The Tangled Web


Google got you down?

Looking for that special Jewish link and have to sift through dozens of unrelated Web sites — or even worse, anti-Semitic ones — just to find what you’re looking for?

It’s probably old news to report that there are specialized Jewish search engines — there have been since the earliest days of the Web — but there are still new ones emerging.

Machers.com, an all-Jewish search engine, recently joined the fray of Jewish sites with technology that can search tens of thousands of Jewish and Israeli Web sites, allowing users to search within the Jewish Web, as well as within the world of Jewish bloggers. (You know what they say: two Jews, three bloggers).

Machers.com joins a growing list of Web sites that purport to be the Jewish search engine, from zipple.com to JewGotIt.com to Jewish.com. (Some popular ones are already defunct, like the Golem search engine.) In addition to the all-things Jewish search engines, there are also even more narrower niche engines and Web sites hosting links, such as Ahuva.com, the worldwide directory of synagogues, shuls, temples, federations and foundations (jewishdirectory.com); “Jewish Reunion UK,” a finder service for Jews looking for friends and relatives with a United Kingdom connection; and the All Kosher Index, a database of Kashrut organizations, mikvahs and kosher restaurants throughout the world .

Speaking of kosher search engines, the Orthodox Union (OU) recently announced its own Kosher search feature on its Web site www.oukosher.org. Not only does it list all OU-certified products, but it allows consumers and companies to search through ingredients to see if they’re kosher.

Rabbi Yonatan Kaganoff, rabbinic coordinator and marketing specialist for OU Kosher, said that the site can aid companies searching for a kosher acid or enzyme. Stearic acid, for example, is often used in vitamins but can be manufactured from a beef derivative. He added that even if a company uses all-kosher ingredients, its product can’t be OU certified until it is applied and reviewed by OU.

 

Sept. 11 Report: Israel Was a Target


Long before the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda was planning terrorist attacks against Israeli and American Jewish sites.

That, at least, is one conclusion of the 9/11 Commission Report, which was released Thursday.

The report shows that American intelligence agencies received signals that Al Qaeda was looking to attack Israel or U.S. Jewish sites in the months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

It also shows that several of the hijackers, as well as Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, were motivated in part by hatred of Israel and anger over the support it receives from the United States.

While much of the information already had been released through public testimony and media stories, the report emphasizes the ties between the terrorist attacks in the United States and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

It also paints a chilling portrait of what might have been, by detailing Al Qaeda proposals to attack Israeli and U.S. Jewish sites that the group either rejected or postponed.

The report shows that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, considered the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was motivated by his "violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel," according to his own admission after being captured in March 2003. Mohammed was interested in attacking Jewish sites in New York City, and sent an Al Qaeda operative to New York early in 2001 to scout possible locations.

He also brought a plan to bin Laden to attack the Israeli city of Eilat by recruiting a Saudi air force pilot who would commandeer a Saudi jet.

Bin Laden supported the proposals, but they were put on hold while the group concentrated on the Sept. 11 plan.

American intelligence officials believed throughout the spring and summer of 2001 that Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian member of Al Qaeda, planned to attack Israel.

The terrorist leaders also considered playing off developments in the Middle East. Mohammed told investigators that bin Laden had wanted to expedite attacks after Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s opposition, visited Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in September 2000, and later when Sharon, who by then had become Israel’s prime minister, met with President Bush at the White House.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said the report doesn’t provide information that is new to Israeli intelligence officials.

"There’s very good intelligence cooperation between the two countries," Regev said, noting that counter-terrorism communication is particularly good.

He said that while Israel is used to facing terrorism, it has been spared the type of "mega-terrorist attack" the United States suffered on Sept. 11.

The report is being viewed in the American Jewish community as confirmation of what they’ve been hearing privately for years.

"We didn’t need this report to tell us that Jews were and are a target," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "Throughout the years there were evidence and alerts and knowledge of specific times and threats."

