as the boy’s mother. On Sunday she was granted her maternity rights by the Ramat Gan Family Court. The boy is now 5 years old.

Israel’s Health Ministry outlawed the transfer of eggs from one woman to another in 2011, according to Ynet.

Meanwhile, Likud Party activist Moshe Feiglin called off a planned meeting with a homosexual group within the party after some of his American supporters complained, The Jerusalem Post reported. Feiglin, who told the newspaper that he did not believe the group has legitimacy, especially not in the party, offered to meet with members of the group individually.

He had told the group’s leader that he would meet with them, the paper reported Sunday.

Financial exec Rubin pleads guilty


David Rubin, chairman of the board of Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Hancock Park and president of YULA girls’ high school, pleaded guilty in federal court in New York on Dec. 30 to wire conspiracy and fraud involving proceeds from municipal bonds. Beverly Hills-based CDR Financial Products, which Rubin founded and runs, pleaded guilty to related antitrust charges.

Rubin, 50, could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. CDR could face a fine of $100 million. Rubin will be sentenced April 27.

Rubin had been scheduled to go to trial in New York on Jan. 3. He had asked U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero to delay the trial so he could care for his wife, Gitel, who has pancreatic cancer. The Rubins, who live in Hancock Park, have seven children, ranging in age from 2 to 24.

When the judge denied the request for a continuance and Rubin lost that motion again on appeal, Rubin opted to plead guilty so he could be home focusing on his family rather than in New York for the trial.

According to a close friend who declined to be identified, Rubin has maintained his innocence throughout the legal proceedings, and had wanted to stand trial to fight the charges. But friends and family convinced him to agree to a plea that will likely keep Rubin out of prison.

At the end of the hearing, when the judge wished Rubin’s wife well, Rubin burst into tears, the friend said.

CDR had developed a niche as a broker helping state, county and local agencies invest money raised from bonds.

In pleading guilty, Rubin admitted that, from 1998 to 2006, his Beverly Hills-based firm awarded lucrative contracts to investment management firms that paid CDR. Prosecutors said CDR did not run a fair, competitive bidding process, but instead channeled information that would aid money managers who paid to play, according to the Department of Justice. CDR also solicited intentionally losing bids, and signed certifications that contained false statements regarding whether the bidding process complied with relevant Treasury Department regulations, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

The actions cost taxpayers money because the contracts did not always go to the firms that would offer the best returns, according to the Justice Department.

Rubin’s attorney could not be reached for comment, but Rubin’s friend said the case is complex and involves a government sweep of an industry that for years has been operating according to widely held practices.

Rubin had been confident he could beat the charges, the friend said.

Rubin, along with Zevi Wolmark, the former chief financial officer and managing director of CDR, and Evan Zarefsky, a vice president of CDR, were indicted in October 2009. Wolmark and Zarefsky began trial on Jan. 3.

“Mr. Rubin and his company engaged in fraudulent and anticompetitive conduct that harmed municipalities and other public entities,” said Sharis A. Pozen, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Today’s guilty pleas are an important development in our continued efforts to hold accountable those who violate the antitrust laws and subvert the competitive process in our financial markets.”

Rubin is the 10th individual to plead guilty in an ongoing federal investigation into the $3.7 trillion municipal bonds industry, under President Barack Obama’s interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force that coordinates the efforts of the Department of Justice, the FBI and the IRS.

So far, the Justice Department has filed charges against 18 former executives of financial-services firms. With Rubin, 10 have pleaded guilty. JPMorgan Chase, USB, Wells Fargo and GE have paid $743 million in restitution and penalties.

Rubin has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates in the past decade. He was a fellow of the Wexner Heritage Foundation in the late 1990s and has been an activist and philanthropist in the area of Jewish education. He was the driving force behind moving Yavneh into the former Whittier Law School building on Third Street and Las Palmas Drive in 1998, and improving the school’s academic and religious standards. He also has been involved in revitalizing the lay leadership at YULA girls’ school. Friends estimate that over the last 10 years, he has given more than $10 million to Jewish institutions.

Israeli government accused of curbing court independence


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative government came under attack on Tuesday for promoting legislation that critics said would weaken the independence of Israel’s judiciary.

Parliament on Monday passed a government-backed amendment that paves the way for a judge perceived by right-wing lawmakers as an ally to be appointed chief of the Supreme Court.

In a country that does not have a constitution, the Supreme Court is widely respected as an independent-minded watchdog over the legislature and guarantor of civil rights.

Separate legislation that would change the composition of a legal committee appointing Supreme Court judges also received preliminary approval on Monday. Critics say if the bill is finalized, the committee will be packed with more right-wingers.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, accused Netanyahu of trying to “change the character of the nation.”

Some of the criticism even came from within Netanyahu’s Likud party. “Perhaps it would be better to just write into the law who we want to be appointed,” Cabinet Minister Michael Eitan sarcastically told Army Radio.

Netanyahu has insisted he will protect the independence of the judiciary. Israeli media reported on Tuesday that his government, which had originally backed the legal committee bill, might now backtrack.

The other change is final and allows for the appointment of Asher Grunis as chief justice next month. The amendment changes an age restriction that would have disqualified Grunis.

Yaakov Katz of the far-right National Union party, who first proposed the bill, on his website called Grunis “an asset to the legal world in Israel.”

Editing by Kevin Liffey

Anti-Semitic harassment suit at UC Berkeley is dismissed


A federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two Jewish students against the University of California, Berkeley, alleging that the school did not protect them from anti-Semitic attacks.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg ruled late last week that there was no evidence that university officials violated the Jewish students’ rights, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The plaintiffs said that they and other Jews were harassed during the annual Apartheid Week event at the university held by Muslim student groups to protest Israeli policies. Seeborg ruled that the conduct of the Muslim students fell under the category of “pure political speech,” which is constitutionally protected, according to the newspaper.

The complaint alleged that the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, another pro-Palestinian group on campus, harass and attack Jewish students, and that the university knows about it and has not taken sufficient steps to protect its Jewish students.

The complaint further charged that university officials have tolerated “the growing cancer of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses” that violates the rights of Jewish and other students “to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.”

The suit called for damages and a jury trial.

Court: Palestinian families can remain in Silwan homes


An Israeli court rejected two lawsuits calling for the eviction of Palestinian families from their eastern Jerusalem homes.

The suits quashed late last week by the The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sought the eviction of two Palestinian families from two homes in Silwan. The plaintiffs were groups closely linked to Elad, an organization working to settle Jews in Silwan, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

“Elad and its chief are doing their best, and using all methods possible to Judaize Silwan,” attorney Muhammad Dahleh, who represented both Palestinian families, told Haaretz. “Only the steadfastness of the local inhabitants and their supporters, and a public and judicial struggle, can stop the explosive situation from deteriorating only a few yards from Al-Aksa (Mosque on the Temple Mount).”

John Farahi indicted


John Farahi, a Los Angeles Iranian-Jewish radio talk show host and financial investment manager, last week was charged in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles for allegedly defrauding more than 100 local Iranian-American investors and various financial institutions of nearly $20 million over the course of nearly five years.

The 41-count indictment claims Farahi, 54, misled investors by telling them their funds were being invested by his Beverly Hills firm, NewPoint Financial Services Inc., in unsecured corporate bonds, FDIC-insured certificates of deposit, government bonds and corporate bonds issued by companies backed by funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The indictment alleges Farahi did not make these investments for his clients but instead used the funds to create a Ponzi scheme, making payments to his firm’s earlier clients, trading in high-risk future options and using the funds to support his family’s lavish lifestyle.

“Starting in 2008, Farahi allegedly failed to tell NewPoint Financial Services investors that he had lost at least $15 million through his undisclosed options trading — even as he continued to solicit investors for NewPoint Financial Services,” according to a recently released U.S. Department of Justice statement.

In addition, the indictment claims that since 2003, Farahi has used his radio program, “The Economy Today,” featured on the Studio City-based Farsi-language Radio Iran KIRN 670 AM, to target members of Los Angeles’ Iranian-American community —  many of whom are Iranian Jews — recommending they make appointments at his firm. According to the indictment, Farahi also allegedly lied to major banks about his financial condition in order to draw funds from lines of credit he had with the banks.

In April 2009, following the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into Farahi and his firm, the indictment states that Farahi allegedly conspired with his Century City attorney, David Tamman, to conceal his fraud scheme from the SEC. As a result, Tamman was also recently indicted for his alleged involvement with the cover-up of Farahi’s supposed Ponzi scheme.

According to U.S. federal statutes, if convicted on all 41 criminal counts, Farahi could face a maximum sentence of more than 700 years in federal prison and Tamman could face a maximum sentence of 190 years in federal prison. Farahi voluntarily surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody on Dec. 9; he remains in jail and has been denied bail.

Court hears arguments in ‘mesira’ contempt case


A federal court heard arguments in the case of a Hasidic Jew who will not testify because he says it would violate “mesira,” the injunction against turning Jews over to non-Jews.

Judge Margaret Morrow said Wednesday she would rule in the case against Rabbi Moshe Zigelman at a later date, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Prosecutors want Morrow, of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, to imprison Rabbi Moshe Zigelman for contempt unless he testifies against others in an alleged tax fraud scheme that involved his Spinka sect.

Zigelman, an executive assistant to the sect’s leader, has already served a 2-year sentence for his role in the scheme, which involved soliciting large tax-deductible donations and then secretly funneling most of the money back to the donors.

Zigelman, 64, says his testimony would violate “mesira” although most modern scholars say it applies only in regimes that oppress Jews.

