San Diego mayor has signed letter of resignation, report says


The mayor of San Diego, facing a sexual harassment lawsuit and a slew of allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women, has signed a letter of resignation, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday.

The resignation of Mayor Bob Filner could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.

City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said her office had not received any such letter, and a spokesman for the city attorney declined to comment. A representative for Filner could not immediately be reached for comment.

The City Council was to meet Friday to consider a proposed settlement between Filner and the city amid controversy over how to handle the lawsuit and any liability arising from it.

Reporting by Marty Graham, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and John Wallace

Egypt army gives Morsi 48 hours to share power


Egypt's armed forces handed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi a virtual ultimatum to share power on Monday, giving feuding politicians 48 hours to compromise or have the army impose its own roadmap for the country.

A dramatic military statement broadcast on state television declared the nation was in danger after millions of Egyptians took to the streets on Sunday to demand that Morsi quit and the headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were ransacked.

Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago as the Arab Spring revolutions took hold, the Arab world's most populous nation has remained in turmoil, arousing concern amongst allies in the West and in Israel, with which Egypt has had a peace treaty since 1979.

Morsi's backers were furious at the military statement: “The age of military coups is over,” said Yasser Hamza of the Brotherhood parliamentary wing.

But it provoked delight among liberal leaders and crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square, who cheered when a flight of military helicopters swooped overhead trailing national flags. Silhouetted against the sunset, it was a powerful illustration of the military's desire to be seen in tune with the people.

“If the demands of the people are not realized within the defined period, it will be incumbent upon (the armed forces) … to announce a road map for the future,” chief-of-staff General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in the statement that was followed by patriotic music.

The people had expressed their will with unprecedented clarity in the mass demonstrations and wasting more time would only increase the danger of division and strife, he said.

The army said it would oversee the implementation of the roadmap it sought “with the participation of all factions and national parties, including young people”, but it would not get directly involved in politics or government.

Anti-Morsi demonstrators outside the presidential palace cheered the army statement, and the main opposition National Salvation Front, which has demanded a national unity government for months, applauded the military's move. The army is held in high regard, especially after it helped topple Mubarak.

On Cairo's Tahrir Square, thousands were celebrating the army's move: “We want a new armed forces council to govern until new elections,” said accountant Mohamed Ibrahim, 50. “The army alone supports the legitimate revolutionary will of the people.”

“The invitation to meet the demands of the people within the next few hours is a historic opportunity which should not be lost,” said Amr Moussa, a liberal politician and former foreign minister who stood in last year's presidential election.

There was no immediate reaction from the president's office.

It was the second time in just over a week that the armed forces had issued a formal warning to the politicians, piling pressure on Morsi to concede power-sharing with the liberal, secular and left-wing opposition.

Analysts said the military intervention could serve Morsi if he wished to compromise, but it risked giving his opponents an incentive to harden their demands, sensing support from the street and the generals, at the risk of triggering a coup.

“The ultimatum has the ring of a potential coup,” said Yasser al-Shimy of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

“What makes it not a coup is it gives time for the politicians to sort out their differences.”

The second biggest Islamist group in parliament, the Nour Party, said it feared the return of army rule “in a big way”.

The armed forces have played an important role in Egyptian politics since army officers staged the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.

SELF-DEFENCE?

After the destruction of its offices, the Brotherhood which operated underground until the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011, said it was considering how best to defend itself.

Sunday's mass rallies were bigger than anything seen since the Arab Spring uprising. Smaller crowds returned to Tahrir Square and other gathering points on Monday afternoon.

Five non-Brotherhood government ministers tendered their resignations from the cabinet, apparently in sympathy with the protesters, underlining a sense of isolation for the party that won a series of elections last year.

“Both sides are still in their trenches,” a senior European diplomat said just before the military statement.

Eight people died in a night of fighting around the Brotherhood building, where guards fired on youths hurling rocks and fire bombs. A Brotherhood official said two of its members were hurt. Another eight people were killed and 731 injured in clashes around the country on Sunday, the health ministry said.

The Brotherhood's official spokesman told Reuters that the attack had crossed a red line of violence and among possible responses might be to revive “self-defense committees” former during the 2011 uprising.

“The people will not sit silent,” Gehad El-Haddad said.

Morsi's movement complained at the lack of police protection, which can only heighten its sense of being under siege from both the liberal opposition and state officialdom inherited from the old regime.

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at Tahrir Square in Cairo on July 1. Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters

NOT TALKING

Liberal protest organizers, who declared Morsi ousted by people power on Sunday, said they hoped people would stay in the streets until Morsi left.

Morsi, who has not appeared in person, earlier renewed offers via allies of dialogue and pledged to work with a new parliament if disputes over election rules can be ironed out. But he has so far offered no substantial concessions.

The opposition does not trust the Islamist movement, which critics accuse of using a series of electoral victories to monopolize power. They want a total reset of the rules of a democracy imperfectly worked out over the past two years.

The massive protests showed that the Brotherhood has not only alienated liberals and secularists by seeking to entrench Islamic rule, notably in a new constitution, but has also angered millions of Egyptians with economic mismanagement.

Tourism and investment have dried up, inflation is rampant and fuel supplies are running short, with power cuts lengthening in the summer heat and motorists spending hours fuelling cars.

The cost of insuring government debt against default surged to record highs. Forward contracts indicated a significant fall for the pound against the dollar.

Some uniformed policemen marched among protesters in Cairo and Alexandria, chanting “the police and the people are one”, and several senior officers addressed the Tahrir Square crowd.

Adding to the failure to protect the Brotherhood headquarters, that cast doubt on whether Morsi could rely on the security forces to clear the streets if he gave the order.

The United States and the European Union have urged Morsi to share power with the opposition, saying only a national consensus can help Egypt overcome a severe economic crisis and build democratic institutions.

U.S. President Barack Obama renewed a call for Morsi and his adversaries to cooperate, just as Sisi's statement was made.

The Pentagon, which funds the Egyptian army heavily, said it could not speculate on what was about to happen in Egypt.

Military helicopters fly above Tahrir Square while protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi shout slogans against him and Brotherhood members during a protest in Cairo on July 1. Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Reporting by Asma Alsharif, Alexander Dziadosz, Shaimaa Fayed, Maggie Fick, Alastair Macdonald, Shadia Nasralla, Tom Perry, Yasmine Saleh, Paul Taylor and Patrick Werr in Cairo; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Giles Elgood

Thousand Oaks rabbi leaves post


Rabbi Ted Riter of Temple Adat Elohim (TAE) in Thousand Oaks officially ended his tenure at the Reform synagogue on May 1, and in a subsequent Facebook post announced that he no longer intends to continue in a similar post. 

“It is with bittersweet emotions that I write this letter to you, my Adat Elohim family,” Riter wrote May 3 on his Facebook page, in a post that has since been removed. “After 16 years of experiencing countless blessings in the synagogue world, I have decided that it is time for me to pursue a new career path outside of the traditional rabbinate.”

The post did not indicate what new career path he intends to take. Riter declined immediate further comment via e-mail. He did not respond to subsequent questions from the Journal sent by e-mail or telephone.

TAE President Richard Jackman said that he did not foresee Riter’s departure.

“Some people may have anticipated it; I didn’t,” Jackman said. “For some people it was abrupt, for some people it wasn’t.”

A communication was sent to the congregation indicating that Riter had resigned as senior rabbi and that a committee would be formed to search for an interim rabbi, followed by a permanent one. 