The report comes as some Jewish leaders are working to secure federal dollars to make security improvements for Jewish sites. Charles Konigsberg, the United Jewish Communities’ vice president for public policy, said the report will "absolutely help us to make the case" for federal funding.

Other Jewish groups and some lawmakers fear that giving federal aid to houses of worship at risk of terror attacks would violate the separation of church and state.

The report reaffirms what many who follow the issue have believed, that anti-Semitic views were a key motivation for the Sept. 11 plotters.

"In his interactions with other students," the leader of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, "voiced virulently anti-Semitic and anti-American opinions, ranging from condemnations of what he described as a global Jewish movement centered in New York City that supposedly controlled the financial world and the media, to polemics against governments of the Arab world," the report says.

In original plans for the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was to hijack a plane himself, land it, kill all the male passengers and then deliver a speech that would include criticism of U.S. support for Israel, the report says. However, that plan was scaled down, and Mohammed did not participate in the Sept. 11 hijackings.

In their report, commission members say U.S. support for Israel, as well as the war in Iraq, has fed anti-American sentiment among Muslims. While not critiquing U.S. policy, the report suggests the United States must do more to justify its actions and communicate with the Arab world.

"Neither Israel nor the new Iraq will be safer if worldwide Islamist terrorism grows stronger," the report says.

The report recommends changing the U.S. relationship with Arab states with the goal of improving America’s image. While acknowledging that those who become terrorists likely are impervious to persuasion, bettering America’s image among the general Arab public could minimize support for terrorists.

It also recommends a closer examination of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Commission members suggest political and economic reform must be stressed, as well as greater tolerance and cultural respect.

"Among Saudis, the United States is seen as aligned with Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, with whom Saudis ardently sympathize," the report said. "Although Saudi Arabia’s cooperation against terrorism improved to some extent after the Sept. 11 attacks, significant problems remained."

JTA intern Alana B. Elias Kornfeld contributed to this report from New York.

Googling Anti-Semitism


Online searchers punching the word "Jew" into the Google search engine may be surprised at the results they get.

In fact, the No. 1 result for the search entry "Jew" turns out to be www.jewwatch.com. The fanatically anti-Semitic hate site is ranked first in relevance of more than 1.72 million Web pages.

Google, like other online search engines, is utilized by Web users to locate information on the Internet. Typing "Barry Bonds" into the engine, for example, returns 332,000 Web pages to choose from, and "George W. Bush" yields more than 4 million.

The No. 1 ranking of Jew Watch came as a surprise to David Krane, the director of corporate communications for the San Mateo-based Web giant.

Such a page might not pop up for Google searchers in European countries, where Holocaust denial is illegal. But Krane adamantly stated that Google has no plans to manually alter the results of their ranking system to knock Jew Watch from its top spot.

"No, we don’t do that. Google merely reflects what is on the Web and does its best to algorithmically rank pages. Unless [a Web page] violates a country or local law, we don’t make any tweaks," he said.

So how did a hate site grab Google’s top spot? Krane explained that Google’s search engine discerns a site’s "relevance" by the number of pages with a forwarding link to it in addition to the prominence of those sites.

While Google will not alter the results of its search engine, Krane promised to alert the firm’s engineers to further refine the search algorithm, which might alter the findings for the term "Jew."

He invited users concerned about search results to contact help@google.com. User feedback is fed directly to engineers, he said.

Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Central Pacific Region, noted that one can find plenty of Holocaust denial Web sites by simply typing "Holocaust" into Google.

"Some responsibility for this needs to rest on our own shoulders and not just a company like Google. We have to prepare our kids for things they come across [on the Internet]," he said.

"This is part of the nature of an Internet world. The disadvantage is we see more of it and our kids see more of it. The advantage is, we see more of it, so we’re able to respond to it. I’m not sure what people would want to see happen. You couldn’t really ask Google not to list it.”