Amar calls on Netanyahu to quash military conversion bill

Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he will no longer be responsible for any state conversions if the Knesset passes a bill requiring the recognition of all military conversions.

In a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, Amar called on the prime minister to prevent the bill from passing, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Amar has charged a committee to look into legal and halachic issues surrounding the military conversions. He asked Netanyahu to allow the committee to conclude its work before allowing the legislation to go forward.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” Amar’s letter reportedly said. “This is to inform you, that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to take care of all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”

The haredi Orthodox Shas Party also called on Netanyahu to quash the bill, telling him Tuesday that it is a breach of coalition agreements with Shas, Ynet reported,

The bill to protect Israeli soldiers who have converted to Judaism through military conversion courts from having their conversions annulled was approved Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs. It would force all state agencies, including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars to accept the converts as Jews.

In September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court, during a court hearing to address the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage, that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

Saddam’s Fall Seen Just as First Step

Israelis have a long score to settle with Saddam Hussein:
The former Iraqi dictator promised to destroy the Jewish State, fired 39 Scud
missiles at Israeli cities during the Persian Gulf War and paid hundreds of
thousands of dollars to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

So, not surprisingly, Israelis were jubilant at news of
Saddam’s capture by U.S. forces in Iraq, a mood reflected by the Tel Aviv stock
exchange, which rose more than 3 percent on the day.

However, seasoned Israeli analysts are less euphoric. While
acknowledging a best-case scenario in which Saddam’s capture spurs the
Israeli-Palestinian peace track, puts pressure on Syria to seek a peace
agreement and enhances Israel’s strategic position in the region, they say that
much still has to happen in Iraq for that scenario to materialize.

The key question, they say, is whether Saddam’s capture
leads to a significant reduction in the number of guerrilla attacks on U.S. and
allied forces and leads to a more stable, pro-American Iraqi regime.

If that happens, the benefits for Israel could be enormous.
But if the attrition and chaos continue, the positive impact of Saddam’s
capture could dissipate quickly.

On the face of it, Saddam’s final, ignominious exit should
put more pressure on the Palestinians to seek an accommodation with Israel. The
radical Arab forces pressing the Palestinians to reject all peace offers have
been weakened, and Saddam’s capture further reduces the radical hinterland
Palestinian hardliners look to for support.

Conversely, it strengthens the regional standing of the United
States and adds weight to the U.S.-sponsored “road map” for
Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In the Ma’ariv newspaper, analyst Ben Caspit wrote that
there is an Israeli establishment assessment that “the removal of Saddam from
the catalogue of burning problems will release new energy in America’s
involvement here.” Caspit assumed that the road map will be strengthened, the
Palestinian Authority and Israeli prime ministers — Ahmed Qurei and Ariel
Sharon — will be forced to deal with each other and Sharon’s putative
unilateral steps will be deferred.

But will the Americans, still embroiled in Iraq, have the
resolve to exploit the moment to pressure both Palestinians and Israelis to
move forward? Israeli Cabinet ministers think not.

On the contrary, they expect U.S. pressure on Israel to
ease. Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, for example, believes the United
States now will be “far more confident in carrying out its campaign against
the ‘Axis of Evil,'” and give Israel more leeway in fighting terror.

Any reduction of U.S. pressure would be a problem, said
analyst Yossi Alpher, co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian Web
site and a former senior Mossad operative. In Alpher’s view, the capture of
Saddam will only move the Israeli-Palestinian track forward if President Bush
follows it up by “knocking some heads together” on both sides of the
Israeli-Palestinian divide.

“But,” Alpher said, “this is not the direction we are moving
in. On the contrary, we are moving toward low-level crisis management
throughout the U.S. election period and throughout the crisis in Iraq — and the
U.S. is still facing a crisis in Iraq.”

Writing in Yediot Achronot, analyst Nahum Barnea doubted
whether Sharon will exploit the U.S. success to take the initiative on the
Palestinian track.

“What can Sharon learn from Bush’s achievement?” he asked.
“First, that he who dares, wins. He sets the agenda. Sharon has known this
truth for 50 years. But knowledge is one thing, action another: The chasm is
deep and the feet are heavy. He wants to, but it’s not easy for him.”

In congratulating Bush, Sharon suggested that Saddam’s
capture could herald the beginning of the end for dictatorships throughout the Middle
East, with major strategic benefits for Israel. In a veiled allusion to
neighboring Syria, Sharon said, “The dictatorships, and especially those
tainted by terror, learned a historic lesson today: The enlightened
international community showed that it can defend freedom and defeat terror
when it has to.”

The analysts, though, have their doubts. They are skeptical
about the chances of a democratic Iraq emerging from the chaos, let alone
setting off a domino effect of democratization across the region.

Yediot Achronot’s Alex Fishman wrote that “Saddam’s capture
is not an earthquake, not in Iraq and certainly not in the Middle East. Its
impact on our regional conflict is marginal, at most.”

Alpher pointed out that the Sunni Muslims who have ruled Iraq
for 13 centuries are a minority and, even without Saddam to egg them on, they
fear that U.S.-style democracy would lead to their removal from power — reason
enough to continue a rearguard action to resist democracy.

“It takes a stretch of the imagination that Saddam’s capture
is going to put the democratic domino effect back on track,” Alpher said. “That
I don’t see happening.”

