Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah’s father suing police


The father of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah reportedly is suing police for allegedly murdering his son.

Mohamed Benalel Merah filed a lawsuit against the RAID elite police who shot his son, the French news agency AFP reported Monday.

“This is a suit against unnamed persons for murder with aggravating circumstances concerning those who gave the orders at the top of the police,” Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, a member of the legal team representing Mohamed Benalel Merah, told AFP.

Mohammed Merah, who murdered four at a Jewish school in Toulouse in a drive-by shooting on his motorbike, was killed last March by police after a 32-hour siege at his house in the southern France city. Merah was fatally shot while jumping from his window during a daylong siege on his apartment in Toulouse.

“You’ve got 300 to 400 heavily armed people and a guy shut up all alone in his apartment. That alone is enough to raise questions,” Coutant-Peyre said.

Merah had confessed to the school killings, which included a rabbi and his two of his young sons, and the daughter of the school’s headmaster. He filmed himself carrying out the attacks.

AFP reported that the head of the legal team, Algerian attorney Zahia Mokhtari, said he has evidence that Merah was “liquidated,” including videos that Merah filmed himself during the siege.

Toulouse killer visited Israel, other countries in the region


The passport of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah showed that he visited Israel, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, a French newspaper reported.

Police found Merah’s passport in his apartment following the raid Thursday that led to his death, LeMonde reported. It is believed that he tried to visit the West Bank.

Merah jumped to his death from his apartment window during a police raid on his Toulouse home. He was also shot in his head by police as he jumped firing at the officers.

A man riding a motorbike opened fire Monday outside the Ozar Hatorah school where students were waiting to enter the building at the start of the school day. During the more than 30-hour standoff in his apartment with police, Merah said he was the attacker, according to French officials.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two young sons, as well as the 7-year-old daughter of the school’s principal, were killed in the attack. They were buried Wednesday in Jerusalem.

Merah told French police he killed the Jewish students at the Ozar Hatorah school Monday in revenge for Palestinian children killed in Gaza, and had killed three French soldiers for serving in Afghanistan. Police found videos he took of the killings with a camera hung around his neck, according to reports.

Merah, a French national of Algerian origin, had claimed ties to al-Qaida in France and reportedly had been known to French intelligence for many years.

Also Thursday, an extremist group known as the Soldiers of Caliphate claimed responsibility for the shootings in France, calling it a response to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, according to Haaretz.

“The jihadists everywhere are keen to avenge every drop of blood unfairly shed in Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere in Muslim countries,” said the group in a statement posted on an extremist website, according to the newspaper.

Investigator: French gunman planned to kill soldier, policemen


A gunman suspected of killing seven people in southwest France in the name of al Qaeda had planned to kill another soldier and two police officials before he was surrounded by police in an early morning raid on Wednesday, an investigator said.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the beseiged gunman, Mohamed Merah, had told police negotiators that he had received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Merah has also claimed responsibility for the killings of three soldiers of North African origin last week and four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday, Molins said.

Reporting By Daniel Flynn; editing by Leigh Thomas

Road to radicalization from Toulouse to Kandahar


For Mohamed Merah, the Frenchman suspected of killing four Jews and three Muslim soldiers in southwestern France, the road to radicalization ran from Toulouse to Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Merah, 24, who was holed up in a suburban Toulouse apartment on Wednesday, besieged by police commandos from the elite RAID unit, claimed affiliation with al Qaeda and said he wanted to avenge Palestinian children, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.

The suspect, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been under surveillance by France’s domestic intelligence service for several years after being identified in Afghanistan. But he led a normal life of soccer and night clubbing, according to friends and neighbors who had no idea that he had been in Afghanistan.

Merah had a police record for several minor offenses, some involving violence, Gueant told reporters, “but there was no evidence that he was planning such criminal actions.”

As police psychologists tried to talk him into surrendering peacefully, Merah gave the same impression of calm determination and self-control as the gunman on a scooter recorded by security cameras at the Ozer Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday.

“With the RAID negotiators, he explained a lot about his itinerary,” Gueant said.

“His radicalization took place in a Salafist ideological group and seems to have been firmed up by two journeys he made to Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

During one of those trips, Merah was arrested in Kandahar and sentenced to three years in prison for planting bombs in the province but escaped in a mass Taliban jail break in 2008, the director of Kandahar prison told Reuters.