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, a Los Angeles native who has been with TAE since 1997, has filled in following Riter’s departure. Jackman said that the board aims to have someone to replace Riter before the High Holy Days in September.

“We are 630 families, so we need two rabbis,” Jackman said. “We hope to have somebody in place in July. At the very latest, August.”

Riter joined TAE as senior rabbi in 2005 following eight years as Temple Solel’s rabbi in Encinitas. He received his rabbinical training from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. A Texas native, Riter received his undergraduate degree in political economics from Tulane University in New Orleans.

According to Jackman, in Riter’s nearly eight years at the Thousand Oaks synagogue, he implemented numerous programs, including Mussar classes (personal ethical development) that have drawn about 200 people.

“It was a great eight years,” Jackman said. “He brought a lot of wonderful things to our congregation.”

Benedict’s papacy: a period of close Jewish relations with occasional bumps


Pope Benedict XVI’s eight-year reign as head of the world’s 1 billion Catholics sometimes was a bumpy one for the Vatican’s relations with Israel and the wider Jewish community. But it was also a period in which relations where consolidated and fervent pledges made to continue interfaith dialogue and bilateral cooperation.

Both elements were evident in the tributes that flowed from Jewish leaders following the surprise announcement Monday that due to his advanced age and weakening health, Benedict would step down on Feb. 28.

“There were bumps in the road during this papacy,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement. “But he listened to our concerns and tried to address them, which shows how close our two communities have become in the last half century and how much more work we need to do together to help repair a broken world.”

The German-born Benedict, 85, is the first pope to resign since the 15th century. He announced his decision at a meeting of cardinals at the Vatican.

[Related: Pope Benedict XVI to resign, citing frailty]

“In today’s world,” he declared in Latin, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

The pope’s brother told the German news agency DPA that Benedict had been weighing the decision for months. Still, his resignation came as a shock.

“There were moments of divergence, inevitable because of the essential and irreconcilable differences between the two worlds,” said Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome. “But there was always a positive will to compare and construct.”

Under Benedict’s leadership, the Vatican “has been a clear voice against racism and anti-Semitism and a clear voice for peace,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement. “Relations between Israel and the Vatican are the best they have ever been, and the positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people is a testament to his belief in dialogue and cooperation.”

Less than two weeks earlier, in fact, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, had said that after years of fitful negotiations, Israel and the Vatican were “on the verge” of resolving outstanding bilateral issues and finalizing the Fundamental Agreement governing relations between the two states.

Benedict was elected pontiff in April 2005 following the death of Polish-born Pope John Paul II. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he had been a close friend and adviser to the charismatic John Paul II, who had made fostering better relations with the Jews a cornerstone of his nearly 27-year papacy.

“For Jews and Israel, Benedict’s papacy has meant a consolidation and confirmation of the developments and achievements during John Paul II’s papacy,” Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, told JTA.

Benedict’s own personal history also helped shape this commitment. Born in Bavaria, he grew up in an anti-Nazi Catholic family but, like all teenagers, was obligated to join the Hitler Youth organization and was conscripted into the German army. Eventually he deserted.

As pope, Benedict met frequently with Jewish groups and visited synagogues in several countries. His first trip abroad as the pontiff was to his native Germany, where he made it a point to visit the synagogue in Cologne and issued a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism and “the insane racist ideology” that led to the Holocaust. The visit marked only the second time a pope had visited a synagogue. Benedict later visited synagogues in Rome and New York.

He also confronted his troubled past in Poland in 2006 when he visited Auschwitz and, declaring himself “a son of Germany,” prayed for victims of the Holocaust, as well as on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009 when he visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and met with Holocaust survivors.

As a young theologian in the 1960s, Benedict attended the Second Vatican Council, which aimed to liberalize the Church. In 1965, the council promulgated the Nostra Aetate declaration that opened the way to Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Benedict repeatedly reaffirmed commitment to Nostra Aetate’s teachings. Still, several issues that emerged during his tenure called that commitment into question, casting a shadow over Catholic-Jewish relations.

These included the revival of a pre-Vatican II Good Friday Latin prayer that called for the conversion of Jews, moving the Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII one step closer to sainthood and reaching out to a breakaway ultratraditionalist group, the Society of St. Pius X, in an effort to bring it back into the mainstream Catholic fold. In doing so, Benedict revoked the excommunication of three of the movement's bishops, one of whom turned out to be a Holocaust denier.

Vatican officials said a conclave of cardinals will be convened in March to elect a new pope. But there is no clear indication as to who might be picked, or from what country or continent he might come. Vatican observers said that since all the cardinals eligible to vote for a new pope had been appointed either by John Paul II or Benedict, whoever is elected would probably follow similar overall policies.

Like John Paul II, Benedict is a doctrinal conservative, staunchly opposed to female priests, gay marriage, abortion, birth control and divorce.

“History will view Benedict as the last of the traditional European pontiffs, the last pope who personally experienced World War II and the Holocaust, and one of the last Catholic leaders to have participated in the historic Second Vatican Council,” said Rabbi James Rudin, the AJC’s senior interreligious adviser, who first met Ratzinger in the 1970s.

The next pope will have to deal with fallout from scandals that tainted Benedict’s reign, from continuing accusations of sex abuse by priests to a security breach that saw Benedict’s butler leaking the pope’s private papers to a reporter. It remains to be seen, however, whether fostering Jewish-Catholic relations will receive less attention under a younger and possibly non-European pope without the historic memory of the Holocaust and Vatican II.

“Doctrinally this will never happen, but in terms of visibility and engagement that may happen if he is from a place where there is no significant Jewish community present today or in the very recent past,” Rosen said.

Rosen added, however, a non-European pope might be less encumbered by the burdens of the past.

“Past tragedy and past failure are not the best basis for a long-term future relationship,” Rosen said. “This has to be based upon nurturing the sense of common patrimony, roots. Some African cardinals are better in this regard than many European ones.”

Israel’s Lieberman says he will resign from politics if convicted


Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he would resign from politics if he is convicted of fraud and breach of trust in the current indictment against him.

Lieberman, who remains head of theYisrael Beiteinu Party, and is number two on the combined Knesset list of his party and the Likud Party behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Monday in an Army Radio interview that he would resign even if not required to by law.

Lieberman would be required to step down if a conviction carries moral turpitude.

Lieberman resigned at the end of December as foreign minister, shortly before his indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly advancing the position of Zeev Ben Aryeh, Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, in exchange for information on an investigation against him. The charges came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Dec. 13 closed a 12-year investigation of Lieberman in other cases.

Lieberman 's statement that he would resign if convicted, follow statements last week by his party's number two, Yair Shamir, son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, that Lieberman should resign if found guilty.

“A public official who faltered while in public service must make way for those who have not. Whether the offense carries the designation of moral turpitude or not is irrelevant,” said Shamir, formerly an executive with El Al.

“I agree with him,” Lieberman said on Army Radio. “I think that there have to be clear norms. Even if there is no moral turpitude, I will not continue in politics. There must be clear norms.”

He added that Shamir will not be penalized for his comments “I have no problems with what Shamir said and Shamir will without any doubt have a senior role in the Likud Beiteinu government,” he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is reportedly the state's key witness in the Ben Aryeh case, and reportedly will testify against Lieberman during the trial. Shortly before the indictment was formally issued, Lieberman announced that Ayalon would not be included on the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset list for the January elections. Ayalon stayed on at the Foreign Ministry despite Lieberman stepping down.

