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

Briefs: They’re Jews first and Israelis second; Pope to soap offending trope

Israelis Identify by Faith, Then Flag

Israelis are three times more likely to identify primarily as Jews than as Israelis, a poll found. According to a survey in Monday’s Yediot Achronot, 40 percent of Israelis said they identify “first and foremost” as Jews, while 13 percent identify primarily as Israelis. Most Israelis, 45 percent, identified primarily as human beings, with the rest undecided on how to identify themselves. The poll had 500 respondents and a 4.2 percent margin of error. It was not clear if the respondents represented a cross-section of Israel’s entire population, 20 percent of whom are Arabs, or just the Jewish majority.

Stars to Celebrate Israel’s Birthday

Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg are among Jewish celebrities expected to attend Israel’s 60th Independence Day events. The famed musical diva and Hollywood director are among those invited to a May 13 conference in Jerusalem being organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres in honor of the Jewish state’s 60th birthday, Ma’ariv reported Monday. Streisand will entertain by singing “Avinu Malkeinu,” a Peres favorite. Among foreign statesmen expected to attend the events are President Bush and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Canada Removes Israel, U.S. From Watch List

Canada removed Israel and the United States from a list of countries suspected of using torture. Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said Saturday that an internal government torture watch list naming Israel and the United States had been amended to omit them. Bernier noted that Israel and the United States are among Canada’s “closest allies.” The watch list, which had been compiled as part of training for Canadian diplomats, was accidentally leaked to the press. It mentioned methods known widely as “torture light” — sleep deprivation, forced nudity, isolation and blindfolding. Human rights groups denounced Bernier’s turnabout, saying designation states that sanction torture should not depend on whether they are political allies. Israel and the United States admit that their security services use vigorous interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists but deny this amounts to torture.

Israeli Spy Satellite Launched

After months of delays, the TECSAR satellite was launched into space Monday from a site in India. The TECSAR features an all-weather, day-or-night radar imaging system that will significantly improve Israel’s ability to monitor Iran and other Middle East foes. Two Israeli-made Ofek satellites, with conventional optical camera, already are in orbit. Israel is among a handful of countries that manufactures and deploys its own satellites.

Olmert Praises Aid to Sderot

Aid extended to Sderot by the Israeli military has improved conditions for the rocket-rattled town, Ehud Olmert said. The Israeli prime minister, who made an unannounced visit to Sderot last Thursday after the military’s Southern Command was ordered to deploy personnel in the town to reinforce buildings against rocket salvos from the nearby Gaza Strip and help with routine affairs, said the measure has shown some success.

“I found a different atmosphere both in Sderot and its outlying communities. I found impressive determination, fortitude, fewer complaints but not less pain and concern, and great appreciation for the activity being carried on there,” Olmert told his Cabinet in broadcast remarks Sunday.

Last week saw a surge in rocket fire by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Israeli forces pressed attacks in Gaza. The Jewish Agency for Israel announced Sunday it has begun providing emergency relief grants of around $1,000 for Sderot residents who are injured, or whose homes are damaged, by rockets. A total of $300,000 was last month earmarked for Sderot out of the Jewish Agency’s Victims of Terror Fund, which is underwritten by the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod.

Pope to Change Liturgy Offensive to Jews

Pope Benedict XVI reportedly has decided to change part of the Good Friday liturgy that is offensive to Jews. The decision was reported by Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican expert of the Italian daily “Il Giornale.” The change would affect the Missal of 1962, which the pope brought back into use. The prayer is not used in most churches, but certain congregations continue to use the old rite on Good Friday.

The prayer, which refers to the blindness of the Jews in refusing Jesus as the messiah, is part of a series of prayers for non-Christians. The prayer reads: “Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you do not refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.”

A reference to “perfidious Jews” was dropped in 1959. When Pope Benedict brought back the prayer, the chief rabbis of Israel expressed concern, as did the ADL.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

What’s next after Hamas’ Gaza takeover?

Israel Wins More Than Hoop Crown


Everybody wanted to be in Moscow this past weekend. Leaders from all over the world flew in to partake in history: President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder all made it, as did President Moshe Katzav of Israel.

