IAEA chief says Iran ready to sign nuclear inspection deal

The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said his agency expects to sign a deal with Iran to allow an investigation into the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Tuesday’s announcement in Tehran by Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, came a day after talks between Amano and Iranian officials, including Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, according to reports.

“(A) decision was made to conclude and sign the agreement … I can say it will be signed quite soon,” Amano told reporters in Vienna, according to Reuters, adding that ‚Äúthere remain some differences.”

On Wednesday, representatives of the six world powers are scheduled to meet with Jalili in Baghdad, Iraq, to discuss uranium enrichment in Iran.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the West suspects Iran is working toward building a nuclear weapon. The West has concerns that Israel may launch a preemptive strike to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday was skeptical of the apparent breakthrough and called on Iran to stop enriching uranium both to 3.5 percent and 20 percent.

“It appears that the Iranians are trying to reach a ‘technical agreement’ which will create the impression of progress in the talks in order to remove some of the pressure before the [P5+1] talks tomorrow in Baghdad, as well as to put off the intensification of sanctions,” Barak said. “Israel believes that Iran should be set a clear bar, so that there is no ‘window or crack’ which the Iranians can [creep] through to advance their military nuclear program.”

Barak said that if Iran is allowed to retain even a symbolic amount of uranium, it must be under “tight supervision.”

“The requirements of the world powers must be clear and unequivocal,” he said.

City Building & Safety inspectors briefly interrupt Kol Nidrei services at Hancock Park shul

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For an 10/4/2007 update to this story, click here.
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was conducting Kol Nidrei services for some 200 Orthodox worshippers at Yeshivas Yavneh last Friday, when shortly after 8 p.m. two inspectors from the Los Angeles City Department of Building and Safety walked into the lobby.One inspector told a startled congregant that the service had run past the 8 p.m. closing time and that therefore the premises had to be vacated immediately.

After the congregant told the inspectors that they would have to remove the worshippers by force, one by one, the city officials left after 15 minutes and the service continued at the 5353 W. 3rd St. facility.

As word of the strange incident spread through the closely knit Orthodox community in Hancock Park, tempers and outrage rose.

The yeshivaworld.com Web site declared that the incident was “reminiscent of the cowardly sneak attack on Israel during the Yom Kippur War,” and quoted one woman worshipper, a wheelchair-bound Holocaust survivor, “I was frightened. I started crying. I don’t want to go to jail. I want to pray.”Yeshivas Yavneh
By Sunday evening, top aides to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Tom LaBonge, joined by Councilman Jack Weiss, met with Orthodox community rabbis and officials of the offending department in City Hall for some hasty damage control.

On Monday evening, the mayor and two councilmen released a statement condemning the “outrageous intrusion” on erev Yom Kippur, “which caused great pain and anguish.”

The three political leaders promised a full investigation and initiated a cultural sensitivity training program for Department of Building and Safety employees.

“We are committed to making sure that an incident like this never repeats itself,” the statement concluded.

The roots of the potentially explosive incident lie in a bitter eight-year-old feud in the Hancock Park neighborhood, an upscale enclave of stately homes.

Once populated by WASPs, Hancock Park later became home to many Jewish secular, Reform and Conservative Jews. About a decade ago, a considerable number of strictly Orthodox families started to move in and now make up about 20 percent of the homeowners.

In 1999, the Orthodox community purchased a Tudor estate in a residential area and established the Yavneh Hebrew Academy for some 400 students, from preschool through eighth grade.

As part of the religious curriculum, Yavneh provided for prayer services during the week, and for Shabbat and holiday services for students and their families on the premises through Kehillah Yeshivas Yavneh.

Many longtime residents, including Jewish families, resented the intrusion and feared that the prayer services would expand into a full-fledged congregation. After considerable acrimony, Yavneh and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association agreed on a municipal conditional use permit.

One stipulation in the permit limited Friday activities, including religious services, to between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.

However, some of the school’s neighbors were not mollified, and according to city officials, one neighbor, a persistent opponent whom officials would not identify, called the municipal complaint line a week before Yom Kippur.

The caller notified the city that on the eve of Yom Kippur the stipulated 8 p.m. closing time for services would likely be violated.

The complaint was handled at the lower levels of the building and safety department as a routine matter, according to spokesman David Keim, with the result that the two inspectors showed up during the Kol Nidrei service.

Was the incident an unfortunate bureaucratic foul-up or a malicious anti-Semitic act?

Korobkin labeled the incident “a religious sting operation” but declined to speculate on the motives.

Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kolodny, who is not connected with Yavneh, had no doubts.

“Can you imagine something like this happening at a church on Christmas Eve or a mosque at Ramadan?” he asked. “This incident goes way beyond a zoning dispute, this is anti-Semitism, this is hitting below the belt.”

Weiss is also a skeptic.

“I am not saying this is necessarily anti-Semitism, but a city department made the intentional decision that the holiest day in the Jewish calendar would be the best time to catch worshippers in a minute violation,” he said.

Jolene Snet, a Jewish neighbor of the school and long active in the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, was not aware of the Friday incident and labeled it unfortunate.

However, she said, “I believe as a citizen that Yavneh should comply fully with the terms of the conditional use permit.”

For previous coverage on the Yavneh/Hancock Park zoning issues, click here.

Amy Klein explored the differences between the Orthodox neighborhoods of Hancock Park (“black hat”) and Pico-Robertson (“Modern Orthodox”) here.

Israeli Security Offers Pointers to LAX; Education Programs Get Multimillion Dollar Boost

Israeli Security Offers Pointers to LAX

Three Israeli security experts received warm praise from local city officials after concluding a four-day recent inspection tour of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) recently.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement during his Asia travels lauding the “peer-to-peer sharing of critical security measures in place at Ben-Gurion Airport.”

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who hosted the Israeli delegation, said that the inspection visit was the first of its kind to any U.S. airport.

Heading the Israeli group was Nahum Liss, director of the security planning department at Ben-Gurion International Airport, joined by department officials Hadas Levitan and Alon Browon.

They were not available for comment and LAX officials declined to discuss specific recommendations for security reasons.However, LAX Commission President Alan Rothenberg told the Los Angeles Times that the Israeli experts “had a half dozen suggestions, some of them very low tech, some of them very high tech.”

The Los Angeles airport is considered the prime terrorist target in California and its Tom Bradley International Terminal processes as many passengers annually as the Ben-Gurion airport, Rothenberg said.

In reporting the visit, the L.A. Times emphasized that “Israel airport security is recognized throughout the world as the gold standard,” particularly for its “behavioral recognition tactics.”

The Israeli delegation was invited by Weiss, who participated in a conference on homeland security in Israel earlier this year.”We came to appreciate that Israeli government officials have unique and valuable experience in protecting airports and airliners from terrorism and that they could be helpful partners in securing LAX,” Weiss said.

“We hope that we can arrange to put this security exchange on a permanent footing,” he added.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Education Programs Get Multimillion Dollar Boost

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCF) recently announced that it had awarded grants totaling a record $57 million in 2005, up 33 percent from a year earlier.

The 52-year-old foundation, the largest manager of charitable assets for Jewish philanthropists in Los Angeles, distributed more than 1,300 grants last year to a variety of secular and religious causes.

“Whether the foundation’s grants target the young, the elderly, the arts, education, or social services, we aim to make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Marvin I. Schotland, JCF president and chief executive.

With the foundation’s total assets having jumped 83 percent over the past five years, JCF recently announced that it would award grants of up to $250,000 over a three-year period, compared to maximum grants of $50,000. As of Dec. 31, 2005, the foundation had $603 million in total assets.

Among the 2005 recipients of noteworthy JCF grants:

  • Jewish World Watch, an anti-genocide advocacy group that has focused on the tragedy in Darfur, received $50,000 from JCF to help with its mission of educating and mobilizing the Jewish community against acts of genocide and inhumanity. JWW, since its inception two years ago, has raised a total $500,000 to build two medical clinics for refugees in Darfur and 50 water wells and other water systems mostly in Darfur, among other projects
  • The Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles received $39,000 for a Hebrew language immersion program for children in Jewish elementary day schools.
  • Aish Tamid of Los Angeles, received $10,000 for its Student Career Fair Conference, a one-day career fair for at-risk youth in the Orthodox community.
  • Brandeis-Bardin Institute landed $20,000 for a camp-based program for high-school students and their parents that focuses on Jewish ethics, sexual development and responsible decision-making.
  • The Library Education Project for Los Angeles, a StandWithUs program, received $50,000 to organize discussion groups, buy books and films and meet with librarians to help correct the perceived anti-Israel bias in many libraries.
  • HaMercaz, a program that brings together several local Jewish agencies to coordinate and provide services to families of children with developmental disabilities and special needs, landed $48,700.
  • The UCLA Center for Jewish Studies received $10,000 to help underwrite the costs of a two-day conference about the Jewish experience in Los Angeles.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer