Carson: Hillary Knew of the U.S. Spying on Israel


Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Wednesday blasted the Obama administration for spying on Israel and its allies in Congress.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration ordered the NSA to spy on Israel’s government and collect their communications with members of Congress since 2012.

“It is truly disgraceful that the Obama administration has spied on Prime Minister Netanyahu, his colleagues and pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress,” Carson said in a statement.

The GOP presidential hopeful accused the administration of treating Israel like an enemy. “Instead of focusing on deterring the Iran nuclear threat and fighting against the mullahs who chant, ‘death to America,’ President Obama has treated Israel, our staunch, democratic ally in the Middle East, as his real enemy,” Carson said. “Not only did he not curtail surveillance of our close friend, he has once again proven himself to be a president that our enemies need not fear and our friends cannot trust.”

Carson also took a step further and accused Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton of turning a blind eye on the NSA’s surveillance of Israel, suggesting she knew about it after quitting her job at the State Department.

“No doubt President Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew of the administration’s spying efforts on Israel,” he said. “It is shameful that she participated in undermining the U.S.-Israel relationship. Once again, she has shown that her experience in government is merely an indication that she is unfit to lead.”

“When I am president, I will stand firmly with Israel, and one of my first acts in office will be to revoke Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran,” Carson pledged.

Hagel says he is not aware of Israel spying on U.S


Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Thursday he was unaware of any truth to a media report that Israel has been spying on the United States.

Asked during a press conference in Tel Aviv about a Newsweek magazine story quoting unnamed U.S. officials as saying Israel was conducting major spying operations against the United States, Hagel said: “I have heard of that report. I'm not aware of any facts that would substantiate the report.”

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who responded to the espionage question in English, said: “As former head of (Israeli military) intelligence, I wasn't allowed to spy in the United States whatsoever. And as defense minister I don't allow to spy in the United States whatsoever.”

Israeli officials had reacted furiously to the Newsweek story, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calling it a “malicious calumny”.

Yaalon, who has this year criticized U.S. foreign policymaking, and Hagel both affirmed the strong bond between Israel and the United States, and Hagel noted the record levels of U.S. aid to Israel.

The U.S. defense chief is on a three-day visit to Israel, where he was due to discuss a host of issues, from Iran to Syria to the failed Palestinian peace process.

Reporting by Dan Williams and Missy Ryan, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and Crispian Balmer

Iranian man arrested, charged with spying for Israel


Iran arrested a man and charged him with spying for Israel, an Iranian news agency reported.

The man was arrested in southeastern Iran allegedly contacted the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, in order to pass information, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported Monday. He reportedly was in Thailand on business.

Mehr, which did not give the man’s name or report when he was arrested, is the only Iranian news outlet reporting the arrest and charges, according to Reuters.

Spying is punishable by death in Iran.

Iran has arrested two dozen people in recent years on charges of spying or acting on behalf of Israel.

The announcement of the arrest comes days after Israel arrested a haredi Orthodox Israeli from the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect and charged him with offering to spy for Iran. The man reportedly has confessed to the allegations in the indictment.

Iranian ‘evidence’ of Israeli spy likely a forgery


A claim by Iranian television that an alleged spy had an Israeli passport appears to be based on a forgery.

Majid Jamali Fashi was hanged on May 15 by Iranian authorities. He had been accused of killing an Iranian nuclear scientist with a remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorcycle outside the scientist’s home.

Following the hanging, Iranian TV released an image of an Israeli passport with Fashi’s photo, saying it proved that Fashi was an agent for Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.

A number of bloggers questioned the authenticity of the passport.

Emanuele Ottolenghi of Commentary magazine noted this week that Fashi is looking away from the camera in the alleged passport and that he appears to be an adult.

The passport has a 2003 issue date when Fashi would have been 15.

In a follow-up, the Harry’s place blog says that the facsimile displayed by Iranian TV shares exact details with a facsimile of an Israeli passport available through Wikipedia: Both were issued on Nov. 17, 2003 in Netanya.