But as the world leaders all converged on the Russian capital, only Katzvav and his wife, Gila, secured an entry ticket to Moscow’s hottest event that weekend — the Final Four of the European Cup Basketball Championship. It featured three European teams — Russia, Spain and Greece — and one non-European team from a place in the Middle East called “Israel.”

As the world’s leaders gathered in Moscow to join Russian President Vladimir Putin in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, 13,300 basketball fans gathered in Moscow’s Olympisky Arena to watch Maccabi Tel Aviv try to defend its Euroleague basketball crown.

Think about it: Moscow hosts a large ceremony celebrating the defeat of the Nazis, and, just a few minutes away from all of the pomp and circumstance, on the same weekend, Moscow also plays host to a basketball tournament that will potentially crown a team from a Jewish state in the Middle East as champions of Europe.

Some will call it irony, others will call it sweet justice, but no matter how you see it, the scene in Moscow this past weekend put a unique spin on history, one that is worth exploring as we celebrate 57 years of Israel’s independence this week.

Imagine if you had told a Holocaust survivor walking out of the gates of Auschwitz that in 60 years, a Jewish state in the Land of Israel would send a basketball team to Moscow to play for the European basketball championship. The responses would have included anything from sheer disbelief at the thought of an independent Jewish state to wondering why a team from the Middle East would play in the European league.

That Israel is competing against European teams rather than in a Middle Eastern league serves as a grim reminder of the unfriendly neighborhood where Israel is situated. Israel has had peace with Egypt since 1979, Jordan since 1994, and is currently in peace talks with the Palestinians. Yet with all the supposed atmosphere of “peace,” no realist would venture to suggest hosting a basketball tournament featuring teams from Egypt, Jordan, the Gaza Strip and Israel, which begs the larger question of how genuine all of this “peace” really is.

It’s not like the European continent is a more logical place for Israel to play basketball. Not too long ago, anti-Semitism was virtually a way of life in Europe, and just when we thought it was all over, European anti-Semitism is once again fashionable. So what is Israel’s team doing playing in Europe? Well, they’re not playing for sympathy.

In this onetime bastion of Jew-hatred, the team from the Jewish state has won five European basketball championships (1977, 1981, 2001, 2004 and 2005). France, with all of its open disdain for Israel and its laissez-faire approach to current anti-Semitism, has one title in the 47 years since the founding of the Euroleague; Germany still waits for its first.

That the current crowning of Israel took place in Moscow is also something to reflect upon. Imagine visiting Natan Sharansky in a Soviet prison during the 1970s and telling him that one day, Moscow’s Olympisky Arena would contain 7,000 Jews from Israel openly waving Israeli flags, and chanting “Hatikvah” together as their team lifted the European Cup.

That such a scenario is not fiction, but really took place just a few days ago, is an event of monumental historical importance that travels far beyond the boundaries of a basketball court.

Much to the disdain of several world leaders gathered in Moscow this past weekend, Israel is a fact on the ground, and it is here to stay. In basketball, and in many other fields, this young country continues to behave like a true champion.

This was best expressed by Tal Brody, the legendary captain of Maccabi Tel Aviv, in 1977, after Maccabi’s defeat of the Soviet Red Army Team on the way to its first European championship.

“Now we are on the map,” said Brody in a post-game interview. “And we are staying on the map — not only in sports, but in everything.”

Daniel Bouskila is the rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in West Los Angeles.


Israel in the Valley

So 40,000 people can’t be wrong, right? That’s how many people are expected to attend next week’s 53rd Annual Israel Independence Day Festival. KRLA’s Dennis Prager will emcee the festival’s official ceremony, and special guests will include Israeli Minister of Transportation Ephraim Sneh (official representative of the Israeli government) and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. Yoram Gutman returns as festival director.

Location, location, location — ostensibly, that’s the big difference between this year’s Valley-based festival, previously held at Pan Pacific Park. Due to area construction, the festival will be held at Woodley Park in Van Nuys this year.

But according to festival organizers, there is another factor distinguishing this year’s event: a focus on the next generation of the Jewish community. For the first time, the festival will offer the Teen Tent Schmooze, where teenagers can congregate and meet with Tel Aviv high schoolers who will be performing on stage. There will also be an area for singles in their 20’s and 30’s, complete with DJ’s spinning records.