Israeli court delays deportation of migrant worker’s child


An Israeli court delayed the deportation of a 4-year-old girl born in Israel to a Filipino mother.

The Tel Aviv District Court ordered the stay Tuesday just moments before the girl and her mother were set to board an airplane to the mother’s home country. Also Tuesday, Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote a letter to Interior Minister Eli Yishai asking him to halt the deportation.

The court will hold a special hearing Thursday in the case.

The Israeli government says the child did not meet new criteria set out last year, but only enforced from March, to allow her to stay in the country. The criteria includes studying during the past school year in an Israeli state school; being enrolled for the next year in first grade or higher; being born in the country and speaking Hebrew; and residing in the country for five consecutive years.

According to the Interior Ministry, the child was not enrolled in a state preschool or kindergarten last year or for the coming year.

The girl’s father has been living in Israel legally for more than a decade with a permit, making his daughter a legal resident of Israel, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The father requested the stay in part because he was not granted an opportunity to say good-bye properly to his daughter.

ACRI says the attempted deportation is “the first time in Israel’s history that a child, born and raised in Israel, enrolled in kindergarten in Tel Aviv and integrated into Israel’s public education system has been deported by the Interior Ministry.”

Court rejects lawsuit challenging prison beard policy


A federal appeals court upheld the legality of a New Hampshire prison policy limiting the length of prisoners’ beard.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 14 against an Orthodox Jewish former inmate who had challenged the policy.

The New Hampshire state prison system requires inmates to be clean shaven unless they obtain a waiver to maintain beards for religious or medical reasons. Prisoners who receive a waiver are allowed to grow only a quarter-inch of facial hair.

Albert Kuperman, an Orthodox Jew who had been a prisoner in a New Hampshire state prison, had filed a lawsuit challenging the policy limiting his beard’s length. He argued that the policy violated his rights to practice his religion under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The court said that prison officials had demonstrated that their policy on facial hair is related to their legitimate interest in maintaining security.

A federal district also had ruled agaisnt Kuperman, who completed his sentence while his appeal was pending.

Egyptian court sentences accused spy for Israel to 25 years


Egyptian court sentences accused spy for Israel to 25 years
  JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Egyptian court sentenced an Egyptian businessman to 25 years in jail for spying for Israel.

The court reportedly also found Tarek Abdel Razek’s two Israeli handlers, accused of being members of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, guilty of espionage. They also were sentenced to 25 years in prison in absentia.

Razek was arrested last August after his Israeli contacts had already fled the country. He was accused of providing information from May 2007 to May 2010 on Egyptians working in telecommunications, and of suggesting which of the workers in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon might be willing to cooperate with the Mossad.

The case is unrelated to that of Israeli-American Ilan Grapel, who was arrested earlier this month on charges of spying for the Mossad.

Court stops demolition of eastern Jerusalem homes


The Jerusalem District Court blocked the demolition of Palestinian homes in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood.

The court ruled Wednesday that 22 illegal homes in the al-Bustan neighborhood that are set for demolition to make way for a building, recreation and tourism plan called The King’s Garden cannot be razed until plans are approved for the park.

The plan would see the 22 Arab-built homes demolished and in exchange, the residents will receive permits to build new homes elsewhere in the neighborhood. Sixty-six other homes in the neighborhood would be legalized retroactively as well.

The approval process for the park is expected to take two years.

Court upholds agunah’s right to damages


A Tel Aviv court upheld the right of women denied a religious divorce by their husbands to sue for damages.

The District Court ruled that an Israeli woman who has been refused a religious divorce, or get, by her husband for the past 16 years has the right to receive nearly $200,000 from him in damages that had been awarded by a family court, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“The respondent had the right to a get from the moment she wanted one, and all the more so when she married the appellant at the age of 24, was with him for all of three months, and knew no comfort from him,” the judge wrote in a decision issued last week. “Today, almost 40 years old, she continues to suffer from his cruelty towards her. He prevents, and prevented her, from experiencing life’s joys, establishing a family, and especially from having children. We are talking about immeasurable damage that increases by the day.”

According to Jewish law, a woman may not remarry until she receives a religious divorce from her husband. A woman refused this get is called an agunah, or chained woman. In Israel, all marriages and divorces between Jewish couples must be in accordance with Jewish law.

The National Council of Jewish Women welcomed the court’s decision, calling it an important precedent for women in the Jewish Diaspora as well.

“The ability to win damages when the get process is abused by husbands will bring much needed relief to agunot, especially in the absence of legislative action that provides a legal, just, and moral solution to remedy the marriage inequality suffered by women,” the group’s president and CEO, Nancy Ratzan and Nancy Kaufman, said in a statement.

“The ruling by the court in Tel Aviv must be allowed to stand, but it does not relieve the Knesset of its responsibility to enact a comprehensive remedy. We hope the ruling brings that day closer.”