U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon comes to Israel in bid to calm tensions

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has come to Israel in an effort to tamp down the current wave of violence.

The hastily arranged visit has Ban meeting Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, who assumed the position last week, also arrived in Israel on Tuesday to attend Ban’s meeting with Netanyahu.

Late Sunday, Ban released a video in order to “speak directly” to the Israeli and Palestinian people “about the dangerous escalation in violence across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, especially in Jerusalem.”

“I am dismayed – as we all should be – when I see young people, children, picking up weapons and seeking to kill,” he said in the video message. “Violence will only undermine the legitimate Palestinian aspirations for statehood and the longing of Israelis for security.”

In comments addressed to the Palestinian youth, Ban said: “I know your hopes for peace have been dashed countless times. You are angry at the continued occupation and expansion of settlements. Many of you are disappointed in your leaders and in us, the international community, because of our inability to end this conflict.”

To the Israelis he said: “When children are afraid to go to school, when anyone on the street is a potential victim, security is rightly your immediate priority. But walls, checkpoints, harsh responses by the security forces and house demolitions cannot sustain the peace and safety that you need and must have.”

In a statement issued before he left for Israel, Danon said he hoped that Ban would “unequivocally condemn the incitement to violence of the Palestinian Authority.”

He said he would immediately return to New York for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the current wave of violence scheduled for Thursday.

Israelis could face trial in the Hague if Palestinian statehood recognized at UN, experts warn

Recognition of a Palestinian state could, in theory, lead to Israeli officials being dragged repeatedly before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for claims regarding its settlement policies in the West Bank, legal experts say.

According to the statute of the court, the direct or indirect transfer of an occupier’s population into occupied territory constitutes a war crime.

“The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague is a complementary jurisdiction, meaning that the court will not intervene in cases when a war crime complaint is being investigated by Israel and those responsible are prosecuted,” explained Prof. Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry and an expert in international law.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Two cheers for the Administration’s flawed anti-Semitism report

Last month, the State Department issued its report on contemporary global anti-Semitism. There’s much to admire in it, albeit with a significant reservation.

It’s a melancholy fact that such a report is necessary. Many American Jews of the post-war generation believed — or at least hoped — that anti-Semitism was dying. Our experience was of acceptance and assimilation. Surely Jew-hatred was going the way of flat-earthism, demonic possession to explain mental illness and other such irrational doctrines.

We were wrong.

“The oldest hatred,” ever smoldering, has burst into flames again. So we have to be aware of anti-Semitism, study it, monitor it, condemn it. Various Jewish organizations are doing a good job of keeping an eye on our enemies. But in this great and good country, the government itself has lent its prestige to officially exposing and deploring world anti-Semitism. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how unusual that is, historically.

One great virtue of the report is that it rejects the purported distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism: Denying the Jewish people its right of national self-determination (the essence of Zionism) is a sort of anti-Semitism. Describing anti-Zionism as “the new anti-Semitism,” the report states that it “has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel’s perceived faults to its Jewish character.”

Anti-Zionism is common among, but not limited to, Muslims in the Middle East and in Europe.

In addition, the report does not just go after the obvious and politically easy targets, such as the Holocaust-deniers, the cemetery desecrators or the Arab disseminators of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The State Department boldly condemns the anti-Semitism of the United Nations. It explores the dismal record of many U.N. bodies, including the Israel-obsessed U.N. Commission on Human Rights (recently replaced by the no-better Human Rights Council), the Division for Palestinian Rights, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. Such undiplomatic honesty is praiseworthy.

But here’s a puzzle. The State Department can find anti-Semitism all over the world — in Venezuela, Argentina, France, Hungary, Belarus, Syria, Iran, South Africa, Indonesia, New Zealand and many other countries. It properly identifies anti-Semitism at the United Nations on behalf of the Palestinians. But when it reaches the Palestinians themselves, the report is unexpectedly reticent. Reporting on Hamas is limited to its use of the “Protocols” (footnote on Page 21); a quotation trivializing the Holocaust (Page 24); and a mention of broadcasts featuring the suicide-bomb-encouraging Mickey Mouse rip-off Farfour (Page 56). (Oddly, this is in the section on “Anti-Semitism in Private Media.”) When it comes to the Palestinian Authority, the State Department has even less to say: a single reference to Holocaust denial back in the 1990s, and only by the PLO-affiliated Palestinian Red Crescent (page 24).