Still, Alpher said he sees major short-term strategic gains
for the United States and Israel. Saddam’s capture dramatically enhances U.S.
credibility in the region, and that, he said, “is a boost for American
deterrence and, by association, for Israeli deterrence, too.”

If, despite the expert assessments, the United States is
able, within a year or so, to put into place a genuine, functioning democracy
in Iraq, that would send a very important message across the Middle East.

There’s even an outside chance that a pro-American Iraq
might even seek relations with Israel. And that, in turn, would be certain to
impact on Bashar Assad’s Syria.

In a recent New York Times interview, Assad spoke of peace
with Israel as a strategic choice his father had made, and one he intended to
pursue. A democratic Iraq, at peace with Israel, would give him added

But, the experts say, capturing Saddam is only one necessary
step in that direction. There is still a long way to go. Â

Saddam’s Turbulent Past With Israel

The capture of Saddam Hussein puts another nail in the
coffin of an Arab dictatorship known for its anti-Israel activity and rhetoric.

Here are some of the most significant events in Saddam’s
regime and his contentious relationship with Israel:

1957 — Saddam joins the Ba’ath Party.

1969 — Saddam is appointed vice president by President Ahmed
Hassan al-Bakr. Soon afterward, Iraq hangs 17 alleged spies, including 11 Jews,
in what is seen as Saddam’s first strong message to Israel.

1979 — Saddam becomes president of Iraq, carrying out a
bloody purge in which dozens of military officers and

party officials are executed.

1980-1988 — Israel is mainly on the back burner for Saddam
as Iraq is embroiled in a bloody war with Iran.

1981 — Israel bombs Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak.
Israeli officials defend the strike in the face of worldwide condemnation,
arguing that Saddam’s regime is attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Years
later, some of the same voices that condemned Israel in 1981 say the strike was
the correct move.

Late 1980s — Iraqi and Israeli officials engage in
high-level contacts in an attempt to end mutual hostilities.

1991 — Iraq fires Scud missiles at Israel during the Persian
Gulf War. Under American pressure, Israel does not respond militarily.
Casualties and damage from the attacks are minimal, but the rain of missiles
traumatizes many Israelis and strengthens Saddam’s image among Arabs.

1992 — Five Israeli soldiers are killed in a military
accident in Tze’elim. On Tuesday, Israel admitted publicly for the first time
that the exercise was training for an assassination attempt on Saddam

2000-2003 — Saddam provides millions of dollars in cash
payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers during the current intifada.

2003 — Despite fears that he would again strike Israel,
Saddam does not fire missiles at the Jewish State during the

U.S.-led war in Iraq. On Dec. 13, Saddam is captured by U.S.
forces near his hometown of Tikrit. Â

Targeted Killings’ Other Casualties

Killing Hamas leaders wounds the terrorist group, Israeli and Palestinian officials agree. At question is whether moderate Palestinians — and U.S. influence in the region — are also casualties of Israel’s targeted strikes.

Israel has killed at least 11 leaders of Hamas since the group claimed responsibility for a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing on Aug. 19, which killed 21 people, including at least five children.

Israel declared "all-out war" against the group after the bus bombing.

The new frequency of the killings — and the targeting of political as well as military leaders — have led some to wonder whether the Bush administration’s "road map" peace plan, which envisions an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state within three years, is still viable.

"It has a serious effect on the Hamas leadership, on the one hand," Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who now lobbies for the Palestinians in Washington, said of the killings.

On the other hand, he said, "it undermines U.S. credibility on the road map."

Abington said the killings would shift moderate Arab regimes — key to the Bush administration’s plans not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for Iraq — away from support for the United States.

"Israel is assassinating left and right, and the appearance is that the United States is acquiescing," Abington said.

The lack of moderate Arab support in 2000 helped scuttle the Camp David talks when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat refused to take painful steps — such as conceding parts of Jerusalem — knowing he would be on his own.

Israelis say that defeating Hamas ultimately could remove the extremist yoke that has held back the Palestinian leadership until now.

"Hamas has no interest in any political solution," said Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Israel would have preferred the Palestinian Authority to handle Hamas, but they have consistently refused to meet their road map responsibilities and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

In any case, the Hamas attacks — and Israeli retaliation — may mean that the United States fundamentally has to reassess its policies in the region.

"American policy is now in a shambles, the road map no longer seems viable, the cease-fire is in tatters," said Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

If the United States has problems with the intensity of Israel’s reaction, its public expressions have been muted at best.

"Israel has a right to defend herself, but Israel needs to take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after Israel killed top Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a rocket attack on Aug. 21.

Shanab was a political leader who helped broker the recent cease-fire, signed onto by the main Palestinian terrorist groups, which led to a brief period of calm. His killing came just two months after Israel attempted to kill Hamas spokesman and senior member Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

Any American attempt to distinguish between political and military leaders runs the risk of hypocrisy, said Matthew Levitt, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We don’t make a distinction between Osama bin Laden and his foot soldiers, even though bin Laden is not the trigger puller," Levitt said. "Those who commit acts of terrorism and those who order them carried out are just as culpable."

Gold said that political leaders and spokesmen serve the same tactical ends as bombmakers.

"Israel does not accept the argument that there is a difference between the political and military wings of Hamas," he said. "The U.S. used to be very concerned when Al Qaeda spokesmen would appear on Al-Jazeera because they could have had operational messages mixed into their language. The same is true for Hamas spokesmen like Rantissi."

