Iran nuclear talks extended a week


Iran nuclear talks have been extended a week past their deadline for a final deal.

The talks, which were to have reached an agreement by Tuesday, were extended to July 7, Marie Harf, a State Department strategic expert attending the talks in Vienna, said on Twitter.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, are leading the teams in the Austrian capital. Both have described the negotiations in positive terms.

Zarif returned Tuesday from consulting with leaders in Iran.

“I am here to get a final deal and I think we can,” Zarif was quoted as saying by Al Monitor.

A deal would exchange sanctions relief for guarantees that Iran is not advancing toward a nuclear weapon.

Israel objects to the emerging deal, saying its terms will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state and increase its ability to disrupt the region.

Iranian nuclear talks expected to go past scheduled deadline


Negotiations for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program will go past the scheduled deadline, several officials said from Vienna, where the final round of talks was underway.

The agreement was scheduled to be concluded on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left the negotiations and flew home to Tehran for consultations after first meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Zarif is scheduled to return on Tuesday, the deadline day for the talks.

The talks between Iran and the six world powers were expected to continue for a few days beyond the deadline, according to reports.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the world powers do not have to sign a deal in Vienna.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Hammond said. “There are red lines that we cannot cross and some very difficult decisions and tough choices are going to have to be made by all of us.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the deal on Sunday, saying “there is no demand that Iran change its behavior and its violations are being completely overlooked. Its extreme demands, as well as the concessions to Iran, are increasing.”

President Barack Obama said in April that the interim framework agreement achieved then was “a good deal” that “meets our core objectives, including strict limitations on Iran’s program and cutting off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Netanyahu and other critics of the deal, which would gradually lift sanctions on Iran, say elements of the emerging deal allow Iran to continue a degree of uranium enrichment that would enable it to creep toward nuclear offensive capabilities.

Fiscal cliff or path of righteousness?


There is a lot of talk about the fiscal cliff — the self-imposed Jan. 1 deadline by which time a budget agreement must be passed and signed or there will be automatic cuts to defense and social programs of more than $1 trillion. In order to avert this self-imposed disaster, President Barack Obama has proposed to sunset the tax cuts on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, those earning more than $250,000, while maintaining needed tax cuts for the other 98 percent.

A fascinating story in the Talmud discusses labor relations in late antiquity. A certain rabbi by the name of Rabbah bar bar Hannah hired two porters to carry jugs of wine for him. Something happened — whether negligence or accident is not clear — and the jugs broke. Rabbah bar bar Hannah was understandably angry and grabbed their cloaks as compensation for the damage. The porters went to another rabbi named Rav to adjudicate the dispute and perhaps get them their cloaks back. Rav immediately ordered that the garments be returned.

The porters then cried out: “We have been working all day, and now we have no money and nothing to eat.” Rav ordered that Rabbah bar bar Hannah pay them their wages. Rabbah was not happy. He challenged Rav: “Are you ordering me to do these things because it is the law? Or are you doing this in your capacity as a pastor and you are urging me to hold myself to a higher standard than the law?” Rav answered: “It is the law. The ruling is grounded in a verse from Proverbs: ‘So follow the way of the good and keep to the paths of the just.’ ”

Rav, 1,500 years ago in Babylonia, laid claim to the principle that one cannot morally separate economic issues from matters of justice. A just community is a community of obligation, according to the Jewish tradition; it is a community in which residency is measured by the legal obligations that one has to support the various parts of the social safety net (funds for food, clothing, housing, etc.). The ancient rabbis recognized that the needs of the community were not going to be met by personal philanthropy. Even the biblically mandated tithing and gleaning and gifting to the poor were geographically based and therefore inefficient in reaching the largest number of needy people with the maximal resources. They therefore set it up as an obligation on the city itself, through its political mechanisms, to support the needy.

Jewish communities over the centuries, when they have had judicial autonomy (that is, the opportunity to rule themselves according to Jewish law), set up systems of taxation in order to ensure that the poor and needy were taken care of.