Iran executes man convicted of spying for Israel


Iran executed a man convicted of spying for Israel and of assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist.

Majid Jamali Fashi, 24, was hanged early Tuesday morning, according to Iranian news reports. He was sentenced to death in August 2010 for the murder of Ali Mohammadi, a particle physics professor at Tehran University killed by a remote-controlled bomb in a January 2010 attack.

Mohammadi is one of four scientists that Iran has accused Israel and the United States of assassinating in the last two years.

Fashi was accused of traveling outside of Iran to receive special training by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

In April, more than 15 Iranian and foreign nationals reportedly were arrested for carrying out alleged terrorist missions for Israel in Iran, according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency. The group was accused of spying for Israel, the attempted assassination of an Iranian expert and sabotage.

Right-wing extremists arrested for spying on troops


Six right-wing Jewish activists reportedly were arrested at their homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem for gathering intelligence on Israeli troop movements.

The suspects were arrested early Thursday morning in a joint operation by the Israeli police and the Shin Bet in Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements of Yitzhar, Itamar, Harsha, and Kiryat Arba, according to reports.

They are accused of involvement in the vandalism at the Ephraim Brigade West Bank army base two weeks ago. They are believed to have tracked troop movements in the northern West Bank in preparation for the attack on the base, according to reports.

Seven other people have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Egyptians wait at border for Israel prisoner swap


Egyptians gathered at the border with Israel Thursday awaiting the handover of prisoners to be exchanged for an American-Israeli man held by Egypt and accused of spying.

Israel will swap 25 jailed Egyptians for Ilan Grapel, 27, who was detained in Egypt in June on accusations he was out to recruit agents and monitor events in the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, an ally of Israel and the United States.

Israel, whose relations with Egypt have been strained since the uprising, denied the charges.

The United States, which provides the army that now runs Egypt with billions of dollars in military aid, had called for Grapel’s release. Analysts said the exchange provided a cover for Egypt to resolve the diplomatic headache.

“I consider it a cover for returning this spy with pressure from the United States,” said Egyptian analyst Hassan Nafaa.

“The release of those 25 represents a cover that has no meaning in fact. It does not harm Israel and it does not significantly benefit Egyptians,” he added. Many of those detained by Israel were convicted of smuggling offences.

The U.S.-brokered exchange deal was reached shortly after a much more high-profile, Egyptian-brokered swap between Israel and Hamas Islamists that freed captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

“It is … hard for me to accept the fact that an innocent and perhaps naive citizen travels (to Egypt) to identify with the Arab Spring—and it’s clear this is not a spy, nor an agent, nor a drug trafficker—and he is arrested under all kinds of false allegations, and we are then forced to pay a price in order to free him,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel’s Army Radio.

Grapel is expected to be flown from Cairo to Tel Aviv, while the Egyptians, mostly from Sinai, are due to be released through the border crossing next to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba. The exchange is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

“We just want to see our brother. It is a good thing from Egypt to work on freeing them,” said Mohamed el-Swarky, whose brother, Ashraf Abdallah, 18, was one of those to be released.

His family said he had been sentenced to three years in prison by Israel on charges of illegally crossing the border. They say he had lost his way. He has spent one year in jail.

Others in the area said many of the Egyptian prisoners to be released had been involved in smuggling, which is rife along Egypt’s border with Israel and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Israel’s Prisons Service said Abdallah had been jailed for drugs trafficking as well as “infiltration.” The others on the release roster were held for similar offences, including gun-running, but not for espionage or attacks on Israelis.

“Our happiness isn’t complete. We want our third brother. They went (across) because of the hard conditions,” said Youssef al-Atrash, who said two of his brothers were among those to be freed, while a third would stay behind bars.

Many Bedouin in Sinai complain of neglect by the state. Sinai resorts such as Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh, with their five-star hotels, are popular with tourists. But Bedouin say they are excluded from jobs there and have to scratch a frugal living, or turn to smuggling.

The Sinai Peninsula was captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and was handed back in the 1980s after Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, the first such deal between an Arab state and the Jewish nation.