Ghulam Faruq said Merah was detained by Afghan security services on December 19, 2007. Afghan intelligence officials passed on his identity to their French counterparts, a security source said.

TRAINED WITH TALIBAN?

The daily Le Monde said Merah had trained with Pakistani Taliban fighters in a border tribal zone before being sent into southwestern Afghanistan to fight against NATO forces supporting the Kabul government.

French troops are part of that NATO operation, which may explain why the first victims of the gunman’s killing spree were serving paratroopers killed in Toulouse on March 11 and Montauban on March 15.

French intelligence sources said about 30 French fighters trained by the Taliban were believed to have taken part in attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.

Gueant said the Salafist group to which Merah belonged had no official name and had never given any indication of turning to criminal activity. Police were still trying to determine whether the gunman acted alone or as part of a group.

Merah’s mother, elder brother and two sisters were detained by police on Tuesday and negotiators sought their help in trying to persuade him to turn himself in to the authorities.

“His mother said she did not wish to speak to him because she did not believe she could convince him and he would be deaf to her appeals,” Gueant said.

Merah’s profile is typical of hundreds of second- or third-generation French immigrants from North Africa who have traveled to Afghanistan or Pakistan over the last two decades attracted by militant Islamist groups, security officials say.

Many were radicalized by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which triggered a wave of attacks on Jewish targets in France in the early 2000s, including arson attacks on synagogues. The number of anti-Semitic attacks declined last year, figures published by the Jewish community showed.

“LOST THE PLOT”

On his return to Toulouse, Merah led a normal life.

Cedric Lambert, 46, father of an upstairs neighbor, said Merah was friendly and had helped them about 10 months ago to carry a heavy sofa upstairs.

“He was extremely normal,” Lambert said.

A group of four 24-year-old men of similar ethnic background who said they were friends of Merah tried to go to his apartment block on Wednesday to persuade him to surrender but were stopped at a police roadblock.

All told a Reuters reporter he had never talked to them about religion and they had no idea he had been to Afghanistan.

One friend who gave his name as Kamal, a financial adviser at La Banque Postale, said he had known Merah at school and they had done soccer training together after meeting again two years ago.

“He is someone who is very discreet. He is not someone who would brag and go around and say ‘Oh look at my new girlfriend, look how great I am.’ He is very polite and always well-behaved,” Kamal said.

“He never spoke about Islam but he did pray. But we all pray five times a day. There’s nothing strange about that.”

Another friend of Moroccan origin, who gave the pseudonym Danny Dem, said Merah had tried to enlist in the French army but had been rejected. He said he had seen Merah in a city centre nightclub just last week.

Merah did not drink “but I don’t think he is any more religious than I am. I think he has just lost the plot,” Danny Dem said.

A third contemporary, who declined to give his name, said he went to primary school with Merah and they had remained friends.

“He likes football and motor-bikes like any other guy his age,” said the man, dressed in a blue French national soccer shirt. “I didn’t even know he prayed.”

French police say they have arrested 914 suspected Islamist militants since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and imprisoned 224, averting several planned attacks.

Additional reporting by Ahmad Nadem in Kandahar and Gerard Bon in Paris; writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Geert De Clercq and Peter Millership

Related

France summons Israeli ambassador over Gaza raid that injured consul


France’s Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador over an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip that injured the French consul and his family.

The French Foreign Ministry on Tuesday confirmed that France’s consul to the Gaza Strip, Majdi Shakoura, his wife and 13-year-old daughter were wounded by flying glass, and that his wife suffered a miscarriage after Israel’s Air Force targeted a Hamas naval police base near their home early Monday morning in retaliation for a rocket fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

On Wednesday, Israel’s ambassador to France was summoned to a meeting at the French Foreign Ministry in Paris where French officials explained to him “how strongly we deplore the consequences of the raid,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

France’s ambassador inTel Aviv also complained to Israeli authorities.

“France condemns the consequences of the raid,” Valerotold reporters on Tuesday. “While remaining committed to Israel’s security, France had reminded Israel of the need to avoid all harm against civilians.”

One Hamas member was killed and four were wounded in the attack.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket attack that preceded the Air Force strike.

Egypt army officer, 2 security men killed in Israeli border raid


An Egyptian army officer and two security personnel were killed during an Israeli raid on militants along the Egyptian Israeli border, an Egyptian army official told Reuters on Thursday.