Given the stated aim of the Bush administration to prop up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, suspicion arises that the anti-Semitism report has pulled its punches for political purposes.

Jaime Petersen, spokeswoman for the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, firmly denies the charge. She observes that the report is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive, and suggests that the department’s religious freedom and human rights reports give fuller accounts.

That would be fine, if it were true. But the International Religious Freedoms Report 2007 does not fill in the gaps. Actually, it’s more interested in how Israeli security measures impede access to mosques than in anti-Semitism. Indeed, it includes this remarkable claim: “Terrorists did not systematically attack anyone in the occupied territories for religious reasons ….”

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007 is not much better on this score.

So the impression lingers that, for whatever reason, the U.S. government is soft-pedaling Palestinian Authority anti-Semitism. To get a truer picture, one must go to groups like Palestinian Media Watch (PMW). From PMW we learn, for example, that the official PA newspaper described Aladin Abu-Dheim, the murderer of eight students at Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, as a “groom” and his burial as a “wedding” — the language of martyrdom. We learn that on Feb. 28, 2008, Abbas told a Jordanian newspaper: “Now we are against armed conflict because we are unable. In the future stages, things may be different.”

We learn that on April 20, 2007, Dr. Ahmed Bahar, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said on PA television: “Allah, take hold of the Jews and their allies, Allah, take hold of the Americans and their allies…. Allah, count them and kill them to the last one and don’t leave even one.”

America cannot support peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with wishful thinking and willful ignorance of the character of the PA. Only American pressure to liberalize Palestinian society, including the elimination of official anti-Semitism, has a hope of working. So we should thank the State Department for its anti-Semitism report and wish it continued success, and even greater clarity and accuracy.

To view the State Department’s report, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.pmw.org.il.

Paul Kujawsky (kujawsky@pacbell.net) is a member of the board of directors of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles.

Israel Has Wish List for U.N.’s 60th

As the United Nations prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding in San Francisco, the occasion is bittersweet for Jewish observers.

It was the United Nations that sanctioned the State of Israel’s birth in 1948, but it gave the Jewish state the status of an ugly stepchild — constantly singling out Israel for condemnation and excluding Israel, alone among U.N. member states, from full membership in the regional groupings that apportion key positions at the world body.

That said, Israel recently has made strides at the United Nations.

In the past year, the U.N. Department of Public Information convened a daylong conference on anti-Semitism, devoting more time to the topic than the United Nations ever before had.

In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, the U.N. General Assembly held a special session and a Holocaust exhibit in the lobby of U.N. headquarters was launched with the playing of Israel’s national anthem and the recitation of a Jewish mourning prayer.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also attended the opening of the new Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, the first time a secretary-general had traveled to Israel.

This month, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group of 52 Jewish organizations, reported a very friendly meeting with Annan.

And last week, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, became one of 21 General Assembly vice presidents, the first time Israel has held the position in more than half a century.

“All these things, beyond their symbolic importance, are also things that herald a totally new treatment of Israel at the U.N. — and for Israel, a symbolism in this very difficult and hostile environment is also very important,” Gillerman told JTA.

The recent Jewish achievements and the 60th anniversary of the United Nations — founded on June 26, 1945 — come as Annan strives to push through a package of reforms for the world body.

Jewish officials praise Annan for backing some critical Jewish initiatives, but say a test of the secretary-general’s strength is the extent to which he makes fair treatment of Israel a part of his reform plans.

Annan’s reform package doesn’t explicitly cite fairer treatment of Israel, but Jewish officials believe that steps he is demanding to streamline the organization bode well for Israel. For example, Annan’s idea to make the U.N. Commission on Human Rights into a smaller council — not populated by serial human rights violators — could change that body’s agenda.