Meretz leader petitions court to force Lieberman resignation


The leader of Israel's Meretz Party petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to order the resignation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman following his indictment on fraud.

Liberman “seriously undermines the confidence of the public and his voters” by refusing to resign after his indictment, the chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On, wrote in her petition on Dec. 13, according to Israel’s Army Radio.

A series of investigations, some more than 12 years old, culminated this week in the closing of some cases and Liberman's indictment on fraud and breach of trust.

In the Dec. 13 indictment, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein alleged Liberman advanced former ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh's position in the Foreign Ministry in exchange for information about an investigation against Lieberman being conducted in Belarus. Ben Aryeh has acknowledged passing documents onto Lieberman in 2008.

“These charges against a presiding official undercut the basic elements of standards of government,” Gal-On wrote.

Other opposition figures have also called on Liberman to step down.

Lieberman previously had committed to resigning from his Knesset position if he was indicted on the main case, which involved allegations of money laundering and obstruction of justice, but never mentioned the Ben Aryeh case. It is unclear if he will be required to resign if he is convicted.

Raymond Simonson resigns as head of Limmud


The executive director of Limmud, Raymond Simonson, has resigned to head the Jewish Community Center in London.

Simonson announced last week that he would leave Limmud, which makes Jewish learning accessible to Jews around the world, after six years in his position. He was appointed Limmud’s first full-time executive director in May 2006. During his tenure, Limmud has grown into a worldwide movement, active in 60 Jewish communities in more than 25 countries ranging from China to Moldova, and Argentina to South Africa.

“In the past six years Limmud has gone from strength to strength and grown in ways no one had predicted a decade ago, to the point where it has become known as British Jewry’s greatest export,” Simonson said in a statement. “Owned and run almost entirely by volunteers, I’m proud to have made my small contribution to this success.”

Simonson will remain at Limmud until mid-October and will lead the search for his successor.

Ron Barber, aide to Giffords, wins his ex-boss’ seat


Ron Barber, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, won her seat in a special election.

Barber, who decided to run after Giffords formerly resigned her seat earlier this year to recover from a shooting in January 2011, defeated Jesse Kelly, a Republican who suffered a narrow defeat to Giffords in the 2010 election for the swing district in Arizona.

Barber was wounded in the assassination attempt on Giffords, a Jewish Democrat. Jared Loughner, the acknowledged shooter now on trial, killed six others attending a meet-and-greet at a strip mall in Tucson.

Giffords, still recovering from her head wound, campaigned for Barber and appeared with him Tuesday night at his victory rally, kissing him on the forehead.

Barber and Kelly will face each other again in November.

In other elections Tuesday, George Allen won the nod from Virginia Republicans to run for his old U.S. Senate seat in November. Allen and his opponent, Tim Kaine, are former governors of the state.

Allen was the incumbent U.S. senator when he was narrowly defeated by Jim Webb in 2006 after he used a slur, “macaca,” to describe a videographer for the Webb campaign. The odd slur—used by French North Africans to deride people of color—led the media to discover that Allen’s mother was a Tunisian Jew.

At first, Allen vehemently denied that his mother was Jewish, compounding his image problem. After his defeat, he studied Judaism and his mother’s history and has reached out to the Jewish community.

The seat is open because Webb is retiring after one term.

In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) easily won the primary and will face Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in November. Berkley is a stalwart of the pro-Israel community, having served in a number of Jewish groups before beginning her political career.

Heller, named to the seat after John Ensign resigned in a scandal, has reached out intensively to pro-Israel groups in the last year.

Nevada, with its substantial Jewish population, is seen as a swing state in the November election.

Italian town’s official resigns over Holocaust joke


A crude joke about the Holocaust has cost a public health official in the town of Pavia his job, according to Italian media reports.

Giuseppe Imbalzano, 59, submitted his resignation Monday after a meeting with Pavia’s public health service director, according to reports.

At a meeting last week with local and regional officials, Imbalzano reportedly told a joke that asked the difference between Jews and cakes. The punch line stated, “When you put cakes in the oven they don’t scream.”

Imbalzano told the newspaper Il Giorno that he had not meant any harm.

“It was a silly joke that didn’t have any offensive spirit,” he said. “I never would have imagined that such nonsense would have stirred up such a storm.”

Imbalzano said others at the meeting smiled at the joke.

Komen official resigns following Planned Parenthood furor


A senior official at Susan G. Komen For the Cure resigned after the organization was embroiled in controversy over its atempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

Karen Handel, the breast cancer group’s vice president for public policy, resigned Tuesday, just days after the organization backed down from its decision to change grantee guidelines in a way that would have rendered Planned Parenthood ineligible for funding. The decision had sparked outrage in the Jewish world and beyond, with several national Jewish women’s organizations publicly expressing their anger and disappointment in the move.

Last Friday, Komen announced it was reversing itself.

Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia whose opposition to Planned Parenthood was well known, was widely believed to be the force behind Komen’s initial decision. In her resignation letter, Handel acknowledged her role in the matter but denied it was motivated by anything other than concern for women’s health. She further noted that the policy change had been fully vetted and that the board raised no objections when it was presented in November.

“I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it,” Handel said. “I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen’s future and the women we serve.”

With Jewish women disproportionately affected by breast cancer, Komen’s work has been embraced by the Jewish community. Both the organization’s namesake, Susan Komen, and its founder and CEO, Komen’s sister Nancy Brinker, are Jewish.

The Komen organization partnered with Hadassah in organizing the first Race for the Cure event in Israel in 2010.

Giffords announces resignation from Congress


U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot by a gunman in January, announced that she will resign from Congress.

In a two-minute video released Sunday, Giffords (D-Ariz.) said she will step down as she continues her recovery.

“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” she said. “I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high. I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

Speaking slowly but clearly, Giffords thanked viewers for their prayers and said that she will always remember the trust her constitutents placed in her.

Giffords, who is Jewish and has been a mamber of a local synagogue, was shot in the head at a Jan. 8, 2011 meet-the-constituents event outside a supermarket in Tucson. The gunman, Jared Loughner, who suffers from mental illness, killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.

In the video, Giffords said she didn’t “remember much from that horrible day.”

Weiner reportedly set to quit Congress


Rep. Anthony Weiner reportedly is set to resign in the wake of a scandal in which he lied about sexually explicit exchanges on social media outlets.

Friends of Weiner (D-N.Y.) were quoted Thursday as saying that the embattled congressman will resign under pressure from top Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives who had urged him to end the distraction of the scandal by leaving office.

Weiner was in treatment at an undisclosed location this week after confessing that he had sent at least six women sexually charged messages and photos through social media. After his confessional news conference last week, revelations about his lewd exchanges, including photos, continued to surface.

The House Ethics Committee was set to launch an investigation into whether Weiner had misused House resources to send the messages and then cover up the scandal.

Weiner, who is married to a top State Department official, Huma Abdein, is one of Israel’s staunchest defenders in the House.

Pre-eminent among lawmakers calling for him to step down were fellow members of the unofficial Jewish Hill caucus, including Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee; Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democrats House re-election campaign; and Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Sender Levin (D-Mich.)

Rep. Schwartz is first Dem to call for Weiner’s resignation


U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) became the first Democratic representative to call on Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to resign over inappropriate internet relationships.

“Having the respect of your constituents is fundamental for a member of Congress,” she said in a statement. “In light of Anthony Weiner’s offensive behavior online, he should resign.”

