Briefs: Palestinians riot near Jerusalem dig; Brandeis threatened with loss of donations


Palestinians Riot Around Jerusalem

Palestinians rioted at entry points to Jerusalem to protest a ban stemming from previous riots over an Old City dig. Police banned Palestinian males under age 50 from attending Friday prayer services at mosques on the Temple Mount, and extended a ban on Raed Salah, leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement. Police arrested 15 people in scuffles in and around the city. Worshipers have rioted in recent weeks to protest a construction project near the Temple Mount.

Israeli authorities say the renovation of a staircase leading to the Temple Mount does not threaten the integrity of the site, but Salah, who has frequently concocted imaginary Jewish plots against the Temple Mount to incite his public against Israel, has led protests at the site and scuffled with police officers. Last Friday, he called for a Muslim intifada to “save” the mosque from the Jews. The Israelis “want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water,” Salah said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter asked the attorney general to investigate whether Salah’s comments constitute incitement and sedition.

Brandeis Threatened With Loss of Donations

Mideast scholar Daniel Pipes called on donors to reconsider their support of Brandeis University. In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Pipes claimed that his planned appearance at the university had been put on hold pending approval from a new committee created to vet potential speakers on the Middle East.

The committee also reportedly is holding up an appearance by Norman Finkelstein, a noted critic of Israeli policy who has argued that the Jewish state exploits the Holocaust for political purposes. Evidence that pressure on the university may be intensifying came from a report Friday in the New York Jewish Week that “more than a handful” of major donors told Brandeis they would no longer contribute following a recent controversial visit by former President Carter, who discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which is harshly critical of Israel. A Brandeis spokeswoman told the Jewish Week that she wasn’t aware of any communication from donors.

Hezbollah Seen Expanding Arsenal

Hezbollah aims to stockpile more weapons than it had before last year’s war with Israel, a top Israeli intelligence analyst said.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, chief of research in Israel’s Military Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing Monday that the Lebanese terrorist group was smuggling in rockets to replace the thousands it lost fighting Israel during the summer war. Once it receives new shipments from neighboring Syria, Baidatz said, Hezbollah will have a larger rocket arsenal than it did before the war.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz interjected that this should not be a gauge of the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah. Peretz noted that Hezbollah deprived of its border positions was in far less of a position to launch attacks.

Hezbollah admitted it has resumed stockpiling arms on Lebanon’s frontier with Israel.

“We can reveal that we have arms, and of all kinds,” Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said last Friday in a speech. “We move them covertly, and Israel does not know about it.”

Nasrallah said the smuggling would continue in defiance of Israel, foreign peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, which deployed in southern Lebanon as part of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended last year’s war.

“We are not a burden to the Lebanese army but rather a supporter of its mission,” Nasrallah said.

Iran Defies U.N. Demands

Iran signaled that it will not honor a demand by the United Nations to halt sensitive nuclear projects. The Foreign Ministry in Tehran announced Sunday that Iran has no intention of meeting a Feb. 21 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for suspending uranium enrichment. Under Security Council Resolution 1737, which was passed in late December, Iran was subjected to limited international sanctions that could be expanded if it defied the 60-day deadline on uranium enrichment, a key potential process for making nuclear bombs.

While China and Russia surprised other Security Council members by backing the original resolution, it was unclear whether they would support further sanctions given their robust trade ties with Tehran and public skepticism over whether the Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons.

Feinstein Reintroduces Cluster Bomb Bill

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein cited Israeli cluster bombs left behind in Lebanon in introducing legislation to restrict the sale of the devices.

“What gives rise, in part, to my bill are recent developments in Lebanon over alleged use of cluster bombs by Israel,” Feinstein, a Jewish Democrat who is seen as strongly pro-Israel, said last week in introducing the legislation with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Israel dropped some 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and 1 million failed to explode, she said.

“As Lebanese children and families have returned to their homes and begin to rebuild, they have been exposed to the danger of these unexploded bomblets lying in the rubble. Twenty-two people, including six children have been killed and 133, including 47 children, injured.”

Israel said it used the weapons in areas where civilians had already fled, and says the postwar casualty rate is due to U.S.-made bombs that have a high rate of delayed explosion.

Human-rights groups have noted that Hezbollah also used cluster bombs during the war, firing them directly into Israeli cities. Feinstein and Leahy introduced similar legislation immediately following the war, but it failed.

Jerusalem Opens Alcohol-Free Bar

An alcohol-free bar opened in Jerusalem with municipal funding. Lugar opened its doors in central Jerusalem on Monday with a teetotaling format geared toward minors.

The initiative was conceived by Mayor Uri Lupolianski following growing evidence that youths in Jerusalem, including many foreigners on study visits, were increasingly abusing lax controls on alcohol consumption in public places.

Lupolianski said he hoped other cities in Israel would emulate the Lugar pilot.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Anti-War, Anti-Israel?


ANSWER Rallies Return

With things going badly in Iraq, the anti-war movement in this country is trying to expand its political base with a series of high-profile marches scheduled for this weekend.

And once again, planners of some of the events are using rising discontent over the war to boost other items on their agenda, starting with vehement criticism of Israel.

A primary sponsor of the new burst of protest: International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), the anti-war group criticized last year for barring speakers who supported Israel and for a vehemently anti-Israel approach to the Mideast conflict.

On Saturday, the group will hold rallies in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Michael Berg, father of the Philadelphia-area Jewish businessman beheaded by Iraqi insurgents last month, will participate in an ANSWER march from the White House to the home of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to the group’s Web site.

