Opinion: Syrians need us


It’s time for us to act for Syria.

It’s been one year since the start of the Syrian revolution, and the organized Jewish community is still sitting on its collective thumbs, acting as if the turmoil is not its issue, and in any case, we can do nothing.

It is, and we can.

The criminal enterprise called the Bashar al-Assad regime has murdered more than 10,000 civilians since the Arab Spring crossed
the border into Syria. Assad, the London-trained ophthalmologist whom the West, and his own countrymen, once looked upon as the future of a new, free Syria, has proved himself the myopic heir to his father’s evil. He has the same story arc as Michael Corleone, with none of the charisma. 

Assad’s fixation on retaining power at all costs has offered the people of Syria no choice but to resist. His own choices are narrowing to whether he wants to die at the hands of a mob, à la Muammar Gadhafi, or in custody, à la Hosni Mubarak. Whichever way he goes, his actions now guarantee that there will be not a single tear left in Syria to shed for him. Watch the images of 13-year-old boys tortured by Assad’s forces, of Syrian neighborhoods flattened by his artillery, of Syrian women raped by his soldiers: Assad will go down as one of the great cowards and child-murderers of our time. His father, at least, would be proud.  

I understand there are ample differences between Syria and the other countries caught up in the Arab Spring. Syria’s army is even more in the regime’s camp. The opposition is even more dysfunctional and divided. Iran’s influence is greater. The Russians, whose legacy of support for Syria goes back to the Cold War, are even more invested in the status quo. As one Syrian expert told me, “Libya implodes; Syria explodes.” There is no reason to be Pollyannaish about the future: Assad has dug in, there is no good military option, and the best hope is to continue to use sanctions and financial pressures on the regime’s kleptocrats in the hopes of prying their grip off the nation’s throat.

But the stakes for the things American Jews care about are in some ways even higher. Here is a country smack on Israel’s northern border, which shares precious water resources with Israel. A country that has fought several wars against Israel, and played a key role in instigating one of them — the Six-Day War. A country that is ideologically and militarily tied to Iran, which has supported it with armaments and populated it with Hezbollah and Hamas. A country that has meddled in Lebanon, to Israel’s — and Lebanon’s — detriment.

A government in Syria that cared more about its own people and less about demonizing, blaming and attacking Israel would be a very good thing.

But no less important, the ideals that motivate the naked revolution are dear. Freedom from oppression. Hope for a better future. The development of the human potential of the Syrian people. 

Syria might seem small compared to what’s happening in Egypt and Iran. But people who know far better than I consider the revolution a breakthrough for the region. That’s why Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, told a group in Los Angeles earlier this month that Israel’s real focus now should be Syria and Lebanon:

“There is a way of supporting opposition and bringing it into Western alliance,” he said.

And Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet, took to YouTube last week to deliver a message to the Syrian people in Arabic:

“As a human being, as an Israeli, as a member of the Israeli parliament,” Dichter said, “it is painful to see such heinous crimes against civilians in Syria. I am wondering why the world keeps silent.”

When the former heads of Israel’s external and internal security services both agree that Syria should be a priority, maybe it should be.

This week I called a friend with deep roots in Syria. I asked my friend what we, as Americans, as Jews, could do to express our support. The answer is: a concert to raise funds for Syrian refugees.

There are 130,000 Syrian refugees living in difficult conditions in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. A concert that raises money to support the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the primary relief organization for Syrian refugees, would provide aid to people who have suffered at the hands of the Assad regime, and would be a symbol to the Syrians who remain inside their country that we are on their side. 

I asked my Syrian friend if his countrymen would look askance at the involvement of Jews and Israelis in organizing a benefit concert for them. Would they assume ulterior motives? 

“How could anyone criticize you for doing something good like that?” said my friend — who, you may have guessed by now, prefers to remain anonymous out of fear of the regime. “You are certainly doing a lot more than many people. Just do it. Stick to what matters, and do what’s right.”

There have been concerts for Syria in Chicago, London and even talk of one in Israel: Who in Los Angeles will step up?


Follow Rob Eshman on Twitter at
@foodaism.

Hamas ditches Assad, backs Syrian revolt


Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas turned publicly against their long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, endorsing the revolt aimed at overthrowing his dynastic rule.

The policy shift deprives Assad of one of his few remaining Sunni Muslim supporters in the Arab world and deepens his international isolation. It was announced in Hamas speeches at Friday prayers in Cairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad’s army, largely led by fellow members of the president’s Alawite sect, has crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.