And don’t forget to drop by the Journal’s booth. A festival sponsor, the Journal will offer an art contest and prize raffle.

As in previous years, the festival will feature a variety of children’s entertainment and rides, an artists’ pavilion, food kiosks, youth activities and sky divers. A “Heritage Pavilion,” sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel, will feature a display called “Changes” that will chronicle the timeline of Israel’s growth and development through pictures. Among the entertainers taking to the stage this year: Yaffa Yarkoni, Shimi Tavori and Eddie Grimberg & His Orchestra.

While the big idea here is to have fun, Israeli-style, festival chair Chaim Linder told The Journal that for the organizers, there is a deeper subtext beneath the mirth.

“We really want to show the support of Jewish community of L.A. to Israel, especially today when Israel is in such a bind,” said Linder. “We view this as our main mission.”

The 53rd Annual Israel Independence Day Festival will take place Sun., April 29, 10 a.m -6 p.m at Woodley Park, Woodley Avenue, between Burbank and Victory, Van Nuys. Admission is free, parking $7. For more information or to volunteer, call (818) 757-0123 or (800) 644-9505, or go to


Celebrating Israel’s Independence

While it may be true that if you ask two Jews a question, you’re likely to get three different opinions, it appears that thousands were in agreement last Sunday: The Israel Independence Day Festival at Hansen Dam was the place to be to celebrate the Jewish State’s 49th birthday. Festival organizers said that attendance reached 10,000 for the daylong event, which featured food, live entertainment, cultural exhibits, picnic areas and a children’s amusement park.

“This was our most organized year ever, from parking to vendors to everything else,” said staffer Haim Linder. “The kids had a great time, the weather was beautiful, and the new Sephardic Pavilion was a success. [Israeli pop singer] Matti Caspi had everybody there until a quarter of 6, even though the day was supposed to end at 5…. It was really a happy, community atmosphere.”

And, as it does every year, the Israeli Flight Club, composed of Israeli pilots now settled in Los Angeles, flew in formation over the festival to salute another year of independence. — Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor n

Israel at 49

Looking for a traditional Israeli way to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzma’ut? Try the annual Israel Independence Day Festival, pictured above, this year on Sunday, May 18, from noon to 5 p.m., at Hansen Dam Park in Sun Valley. The park is sun-drenched, loud pop music sung in Hebrew is blaring, and the scent of Israeli food — grilled meat and spicy falafel, fills the air. Families bring picnic blankets and umbrellas, and there are children’s amusement rides, as well as a stage for performers. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Jewish Unity for Israel,” and the event features a Sephardic Heritage Pavilion. And if you bring some Israelis with you, chances are they will run into friends from their hometown. The event is organized by the Council of Israeli Organizations and the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. It is sponsored by the Jewish Federation Council, AIPAC and Israel Bonds. For more information, call (818) 757-0123.


Ha’Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day) Celebrations:

  • * Kol Tikvah celebrates with music and comedy, featuring Herschel Fox, comedian and Jewish storyteller; Aliza Kashi, Israeli singer/entertainer; Tova Morcos, musical director; University of Judaism Concert Singers; hosted by Cantor Caren Glasser, Sun., May 18, 4 p.m., 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.
  • *Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy Day School, Religious School and Nursery School celebrate with a festive Mincha/Maariv service and presentation on the theme of Israel, followed by a community celebration, Mon., May 12, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.
  • *Temple Isaiah celebrates at its Shabbat service, Fri., May 9, 7:30 p.m., 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772.
  • *Temple Ner Maarav celebrates at its Shabbat service, followed by an Israeli-themed dinner and entertainment by Yosi Levy, Fri., May 9, 6 p.m., 17730 Magnolia Blvd., Encino. RSVP (818) 345-7833.
  • *Temple Ramat Zion’s Sisterhood sponsors a program featuring food, festivities and fun, Mon., May 12, 8 p.m., 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 360-1881.
  • *University Synagogue celebrates at its Shabbat family service, led by kindergarten and first-grade classes, Fri., May 16, 7:30 p.m., 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. (714) 553-3535.