Targeting political leaders is not new: Israel made no distinctions between political and military officials in its famous action against Black September after the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Still, Israel’s recent intensity against Hamas is unprecedented in the way it has confronted the 3-year-old intifada.

Levitt, a former FBI analyst, said there is a tactical advantage to maintaining the intensity of the attacks.

"Having a situation in which all of Hamas has to go underground, moving it from desktops to laptops, is a significant blow to its ability to carry out operations," he said.

Abington agreed that is true in the short term — but is worried that ultimately the targeted killings would only reinforce the militant group.

"It undermines Abu Mazen," Abington said, using the popular name for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

"One reason he has been reluctant to take moves against Hamas is because he thinks the Palestinian street does not support him. Assassinations only inflame support for Hamas."

It was a point echoed by Brown,

"From the Israeli perspective, it’s clear that suicide bombing depends first on capability, and also on a social environment that makes it possible," Brown said. "Assassination targets the first, but makes the second worse."

Still, Brown said, "It strikes me that the killings are motivated by the lack of other options."

IDF at Odds With Militant Activists

The bad blood between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a group of international pro-Palestinian activists continues to grow as more members of the group are injured in Israeli anti-terror operations.

A British activist was shot in the head last Friday as a group of foreign and Palestinian protesters approached a unit of Israeli tanks posted near the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The incident ignited a crossfire of words and accusations between the IDF and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Thomas Hurndall, 21, from England, suffered a head injury that left him brain dead. He was the third casualty from the ISM in a month.

The ISM is a movement of international activists working for "Palestinian freedom and an end to Israeli occupation," according to its mission statement, sometimes through illegal protests and rallies.

Though members of the group call themselves peace activists, they work only to protect Palestinians from Israeli anti-terror actions, making no attempt to protect Israelis from Palestinian violence.

Hurndall was shot when a sniper on an IDF tank allegedly fired on a group of protesters marching toward them in an effort to thwart an IDF incursion into Rafah. This Palestinian city, which straddles the Gaza-Egyptian border, is one of the main zones for arms smuggling into Palestinian areas. The IDF said a tank fired only one round in the area that day. It had targeted and killed a Palestinian sniper who was hiding in the upper stories of a nearby apartment building, firing at a column of armored vehicles, military sources said.

Still, Hurndall’s shooting is a disturbing addition to a string of recent bloody confrontations between the IDF and the ISM.

Only a few hundred yards from where Friday’s incident took place, American activist Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed several weeks ago when she tried to prevent a bulldozer from demolishing a terrorist’s home. Witnesses said the bulldozer crushed Corrie, a student from Olympia, Wash., and immediately backed up. The army, which characterized the death as an accident, said the driver didn’t see Corrie.

Last week, Bryan Avery, 24, of Albuquerque, was shot in the face while walking with a fellow activist in the West Bank city of Jenin. The IDF said it was not aware that Israeli soldiers had shot Avery, but said soldiers had been targeting Palestinian gunmen in the area.

"This goes beyond the pale," ISM leader Tom Wallace said. "It was a sniper [that shot Hurndall], and we know from experience they don’t miss. The photograph clearly shows that he was wearing a bright orange vest, that he was clearly not a combatant. This man was going to pick up a child."

Wallace said he considers the shooting a criminal act.

According to ISM activists and an Associated Press photographer, Hurndall ran to scoop up a child out of harm’s way when he was shot in the back of the head.

While the IDF has expressed sorrow at the chain of injuries, it says ISM activists increasingly cross the line of neutrality. One example occurred on March 27, when IDF forces launched a manhunt for a top Islamic Jihad terrorist in Jenin.

Intelligence information led the IDF to believe that Shadi Sukia was being hidden in a Jenin compound that holds a bank, a Red Cross office and the ISM office. After combing the entire building and finding nothing, the soldiers asked two ISM activists if they could search their offices. ISM coordinator Susan Barcley refused. The soldiers insisted, forcing their way in. The intelligence information proved correct: Sukia had taken shelter with the ISM. Both he and Barcley were arrested.

"Many of the ISM activists are nothing short of provocateurs," an IDF source said. "They try to incite the Palestinians. They’re almost spoiling for a fight."

An infamous photograph of Corrie, for example, shows her with her head covered like a religious Muslim woman, burning a mock American flag in the Gaza Strip. The IDF source intimated that Corrie’s death, though regrettable, was preventable.

"That day they were running amok around the soldiers, not letting them do anything. Even when the armored units pulled back, they chased them," the source said.

Some of ISM’s tactics are daring, Wallace admitted. Others might call them downright foolish.

"ISM’ers often break curfew, just to show how ridiculous it is and because curfews are illegal according to international law," Wallace told JTA.

The IDF source said the army maintains close relations with many humanitarian organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, but has yet to find a modus vivendi with the ISM.

"If the ISM’ers in Jenin had nothing to hide, why prevent the soldiers from coming in [when they were looking for Sukia]?" the IDF source asked.

The Making of a Potential Suicide Bomber

Since last Sunday, a question has been running around in my head and troubling my sleep: What induced the young Palestinian, who broke into Kibbutz Metzer, to aim his weapon at a mother and her two little children and kill them?

In war, one does not kill children. That is a fundamental human instinct common to all peoples and all cultures. Even a Palestinian who wants to take revenge for the hundreds of children killed by the Israeli army should not take revenge on children. No moral commandment says, "A child for a child."