Schwartz is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leadership.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also spoke with Weiner by phone, expressing frustration that Weiner’s political standing was deteriorating as the scandal widened, the New York Times reported.

On Monday, Weiner admitted to having inappropriate Internet relationships and lying about a lewd photo posted to his Twitter account.  During the news conference, Weiner pledged he would not resign. After his admission, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) requested an investigation by the Ethics Panel into whether Weiner violated chamber rules.

Schwartz’s resignation call was followed by several other Democratic lawmakers and leaders including Mike Ross of Arkansas, Michael H. Michaud of Maine, Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, Larry Kissell of North Carolina and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, as well as Tim Kaine, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who is running for the Senate from Virginia.

It was reported Wednesday that Weiner’s wife of nearly one year, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is pregnant. Weiner apologized to his wife and has said they will not separate.

Weiner should resign, Cantor says


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, called on Congressman Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to resign.

Cantor’s call Tuesday came a day after Weiner admitted to having innapropriate Internet relationships and lying about a lewd photo posted to his Twitter account.

“I don’t condone his activity. And I think he should resign,” Cantor said Tuesday after a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported.

In a press conference Monday, Weiner pledged he would not resign. After his admission, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) requested an investigation by the Ethics Panel into whether Weiner violated chamber rules.

Traditionally, leaders defer to the an errant lawmaker’s party leadership on whether to call for a resignation. Democrats have been silent so far on whether Weiner should resign.

“We’ve got a lot of serious challenges in this country and a lot of work for Congress to do,” Cantor said. “The last thing we need to do is get enmeshed in a discussion about Congressman Weiner and his Twitter activities.”

Cantor is the highest-ranking Jewish congressman in U.S. history. Weiner, who also is Jewish, is one of the most hawkish congressmen on Israel issues.

Abbas threatens to resign if talks fail


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to resign if peace talks with Israel fail.

Abbas made a statement indicating that he would quit over a failure of the recently launched direct peace negotiations at a recent meeting of the Fatah Central Committee, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

“I have made a decision and I will announce it at the appropriate time,” Abbas said, according to the Post, which cited a senior PA official quoted in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily.

The members of the committee understood Abbas’ declaration as a new threat to resign.

There is no obvious successor to Abbas. If Abbas did resign, the party’s central committee would meet and appoint one of its members to the position, according to the Post.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue to assert that they will halt negotiations if Israel does not extend the freeze on construction in West Bank settlements.

“If they extend the settlement freeze, the negotiations will continue,” he said. “If not, the talks will be stopped,” Nabil Shaath, a member of the PA delegation to the peace talks, said over the weekend, the Post reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday during a meeting of his party’s Cabinet members that Israel would not extend the 10-month freeze, which is scheduled to expire Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres left for New York on Saturday night to represent Israel at the opening meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. He is scheduled to meet there with Abbas in an effort to convince him to continue with the peace negotiations after the settlement construction freeze ends, Haaretz reported.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had been expected to represent Israel at this week’s session.

Anger greets Olmert’s concessions on Golan, West Bank, Iran


JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Rosh Hashanah-eve interview in which outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel should give up the Golan Heights for peace with Syria and nearly all of the West Bank for peace with the Palestinians has sparked a political storm in Israel.

Prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni, who is set to succeed Olmert as soon as she forms a coalition government, quickly distanced herself from most of Olmert’s key pronouncements, which included an assertion that it would be megalomaniacal for Israel to attack Iran unilaterally.

Politicians on the right lambasted Olmert for his dovish message, and left-wingers slammed him for not going public with his vision before he was a lame duck.

Some Israeli analysts saw evidence in Olmert’s transformation from one-time super-hawk to unmitigated dove of a final collapse of the ideology of Greater Israel, which advocates holding on to as much conquered territory as possible.

Olmert, who is stepping down amid a corruption investigation, in the interview published last week by the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot made the following points:

* It is presumptuous to think Israel can stop Iran’s nuclear drive when powers such as the United States, Russia, China, Britain and Germany seem unable to do so.

* Israel has a very short window of time in which it can take “historic steps” in its relations with the Palestinians and the Syrians.

* For peace with the Palestinians, Israel will have to withdraw from most of the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, and grant compensation on a one-to-one basis for whatever land it keeps. “Without this, there won’t be peace,” he insisted.

* For peace with Syria, Israel will have to return the Golan Heights.

* Israel is very close to agreement both with the Palestinians and Syria, and if Olmert had stayed on he would have had a good chance of closing the deals.

* The main security problem Israel faces today is missiles, and having the border a few hundred yards one way or the other won’t make any difference.

* Years of conservative thinking by the Israeli establishment have undermined peace prospects.

“When I listen to you, I know why we didn’t make peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians for 40 years and why we won’t make peace with them for another 40 years,” he recalled saying at a recent forum with the country’s top policymakers.

If the interview was meant to constitute Olmert’s political legacy, his presumptive successor was quick to reject it.

Livni, the foreign minister, said Olmert was wrong to go public with Israel’s final negotiating positions while she is in the midst of intensive negotiations with the Palestinians.

“We agreed negotiations should take place in the negotiating room, not on the pages of a newspaper,” she said at a Foreign Ministry conference in Jerusalem after Rosh Hashanah.

Olmert also was roundly criticized on the right for saying too much and on the left for doing too little.

Yuval Steinitz of the Likud Party took issue with Olmert’s contention that in an age of missiles, Israel could afford to give up hundreds of yards on its borders.

“Ignoring the difference between rockets fired from long distances and an enemy perched on hills above Jerusalem shows just how little he understands basic security issues,” Steinitz said.

Yossi Beilin of the Meretz Party castigated Olmert for “revealing his true position on the national interest only when he has nothing to lose.”

Those sentiments were echoed overseas, where Olmert’s conciliatory positions were welcomed but with wonderment at why he hadn’t said as much earlier.

An editorial in The New York Times summed up the sentiment in an editorial Saturday titled “Mr. Olmert’s Belated Truths.”

“It is tragic that he did not do more to act on those beliefs when he had real power,” the editorial said.

Olmert is the fourth Israeli prime minister to start his political life as a hawk in the vein of the Likud or its predecessor, Herut, and then to surprise observers later with the extent of his willingness to make far-reaching concessions.

Herut founder Menachem Begin returned the Sinai to Egypt; Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew Israeli forces from Hebron, concluded the Wye River agreement with the Palestinians and negotiated with Syria over withdrawing from the Golan; and Ariel Sharon pulled back unilaterally from the Gaza Strip.

Olmert, it seems, has now set the stage for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

Olmert confidants argue that the frank expression of his views has positive elements for future peacemaking and diplomacy. They say it has created a strong incentive for the various Arab parties to negotiate peace and shown the international community how far Israel would be willing to go—a possible public relations advantage if peace efforts fail.

Moreover, they say, Olmert has put peacemaking and its time constraints squarely on the public agenda.

Critics, however, reject these claims. They point out that Olmert’s stated readiness for full withdrawal on all fronts encourages Arab parties to cling to maximalist positions, not compromise. It also puts the next Israeli prime minister on the spot: If peace moves break down, they say, the next prime minister will be blamed for not going as far as Olmert would have.

Livni bristled at the implication that peace would be achievable under Olmert if he could have stayed on, and if she failed to achieve peace during her tenure as prime minister, she would be to blame.

Most importantly, Livni, Olmert’s likely successor, also came out against the substance of Olmert’s key positions.

In a meeting Sunday in Jerusalem with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Livni said she opposed the framework of Olmert’s offer to the Palestinians. She said she was against making far-reaching proposals for a quick fix and that negotiations should be allowed all the time they needed to ripen into a well-constructed and lasting deal.

Livni was critical as well of Olmert’s position on Iran. In the Yediot interview, Olmert dismissed as “megalomania” the notion that Israel would or should unilaterally attack Iran. Olmert said the international community, not just Israel, should take the steps necessary to arrest Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Livni said Olmert’s remarks sent the wrong message to Tehran and that Israel should be sending the message to the Iranians that all options are on the table.

Despite her sharp criticism, Foreign Ministry officials said Livni does not think Olmert’s comments will have a serious impact on the peace process.

“Olmert is not relevant anymore,” a senior ministry official told JTA. “What he says doesn’t matter.”

Can Livni form a coalition or are elections next?


With her primary victory in hand, prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni now has six weeks to form a government and stave off new elections. Theoretically, if she cannot form a government, President Shimon Peres could give someone else a chance before calling an election.

But there is no other viable candidate.

The Likud Party’s Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t consider such an offer because he prefers new elections. Polls show elections would deliver Netanyahu more than twice the number of seats Likud commands in the present Knesset.

Labor’s Ehud Barak is not eligible because he is not a member of the Knesset.

Whether the country is headed for an early election should become clear fairly soon.

Livni says she does not intend to be dragged into a long coalition-building process. If in about 10 days she believes the chances of forming a government are not high, she says she will lead a move for new elections herself.

Despite all the obstacles and the recalcitrance of some of her prospective coalition partners, however, Livni is far more likely to succeed in forming a government than to fail.

Much will depend on the enigmatic Barak.

On the day Livni replaced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as Kadima Party leader, Barak shocked the political establishment by meeting with Netanyahu and declaring that he would only join a national emergency government if it included the Likud leader.

It was a double-edged ploy by Barak: Put the onus of blame for not joining a national unity effort on Netanyahu, whom Barak knew would refuse, and create the impression in Livni’s mind that he has an option of continuing to serve as defense minister in a Netanyahu government after elections and thereby upping the price for joining her coalition.

Barak’s maneuvering stems from the dilemma he faces: If he joins a coalition, he helps the untried Livni establish herself as a credible national leader; if he stays out, he risks taking a hammering in early elections.

His biggest fear is that Livni will use him to form a government and in three months or so, on a wave of popular acclaim, precipitate a national election.

Barak’s solution seems to be a readiness to join the coalition on two conditions: One, redefining the balance of power between him and Livni to create what he calls a “true partnership.” Two, a guarantee from Livni that as far as she is concerned, the government will hold together for the full two years until the next scheduled election in 2010.

Barak hopes to create the perception of a two-headed Livni-Barak government from which he, too, will emerge two years down the road as a serious candidate for prime minister. Indeed, all of Barak’s current coalition jockeying is about the 2010 elections.

Livni was quick to address Barak’s concerns. In her speech accepting her nomination as prime minister-designate, she appealed to Netanyahu to join a national unity government, spoke of a “true partnership” with Labor and promised that her government would be for the long term.

Barak phoned Livni to congratulate her on her speech, and senior Labor politicians now estimate the chances of a Kadima-Labor agreement are high.

On paper, Livni has three broad coalition options:

Ehud Olmert era comes to ignominious end


(JTA) – A day after Ehud Olmert formally submitted his resignation as prime minister, Israeli President Shimon Peres officially tapped his Kadima Party successor, Tzipi Livni, to form a new government.

Livni now has 42 days to put together a coalition government. Though Olmert still heads the interim government until Livni is sworn in, Sunday’s resignation effectively spelled the end of the Olmert era.

Before meeting with Peres on Sunday evening, Olmert informed his Cabinet of his intention to resign.

“I must say that this was not an easy or simple decision,” Olmert said. “I think that I have acted properly and responsibly, as I promised the Israeli public from the beginning.”

Olmert congratulated Livni and said he would help her form a coalition government, and the two shook hands.

It was an ignominious end to a premiership marked by multiple corruption scandals, a failed war in Lebanon and unfinished business on the Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian fronts.

At first an accidental prime minister following Ariel Sharon’s crippling stroke in early 2006, Olmert won his first election as Kadima leader a couple of months later under the banner of maintaining the path of unilateral disengagement Sharon had begun. Olmert would do in the West Bank what Sharon had done in Gaza: unilaterally extricate Israel from its adversaries, even if those adversaries were unready or unwilling to make peace.

But the shortcomings of Israel’s unilateral approach became evident early on in his premiership. The 2006 summer war with Hezbollah exposed the deficiencies of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000 under Ehud Barak, and the increasing rockets attacks from Gaza and Hamas’ takeover of the strip in June 2007 exposed the limitations of Sharon’s pullout.

The violence shattered Olmert’s plans for unilateral withdrawals in the West Bank.

Olmert adjusted his approach, but his responses to Israel’s challenges were seen as inadequate. The prime minister’s approval ratings plummeted as each crisis seemed to be shadowed by one corruption scandal or another.

After Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid in July 2006, the Olmert government launched a war to recover the two soldiers taken captive in the raid and neutralize the threat to Israel from Hezbollah. But the war failed to recover the soldiers or deliver a mortal blow to the Shi’ite terrorist group in Lebanon.

Rather, Hezbollah rallied as a political force in Lebanon after the war and became a veto-wielding presence in the Lebanon Cabinet. Hezbollah also rebuilt its forces and missile arsenal to three times its prewar size, according to Israeli estimates.

In Gaza, Olmert watched as Hamas routed the more moderate Fatah faction from power and took over the strip in June 2006. Hamas kept up daily barrages of Kassam rockets into southern Israel, and the Israeli army was unable to impose quiet.

Unwilling to risk the same approach in Gaza that had failed in 2006 in Lebanon, Olmert held off on ordering a major invasion of the strip.

The need to isolate Hezbollah, Hamas and especially their backer, Iran, drove Olmert to push harder for peace. It led to the re-launching last year of peace talks with the Palestinians at Annapolis, Md., and to this year’s renewed talks with Syria under Turkish auspices, but Olmert ended his abbreviated term with those major policy initiatives unfinished.

Now it will be up to Livni, who led the Olmert administration’s talks with the Palestinians, to see the process through—assuming she succeeds in assembling a governing coalition.

Israel’s next prime minister also will inherit an unsolved Iranian problem. Iran’s suspected march toward nuclear weapons has been Israel’s central foreign preoccupation during Olmert’s term, but Olmert did not manage to rally sufficient international pressure on the Islamic Republic to bring its uranium enrichment activities to a halt.

Throughout his 2 1/2-year term, Olmert was dogged by corruption allegations that cast a shadow over nearly everything he did.

Even his decision to re-launch the indirect peace talks with Syria and sign a cease-fire deal with Hamas in Gaza in June—finally bringing quiet to southern Israel, with the exception of the occasional violation—were viewed with suspicion by some who derided the moves as ploys to ensure his political survival.

The major corruption scandal that erupted in May, in which American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky said he gave Olmert $150,000 in cash over the course of the decade and a half before Olmert became prime minister, crippled Olmert’s ability to govern.

Calls for his resignation accelerated several weeks later with the revelation by police that Olmert was suspected of double-billing overseas trips to various Jewish charities.

Though he always denied any wrongdoing, Olmert acknowledged at the end of July that it had become impossible for him to continue as prime minister, and he announced that he would resign as soon as his party, Kadima, chose a new leader in September.