In addition, Annan plans to review any committee that has existed for more than five years. That would include special committees devoted exclusively to the plight of the Palestinians that Israel and Jewish officials view as propaganda organs and are eager to close.

“The singling out of Israel is the elephant in the room of the whole U.N. reform debate,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch in Geneva. The anti-Israel agenda “is not a small issue. It’s a material issue. It dominates and monopolizes so many U.N. bodies.”

As examples, Neuer cited the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which issues more resolutions against Israel than against any other country, and the World Health Organization, which last month held a special session on the alleged damage Israel causes to Palestinians’ health and condemned Israel in a resolution opposed by only a handful of countries.

Furthermore, Annan’s supportive statements, while positive, need to reach beyond the Jewish community, Neuer said.

For example, in his Jerusalem speech, Annan pressed for Israel’s full participation in the Western European and Others Group. Israel has full membership in the regional group at U.N. headquarters in New York, but not at U.N. offices in Geneva, Nairobi or Vienna.

But when he spoke in April to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Annan “didn’t mention a word of it — and that’s where the change has to happen,” Neuer said.

On the other hand, Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights, praised the fact that Annan told the Human Rights Commission it was not credible and needed to be replaced.

“Kofi Annan has been courageous and has broken with past secretaries-general in reflecting honestly on the U.N.’s failings when it has come to Israel and anti-Semitism, but he still needs to do more,” she said, pointing to entrenched bias at the institution.

“We’re finally beginning to get these issues out from the shadows. We finally have the straight talk about anti-Semitism from the front office. What we don’t have is it coming from the political bodies,” she said. “I would like to see the secretary-general’s leadership mirrored by others who serve as top officials of the U.N.”

Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, had sharper words.

Ever since the United Nations fulfilled the Jewish right to self-determination by granting Israel statehood, it has tried to erode those rights, she said.

“After 60 years, we need to reform the United Nations to return it to the original ideas of the framers and to make it a place where all peoples, including the Jewish people, are treated equally,” Goldstein said.

Others feel more optimistic.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said the recent meeting with Annan was a success.

The meeting addressed many issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, anti-Semitism, Iran’s nuclear program, the ongoing killings in Darfur and Israel’s full membership in its regional grouping.

“He was actually pretty responsive to everything,” Hoenlein said of Annan.

Hoenlein noted that Annan “indicated support for the idea of pursuing the ‘road map'” — an internationally backed peace plan — and not backing the Palestinian demand to jump immediately to final-status negotiations before the two sides have met their commitments in intermediate stages.

For his part, Gillerman views the recent advancements as irreversible.

A new world view is taking shape among member states after Sept. 11, Gillerman said, pointing to shifting politics in the Middle East, from Israel’s Gaza withdrawal plan to the potential reignition of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Syria’s withdrawal of troops from Lebanon.

Israel lobbied diplomats for six months to attain a vice presidency of the General Assembly, where Gillerman said he will try to steer the agenda away from the usual slew of anti-Israel resolutions.

Israel now is working for a coveted seat on the 15-member Security Council, the only U.N. body with binding authority.

“Nothing is impossible for Israel anymore, and whatever position is available, we will fight for,” Gillerman said. “The sky’s the limit.”


World Briefs

U.N. Approves Six Anti-Israel

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved six resolutions criticizing Israeli policies. Though such resolutions are passed annually, most noteworthy was the U.S. vote against a resolution condemning the Israeli law that declares Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. For the past two years, the United States has abstained on the resolution, but this year, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the resolution prejudges key issues that must be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, called the U.S. rejection of the Jerusalem resolution “a slap in the face” to all Arabs, Muslims and Christians.

Jewish Republican Gets Key Post

The only Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives has been chosen for a key leadership position in the next Congress. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was selected Monday to serve as the chief deputy to incoming Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), making Cantor the highest appointed leader in the House Republican caucus. Both men have been strong supporters of Israel. Cantor will be the only Jewish Republican in the House once the retirement of Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) becomes official in January.