The people who do these things are not known as crazy killers, blood-thirsty from birth. In almost all interviews with relatives and neighbors, they are described as quite ordinary, nonviolent individuals. Many of them are not religious fanatics. Indeed, Sirkhan Sirkhan, the man who committed the deed in Metzer, belonged to Fatah, a secular movement.

These persons belong to all social classes; some come from poor families who have reached the threshold of hunger, but others come from middle-class families, university students, educated people. Their genes are not different from ours.

So what makes them do these things? What makes other Palestinians justify them?

In order to cope, one has to understand, and that does not mean to justify. Nothing in the world can justify a Palestinian who shoots at a child in his mother’s embrace, just as nothing can justify an Israeli who drops a bomb on a house in which a child is sleeping in his bed.

As the Hebrew poet Bialik wrote a 100 years ago, after the Kishinev pogrom: "Even Satan has not yet invented the revenge for the blood of a little child."

But without understanding, it is impossible to cope. The chiefs of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have a simple solution: hit, hit, hit. Kill the attackers. Kill their commanders. Kill the leaders of their organizations. Demolish the homes of their families and exile their relatives.

But, wonder of wonders, these methods achieve the opposite. After the huge IDF bulldozer flattens the "terrorist infrastructure," destroying, killing, uprooting everything in its way, within days, a new "infrastructure" comes into being. According to the announcements of the IDF, itself, since operation "Protective Shield," there have been some 50 warnings of imminent attacks every day.

The reason for this can be summed up in one word: rage.

Terrible rage that fills the soul of a human being, leaving no space for anything else. Rage that dominates the person’s whole life, making life itself unimportant.

Rage that wipes out all limitations, eclipses all values, breaks the chains of family and responsibility. Rage that a person wakes up with in the morning, goes to sleep with in the evening, dreams about at night. Rage that tells a person: get up, take a weapon or an explosive belt, go to their homes and kill, kill, kill, no matter what the consequences.

An ordinary Israeli, who has never been in the Palestinian territories, cannot even imagine the reasons for this rage. Our media totally ignore the events there or describe them in small, sweetened doses.

The average Israeli knows somehow that the Palestinians suffer (it’s their own fault, of course), but he has no idea what’s really happening there. It doesn’t concern him, anyhow.

Homes are demolished. A merchant/lawyer/ordinary craftsman, respected in his community, turns overnight into a "homeless person," he, his children and grandchildren. Each one a potential suicide bomber.

Fruit trees are being uprooted by the thousands. For the officer, it’s just a tree, an obstacle. For the owners, it’s the blood of his heart, the heritage of his forefathers, years of toil, the livelihood of his family. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

On a hill between the villages, a gang of thugs has put up an "outpost." The army arrives to defend them. When the villagers come to till their fields, they are shot at. They are forbidden to work in all fields and groves within a one- or two-kilometer range, so that the security of the outpost will not be endangered.

With longing eyes, the peasants see from afar how their fruit is rotting on the trees, how their fields are being covered by thorns and thistles waist high, while their children have nothing to eat. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

People are killed. Their torn bodies lie in the streets for everyone to see. Some of them are "martyrs" who chose their lot. But many othersare killed: "by mistake," "accidentally," "trying to escape," "were close to the source of fire" and all the 101 pretexts of professional spokesmen.

The IDF does not apologize; officers and soldiers are never convicted, because "that’s how things are in war." But each of the people killed has parents, brothers, sons, cousins. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

Beyond these are the families living on the fringes of hunger, suffering from severe malnutrition. Fathers who cannot bring food to their children feel despair. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.Hundreds of thousands are kept under curfew for weeks and months on end, eight persons cooped up in two or three rooms, a living hell difficult to imagine, while outside, the settlers have a ball, protected by the soldiers. A vicious circle: yesterday’s bombers caused the curfew, the curfew creates the bombers of tomorrow.

And beyond all these, there is the total humiliation that every Palestinian, without distinction of age, gender or social standing, experiences every moment of his life.

An Israeli who has not seen it cannot imagine such a life, a situation of "every bastard a king" and "the slave who has becomes master," a situation of curses and pushes at best, threats with weapons in many cases, actual shooting in some — not to mention the sick on the way to dialysis, pregnant women on the way to the hospital, students who don’t get to their classes, children who can’t reach their schools. The youngsters who see their venerable grandfather publicly humiliated by some boy in uniform with a runny nose. Each one a potential suicide bomber.

A normal Israeli cannot imagine all this. After all, the soldiers are nice boys, the sons of all of us, only yesterday they were schoolboys. But when one takes these nice boys and puts them in uniforms, pushes them through the military machine and puts them into a situation of occupation, something happens to them.

Many try to keep their human face in impossible circumstances, many others become order-fulfilling robots. And always, in every company, there are some disturbed people who flourish in this situation and do repulsive things, knowing that their officers will turn a blind eye or wink approvingly.

All this does not justify the killing of children in the arms of their mother. But it helps to grasp why this is happening, and why this will go on happening as long as the occupation lasts.

Uri Avnery is a columnist for the Israel daily Maariv, a founding member of Gush Shalom and a former Knesset member.