After Olmert handed his resignation letter to Peres on Sunday, the president offered a few solemn words.

“This is not an easy decision, and I am convinced that this is a difficult evening for him,” Peres said. “I wish to take this opportunity to thank the prime minister for his service to the people and the state over the course of many years of public activities—as the mayor of Jerusalem, as a minister in the government and as the prime minister of Israel.”

Ron Kampeas in Washington and Marcy Oster in Israel contributed to this report.

A Rosh Hashanah message from Ehud Olmert


Olmert submits resignation, promises to help Livni


JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has submitted his letter of resignation to President Shimon Peres

Olmert visited the president’s official residence in Jerusalem Sunday evening to deliver the letter.

“This is not an easy decision, and I am convinced that this is a difficult evening for him,” Peres said following the meeting. “I wish to take this opportunity to thank the prime minister for his service to the people and the state over the course of many years of public activities: as the mayor of Jerusalem, as a minister in the government and as the prime minister of Israel.”

Peres will meet with the heads of the party factions and give one of them, most likely Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, up to 42 days to form a new coalition government. He was scheduled to meet Sunday night with the Kadima Party, which is led by Livni after her narrow primary victory last week.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Olmert told his Cabinet that he would resign.

“I must say that this was not an easy or simple decision,” he told the Cabinet. “I think that I have acted properly and responsibly, as I promised the Israeli public from the beginning.”

Olmert congratulated Livni and said he would help her to form a coalition government. Livni has said she plans to form a new government by the start of the winter session on Oct. 27.

Olmert will remain the head of a caretaker government until a new coalition is formed or until after new general elections if agreement on a coalition government cannot be reached.

ALTTEXT

Livni and Olmert at Cabinet meeting Sunday (screen grab from Israel Channel 2 News)

Israeli policy headed for radical changes in post-Olmert era


JERUSALEM (JTA)—Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to resign after a new Kadima Party leader is elected in September has opened up the possibility of radical new directions in Israeli policy.

As of now Olmert has four potential successors, since Kadima’s new leader may not be able to stave off new general elections.

Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party and Shaul Mofaz of Kadima are inveterate hawks who see peace, if it is at all possible, being achieved only in drawn-out, painstaking stages. Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of the Labor Party are pragmatic doves ready to cut to the chase but wary of illusory quick fixes.

Important differences exist within the two camps.

Netanyahu views the current attempt by the Olmert government to reach final peace deals with the Palestinians and the Syrians as foolhardy. He is against what he calls “endism”—trying to end the complex Israeli-Arab conflict with a single stroke—and instead advocates a measured, step-by-step approach.

For example, on the Syrian track, Damascus would have to break with Tehran and demonstrate over time that the breach is final before Israel returns any part of the Golan Heights. Other powers interested in moving Syria away from Iran, including the United States and the European Union, would be called on to provide much of the quid pro quo to Syria, making it possible for Israel to retain at least part of the strategic Golan.

On the Palestinian track, Netanyahu regards the “shelf agreement” Olmert is negotiating with the relatively moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank as meaningless. Under present conditions, with Hamas controlling Gaza, Netanyahu sees no way to implement an agreement now or in the foreseeable future.

Instead, he again advocates a step-by-step framework in which each side progresses only after the other has fulfilled a commitment. Under Ariel Sharon, this performance-based, reciprocal approach led to a stalemate.

Netanyahu hopes that the creation of new economic realities in the West Bank will provide the infrastructure for political progress. The former prime minister strongly backs efforts to that effect by Tony Blair, the special envoy of the Quartet grouping of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Like Blair, Netanyahu sees economic progress driving a peace process, not the other way round.

Netanyahu’s top priority, however, would be stopping Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. He has been urging world leaders to impose stronger economic sanctions on Tehran to alleviate the need for force. But if Netanyahu becomes prime minister, a pre-emptive Israeli military strike cannot be ruled out.

Mofaz, although he abandoned the Likud for Kadima, is as hawkish as Netanyahu. In fact, were the current transportation minister to win the Kadima leadership, the split between Likud and Kadima could become a thing of the past. Mofaz left Likud reluctantly when pressed by Sharon, Kadima’s founder, and after Sharon promised to make him defense minister.

The Iranian-born Mofaz takes a long view of historic processes in the Middle East who sees change evolving slowly over decades. Peace, in his view, will come only when conditions are ripe and cannot be accelerated artificially.

On the Syrian track, Mofaz says he is ready to offer “peace for peace”—an old Likud counter to the Arab land-for-peace formula. He also would be unlikely to make territorial concessions on the Palestinian front.

Indeed Mofaz, a former army chief of staff and defense minister, would likely be less industrious than Netanyahu in creating conditions for peace, but more proactive in trying to stop Iran from going nuclear.

Mofaz, who heads the Israeli team in strategic dialogue with the United States, has warned that Iran will cross the nuclear weapons threshold in 2009 or 2010 and said that if the international community fails to interdict the process, Israel will.

Like his colleagues on the right, Barak sees the Middle East as a tough, unforgiving neighborhood in which the weak are devoured—he once famously described Israel as a “villa in the jungle.”

The difference between Barak and the hard-line Netanyahu and Mofaz is his conviction that Israel to survive must be strong and divest itself of the West Bank to ensure a Jewish majority in a democratic state.

After the failure of the Camp David negotiations with Yasser Arafat in 2000, the then-prime minister Barak was quick to claim there was no genuine Palestinian peace partner. That led him to back the notion of unilateral withdrawal as the only way to establish a border between Israel and the Palestinians.

Barak modified his thinking, however, when Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was followed by ceaseless Kassam rocket attacks. He still seems to envisage an eventual unilateral pullout from the West Bank, but only after Israel has an effective anti-missile defense system.

As defense minister, Barak has made the development of a multilayered anti-missile system—one that provides protection against long-, medium- and short-range missiles—a top priority.

Livni, whose parents both fought for the prestate Irgun underground, entered politics in 1996 holding fiercely hawkish positions. But as minister for regional cooperation in the first Sharon government in 2001, she underwent a profound ideological metamorphosis, turning from hawk to relative dove.

A lawyer by training, Livni places supreme importance on Israel retaining international legitimacy by withdrawing to a line close to the 1967 borders and allowing the Palestinians to establish a state of their own.

Livni, now the foreign minister, sees one of the main tasks of government as securing the best post-withdrawal conditions for Israel. For example, she insists that no Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to Israel proper, arguing that the Palestinians cannot simultaneously demand a state and insist that their refugees be settled somewhere else.

Livni was one of the chief backers of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, but also after the Kassams from Gaza, she says Israel cannot simply leave the West Bank and “throw the keys over the fence.”

Thus, unlike her three main rivals, Livni advocates intensive negotiations with the Palestinians on a final peace deal and bringing in an international force to help implement it. But Livni is in no hurry and would be less likely than Olmert to make concessions on key principles—like the refugee issue—for a deal.

The first stage in the battle to succeed Olmert is scheduled for Sept. 17, when Kadima holds its primary. Livni and Mofaz are the runaway front-runners: A recent poll in Israel’s daily Ma’ariv gave Livni 51 percent of the party vote to Mofaz’s 43 percent.

The second stage in the leadership stakes could come as soon as early 2009. If Kadima’s winner fails to assemble a coalition government, the Knesset will be dissolved and early general elections would be held, bringing Netanyahu and Barak into the picture.

Whoever finally emerges as the new prime minister, a break with Olmert’s policies seems certain.