The army officer was a border guard and the two men were from the Central Security force, the official said. The three were killed as the Israeli military chased militants along the border of Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Taba in South Sinai and the Israeli city of Eilat.

“An Israeli plane had been chasing militant infiltrators along the border between Taba and Eliat and one Egyptian Central Security officer and two Central Security men were caught in the line of fire,” the army official said.

Three other security men were injured by gunfire and were being moved to a hospital in the city of el-Arish in North Sinai, a security source in South Sinai said.

The Sinai forms a huge desert buffer zone between Egypt and Israel, which sealed an historic peace treaty in 1979 after fighting two wars in less than a decade.

Earlier on Thursday gunmen killed seven people in southern Israel in attacks along Egypt’s porous border, prompting Israel to chase infiltrators along the border and launch an air strike in the Gaza Strip that killed six Palestinians.

Israel said the attackers infiltrated from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Egypt’s Sinai desert, despite stepped-up efforts by Egyptian security forces in recent days to rein in Palestinian and Islamist radicals.

The terms of the Camp David accords signed by Egypt and Israel in 1978 help explain why it is difficult to police Egypt’s borders and maintain control in Sinai, where well-armed Bedouin occasionally clash with security forces.

The accords, agreed by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, demilitarised central Sinai and allowed Egypt to deploy only a small number of lightly armed border guards there and on the 266-km (165-mile) frontier.

After Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, Egypt proposed raising the number to 3,500 to help it secure its border with the Gaza Strip. Israel refused, citing security concerns.

Egypt’s Central Security force is used to quell protests and guard the Sinai border along with border patrols.

Rubashkin son arrested, Agriprocessors fined $10 million in kosher slaughterhouse probe


POSTVILLE, IOWA (JTA) — The former manager of Agriprocessors was arrested today on charges related to the hiring of illegal workers.

Sholom Rubashkin, 49, was arrested by immigration officials and was due to appear in federal court later today.

Documents filed with the court allege that Rubashkin conspired to harbor illegal immigrants at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. They further charge that he aided and abetted in the use of fake identification documents and identity theft.

Rubashkin is the highest-ranking Agriprocessors official to face criminal charges stemming from the May 12 federal immigration raid at the company’s Postville meatpacking plant. More than one-third of the company’s workforce was arrested.

According to the criminal complaint filed Thursday, Rubashkin provided funds that were used to purchase new identification for workers at Agriprocessors who were found to have bad papers. The complaint further alleges that Rubashkin asked a human resources officer to come in on a Sunday to process the new employment applications of several such workers.

Company representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Nathan Lewin, an attorney who represents Rubashkin’s father and the company owner Aaron Rubashkin, dismissed the arrest as unnecessary and motivated by federal law enforcement’s desire for good publicity.

“The arrest of Mr. Sholom Rubashkin today was a wholly unnecessary and gratuitous act by federal prosecutors apparently engaged in an unseemly competition with State of Iowa officials to capture headlines in a vendetta against Agriprocessors,” Lewin said.

Rubashkin’s arrest comes a day after Iowa Workforce Development announced it would levy nearly $10 million in fines against the company for alleged labor infractions.

In response to the action by the state labor agency, Agriprocessors CEO Bernard Feldman told The New York Times that he had “grave doubts as to the appropriateness of the claimed violations, and we also take issue with the intended sanction imposed per claim.”

Iowa Workforce Development, the state’s labor regulation agency, levied $9,988,200 in civil penalties against the kosher meat producer in Postville for four categories of infraction. The largest is for charging employees for frocks — the regulation agency claims the company is guilty of more than 90,000 such incidents, assessed at $100 per infraction.

“Once again, Agriprocessors has demonstrated a complete disregard for Iowa law,” said Dave Neil, the state’s labor commissioner. “This continued course of violations is a black mark on Iowa’s business community.”

According to Iowa Workforce Development, the company has 30 days to contest the penalties in writing before they become finalized. The department has an additional wage investigation under way that could lead to further penalties.
The fines are the latest challenge to Agriprocessors, once the nation’s largest producer of kosher meat before a massive federal immigration raid on May 12 resulted in the arrest of more than one-third of its workforce.

With its reputation taking a drubbing and concerns mounting that the company could lose its kosher certification, Agriprocessors hired a compliance officer and installed a new chief executive.