World Briefs

Variety Comes Down on Egyptian

Variety, the daily newspaper covering the entertainment industry, admonished Egyptian television in a Nov. 13 editorial for running its 41-part series called “Horseman Without a Horse,” a series which is based on the anti-Semitic tract

“Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The series has not only come under fire from Jewish groups, but the U.S. government as well. Last week, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to condemn an anti-Semitic television program; the Bush administration also has urged Egypt to review the miniseries. This week the entertainment industry weekly jumped into the fray. “Leaders of the U.S. entertainment industry must come up with some sort of suitable admonition to Egyptian state television for running its 41-part series,” Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart wrote. “The U.S. pumps some $2 billion a year in aid to Egypt and Hollywood dispatches a flow of movies and TV shows to that nation, which pretends to be one of the more enlightened centers of the Arab world,” he noted. “But if state-run television in Egypt effectively transforms itself into a prime time propaganda organ, it should hear about it from Hollywood. Loud and Clear.”

Israeli Army Moves Into Nablus

The Israeli army took control of the West Bank city of Nablus. Soldiers, heavy armor and helicopter gunships moved on Nablus early Wednesday morning after the army took control of Tulkarm and an adjacent refugee camp a day earlier. Operation Wheels in Motion is the biggest Israeli military operation in months, according to The Jerusalem Post. Israeli officials said the operation is focusing on Tulkarm and Nablus because the two cities have been linked to Sunday’s attack on a kibbutz in which five Israelis were killed. After taking control of Nablus, soldiers imposed a curfew and began house-to-house searches for terrorists. In a statement, the army said its operation also involves a crackdown on Bir Zeit north of Ramallah.

In another incident early Wednesday, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a suspected weapons-making workshop in downtown Gaza City. It was the second such strike on the site in two days. There were no reports of casualties.

Report: U.S. Puts Peacemaking On

The United States reportedly agreed to an Israeli request to put U.S. peacemaking efforts on hold until after Israel’s January elections. Agreement was reached Monday in Washington during a meeting between the head of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, Dov Weisglass, and the U.S. national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Netanyahu Pledge Angers Arafat

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat responded angrily to Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge that, if elected prime minister, he would expel Arafat. “Netanyahu has to remember that I am Yasser Arafat and that this is my land and the land of my great-great-grandfathers,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dismantled 23 settlement outposts in the past month, according to Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Speaking before the Knesset on Wednesday, Mofaz also said three outposts are currently being evacuated and that the High Court of Justice will soon decide the fate of six others, Israel Radio reported. The IDF is currently investigating the status of 35 other settlement outposts.

Harvard Uninvites Controversial Poet

Harvard’s English department retracted an invitation to a poet who once said West Bank settlers should be “shot dead.” Following student complaints, the department chair, Lawrence Buell, issued a statement saying the reading had been canceled “by mutual consent of the poet and the English Department.” Buell also said he “sincerely regretted the widespread consternation that has arisen as a result” of the invitation to Tom Paulin, who lectures at Oxford University.

The invitation “had been originally decided on last winter solely on the basis of Mr. Paulin’s lifetime accomplishments as a poet,” the statement added. Paulin told an Egyptian newspaper earlier this year that “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers should be “shot dead,” according to National Review Online. These settlers are “Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them,” he also was quoted as saying. “I can understand how suicide bombers feel.”

Former Bank Guard to be Naval Reservist

A former Swiss bank guard who rescued sensitive Holocaust-era documents from the shredder decided to become a reservist in the U.S. Navy. Christoph Meili moved to the United States after his actions at the bank in January 1997 brought him adulation from the U.S. Jewish community, but prompted death threats in his native Switzerland. Now living in California, Meili recently signed up to be a naval reservist a move that can again get him in hot water back in Switzerland.

A Swiss Foreign Ministry official said it is against the law for a Swiss citizen to serve in a foreign army without the government’s approval. As a result of his actions, Meili could face arrest upon his return to Switzerland. But this is apparently not a concern for Meili. “I will apply for U.S. citizenship very shortly, and therefore I am not afraid,” he told the Swiss daily Blick.

Six Egyptians Charged as Spies

Six people were arrested in Egypt on charges of spying for Israel. Egyptian officials said Wednesday that the six, operating under the cover of a travel agency, had spied for Israel in exchange for money, according to The Associated Press. Earlier this year, two other Egyptian nationals were found guilty of spying for Israel and sentenced to 10 years and 15 years in prison with hard labor. Israel has denied such allegations in the past.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Cal Keeps Class, Yanks Description

"Since the inception of the Intifada in September of 2000, Palestinians have been fighting for their right to exist. The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine … has systematically displaced, killed and maimed millions of Palestinian people. This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections."

— University of California, Berkeley, Course Description, 2002

"Politics and Poetics of the Palestinian Resistance," the freshman English class at UC Berkeley described above, began last week — but without the aforementioned description.

A group of California Jewish leaders was instrumental in changing that description — and in creating a task force to monitor future course descriptions. The leaders also prompted the university to insert a monitor into that class, which is taught by Palestinian activist Snehal Shingavi, a graduate student.

The monitoring comes at a particularly tense time this new semester, as Jewish groups are on the lookout for discord due to events in the Middle East. Issues such as campus divestment, pro-Palestinian rallies and controversial speakers have troubled Jewish groups as the violence in Israel continues, with Berkeley itself having a long history of participation in these events.

At Berkeley, this particular incident began last spring, when the university published an online catalog.