We now live in a time that maximizes the ability to participate in the political process and thereby to be responsible for its effects. This is also a time when the economic crunch hits the most vulnerable among us the hardest. According to a report authored by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, 30.7 million children will be affected by the $2.7 billion in cuts that will be necessary if we shoot ourselves in the face by not reaching a budget agreement. On the other hand, the money that is raised from the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans (from a tax increase that starts only on income earned after the first $250,000) can allow the government to fund the programs that keep hunger at bay, homelessness under control, and allow children to start down a path of education and growth that will develop them as human beings and citizens of this country.

This is the choice we face. The way toward a more perfect union is the path of righteousness and justice. For this reason, we must urge our representatives to back the president’s plan to allow the tax cuts on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to expire. It should be the law because it is just and good.


Rabbi Aryeh Cohen is professor of rabbinic literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Literature of the American Jewish University. He is the author of “Justice in the City: An Argument From the Sources of Rabbinic Judaism” and is on the national board of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

Filing Cutoff Nears on Ghetto Pensions


Time is running out for survivors of Nazi ghettos to apply for retroactive German pensions, a German advocacy group warned.

Applications received after June 30 will not be eligible for payments going back to 1997, according to Lothar Evers, director of the German Association for Information and Support to Survivors of Nazi Persecution. The German government does not plan to extend the deadline. Later applicants, though, still may be eligible for a regular pension, but not for back payments.

Evers’ group and its sister organization in the United States introduced a telephone hotline this week to help potential applicants. The organizations said a simple letter of application is sufficient to meet the deadline. U.S. and Canadian applicants should write to LVA Hamburg, Uberseering 10, 22297 Hamburg, Germany.

The letter should include basic details, such as the applicant’s name, age, place of birth, location, period of time in the ghetto and the job he or she did there.

Evers said the German government has not done its part to inform survivors around the world of the deadline. He said his group is trying to reach Jewish organizations in Eastern Europe that are least likely to be aware of the date. Meanwhile, Volker Beck, a German legislator from the Green Party, has been pressuring Germany’s Ministry for Health and Social Security to extend the deadline, but so far has had no success.

“We noticed that hardly anyone had applied, and we think it is because this deadline is not known,” Beck explained. He said he had been waiting several weeks for an answer.

Elisabeth Von der Linde, a Health Ministry spokeswoman, said Minister Ulla Schmid did not plan to grant an extension. Von der Linde also said no broad information campaign had been mounted, because the number of eligible applicants is believed to be “very small” — though she said there are no hard numbers.

Applicants who apply too late to obtain retroactive payments may be eligible for monthly pensions that are “up to 36 percent higher” than normal, Von der Linde said.

Those who worked in ghettos, as well as the widows and widowers of such survivors, are eligible for the pensions, even if they already have received compensation from the German government and industry fund for slave laborers or from the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, according to the Maryland-based Support for Survivors of Nazi Persecution International, which works with Evers’ group.

The pension payment is not for forced labor, but the definition of voluntary labor is complicated, because of the conditions that existed in the ghettoes, said Christine Reeh, a consulting attorney for the Claims Conference in Germany and Europe, who has authored a handbook on applying for the pensions. The handbook can be downloaded from www.claimscon.org.

“People say, ‘We were guarded and we were forced in and out of the ghetto, but the work, itself, was voluntary,'” Reeh said. “Everyone who worked in a ghetto should just write, just to meet the deadline.”

However, she said, potential applicants should “look for legal advice” before filing the formal application.

Some applicants already have received lump-sum back payments of up to 20,000 euros, Evers said. Late applicants will be eligible for payments of more than $250 a month but only from the time their petitions are received, he explained.

Evers said he found it surprising that some Germans ask why they still have to pay pensions to Holocaust survivors, “but nobody asks this question when it comes to S.S. soldiers and their widows. We are still paying for hundreds of thousands of them.”

“I personally think, when it comes to the concentration camps and the Holocaust and the organized killing, that Germany is responsible for the dignified aging of the survivor population,” he said.

In the United States, the telephone hotline is (800)
467-0191. Background in English is also available at the group’s Web site, www.survivors-international.org .

Evers’ organization can also provide information by calling overseas to 011-49 221-179294-18.