Ehud Olmert: A political time line


NEW YORK (JTA)—The following is a time line of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political career:

Sept. 30, 1945 Born to Bella and Mordechai Olmert in Binyamina, near Haifa.

November 1963-1971 Begins military service in the Golani Brigade, but hand and feet injuries that predate his service force him out of the combat unit. He completes his service as a reporter for the IDF magazine, Bamahane.

1965 As student representative of the Herut Party, the predecessor to Likud, Olmert makes a name for himself by demanding the resignation of party chief Menachem Begin.

December 1973 Elected to the Knesset as a Likud Party member.

December 1976 After Olmert discloses to the Knesset that Housing Minister Avraham Ofer is likely to be the subject of a police investigation, Ofer kills himself.

December 1988 Appointed minister without portfolio in charge of minority affairs by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

April 1989 Comes under criticism for receiving a $50,000 loan from a fictitious company owned by the head of the Bank of North America, Yehoshua Halperin. Olmert is tried and acquitted.

June 1990 Appointed health minister under Yitzhak Shamir.

November 1993 Elected mayor of Jerusalem, defeating longtime incumbent Teddy Kollek.

September 1996 Indicted with other Likud party members for illicit fund raising from corporate donors and for knowingly signing a false statement. Olmert is acquitted of the charges.

February 2003 Appointed deputy prime minister and minister of industry, trade and labor by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

December 2003 Throws his support behind Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza, retreating from his former assertions that high Arab birth rates are not a threat to Jewish democracy.

November 2005 Leaves Likud and follows Sharon to his newly formed centrist party, Kadima.

January 2006 – Becomes acting prime minister after Sharon suffers a debilitating stroke.

March 2006 Wins general elections and becomes prime minister.

July 2006 Wages a 34-day war against Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist group.

September 2006 Questioned by the State Comptroller’s office over suspicions of bribery after purchasing a property in Jerusalem for far less than market value.

January 2007 Questioned by investigators about whether, as finance minister, he used his influence to favor a friend in the sale of a large portion of the newly privatized Bank Leumi.

April 2007 Found ultimately responsible for the failures of the Lebanon war in the interim report by the Winograd Commission appointed to investigate the war’s failures; commission stops short of calling for his resignation. In the same month, the commissioner for standards in public life speaks out against Olmert’s activities during his term as industry minister, accusing him of a conflict of interest when a friend, Uri Messner, applied for government financial benefits.

October 2007 Diagnosed with non-terminal prostate cancer.

January 2008 Leadership during Lebanon War determined by the Winograd Commission’s final report to be conducted in good faith, despite serious failings and faulty decisions.

May 2008 Investigated by police for illegal fund raising, possible bribery and double billing overseas trips in the years before becoming prime minister. Olmert denies any wrongdoing but promises to resign if indicted.

July 2008 Accedes to calls for his ouster and announces he will resign the office of prime minister after Kadima primaries in September, allowing the party’s new leader to form a new government.

Not All Wish Sharon Well


Words of concern and sympathy poured in from all over the world after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a major stroke. Especially striking were supportive comments from quarters that had once cast Sharon as an inflexible hawk — or even a war criminal — but who now gave him credit as a force for progress toward peace in the Middle East.

The condolences, however, were not unanimous — and some critics made for odd bedfellows.

Predictably, a barb arrived from new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s quickly become the most quotable anti-Semite in office today in the wake of his calls for Israel’s destruction and his questioning of whether the Holocaust occurred.

“Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final,” said Ahmadinejad, as reported by the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency. Ahmadinejad was referring to the 1982 massacre of Palestinian civilians by a Lebanese Christian militia at two refugee camps.

An Israeli commission of inquiry held Sharon, who was Israel’s defense minister at the time, indirectly responsible for not anticipating the carnage. Sharon was forced to resign, which, at the time, seemed to end his political career.

Ahmadinejad, at least, was referring to events on earth. It was for the Rev. Pat Robertson, the warhorse of America’s religious right, to bring higher powers into his critique.

Speaking on the “700 Club” last week, Robertson suggested that Sharon and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995) had been treated harshly by God for dividing Israel.

“He was dividing God’s land,” Robertson said. “And I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, ‘This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.'”

 

Scandal Could End Sharons Career


Even if he is reelected, the financial scandal dogging him
could spell the end of Ariel Sharon’s political career.

Sharon is accused of taking an illegal loan from a South
African friend to pay off other illegal loans to his past political campaigns.
The prime minister has not been able to explain away the allegations against
him, and more potentially embarrassing details keep surfacing.

The latest polls indicate that Sharon’s Likud Party may be
able to hold its lead over Labor in the Jan. 28 election. However, if
additional revelations about how Sharon and his sons raised funds catch up with
him later and force him to resign, the beneficiary might well be former Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna.

Polls taken in the wake of the initial revelations showed
Likud plummeting to as few as 27 seats and Labor climbing to as many as 24.
That appeared to indicate that what had once seemed a one-horse race is now
wide open.

Sharon called a news conference to defend himself against
the allegations, but the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme
Court Justice Mishael Cheshin, forced radio and television stations to cut Sharon
off in midsentence when he judged that Sharon had veered too far into election
propaganda.

That might have rebounded to Sharon’s favor. The latest
polls, taken after Cheshin’s action, showed Likud rising again to 32 seats and
Labor falling to 20. Moreover, with a right-wing religious bloc winning an
estimated 63 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Sharon not only would win the
election but would be able to dictate coalition terms, according to the polls.

Some pundits accused Sharon and his advisers of deliberately
forcing Cheshin’s hand by switching from a response to the allegations to a
clear political attack on Labor and Mitzna. The tactic, they said, allowed
Sharon to portray himself as a victim of Labor, the left-wing media and the
liberal-leaning judge, while avoiding the need to answer tough questions.

Whether it was a deliberate strategy or not, events worked
in Sharon’s favor. “Sharon was able to rekindle the Likud tribe’s fire,” as one
pundit wrote. The public slighting of Sharon induced Likud activists to offer
their support, and the polls’ results seemed to reflect Likud’s newfound
energy.

The problem for Sharon is that he has yet to answer any of
the potentially incriminating questions arising from the affair.

Briefly, the facts of the case are these: As part of his
report on the 2001 elections that brought Sharon to power, the state
comptroller located an illegal contribution of more than $1 million to Sharon’s
1999 campaign for Likud leadership. Rather than face a fine of four times that
amount, Sharon undertook to pay the money back to the donor, an American-based
company called Annex Research.

It should be noted that Israeli election law sets strict
limits on the size of Israeli campaign donations, and does not allow donations
of any kind from abroad.

To repay Annex Research, Sharon’s son, Gilad, secured a bank
loan and offered to mortgage the family farm as collateral. When that proved
impossible, Gilad Sharon used a $1.5 million loan from his godfather, South
African businessman Cyril Kern, to raise a loan from a second bank to repay the
loan from the first bank.

Gilad Sharon paid back Kern’s loan seven months later, while
the outstanding loan from the second bank is due on April 30.

On the basis of these facts, police opened an investigation
of Sharon and his sons on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The
state prosecution asked South African authorities for cooperation in
investigating Kern.

For his part, Kern said the money was a personal gift, not a
political donation. “I can do what I like with my money,” Kern told the Sunday
Times of Johannesburg. “I helped a good friend, and I have been paid back. I am
happy I did that.”

Sharon reportedly telephoned Kern last week to apologize
that he had been dragged into the scandal.