U.S. Finds Palestinians

President Bush determined that the Palestinians are not living up to agreements signed with the United States and Israel. Just the same, the White House on Monday waived sanctions against the Palestinians in the interest of national security. Despite the waiver, this marks the first time a U.S. president has found the Palestinian Authority and PLO noncompliant since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993.

In another development, the State Department issued a report saying the Palestinians have not complied with several elements of its agreements, including recognizing the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. In the report, obtained by JTA on Tuesday, U.S. officials also said the Palestinian Authority had not fulfilled commitments to solve all disputes through negotiation and peaceful means and renounce the use of violence.

Barghouti: New Palestinian Leaders

Jailed Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti called for a change in the Palestinian leadership. In a written response to questions from The Associated Press, Barghouti said, “It is time for many of the Palestinian leaders and officials to leave their positions after failing in their roles and responsibilities in this decisive battle [against Israel].” Barghouti did not mention Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat by name, nor did he condemn the violence of the intifada, as some Palestinian officials recently have. Barghouti, who was arrested by Israeli troops in April, is standing trial in Israel on charges of involvement in killing dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks.

School Settles Anti-Semitism

A Minnesota-based university agreed to pay nearly $1 million over the next five years to settle allegations of anti-Semitism. Three faculty members who sued St. Cloud State University a year ago will receive a total of nearly $315,000, while other faculty members who filed discrimination complaints will share $50,000, according to The Associated Press. The lawsuit alleged department administrators attempted to get students to avoid classes taught by Jewish professors and that Jewish faculty members were paid less, denied promotions and not given full credit for their teaching experience. Under the proposed settlement, which still requires approval from a federal judge, the university also agreed to create a Jewish studies center, according to the report.

Film Screening Benefits Hebrew

Actor Billy Crystal held a benefit screening of his new movie for Hebrew University, motivated by the July 31 bombing at the school. “I hated what I saw on television,” Crystal said of the deadly attack at the Jerusalem-based school. He spoke moments before the Dec. 3 screening in New York of “Analyze That,” which stars Crystal and Robert DeNiro. Crystal also supports a theater program sponsored by the university called “Peace Through the Performing Arts,” which promotes cooperation among Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli Arab students.

Canada’s Terror List Criticized

Canada added Hamas, Islamic Jihad and four other radical groups to its list of banned terrorist organizations. The list, created under legislation passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, now has 13 groups that are banned from the country. Anyone belonging to them or helping them faces a possible 10-year prison sentences. Following the government’s latest move, B’nai Brith Canada filed an appeal in federal court to have the government list all of Hezbollah, including its political wing, as a terrorist organization whose assets must be frozen.

El Al Facility Evacuated

The El Al cargo facility at the Los Angeles airport was evacuated for nearly two hours Monday. Bomb experts were called in after a suitcase containing airline parts was found. The package turned out to be harmless. Passengers and flights were not affected.

Lawsuit Filed Against Arafat in

A lawsuit reportedly was filed in Brussels against Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, charging him with involvement in terror attacks against Israelis. The lawsuit filed Monday includes reports, documents and testimony intended to prove Arafat’s role in financing and orchestrating acts of terror, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. The lawsuit was brought under a 1993 law on “universal jurisdiction,” which enables Belgian courts to judge atrocities committed elsewhere, regardless of whether or not they involved Belgians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was sued in Belgium by Palestinians and Lebanese who accused him of responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon, which was carried out by Lebanese Christian militias allied with Israel. The courts in Belgium dismissed the case against Sharon earlier this year. The lawsuit against Arafat was submitted on behalf of Knesset member Avraham Hirschson, the victims of Palestinian terror attacks and their families.

Hillel Head Up for Y.U. Presidency

Yeshiva University officials are expected to approve hiring Hillel President Richard Joel as the school’s next president. The Y.U. Board of Trustees, its executive committee and the board of Yeshiva’s seminary are scheduled to vote late Thursday, according to university spokeswoman Hedy Shulman. Joel, 52, who invigorated Hillel and made it into a high-profile organization on college campuses, is the sole candidate to replace outgoing president Norman Lamm, Shulman said.