Company representatives did not immediately respond to JTA’s request for comment.

Mayor: Building inspectors need better training, sensitivity to block another Yom Kippur showdown


One year after an emotional incident in which city building inspectors sought to halt Kol Nidrei services for Orthodox worshippers at a Hancock Park service, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has followed up with a report with recommendations designed to increase sensitivity and prevent future problems.

The confrontation at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy in the Hancock Park area outraged the Orthodox community and its political supporters.

Triggering the incident was a series of anonymous phone calls from a neighbor of Yavneh, alerting the city Department of Building and Safety (DBS) to a probable violation, on Yom Kippur, of restriction governing the hours that Yavneh could use the facilities.

At 8 p.m., while Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was conducting Kol Nidrei services for some 200 worshippers, two inspectors walked into the lobby and told startled congregants that they had to vacate the premises immediately.

When told that worshippers would leave only if carried out by force, the inspectors left and the services continued.

The roots of the incident lay in a contentious nine-year feud between some residents of the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood and an influx of strict Orthodox families.

Villaraigosa, together with city councilmen, felt the heat from both sides and the mayor asked the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom “to independently review, pro bono, the events that occurred on Sept. 21, 2007…and to make recommendations.”

In a letter yesterday (Sept. 23) to DBS general manager Andrew A. Adelman, obtained exclusively by The Journal, Villaraigosa cited 12 findings and recommendations by the law firm and asked for a response by Nov. 7.

In general, the report found that DBS had not singled out the Orthodox community as such, but called for an improved inspection process within DBS, and better communications with the city planning department and with institutions, such as Yavneh, operating with certain restrictions under a conditional use permit.

Specifically, the report recommended continued “awareness seminars” for inspectors at the Museum of Tolerance, supplemented by a “cultural diversity” program, in addition to the following points.

Training to avoid conflicts while conducting building inspections.

Review of the policy under which DBS accepts anonymous complaints.

Avoid interrupting cultural or religious events.

Institutions operating under conditional use permits to appoint community liaisons, who would be notified of complaints before city officials take action.

Korobkin, the Yavneh spiritual leader, said he was very pleased with the mayor’s recommendations and that the fault for last year’s incident lay mainly in the way DBS was structured, as well as a certain lack ofsensitivity.

There is no chance that last year’s incident will be repeated, he said. For one, Kol Nidrei falls on a weekday this year, which allows for extended operating hours.

Korobkin also asserted that relations between Yavneh and its neighbors had improved over the last 12 months and that complaints came mainly from a hard core of seven to eight residents.

But future relations between Yavneh and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which includes a fair number of Jewish families, will bear watching.

No spokesperson for the homeowners was immediately available, but in the past they have persistently accused Yavneh of violating the terms of its conditional use permit and have initiated a number of court actions.

Although Yavneh is not located within his district, City Councilman Jack Weiss has been a vocal champion of the religious school.

He said that in the dispute, “justice is on the side of Yavneh – it’s not even close.”



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Agriprocessors raid slammed at Congressional hearings


WASHINGTON (JTA)—Witnesses at recent congressional hearings described the federal immigration raid on the country’s largest kosher plant as a travesty of justice, a national disgrace and an ambush.

But comparing the government detention facilities where 300 illegal workers arrested in the May 12 raid were detained to concentration camps was too much for one of the officials involved.

“Personally and professionally, I find that quite offensive,” said Marcy Forman, the director of the Office of Investigations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the lead agency in the raid. “Being of the Jewish faith, I equate concentration camps to the murder of over 6 million individuals.”

Forman told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on July 24 that the arrested workers had food, beds and televisions, as well as access to competent legal counsel.

“Most concentration camps that I’ve become aware of don’t possess those items,” she said.

The hearing, convened by the chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), shifted the focus from Agriprocessors, the kosher meat producer that has been under intense scrutiny since the raid at its packing plant in Postville, Iowa, to the conduct of various federal agencies.

In a hearing room packed with onlookers, it was Forman and a senior Department of Justice official, Deborah Rhodes, in the dock as the government faced the first sustained examination of its policy of bringing criminal charges against illegal immigrants. In the past, the immigrants typically were held on administrative grounds and deported.

According to Forman and Rhodes, a near-heroic feat of law enforcement was performed in Postville. The government arrested and processed more than 300 non-English-speaking illegal immigrants in a matter of days, all while protecting their constitutional rights and making allowances for humanitarian concerns.