In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over Hamas’s future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by its ally Assad, as well as with Iran’s fellow Shi’ite allies in Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

“I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque.

“We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs,” chanted worshippers at al-Azhar, home to one of the Sunni world’s highest seats of learning. “No Hezbollah and no Iran.

“The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution.”

Contemporary political rivalries have exacerbated tensions that date back centuries between Sunnis – the vast majority of Arabs – and Shi’ites, who form substantial Arab populations, notably in Lebanon and Iraq, and who dominate in non-Arab Iran.

Hamas and Hezbollah, confronting Israel on its southwestern and northern borders, have long had a strategic alliance against the Jewish state, despite opposing positions on the sectarian divide. Both have fought wars with Israel in the past six years.

But as the Sunni-Shi’ite split in the Middle East deepens, Hamas appears to have cast its lot with the powerful, Egypt-based Sunni Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose star has been in the ascendant since the Arab Spring revolts last year.

HAMAS MAKES ITS CHOICE

“This is considered a big step in the direction of cutting ties with Syria,” said Hany al-Masri, a Palestinian political commentator. Damascus might now opt to formally expel Hamas’s exile headquarters from Syria, he told Reuters.

Banned by deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood has moved to the centre of public life. It is the ideological parent of Hamas, which was founded 25 years ago among the Palestinians, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.

Shi’ite Hezbollah still supports the Assad family, from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, which has maintained authoritarian rule over Syria’s Sunni majority for four decades but now may have its back to the wall.

Hamas, however, has been deeply embarrassed among Palestinians by its association with Assad, as the death toll in his crackdown on opponents has risen into the thousands.

In Gaza, senior Hamas member Salah al-Bardaweel addressed thousands of supporters at a rally in Khan Younis refugee camp, sending “a message to the peoples who have not been liberated yet, those free peoples who are still bleeding every day.”

“The hearts of the Palestinian people bleed with every drop of bloodshed in Syria,” Bardaweel said. “No political considerations will make us turn a blind eye to what is happening on the soil of Syria.”

ANTI-ISRAEL AXIS WEAKENED

The divorce between Hamas and Damascus had been coming for months. The Palestinian group had angered Assad last year when it refused a request to hold public rallies in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria in support of his government.

Hamas’s exile political leader Khaled Meshaal and his associates quietly quit their headquarters in Damascus and have stayed away from Syria for months now, although Hamas tried to deny their absence had anything to do with the revolt.

Haniyeh visited Iran earlier this month on a mission to shore up ties with the power that has provided Hamas with money and weapons to fight Israel. It is not clear what the outcome of his visit has been, though the tone of the latest Hamas comments is hardly compatible with continued warm relations with Tehran.

Rallies in favor of Syria’s Sunni majority have been rare in the coastal enclave but on Friday it seemed the Islamist rulers of the territory had decided to break the silence.

“Nations do not get defeated. They do not retreat and they do not get broken. We are on your side and on the side of all free peoples,” said Bardaweel.

“God is Greatest,” the crowd chanted. “Victory to the people of Syria.”

Hamas-Hezbollah relations have been good in the past. But Hamas did not attack Israel when it was fighting Hezbollah in 2006 and Hezbollah did not join in when Israel mounted a major offensive against Hamas in Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009.

Anything that divides Hamas and Hezbollah is likely to be welcomed by Israel, which has been watching warily recent moves by Hamas to reconcile differences with its Palestinian rivals in Fatah, the movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.

There was no immediate Israeli comment on Friday’s speeches.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Cairo; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

As Syria crackdown intensifies, debate rages over U.S. options


As the Syrian government intensifies its assault on opposition strongholds, the debate is heating up in Washington over how to end the bloody crackdown and bring about regime change.

The Obama administration has tried to ratchet up pressure on the Syrian regime through international diplomacy and strong economic sanctions. But U.S. efforts have run into roadblocks at the United Nations, where opposition by Russia and China quashed a Security Council resolution on Syria.

Some in Washington argue that the administration needs to try new avenues if it is to rein in the Syrian regime. In Congress there have been calls for direct U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition. A few prominent senators are urging the arming of the regime’s foes.

“What they’ve tried to do is topple the regime through diplomatic isolation and coercion, but the regime is still there,” said Daniel Byman, research director at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, referring to the Obama administration’s efforts. “It’s hard to change a regime—they fear giving up power, and of course they want to keep power for its own sake.”