World Jewry Declining

The world’s Jewish population is declining, according to a survey carried out by an institute affiliated with the Jewish Agency for Israel. According to the institute, which convened a session in Jerusalem this week to address what it called the “demographic crisis,” the number of American Jews dropped by 300,000 in the last decade, while other major Jewish communities around the world also declined. Only Israel’s Jewish community is growing, the institute said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

World Briefs

Thousands March for Israel in New

Tens of thousands gathered in New York to salute Israel. Marchers and onlookers filled Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on Sunday for the annual Israel Day Parade.

Palestinians Fake Jenin Funerals

Palestinians reportedly have been holding phony funerals in the Jenin refugee camp, apparently to make the death toll there appear worse than it is. An Israel Defense Force drone filmed a funeral procession on April 28, during which stretcher-bearers dropped the purported corpse. The “dead” man hopped back onto the stretcher, but the next time he was dropped, he walked away in a huff.

House May Seek More Funds for Israel

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are considering adding $200 million in aid to Israel. Congressional sources say the additional money, which has not been earmarked by the White House as part of its annual supplemental aid package, is expected to be debated Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee and could go before the full House next week. Lawmakers passed a resolution last week expressing solidarity with Israel and seeking additional funds for the Jewish state.

Italy Balks at Bethlehem Deal

Italy stood by its refusal to take in 13 Palestinian terrorists holed up in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Despite U.S. pressure and appeals from the Vatican, Italian officials said Wednesday that the European Union as a whole should deal with the issue of who takes in the 13 men. “I am opposed to it,” the Italian daily La Stampa quoted Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini as saying. “If we took in the 13 Palestinians, we would be exposing our country to a series of grave risks.” Jordan, Egypt and other Arab nations also have refused to take in the 13.

On Tuesday, Italy complained that it was not sufficiently briefed on the details of a deal for ending the standoff at the church, where more than 100 Palestinians have been surrounded by Israeli troops for more than a month. Under the terms of the deal, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that 13 of the militants wanted by Israel would be exiled to Italy. In addition, some 26 gunmen would be sent to the Gaza Strip, where they would be imprisoned under the watch of American and British jailers, Palestinian sources said. The remaining Palestinians not wanted by Israel would be freed.

Pro-Israeli Dutch Politician Slain

A Dutch politician who often spoke out on behalf of Israel was shot and killed. Right-wing Pim Fortuyn, who often spoke out against Islam and immigration, was shot at close range Monday night, nine days before national elections. Four people who were with Fortuyn at the time of the attack chased the gunmen, and police are now holding a suspect, according to reports. There are no details about the gunman’s identity or motive.

‘Suspicious’ Fire at Oakland

Officials are investigating what they’re calling a “suspicious” fire at a California synagogue. No one was hurt and there was little damage after the fire burned the outside of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland. On Sunday morning, firefighters extinguished three small fires at the site and found what appeared to be gasoline around the building. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Anti-Defamation League are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. The Orthodox shul has ben vandalized before when three security cameras were stolen. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

Florida JCC Scammed?

Top employees at a Florida Jewish Community Center (JCC) may have bilked the institution of hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the Palm Beach Post, the State Attorney’s Office is investigating a suspected credit card scam at the Jeanne Levy JCC in West Palm Beach, allegedly involving the top executive and several others. The alleged embezzlement was first discovered by the local Jewish federation, which was suspicious after the JCC overspent its $7 million budget.

U.N. Condems Israel

The U.N. General Assembly approved an Arab-sponsored resolution condemning Israel just hours after a Palestinian terror attack on a Tel Aviv suburb. The 189-member world body condemned Israel’s recent military operation in the West Bank and its rejection of a U.N. fact-finding mission to Jenin. The resolution was approved 74-4, with 54 countries abstaining. The United States voted against the resolution

Swiss Fund Wraps Up

A Swiss fund set up to help needy Holocaust survivors wrapped up its work. Created five years ago, the fund paid out some $180 million to nearly 310,000 people around the world, according to officials. The fund was established after Swiss banks were accused of having close financial ties to the Nazis and of hoarding the contents of long-dormant bank accounts opened by Holocaust victims.

All briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.