But a broad range of critics—from elected officials to legal experts to those with firsthand knowledge of the legal proceedings and the raid’s aftermath—painted a much different picture.

In their view, the government employed heavy-handed tactics, destroyed the economy and social fabric of a tiny town, and left a small Catholic church to care for hundreds of people robbed of their primary breadwinner.

Critics blasted the government’s so-called “fast tracking” of detainees, alleging that defendants were provided inadequate access to lawyers, some of whom were assigned to represent more than a dozen workers.

Perhaps most significant, the government is accused of presenting detainees with a near-impossible choice. Most could either plead guilty to aggravated identity theft or Social Security fraud, which under the agreement offered by prosecutors would send them to jail for five months before they were deported, or refuse the plea and go to trial.

With the latter option, the detainees could wait up to six months in jail without bail and face the possibility of a two-year mandatory sentence. Ultimately they still faced deportation, whether they were found guilty or not.

“Needless to say the scheme left little room for the fundamental protections offered by the Constitution,” David Leopold, the national vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the committee. “The spectacle was a national disgrace.”

Perhaps the most anticipated testimony was that of Erik Camayd-Freixas, a federally certified translator who had a front-row seat to the legal proceedings in Iowa.

Camayd-Freixas wrote a damning essay last month about the proceedings, earning him a news story in The New York Times and an accompanying editorial headlined “The Shame of Postville.” It was Camayd-Freixas who compared the detention facilities to a concentration camp.

He testified that the detainees, many of them illiterate, poor and with a spotty understanding of Spanish—many of them speak native tongues—had only a tenuous grasp of the charges pending against them. Guilty pleas were obtained under duress, Camayd-Freixas said, from defendants who didn’t know what a Social Security number was, let alone that they had stolen one.

“I saw the Bill of Rights denied,” Camayd-Freixas said. “And it all appeared to be within the framework of the law.”

While the committee dealt mainly with issues related to the Postville raid, the larger and thornier debate over national immigration policy hovered over the hearing. Democratic and Republican members traded barbs over the issue during the nearly six-hour inquiry, which was interrupted twice for floor votes.

“We have a schizophrenic country,” said Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), noting that calls for a temporary worker program would fail unless enforcement was taken seriously.

Lungren said the hearings seemed to focus on the supposed failures of a government agency, but in fact further investigation might find that Immigration and Customs Enforcement did things properly.

“We’ll keep looking,” Lofgren interjected.

While Republican members tended to focus on the need for stepped-up enforcement and Democrats more on the supposed violations of individual rights, all seemed to agree on one thing: The nation’s immigration system is badly in need of repair.

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who represents part of Postville, reiterated his concern that the government is focusing its enforcement on the wrong people. It is the employers, Braley told the committee, who need to be prosecuted.

“There is no doubt that workers who violate the law need to be held accountable,” Braley said. “However, while ICE has been effective in finding and detaining undocumented employees who may have broken the law, I’m equally concerned that the employer, Agriprocessors, be fully investigated and prosecuted for any violations of the law.”

Two supervisors at Agriprocessors have pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the use of illegal documents. A warrant is out for the arrest of a third supervisor.

The owners of the company have denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.

Agriprocessors raid fallout continues: Jewish liberals plan rally in Postville


NEW YORK (JTA)—An interfaith coalition is planning to demonstrate next week in Postville, Iowa, in support of justice for workers and comprehensive immigration reform.

Spearheaded by Jewish Community Action, a Minnesota social justice group, the rally comes in response to allegations of worker mistreatment at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meat producer in the United States.

The rally, scheduled for July 27, will follow by one day a visit to Postville by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The group, led by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), will meet with the families of plant workers, as well as community organizers and local religious leaders.

“An immigration system that is predicated on fear tactics and piecemeal, deportation-only policies profoundly worsens our immigration crisis by creating broken homes and tearing the fabric of our society,” Gutierrez said. “It is my sincere hope that in bringing the stories of the parents, children and workers of Postville back to Congress, our lawmakers will see the very real consequences of punitive actions in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.”

Both the congressional visit and the rally promise to keep the spotlight on Agriprocessors, whose Postville facility was the target of a massive immigration raid May 12.

In the wake of the raid, the plant’s workers claimed they were underpaid and made to suffer an atmosphere of rampant sexual harassment, among other allegations. Company officials have denied the charges.