A Senate resolution introduced earlier this month by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and a bipartisan group of six other senators demanded that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down and called for “substantial material and technical support” for Syrian opposition groups.

“The international community can and should do more to support the people of Syria during this terrible hour in their history,” Casey said in a statement.

On Feb. 16, however, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a different Syria resolution, sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). That resolution did not call for material support for opposition groups.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) have all urged the arming of the opposition, though they have suggested that this could be done without the U.S. directly providing the arms.

“I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement,” McCain said Sunday. “The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves.”

While the Obama administration has signaled a willingness to consider offering humanitarian aid to help the Syrian people, it has ruled out arming the opposition.

“As the president himself made absolutely clear, and as the secretary [of state] has continued to say, we don’t think more arms into Syria is the answer,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a Feb. 7 briefing.

In the wake of the vetos by Russia and China of a U.N. Security Council resolution backing the Arab League’s call for Assad to relinquish power, the U.S. and its allies have continued to push for progress on other diplomatic fronts. On Feb. 16, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution in support of the Arab League call, with Russia and China voting against the measure.

“Our focus is on squeezing the regime by imposing all sanctions at our disposal and increasing its diplomatic isolation; bolstering the Syrian opposition and working to cement its organization and unity; and working to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people,” said an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official pointed to the formation of the Friends of Syria group, a coalition of nations meeting for the first time on Feb. 24, and said the grouping “will allow a wide range of concerned international parties to collectively support the Syrian opposition and ensure that the political transition underway in Syria moves ahead successfully.”

Some observers, however, argue that any political transition will be a bloody one.

“What [the Obama administration] wants to see in Syria is a peaceful political solution,” said Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Anybody who is looking at the situation objectively on the ground sees that as an impossibility. There is not going to be a peaceful political solution and it’s going to be a bitter war to the very end.”

Badran said that those fighting the Syrian regime should be given arms.

“If we’re not willing to deploy our assets to level the playing field and cripple Assad’s military power, then at the very least we have to do so by supporting the people that are fighting on the street, and I think that’s where the conversation is headed,” he said.

Byman said the U.S. “should be trying to work more with the Syrian opposition because there’s so much that depends on them” and that he is supportive of arming the opposition. However, he argued, that is “practically very hard to do right now.”

“I think there’s a level of ignorance about who the members of the opposition are in Syria,” he said. “In Libya there was a front and you could walk up to the front and find out who is who. In Syria, you do not have that clarity.”

Other ideas are in play as well.

In a policy brief released by the Center for a New American Security, political scientist Marc Lynch argued that the international community should give Assad and top Syrian officials an ultimatum, warning that if they don’t resign they will be referred to the International Criminal Court. Among his other recommendations, Lynch suggests that the international community should “strengthen the opposition and encourage it to develop a unified political voice.”

Lynch, the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, strongly advised against U.S. military intervention in Syria, arguing that “unleashing even more violence without a realistic possibility of changing the regime’s behavior or improving security is neither just nor wise.” He warned that arming the opposition “might simply lead to a bloodier conflict” and would “work at cross purposes with diplomatic and political efforts to find a managed transition that avoids the worst outcomes.”

American Jewish groups have been vocal in their condemnations of the Syrian regime’s crackdown, with the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee issuing statements applauding the General Assembly resolution on Syria.

While Israel initially seemed wary regarding the uncertainty of what would follow in the wake of any regime change in Syria, Israeli leaders have been issuing strong calls for Assad to go. In early February, Israeli President Shimon Peres called Assad a “murderer” with no future, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a radio interview that “any alternative was better than Assad.”

In a Feb. 7 New York Times Op-Ed, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy argued that the Syrian uprising presents an opportunity to end Iran’s use of Syria as a base of its influence in the region.

“Ensuring that Iran is evicted from its regional hub in Damascus would cut off Iran’s access to its proxies (Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza) and visibly dent its domestic and international prestige, possibly forcing a hemorrhaging regime in Tehran to suspend its nuclear policies,” Halevy wrote.

However, others caution that regime change in Syria poses potential dangers to Israel.

“Of all the things for Israel to be concerned about regarding the fall of the Assad regime is Syria’s extensive stockpile of chemical and biological weapons,” said James Colbert, director for policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. “While a successor regime will likely be no more friendly to Israel than was the Assad regime, it may not have as tight command and control over these assets.”

(This article was produced in cooperation with the Washington Jewish Week.)