"This course doesn’t belong on the university curriculum," said Ami Nahshon, the executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay. "It’s a literature course for freshman English students. Literature means literature. Politics means politics. To create a literature course that’s so heavily politically biased is unacceptable." Nahshon immediately fired off over 2,500 e-mails encouraging others to help in the campaign to cancel the class.

Back at the campus, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl insisted that the section discouraging "conservative thinkers" from enrolling in the class be removed from the description.

Meanwhile, word spread to Gov. Gray Davis, who called a closed-door, off-the-record meeting in August at the Simon Wiesenthal Center with Southern California Jewish community leaders and a few of the UC Regents. Davis asked the Regents to arrive at a solution in response to the complaints.

Regent Norm Pattiz from Beverly Hills suggested creating a faculty/administration task force to follow up on this particular case and to address any similar situations that may arise in the future concerning academic freedom and academic responsibility. "I had made that suggestion since the process of changing the course description happened over a period of months," said Pattiz, who is also the founder and chair of Westwood One, America’s largest radio network. "Even the final description was not satisfactory to many of us. I felt that we couldn’t just let it go on with the implied implication that the university and the Regents approved of the nature of the course description."

In August, Atkinson announced new school policy. There will be a review and discussion regarding course description standards. The school’s English department must improve the review of course descriptions and establish a standard evaluation process. Finally, a task force has been formed to ensure faculty supervision and training for graduate student instructors. A faculty observer is currently attending every session of the Shingavi’s class.

Whether anti-Semitism played a role in the ordeal is debatable. "I wouldn’t go so far to say that this is an example of anti-Semitic behavior on college campuses," Pattiz said. "This is an example of inflammatory and inaccurate information to describe a class in Palestinian poetry, which I thought was completely inappropriate. I’m all for academic freedom."

Doug Mirell, president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance in Los Angeles also said that anti-Semitism on college campuses is not as big a problem as some believe. "I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Jewish community to be censoring the speech of others even when it’s inflammatory and false," said the Loeb & Loeb lawyer. "When the views and characteristics of the teacher and class are known, the next effort should be to work on alternative programming."

As far as conflicts involving course descriptions in the future, Pattiz thinks the task force will handle whatever lies ahead. "It will be a process," he said. "It’s premature to say what actions might come out of it. This group will do what it has been asked to do. They’ll look at individual situations so something like this won’t happen again."

World Brifs

Beit Jalla Action Postponed

Israeli military sources were quoted as saying the army had postponed a planned action in Beit Jalla by a day. The media reports said the operation, aimed at stopping Palestinian gunfire in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, was delayed in part because of American criticism of Tuesday’s military incursion into the Palestinian-ruled city of Jenin.

Palestinian Militants Arrested

Israel arrested several Palestinian militants that planned to carry out a terrorist attack near Haifa. The militants, arrested last week, were members of a suspected Islamic Jihad cell, according to details allowed for publication. Several Israeli Arabs also were arrested in connection with the incident.

Israeli undercover security forces also killed a member of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction Wednesday in Hebron. Imad Abu Sneineh was suspected of involvement in shooting attacks. Israel defends its policy of “targeted killings” of suspected Palestinian terrorists, but the international community condemns what it calls “assassinations.”

Israeli Astronaut Set for 2002

Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, will blast into orbit on May 23, 2002, the prime minister’s office announced Monday. The announcement followed a meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and NASA administrator Daniel Goldin. The two also agreed to continue cooperation between Israel and NASA.

Stem Cell Reaction Mixed

Jewish groups offered mixed reactions to President Bush’s decision to allow limited federal funding for research on existing embryonic stem cells.

Groups praised the government’s first step but expressed hope that the scope of funding could be expanded in the future.

The National Council of Jewish Women, however, said it is “deeply disappointed” by the president’s Aug. 9 announcement, calling it too narrow and restricting

U.N. Alters Zionism Resolution

A purported compromise on a resolution denigrating Zionism as racism at the upcoming U.N. conference in South Africa is “subterfuge,” according to a Jewish official. In the current draft, the term “occupying power” simply replaces specific references to Zionism and Israel, said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee. Still, the document “is written for no other purpose than to single out Israel,” Isaacson said, contradicting comments Tuesday from a South African official who said that the Zionism-racism issue had been removed from the conference agenda.

Israel’s Nude Offensive

The Israel Defense Force is using female soldiers to lure Palestinian rock-throwers to their doom, according to the Gazan weekly Al-Hayat al-Jadida. The female soldier performs a strip show, luring the Palestinians away from their piles of stones. She then produces a gun and fires on the hapless crowd, according to the paper, which did not explain where the nude soldiers hide their guns. The IDF called the story “totally ridiculous.”

Jews Teach for America

Several North American Jewish organizations, including the federation system and Birthright Israel, hope to have a Jewish version of Teach for America in place by next summer, according to Ron Wolfson, vice president of the Los Angeles-based University of Judaism. The project, which Wolfson describes in the latest issue of the Jewish Life Network’s magazine and which the university is spearheading, would recruit hundreds of college students and alumni of Israel trips to teach in Jewish schools and would train them in a Jewish teachers’ “boot camp.”

Five Jews Killed in Crash

Five Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn were killed in a helicopter crash near the Grand Canyon.

The five tourists killed last Friday were part of a group of about 20 friends and family on a four-day vacation at the Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas. “They are all active in the communities, they’re all friends,” New York City Councilman Noach Dear said of the victims. “They were a lot of fun to be with.” The sole survivor, Chana Daskai, suffered burns over 80 percent of her body.