Among the groups supporting the rally are the Chicago-based Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Jewish Labor Committee and Workmen’s Circle. Funds for transportation were provided by Mazon, a Jewish hunger relief group.

“There are two targets here,” Jane Ramsey, the executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, told JTA. “One is a message to the government for comprehensive immigration reform on the one hand, and secondly to Agriprocessors for the permanent implementation of livable wages, health-care benefits and worker safety.”

The plant’s purchase in 1987 by the Brooklyn butcher Aaron Rubashkin injected a much-needed dose of economic vitality into Postville, which was a struggling farm community. With a workforce of approximately 1,000, Agriprocessors was said to be the largest employer in northern Iowa.

The arrest of nearly half its employees in the raid has significantly cut the plant’s production.

Agriprocessors is hardly alone. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, 4,940 workplace arrests were made in the 2007 fiscal year, up from 510 in 2002. As of May, the agency has made 3,750 arrests this year.

Critics say such arrests are devastating to workers and their families and can have crippling effects on communities. Jewish Community Action raised $10,000 for Postville familes, according to its executive director, Vic Rosenthal. Jewish Council on Urban Affairs has delivered another $5,000.

“We think that this was a very poorly conceived action by ICE that hurt people and didn’t bring any further safety to you and me,” Ramsey said. “Who did this help? They swept into a little town of 2,500 that has now been devastated, that has a just-opened playground and now there are no children for that playground.”

Steven Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Study and a leading critic of the mainstream Jewish position on immigration, says such stories are sad on a human level but are not a basis for making policy.

“I can’t get bleary-eyed about these people,” Steinlight said. “They’re here in violation of federal immigration law. You don’t know if these people are from Mexico or from al-Qaida. They have engaged in identity theft. They have engaged in felonies. These are not minor issues. I don’t consider the violation of America’s sovereignty to be a minor issue.”

While Steinlight defends the raid as a legitimate exercise in law enforcement, he shares the sense of outrage over allegations of worker mistreatment even as he opposes the call for a path to legalization for Postville workers.

“The reason they’re hired is because they are exploitable,” Steinlight said. “And if they were legalized, they wouldn’t be any better off.”

Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors representative, said the company is commited to abiding by all state and federal laws.

“Mr. Steinlight has apparently joined the chorus of those who accept the allegations and several newspaper accounts as fact,” Abrahams said. “Agriprocessors will have no further comment on those allegations, as they are part of an ongoing investigation. It merely urges all fair-minded people to reserve judgment until this investigation process has run its course.”

The demonstration is scheduled to begin with an interfaith service at St. Bridget’s, the Catholic church that has taken the lead in providing relief to immigrant families. It will be followed by a march through town to the plant and then back to the church for a rally. Organizers expect about 1,000 people to attend.

“We think that Jews as consumers of kosher food need to understand the importance of who is producing the food and how they get treated, how they get paid,” Rosenthal said. “We really want to energize the Jewish community to think much more clearly about the role they play as consumers.”

A Chilling Raid


 

None of the 1,500 children at a Jewish day school in Caracas will forget drop-off on the morning of Nov. 29. On that morning last week, 25 government investigators, some of them armed and hooded, intercepted busloads of kids and turned them away.

Pandemonium broke loose as confused parents attempted to leave the school through the narrow driveway. Other panicked parents, whose kids were already inside the school, tried desperately to gain access. A couple of dozen children were locked inside, the preschoolers in one room and the older children in another. Not knowing whether this was the unfolding of a hostage crisis, anguished parents pleaded for the return of their children. Over the next 30 to 60 minutes, the investigators allowed all the children out. They were unharmed.

Once everyone was evacuated, the investigators remained on the premises for three hours. Aside from the incident with the children, the government agents were courteous and respectful. School officials said the search teams took nothing and left the offices and classrooms undisturbed. Upon completing their operation, the detectives declared that the search of the Centro Social, Cultural y Deportivo Hebraica, was “unfruitful.”

The raid, it turns out, took place in connection with the murder of investigating prosecutor, Danilo Anderson, who was assassinated in his car by a remote bomb planted in his cellular phone. Anderson was in charge of several politically sensitive cases, namely the prosecution of key members of the opposition to President Hugo Chávez in the attempted coup of 2002.