Egyptians rally against army over beatings of protesters


Thousands of Egyptians rallied in Cairo and other cities on Friday to demand the military give up power and vent their anger after 17 people were killed in protests where troops beat and clubbed women and men even as they lay on the ground.

One image in particular from the five days of clashes that ended this week has stoked their fury: that of soldiers dragging a woman lying on the street so that her bra and torso were exposed, while clubbing and stamping on her.

“Anyone who saw her and saw her pain would come to Tahrir,”

Omar Adel, 27, said in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “Those who did this should be tried. We can’t bear this humiliation and abuse.”

Some protesters have been demanding the army bring forward a presidential vote to as early as January 25, the first anniversary of the start of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, or at least much earlier than the mid-2012 handover now scheduled.

But other Egyptians fret that 10 months after Mubarak’s downfall Egypt remains in disarray. They want protests to stop so order can be restored and the economy revitalized, voicing such views in a smaller protest in another part of Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s party, leading in a staggered parliamentary election that runs to January and is Egypt’s first free vote in six decades, said it would not join Friday’s rally.

It also supports the army’s schedule and says the process must be decided by balloting, not street pressure.

Courtesy of Reuters

Demonstrators in Tahrir chanted, “Down with military rule.” Nearby, new concrete walls bar access from Tahrir to the cabinet, parliament and Interior Ministry, areas where clashes flared in November and December. The November death toll was 42.

There were several thousand demonstrators in Tahrir by mid-afternoon but that number paled next to some huge rallies seen in the square during and after Mubarak’s ouster, and fell well short of the one million organizers had called for on Friday.

But there were protests elsewhere. In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, several thousand people marched to an army base chanting: “Women of Egypt raise your heads, you are more noble than those who stamp on you.”

Smaller rallies to decry the handling of protests and treatment of women were held in the eastern cities of Suez, Ismailiya and Port Said, witnesses said.

‘FOOT-DRAGGING’

The army has said it regretted the violence in Tahrir and offered an apology over the woman who was beaten, saying the case was isolated and under investigation. But the military was drawing fierce criticism from many political parties and groups.

“The current predicament we have reached is a result of the army council’s reluctance to play its role, its intentional foot-dragging, breaking its obligations and failing over the economy and security, putting the whole country on the edge of a huge crisis,” two dozen parties and groups said in a statement.

It said members of the military council, which is led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, should be held to account out of respect for those killed and women who were mistreated.

“Tantawi undressed our daughters, he should be executed,” said Samah Ibrahim, 40, a woman protesting in Tahrir.

While the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said it would steer clear of Friday’s rally, the ultraconservative Salafist al-Nour Party, a surprise runner-up in the election so far, said on its Facebook page that it would take part.

Many activists accuse the Brotherhood and other Islamists of betraying the grassroots protest movement in order to secure their own positions in the emerging new power structure.

The FJP said on its Facebook page it would not participate although it said it was “the right of the Egyptian people to protest and demonstrate peacefully.”

“The party emphasizes the need for the handover of power to civilians according to the will of the Egyptian people through free and fair elections … in a stable environment,” said Mohamed al-Katatni, a senior member of the FJP.

His remarks indicated the group was sticking to the army’s timetable to hold a presidential vote in June. The Brotherhood has said bringing the vote forward could “create chaos.”

MILITARY DOMINANCE

Those views were echoed a short distance from Tahrir where hundreds of Egyptians backed the army, chanting: “We support the military council staying until the presidential election.” A few hundred supporting the military also gathered in Alexandria.

The Brotherhood’s stance reflected a wish to shape the new constitution before a presidential vote, seeking more influence for parliament where it is doing well thanks to a well-organized grassroots network, and reining in powers of the president.

An earlier presidential vote would not necessarily eliminate the military’s dominance in a new civilian-governed state.

The military has survived Egypt’s political upheaval intact and has vast economic and other interests, so any new president would likely need its support to maintain order.

The United States, which provides the military with $1.3 billion a year in aid, a deal in place since Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has rebuked the ruling generals for their rough handling of protests and women.

Washington, which like other Western powers long looked to Mubarak to keep a lid on Islamists, has been cultivating contact with newly elected Islamist politicians.

The Brotherhood’s FJP said it had won 40 of the 60 individual seats up for grabs in the second round of Egypt’s election after this week’s run-offs, in line with the previous round. Official results have yet to be announced.

The electoral system gives two thirds of the 498 elected seats to lists, and the rest to individuals.