Two N.Y. Rabbis Sentenced

Two New York City rabbis were sentenced to nearly three years in prison for embezzling $2.5 million meant for training counselors for elderly Holocaust survivors. Efroim Stein and Jacob Bronner pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors said Stein slipped funds to his synagogue and to subcontractors in exchange for kickbacks and falsely put his relatives on the payroll as trainers.

Shoah Denier Offers Deal

Holocaust denier David Irving offered to pay Penguin Books $210,000 if the publisher as well as historian Deborah Lipstadt drop all further claims against him. Last year, a British court ordered Irving to pay Penguin’s and Lipstadt’s legal costs, estimated at $3 million, when he lost a libel suit against them over Lipstadt’s book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”

Russian Leader Slammed

A Russian Jewish leader is being attacked in the media for seeking charges against a diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church for publishing and distributing an anti-Semitic tract, according to the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

Church leaders in Yekaterinburg are defending the diocese’s distribution of the book and accusing Mikhail Oshtrakh of “inciting antagonism toward Jews.” The prosecutor’s office said it is investigating the issue.

British Group Warns of Attacks

A group that monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Britain is warning that Palestinian terrorists may expand their activities to target Jews around the world.

The Community Security Trust points out that Hamas’ Web site asks rhetorically, “Aren’t all Jews and Zionists fighting your own brethren and targeting you all?”

A Hezbollah-controlled television station, meanwhile, reported that a group allied with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement issued a threat to attack “Zionists and their U.S. allies anywhere, inside and outside occupied Palestine.”

What To Do About Kosovo?

Israelis are divided over NATO’s military campaign against Serbia — and opinions and policy are being informed as much by history and the Holocaust as by current political realities.

Israeli sympathy for the Serbs, who were fellow victims of the Nazis during World War II, is countered by the images of massacres and streams of refugees as ethnic Albanians flee their native Kosovo.

Some 72 percent of Israelis support Israel’s relief efforts for the ethnic Albanians who are fleeing Kosovo, according to a poll by the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke for many when he said last week: “Israel condemns the massacre being carried out by the Serbs and denounces any mass murder.”

Others, recalling how some Albanians actively supported the Nazis, find themselves less sympathetic to the plight of the Kosovar Albanians.

And still others, believing that the “friend of my enemy is my enemy,” are focused on the outside support for the Kosovo Liberation Army, which spearheaded the fight for independence from Serbia before Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic clamped down on the region with an iron fist.

Elyakim Haetzni, an outspoken supporter of Israeli nationalism, lashed out last week at the “leftists” who, in their support for the Kosovo refugees, are “ignoring the fact that the KLA was collaborating with the Iranians and other enemies of Israel.”

But even left-wing Israelis are not unanimous in support of the NATO raids.

Among them is Raul Teitelbaum, a veteran journalist who, at the end of 1943, was among the Jews of Prizren, Kosovo, who were put on a transport to Bergen-Belsen by members of an Albanian division that was working on behalf of the Nazi SS.

“Of course, there were among the Albanians those who fought against the Nazis,” Teitelbaum told JTA. “But those who now say that the Albanians were known to have given shelter to the Jews are manipulating history.

“Clinton says the bombings in Yugoslavia are a lesson of the Holocaust. How can one compare this with the Holocaust? How can tiny Serbia be compared with a world power like Nazi Germany? How can Milosevic be compared with Hitler?”

Teitelbaum also questioned the effectiveness of the NATO raids.

“In a way, President Bill Clinton is the best ally of President Milosevic,” he said. “Thanks to the bombings, there is no longer any [internal] opposition to Milosevic. Thanks to the bombings, Milosevic is able to carry out ethnic cleansing on a scope he had never dreamed of before.”

On the other side of the divide, people such as Labor Knesset member Shlomo Ben-Ami, a historian, had only praise for the NATO operation. In his view, the operation has changed international norms of behavior in the face of atrocities that used to be considered “an internal matter.”

“Kosovo is a belated response to the Nazis,” said Ben-Ami. “From now on, intervention on a moral and humanitarian level is justified.”

Just the same, he conceded — as the Pentagon has already done — that the NATO strikes were unable to stop Serbian roundups of the ethnic Albanians.

“Alas, even the greatest military power in the world, the NATO alliance, cannot prevent a genocide,” said Ben-Ami.

As the public debate continued, the Israeli government, caught up in an election campaign, appeared uncertain how to respond to the NATO offensive.

Israel’s relations with Serbia have been problematic ever since the disintegration of Yugoslavia earlier in the decade. Despite memories of the Serbs as fellow victims of Nazi oppression and despite the fact that Bosnian Moslems were being aided by volunteers from Iran, Israel could not allow itself to support Milosevic, an international outcast.

Israel’s diplomatic relations with Serbia were resumed only three years ago, after the war in Bosnia had cooled. Since then, Israel’s arms industry has sought to sell military equipment to Serbia.

The Serbs have reportedly appealed to Israel for military supplies, according to the April 1 edition of the newsletter Foreign Report. In addition to what the London-based newsletter described as a “shopping list of military equipment,” it says the Serbs are also seeking medicines and credit. The Israeli response is not known.

It was not until March 31, a week after the offensive began, that Netanyahu, denying allegations that he had failed to express his position on the Kosovo crisis, came out in support of the NATO operation.