Israel said three of the Egyptian prisoners to be swapped were under 18. It called for additional steps to help free another Israeli, Oudeh Suleiman Tarabin, jailed by Egypt 11 years ago.

Grapel’s mother said at the time of his arrest that her son, a law student in the United States, had been working for Saint Andrew’s Refugee Services, a non-governmental organization, in Cairo.

Grapel emigrated to Israel in 2005 from New York and served in its military in the 2006 Lebanon war.

Over the years, Egypt has arrested a number of people accused of spying for Israel.

Israel flew its ambassador out of Egypt in September when the Israeli embassy was attacked by protesters angry at the killings of Egyptian border guards when Israeli troops pursued what is said were cross-border raiders in August.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Shaimaa Fayed in Cairo; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Roche

Netanyahu publicly seeks Pollard’s release


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asking President Obama for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release.

Netanyahu said Tuesday he would formally ask Obama to set free Pollard, who was sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.

A number of Jewish groups routinely request Pollard’s release each December, when presidents consider how to apply their executive privilege to pardon the convicted or commute their sentences.

Netanyahu’s request could be tied to considerations of peace talks with the Palestinians, which are mired in an impasse over settlement building.

The last time Netanyahu sought such a release, during his previous stint as prime minister in 1998, it was linked to peace talks with the Palestinians. President Clinton considered the request but turned down Netanyahu at the behest of his intelligence agencies.

Opposition to Pollard’s release has receded somewhat since then, as 2015—the year his life sentence lapses under guidelines in place when he was arrested—draws closer.

A group of Democratic congressman led by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently called again for Pollard’s release, citing both humanitarian concerns and the jolt the release may give to the peace process.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister would seek Pollard’s release; it did not say if he would seek a pardon or commutation.

Pollard’s wife, Esther, in a meeting Monday with Netanyahu, asked on behalf of her husband that the prime minister make an official request. Netanyahu reportedly questioned whether that would do more harm than good. He said he has raised the issue privately six times in meetings with Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but so far to no avail.

Israelis indicted for spying for Syria


Three Israeli citizens were indicted for spying for Syria.

The three men from Arab villages in northern Israel were indicted Thursday in a Nazareth court on charges of passing information to Syria.

Fada Sha’ar and his father, Majd Sha’ar of the Druze village Majdal Shams, and Mahmoud Masarwah were arrested last month. A gag order on the case was lifted Thursday.

According to the indictment, the men intended to kidnap a man from Israel who they thought was a Syrian pilot who defected to Israel in 1989.

Masarwah is a political activist who works on behalf of political prisoners jailed in Israel. Majdal Shams residents clashed with police searching the Sha’ar home last month.

Arab-Israeli activist arrested for spying


A leading Arab-Israeli political activist was charged with spying for the terrorist group Hezbollah.

Amir Makhoul was charged Thursday in a Haifa court with “assistance to an enemy in time of war,” “aggravated espionage” and “contact with a foreign agent.” He was arrested about six weeks ago; the details were kept under a gag order for nearly a week before it was lifted.

Makhoul is the director general of Ittijah-the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, an umbrella group for Arab nongovernmental organizations in Israel.

Makhoul was arrested May 5 in his Haifa home in front of his wife and children, according to Haaretz. His home was searched and several computers were confiscated.

The Shin Bet domestic security service and Israel Police conducted the investigation against Makhoul.

Makhoul reportedly gave his Hezbollah handlers the exact location and layout of two Shin Bet facilities as well a Mossad intelligence agency office. He reportedly admitted to meeting with a Hezbollah operative in Denmark, when he agreed to start collecting information on Israeli security services for the terrorist organization.

“This legal proceeding is invalid and I reject all the allegations against me,” Makhoul told reporters outside the courtroom.

Omar Said of the Arab political party Balad also was charged with having contact with a foreign enemy. 

Pollard Appeal Fails; Few Options Left


There appear to be few legal options left for Jonathan Pollard, after a U.S. federal appeals court last Friday rejected the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst’s claim that he had inadequate counsel when he was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel.