Parliament’s primary role will be in picking a 100-strong assembly that will write the new constitution.

Unrest in Tahrir that has gone on since November 18 was stirred by resentment over proposals by the army-backed cabinet for articles in the new constitution that would have permanently shielded the military from civilian oversight.

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran assisting Syria in crackdown, according to U.S. intelligence


Iran reportedly is providing material assistance to the Syrian government in its effort to quell protests.

The Wall Street Journal on Thursday quoted Obama administration officials as saying that they have intelligence showing that Iran is providing the Assad regime in Syria with know-how garnered from its own civilian uprising in 2009 to shut down electronic communication among dissenters, and with equipment to put down protests.

Additionally, U.S. intelligence has intercepted “chatter” suggesting that the Iranians are seeking avenues to assist Shi’ites in Bahrain and Yemen in their own bids to force government change.

Analysts say Bahraini protesters have rejected such overtures, not wanting to hand the government a propaganda victory.

Car Donations May Hit IRS Roadblock


Get rid of your old car, help out a charity and get a
write-off. What could be easier?

With the April 15 IRS deadline drawing near, charities are
tapping taxpayer frustration by increasing their appeals for vehicle donations.
But a proposed government crackdown on the value donors can claim for a donated
vehicle is changing the way programs are being advertised.

Claims of “highest blue book value” and grandiose statements
about how a car donation will support your favorite charity are giving way to
cautious, increasingly detailed disclosures of the donation process, including
specifics on how much a charity might expect to receive from a donation.

The pressure on advertisers to come clean about the donation
process follows a recent congressional investigation that found many donors
claim the highest “blue book” value on their taxes, while many charities are
typically earning 20 percent or less from the transactions. In some cases,
nonprofits are even losing money on the deal.

Uncle Sam is now threatening to step in and regulate a
system based primarily on the honor system, which provides donors with plump
write-offs and makes car auctioneers a tidy bundle but leaves charities with
little to show.

“There’s clearly been an area where there’s potential abuse,”
said Paul Castro, president of Jewish Family Service (JFS).

While charities might be receiving a small percentage of the
total donation, many are increasingly reliant on the vehicle sales as a funding
source for annual budgets.

JFS, which uses a third party to collect and sell donated
cars, is worried that any changes in the current system will carry a negative
financial impact for charities. Proceeds from the sale of donated vehicles 
account for 22 percent and 33 percent of the budgets for the organization’s
Valley and Santa Monica offices, respectively.

“Obviously, anything that gets into place from a regulatory
perspective that chills the donor is something that’s going to effect us,
because people are going to be more cautious,” Castro said. “On the other hand,
if the charity is forced to get the appraisal, then it’s going to become a
burdensome process, and if the donor is required to get an appraisal, they’re
going to be less likely to donate it.”

The Bush administration, as part of its budget proposal for
2005, is hoping to close this tax loophole, which could save the federal
government billions in estimated savings over the next 10 years by establishing
either a deduction limit or stricter appraisal requirements for used vehicle
donations. However, the change could have a deleterious impact on nonprofits at
both the national and local level.

If passed by Congress, the changes could take effect this
year.

A November 2003 report prepared for the Senate Finance
Committee by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of
Congress, found rampant abuse by taxpayers who donate vehicles to nonprofits.
In addition to taxpayers inflating write-off claims for used vehicles to “blue
book” value instead of fair-market value, the report found that charities often
earn anywhere from 20 percent to 5 percent of the value donors claimed on their
taxes.

The report tracked 54 donated vehicles, most of which were
sold at auction. In one instance, a donor valued a 1987 Volvo 740 at $3,000,
but the nonprofit’s final take was $35. Some charities lost money on the
donation after paying towing, repair and resale costs.

The GAO estimates that tax claims for vehicle donations cost
the federal government $654 million in revenue for 2000, but the report did not
estimate how much the IRS loses when donors use the higher “blue book” value
rather than fair market.

The Treasury Department and several senators are pushing for
stricter requirements.

According to the Treasury, closing the tax loophole on car
donations, as well as a crackdown on deductions for intellectual property and
patents, would raise about $4.8 billion over a 10-year period. Under a plan
submitted by the Treasury, the IRS would require taxpayers to get their vehicle
appraised prior to donation. Current IRS regulations require appraisal only if
the vehicle’s value is greater than $5,000.