But his foreign minister, Ariel Sharon, was less enthusiastic regarding the NATO strikes. In remarks quoted last week by Yediot, Sharon told a closed-door audience that Israel had reason not to support the strikes, out of fear that the Jewish state might one day be similarly targeted.

The newspaper said that he asked his audience to imagine what might happen if the Arab residents of the Galilee ever demanded that their region be recognized as autonomous — with links to the Palestinian Authority. Would NATO strike at Israel under such a scenario, as it had done in the wake of the Kosovo Albanians’ attempts at autonomy, Sharon asked.

“Israel must look to the future. It should not give legitimacy to an intervention like that exercised by NATO,” Yediot quoted Sharon as saying.

Sharon subsequently denied the report, as he stated that Israel expects “NATO forces do their utmost to end the misery of innocent people and renew the negotiations between the parties as soon as possible.”

But the subject came up again during a meeting with European ambassadors, when Sharon was asked by the ambassador of Italy what Israel would do if the Palestinians asked for international intervention, as the ethnic Albanians had.

“I hope the question remains hypothetic,” said Sharon. “Israel will never succumb to international pressure.”

While most Israelis are spurning such historical analogies, one journalist saw a parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and the Palestinians.

Harking back to the 1948 War of Independence, Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz wrote: “Kosovo has already been here. At the time, there was no NATO and no television from all over the world, but during 20 months, between December 1947 and September of 1949, between 600,000 to 760,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were deported from their homes and turned overnight into refugees.”

Meanwhile, as the debate continues, Israel has begun sending aid to the Kosovo refugees.

Last Friday, an Israeli plane carrying warm clothes, tents, medicines and other equipment was sent to help those refugees who had fled to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

And during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, the government agreed to send additional aid, including a medical team of eight doctors to set up a field hospital in either Albania or Macedonia. Health Minister Yehoshua Matza is leading the mission.

JTA correspondent Douglas Davis in London contributed to this report.


Last weekend, I was at a gathering of maybe 80people, brought together to listen to a prominent Israeliintellectual who proceeded to dazzle us with his accounts ofpolitical, military and religious life in the Mideast. Actually, itwas more than dazzling. He was informative; he was insightful; he waswitty.

But when I casually reached for pen and notebook– I was the only journalist in the room — he laughed and admonishedme. Of course, this was all off the record. And off he soared:

  • Telling us about Prime Minister Netanyahu and the religious parties in Israel, and how they, in their separate ways, were forging a government that could not govern. How they, in the process, were ruining Israel.
  • Describing the migrant workers from Eastern Europe and Asia, anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 (some legal, others not), whose presence in Israel was generating a great increase in drug use, alcoholism and prostitution. And, in neighborhoods adjacent to the Asian workers, a sudden disappearance of cats.
  • Analyzing the peace process, which, despite the stalled state of play, the failure of the Palestinians to make good on many of their promises and the prime minister’s dislike of the Oslo agreements, was nevertheless irreversible.
  • And, of course, charting the intricate political tactics and maneuvers behind the conversion bill. One point Americans should understand, he added, was that most Israelis, whatever their religious stance, had little comprehension or interest in Diaspora Jewry.

That comment — that Israelis were uninvolved withJews in America, or elsewhere in the Diaspora — caught me unaware.On reflection, it was something I knew, something I had experiencedbut had never before verbalized for myself.

It was evident at the media panels and conferencesI attended in Jerusalem, only I chose not to view the comments inthat particular light. And it was an inescapable conclusion to adialogue last month with six Knesset members who were visiting LosAngeles. They had traveled here to observe and to talk with AmericanJews; and, more specifically, to meet with a cross section of ourlocal Jewish community, listening to our concerns about the NeemanCommission and its political aftermath.

At one session I attended, the MKs patientlyexplained that the Commission was really about politics, notreligion, and that we Americans didn’t seem to understand the actualdetails of the Conversion Bill — otherwise, we would not be soexercised over it. Everyone in the room was left with a suddenawareness of just how much distance separated us from the Israelis,despite the fact that we all happened to be Jews.

Here it was again — the distance, the wide gap –only posed in terms of something that was a cross between innocenceand unconcern, albeit not on the part of the speaker. He had spentseveral years in the United States — Washington, in particular –and had traveled widely throughout the country. He took the seemingindifference seriously.


Many Americanyouth enjoy visiting Israel, so why not a program to bring Israeliyouth to the United States?


His remedy was imaginative: Start a program thatwould function something like a Jewish Peace Corps, with youngstersfrom all nations, including Israel, joining to work on projectstogether in different parts of the world. In short, apeople-to-people program, but concentrated primarily among teen-agersin the year or two between high school and college (an involuntaryclass bias here).

My thought is less grand, more miniature in scaleand logistics. Just as we are striving today to bring large numbersof American teens to Israel — for a school term, a summer, a month– so we might begin to think as well of bringing most Israeliyoungsters to the United States. (There are several small-scaleprograms in place already.) It has the virtue of linking families, ofcasting light on different kinds of Jewish experiences, and ofimplying a certain equality in the authenticity of Jewishidentity.

One caveat: It might lead to a great deal ofmobility, as Israelis — who have their own contemporary problemswith the nature of Jewish identity in the 21st century — adopt abinational lifestyle. But, then again, the meaning behind the act ofdeclaring “I am Jewish” is likely to preoccupy many of us, Israelisand Americans alike, as we spring into the new millennium.