The latest rally by ANSWER — an offshoot of the ultra-radical World Workers Party — is putting an even greater emphasis on ending Israeli “colonialism,” and on linking the U.S. occupation of Iraq with Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Jewish leaders say it’s the same old pitch from a group variously described as Stalinist, Leninist and just plain Marxist. But the worsening situation in Iraq could provide more fertile soil for the dissemination of its anti-Israel ideas.

“Our main concern is that well-meaning progressives who oppose the situation in Iraq will be drawn into a destructive anti-Israel movement that combines anti-globalism, anti-war, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements,” said David Bernstein, regional director for the American Jewish Committee.

Bernstein said that the revival of ANSWER “means that we have to reach out even more aggressively to parts of the progressive community, from the mainline Christian groups to minority groups to labor and other centers of the progressive community.”

Bernstein said Jewish leaders need to do a better job “communicating effectively with people who are looking for a way to express their concerns about the war. The situation in Iraq is giving ANSWER a chance to reclaim its pre-war positions, and that’s worrisome.”

Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said that ANSWER “is a fringe group, far out of the mainstream of American society,” but warned about its “ability to get crowds together. Right now being against the war in Iraq is a popular message, and they are using that to reach out to a broader audience.”

Some leading Jewish anti-war activists are staying far away from the ANSWER orbit.

“We only participated in ANSWER demonstrations when there was no alternative mass mobilization,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, head of the liberal Tikkun Community. Lerner was barred from speaking at ANSWER rallies last year because he objected to the group’s growing anti-Israel, anti-Semitic focus.

But Lerner said that the argument the war is being fought for Israel resonates with Americans.

“One of the reasons we opposed this war was that we saw that the only argument for the war that stood a chance of making sense was that it would eliminate Israel’s leading military threat in the Middle East,” he said. “And we argued that going to war to protect Israel when Israel was not actually facing a realistic military threat would eventually lead to an increase in anger at Israel and hence a long-term decrease in Israeli security and an upsurge of anti-Israel feeling.”

That prediction, he said, is now “being played out on the American right-wing as they look for scapegoats rather than face their own stupidity for having supported the war in the first place.”

Faith-Based Battle Heating Up

President George W. Bush, saying the government should not “discriminate against faith-based” health and social service programs, has renewed his push for new laws and regulations opening up federal grants to religious groups.

The first White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was part pep rally for the embattled faith-based initiative, part seminar designed to help potential grantees learn the ropes of the funding process.

And the event at a Washington hotel had distinctly Christian overtones, several participants said, with a Gospel choir and “a kind of tent revival atmosphere,” according to one.

But that didn’t faze Jewish supporters of the administration’s plans, which have been held up in Congress but implemented in large measure through executive action.

“While obviously the predominant religious affiliation was Christian, there was a discernable effort on behalf of the president to be as inclusive as possible,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Washington director for American Friends of Lubavitch, who was the recipient of a presidential kiss in the receiving line.

Featured prominently at the event: a leading Jewish anti-poverty group that has not yet received any funds under the president’s faith-based plan.

The Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty was one of eight groups singled out as examples of faith-based groups in action in a video shown to the 2,000-plus delegates.

William Rapfogel, executive director of the group, said that “it was a very positive meeting, and the president got a very strong reception.”

Rapfogel said that groups opposed to the administration’s faith-based initiatives on church-state grounds “probably won’t be convinced” by Tuesday’s session, but that “this may have had an impact on some of those in the middle, who may already be inclined to give the program a chance.”

He said that groups like his that hope to get money from the faith-based plan “have to help shape it so there will not be discrimination and there will not be proselytizing.”

But Jewish church-state groups were unimpressed.

“I can’t quarrel with their ability to promote their agenda, but I believe the program is fundamentally misconceived,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Committee. “They are promoting a sweeping vision in terms of how social services should be organized and funded in this country.”

He said that while the plan ostensibly covers both faith-based and community initiatives, “there’s virtually no attention being paid to the community side of that equation. The emphasis is entirely on enabling faith-based organizations to participate.”

Budget Crisis Deepening

For Jewish leaders worried about likely cuts in health and human service programs, Capitol Hill budget experts have just one thing to say: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Although election-obsessed lawmakers are unlikely to make any drastic moves this year that could lead to a voter backlash on Nov. 2, the handwriting is on the wall for subsequent budget years as the federal deficit mounts.

Last week the Washington Post reported on a secret White House memo warning government agencies to brace for sweeping budget cuts starting in Fiscal Year 2006.

The memo warned about likely cuts in virtually every domestic area, including education and social welfare programs such as the popular Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

That just proves what House Democrats predicted early in the year, said Thomas Kahn, Democratic staff director on the House Budget Committee.

“There’s no way around it: the huge tax cuts that have already passed, along with the $2 trillion in new tax cuts the administration is proposing and record increases in defense spending, are forcing deep cuts in a wide range of critical domestic services,” he said.

But with Congress putting off most critical budget decisions this year, the scope of those cuts won’t really be apparent until after the elections.

Even homeland security is being cut — according to the memo, by $1 billion in 2006, which augers poorly for a bill pushed by a coalition of Jewish groups that would provide assistance to nonprofit groups that need to beef up security to face the terrorist threat.

Most Jewish groups continue to stay out of the debate over new tax cuts, but a number of Jewish leaders expressed dismay about the scope of likely spending cuts in the next few years.

“The decisions being made on the budget today are going to haunt us for decades to come, because they involve the very infrastructure of our social service system, and our ability to provide for those in need,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women. “Legislators can’t afford to be shortsighted; the cuts that are being made can’t be made up later, and they send a very damaging message about what this nation’s priorities are.”