Some questions in the case that investigators and
journalists are asking:

Who is involved in Annex Research, and why won’t Sharon
say?

Is Annex Research a shell company for channeling funds
from dubious sources?

Why did Gilad Sharon use Kern’s money to raise a loan from
a second bank to pay off the first bank, rather than using it as collateral or
capital for the first bank?

Why was the Kern money transferred to Israel via banks in
Austria and the United States?

Did Kern really make the loan or was he a conduit for
funds from more dubious sources?

Was the use of the Kern loan a case of using one illegal
donation to pay back another?

Does Kern have business interests in Israel, in which case
the loan could be seen as a possible bribe for preferential treatment?

What collateral remains for the second bank loan after
Gilad Sharon repaid Kern’s money?

How did Gilad Sharon make enough money in seven months to
repay the loans, when his business had been suffering from cash flow problems
and the Israeli economy is going through a period of deep recession?

Did the prime minister mislead Israeli authorities when,
as part of the investigation, he failed to mention the money from Kern?

Did Sharon mislead the Israeli public when he said he
didn’t know how his sons had repaid Annex Research?

Ma’ariv newspaper added a new twist this week, claiming that
Kern had tried to interest Israeli businessmen in huge gold and diamond deals
in South Africa and had kept Gilad Sharon informed. That might imply that Kern
has business interests in Israel, making his financial aid to the Sharons
suspect.

There is a precedent for such suspicions: One of the main
reasons for President Ezer Weizman’s resignation in mid-2000 was the revelation
that his benefactor, Edouard Saroussi, a French businessman, had business
interests in Israel.

The Labor Party is campaigning heavily on the corruption
issue. Ironically, though, if Sharon wins the election but ultimately is forced
to step down because of the scandal, it’s not Labor that will benefit.

Under the recently abandoned system of direct election of
the prime minister, the prime minister’s resignation would have sparked new
elections. However, under the current system of voting only for parties, Sharon
would simply be replaced by another Likud member who has the confidence of the
Knesset — such as his party rival Netanyahu, for example.

Exchanging Sharon for Netanyahu, who is more hard-line and
less inclined to cooperate with Labor, would be a net loss from the point of
view of the left. From a purely partisan point of view, then, Labor’s
corruption-based campaign against Sharon and his sons may prove to be
counterproductive.

Defending Greenberg


Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg has built a reputation as a man of letters, but not of the kind that have swirled around him lately.

In the latest volley in an escalating war of words, a majority of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council is defending Greenberg, the embattled council chair, against a campaign to unseat him over his role in the Marc Rich pardon scandal.

Thirty-five members of the 50-plus-member council were preparing a letter this week backing Greenberg, who is under pressure to resign for lobbying on Rich’s behalf.

Even his backers admit that Greenberg made a mistake when he sent a letter on museum stationery in December asking President Clinton to pardon the financier. Yet this week’s letter went on to say, “We have complete confidence that the museum will continue to flourish under Rabbi Greenberg’s leadership.”

The pro-Greenberg letter came in response to another letter, signed by 18 current and former members of the council, that was made public last week.

That letter recognized Greenberg’s “long and distinguished career as an educator and as a leading proponent of Jewish thought.” But it called on him to resign for his role in the Rich pardon, saying he had unintentionally “entangled the museum in a political controversy inimical to its mission.”

The scandal is the latest involving the museum, which has drawn close to 16 million visitors and widespread praise since it opened in 1993, but has also made headlines for political squabbles and infighting.

Depending on whom you talk to, this latest crisis may or may not be partisan in nature. In any case, it also appears to be driven by other forces, including disagreements over the future direction of the Washington-based museum.

But Greenberg’s detractors say it is his actions alone in the Rich scandal that led to their campaign.

“There is no rationale to involve the museum in the pardon of Marc Rich, the pardon of a fugitive,” said Deborah Lipstadt, one of the signatories to last week’s anti-Greenberg letter.

“This museum was created to commemorate the vision of the Holocaust,” and the damage done by Greenberg’s lobbying for Rich “can’t be repaired” by an apology, said Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Lipstadt said Greenberg’s actions on behalf of Rich are exacerbated by the fact that Greenberg also directs Michael Steinhardt’s charitable foundation, which helped establish Birthright Israel. Rich contributed $5 million to Birthright, which sends North American Jews on free trips to Israel.

“No one is suggesting a quid pro quo, but appearances count,” Lipstadt said.

Judging from the latest letter, most of the council disagrees with Lipstadt’s faction.

Among the signers of the pro-Greenberg letter are several prominent members of the museum council, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and two former members of the Clinton administration, Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat. The council oversees the museum.

Greenberg “made a mistake on Marc Rich, but for 40 years, he has worked as a teacher and a Jewish leader” to commemorate the Holocaust, Wiesel said.

A longtime council member, Greenberg is an Orthodox rabbi best known in the Jewish community for his writings on the Holocaust and his leadership at two organizations that promote Jewish pluralism and learning: the Jewish Life Network and CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

The pro-Greenberg faction criticizes the tactics of his critics.

Greenberg apologized at a January council meeting, and his apology was accepted by the council and the museum’s Executive Committee, his backers say. The matter was not raised at February and March council meetings, they add.

In addition, Greenberg was presented with the letter calling on him to resign on April 4, just one day before the letter’s contents appeared in the New York Jewish Week.

The way in which Greenberg’s critics conducted their campaign was “stealth terrorism,” said Menachem Rosensaft, a council member and Greenberg supporter.

For his part, Greenberg said last week that he would not quit over his role in the scandal surrounding Rich, who became a major philanthropist to Jewish and Israeli causes after fleeing to Switzerland in 1983 to escape prosecution.

“I have no intention of resigning,” Greenberg said, adding that he would pursue the museum’s goals “vigorously” until his term ends in January.

President Bush can then appoint another member of the council to be its chair, and many believe he will appoint someone with closer ties to the Republican Party than Greenberg, who was named to the post by Clinton last year.

In 1998, the museum came under fire for its on-again, off-again invitation to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to visit the museum. Arafat eventually declined the invitation.

Soon thereafter, John Roth, an appointee to head the museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, was criticized for making comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. Roth eventually resigned his post under pressure.

In addition, there have been political tensions on the council of the museum, which receives funds from the U.S. government, since the museum opened.

Observers say the council’s Republican-leaning members have been miffed since 1993, when Harvey Meyerhoff was removed as chairman in what Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition called a “humiliating and offensive manner.”

“Clinton politicized the museum in a way that was not done under Bush and Reagan,” Brooks claimed.

Greenberg first came under fire earlier this year, after a public speech characterized as anti-Israel by an opinion writer in the Wall Street Journal.

Greenberg said the opinion piece not only was “an outrageous misrepresentation,” but portrayed the opposite of what he actually said.

Both Lipstadt and Ruth Mandel, the council’s vice chair and another signatory to the anti-Greenberg letter, deny that the present campaign is politically motivated.

Any partisan feuding has only been heightened by tension between Greenberg and the museum’s director, Sara Bloomfield.

Bloomfield was unavailable for comment.

In their letter, the pro-Greenberg faction wrote, “We also believe that it is in the best interests of the museum and council that the Rich matter be considered concluded. The unfortunate public letter of our colleagues can only serve to distract from our important work in Holocaust remembrance — an issue around which unity is uniquely important.”

If the past is any teacher, it seems unlikely that this unity will occur soon.

JTA correspondent Sharon Samber in Washington contributed to this report.