“We encourage people to proceed carefully when donating
vehicles,” IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said. “But people should know that
in some cases, the donation is providing little value.”

Before donating a vehicle, the IRS advises that taxpayers
ask questions of the charity to determine how the vehicle will be sold — either
by the charity itself or a private fundraiser, like an auction house — and how
much of the sale price will be used for charitable purposes.

California law requires that nonprofits issue donors a
receipt that lists the mileage and condition of the vehicle for a state tax
deduction. It’s a model the federal government may turn to as a blueprint for
any vehicle donation reform.

While more stringent reporting at the state level has made
the taxpayer more honest, third-party retailers are still behind the curve. A
California study revealed that 80 percent of charities contracting with
fundraisers to run their car donation program received less than 60 cents for
every dollar value of vehicle donated.

However, smaller-scale car donation programs that handle
their own intake and sales, like Southern California Jewish Center or Chabad,
aren’t worried that future regulations will scare off potential donors.

Rabbi Moshe Bryski said Chabad of the Conejo, which recently
sent out an advertisement about its vehicle donation program to congregants,
takes in about a dozen cars every year that are then sold by a volunteer.

“Organizations that primarily get their cars donated from
people who care about the organization, not so much doing it for the tax
write-off but doing it to help Chabad, it’s not going to have an effect on us
at all,” he said.  

World Briefs


Lieberman to Announce CandidacyMonday

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) will announce on Monday his intention to run for president. Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, will announce his candidacy for president at his high school alma mater in Stamford, Conn. Lieberman received international attention three years ago when he became the first Jewish candidate on a major party ticket for the White House.

Israeli Tally 2002

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed the lives of 447 Israelis in 2002. In addition, some 2,344 Israelis were injured in the conflict, according to the Israel Defense Force. Of those killed, 292 were civilians and 155 were security personnel. Of the dead, 299 were male and 148 female; 57 were children.

Some 50,000 businesses closed in Israel during 2002, according to Israel’s Association of Independent Businesses. The association predicted that 60,000 businesses will close in 2003, Israel’s Army Radio reported.

Britain Postpones PalestinianConference

Britain reportedly postponed plans for a conference on Palestinian governmental reforms that had been scheduled for next week. Although British officials are saying that preparations are continuing as usual, they have stopped sending out invitations, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. Sources told the paper Britain is planning to reschedule the conference as soon as possible.

The foreign ministers of Britain, Greece, Jordan and Saudi Arabia also were to have attended the conference, but Israel was not invited. On Tuesday, the office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Blair is pressing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to allow the Palestinian delegation to attend the conference. Earlier this week, Israel announced it would bar Palestinian officials from attending as part of its response to a deadly terror attack Sunday in Tel Aviv.

New Accord on War Criminals

A planned agreement between the U.S. government’s Nazi-hunting unit and an unnamed European government could lead to more prosecutions of suspected Nazi-era war criminals living in the United States. The agreement, scheduled to be announced later this month, could help the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) “identify previously unknown suspects,” said Eli Rosenbaum, OSI’s director. The OSI recently announced that during 2002 it initiated a record 10 prosecutions against suspected war criminals in the United States.

French Rabbi’s Car Set Ablaze

The car of a French rabbi who was stabbed last week was set on fire. According to news reports, Rabbi Gabriel Farhi’s car was set ablaze Monday outside his Paris apartment. Just hours before Farhi was stabbed last Friday, the synagogue received an anonymous letter threatening both him and the building.

Meanwhile, The University of Paris backed down from a campaign to cut ties with Israeli universities. The school issued a statement Monday saying school officials hoped the European Union would expand its educational accord to include Palestinian universities, according to The Associated Press.

Danish Police Crackdown

Danish police seized money belonging to a Palestinian charity that allegedly aided Palestinian terrorists. Danish officials would not comment on the case, but a spokesman for the Al Aqsa charity said Jan. 2 that the police were acting on new anti-terror laws making it a felony to give financial support to terrorist groups.

The charity denied that it backs terrorism, saying it gives money to groups in the West Bank that help orphans.

Monster.com for Jews

A new Web site is aiming to find jobs for Jews in theUnited States. The site, www.hatzlacha.com , was created recently by the Rabbinical Board of Greater New York as a resource for job seekers — and for employers as well.

Hatzlachah (Hebrew for good luck) was created “in a time when more pink slips are likely to find their way to the hearts of an even larger number of Jewish households around the country, thousands of which have their children studying in private yeshivot,” the company said in a news release.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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