The prosecutors had received a tip reporting the transfer of weapons and explosives from Club Magnum, a shooting club, to the Hebraica. Club Magnum was not searched.

Community leaders and international Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee immediately denounced the raid and expressed outrage. In a press release to South American papers, the Simon Wiesenthal Center described the incident as an “anti-Semitic act, more like a pogrom than a judicial proceeding,” and demanded immediate suspension of Venezuela’s incorporation into Mercosur, the South American Trade Association.

Local indignation was just as strong. In a stirring letter to El Nacional, one of Venezuela’s main newspapers, Pinchas Brenner, chief rabbi of Venezuela, denounced the raid describing the method as an “astute economy of intimidation [since] there is not a single Jewish family in Caracas that was not affected. Many of us have children in the school, grandchildren, great-grandchildren — or friends. An attack on the school is the most effective way of jolting the entire Jewish population.”

Even though local papers were abuzz with incensed commentary by Jewish groups, official community statements were careful to omit the accusation, “anti-Semitism.”

Why such an apolitical Jewish cultural and community center would be targeted remains a mystery to the community. Since its establishment in Venezuela, the Jewish community has adopted a stance of “live and let live” and has deliberately kept a low profile in political issues. Daniel Slimak, president of the CAIV (Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela), an umbrella organization that includes major Jewish organizations, said, “Our institutional communities do not intervene nor have ever intervened in political activities.”

However, the Jewish community’s discretion has proven ineffective in the face of independent, non-government sponsored, opinion pieces disseminated in the media in the days preceding the raid. Comparisons of the style of Anderson’s assassination to Israeli targeted killings abounded. In the most well-known example, Israelis assassinated Hamas bombmaker Yayha Ayyash in 1996 using a booby-trapped cell-phone.

Government channels unwittingly contributed by airing these commentaries as examples of irresponsible reporting. The commentary resulted in a press release by the Israeli Embassy in Caracas, which television stations aired, condemning the murder of Anderson and unequivocally stating it had no connection whatsoever to it.

“This has been one of the most difficult weeks for the Jewish community in Venezuela,” Slimak asserted, “not only because of the children, the fear and the raid, but because everyone is wondering what the real reason behind the raid was.”

Most community leaders agreed that, aside from isolated anti-Semitic incidents, there was no anti-Semitism in Venezuela. Slimak is eager to point out that “neither the president nor any high-ranking member of his administration has ever uttered a single word against the community.”

Furthermore, according to Slimak, in times of increased terror alert, the community has always sought and obtained government protection — such as additional security during High Holidays.

Additionally, “Vice President José Vicente Rangel has always been responsive and a good friend to the community,” he said.

Reports on anti-Semitism, however, present a bleaker picture. In its Anti-Semitism Worldwide Report of 2002/3 on Venezuela, the Stephen Roth Institute of Tel Aviv reports, “a great deal of virulent anti-Semitic propaganda, including classical manifestations of anti-Semitism.”

According to the report, after the unsuccessful coup against Chávez, unfounded theories circulated in the independent media about involvement of the CIA and the Israeli Mossad. Additionally, the report provides examples of anti-Semitic statements issued by important groups such as the left-wing MVR (Movimiento Quinta República) accusing Pedro Carmona, a prominent member of the opposition, during his brief interim presidency, of “having intended to conduct a ‘Sharon operation’ [in order to do] what the Jews are doing in Palestine.”

The Venezuelan-Jewish community in Miami, which keeps close contact with its sister community in Caracas, supports the view that anti-Semitism is at work. An unnamed community leader and activist, concurs with the Wiesenthal Center in that, “the raid sent a strong message to the Jewish community.”

Further, she points out that general opinion among the community here is that “[the raid] planted in the minds of the people that the Jews are destabilizing Venezuela.” Recognizing that the Israeli Embassy in Caracas should not intervene, efforts are being made from Miami to bring the matter before the United Nations.

At home, however, the outlook is more optimistic, at least officially. According to Brenner’s letter, Rangel assured that “the raid was in response to a decision by one of judges on the case, and that the executive would never initiate any such aggression against the Jewish community.”

In the words of the rabbi: “His [Rangel’s] word was comforting, but no sedative because the most sacred institution of the Jewish community has been violated.”

“This is the first stain’ on the government’s record toward us,” Slimak said. “We feel optimistic and we want to believe that what occurred was an isolated incident.”