The court denied his request to downgrade his life sentence. At the same time, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied Pollard’s attorneys access to classified information they say would help in their attempt to win presidential clemency for their client.

The rulings, which affirm decisions by a U.S. District Court in 2003, leave Pollard with little recourse but the Supreme Court to change his fate. Pollard’s attorney, Eliot Lauer, said that another option was to ask the entire appellate court to hear the case.

“We are very disappointed with the Appeals Court decision,” Lauer said. “We hope that in time, and we are confident that in time, the American judicial system will give Jonathan Pollard his rightful day in court.”

The appeals hearing was the latest in the battle to free Pollard, who was given a life sentence after pleading guilty to spying for Israel as part of a plea bargain that the U.S. government did not respect.

Pollard’s attorneys and members of the American Jewish community lobbied hard for clemency during the Clinton administration, as well as previous administrations. Israel, which granted Pollard citizenship in 1995, has also raised the issue with successive American administrations.

They argued that Pollard’s life sentence is unjust, because he had pleaded guilty and because it is harsher than the penalties given to convicted spies who had worked for countries antagonistic to the United States.

The court said Pollard’s claim of inadequate counsel was untimely, because he knew the circumstances of his claim before he filed it in 2000. Motions can be filed up to a year after sentencing or when new facts are discovered.

“Pollard knew the facts; what he now claims not to have known is the legal significance of these facts,” Judge David Sentelle wrote for the court, which was unanimous on the issue.

Pollard’s attorney, Jacques Semmelman, said in oral arguments that a conflict of interest between Richard Hibey, Pollard’s original attorney, and Hamilton Fox III, who filed a motion in 1990 seeking a withdrawal of Pollard’s guilty plea, prevented Fox from claiming ineffective counsel.

“The conflict of interest is that Mr. Fox could not bring himself to say anything negative about Mr. Hibey,” Semmelman said under repeated questioning by Sentelle.

The new attorneys claim that Hibey was ineffective, because he did not appeal after Pollard received a life sentence, even though his client had pleaded guilty and had cooperated with the U.S. government.

Pollard’s attorneys also want to see 40 pages of a declaration written in 1987 by then-Secretary of State Casper Weinberger, which outlines his assessment of Pollard’s damage to U.S. interests. That declaration is believed to be key to Pollard’s long sentence, but the court ruled that federal courts lack jurisdiction to review claims for access to documents for clemency purposes.

“The Constitution entrusts clemency decisions to the president’s sole discretion,” wrote Sentelle, joined by Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson.

Judge Judith Rogers dissented, dismissing the jurisdictional question, but saying that Pollard’s lawyers did not have a “need to know,” which is required to access the information. A presidential grant of clemency is a government function, she said, while assisting Pollard’s petition is a private act.

“Simply asserting that one’s assistance is needed does not make it so, especially since executive clemency is a matter of grace,” she wrote, adding that the president would have to seek the assistance of Pollard’s attorney to meet the “need-to-know” standard.

It’s unclear when and if Pollard’s attorneys will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court could hear either or both of the two issues or choose not to review the case, essentially affirming last Friday’s decision.

Pollard, who is being held at Butner Prison in North Carolina, is eligible for parole, but his attorneys said he has not sought a parole hearing, because it would be hard to argue for parole without the classified information.

 

Spy vs. Spy


Over the past few weeks, as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approached, the FBI and the Department of Justice, along with investigative reporters at CBS, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, have focused their resources on what they must figure is a real threat to American security: the folks at AIPAC.

"Israel Has Long Spied on U.S., Say Officials" screamed a front page Sept. 3 headline by Times’ writers Bob Drogin and Greg Miller.

The article played catch-up to a report on CBS that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobbying group, is the focus of an ongoing federal investigation. According to the news reports, an indictment was imminent against lower-level Pentagon analyst official Larry Franklin for passing confidential documents regarding America’s Iran policy to two AIPAC officials, who then funneled them to the Israelis.

In June the Pentagon revoked Franklin’s security clearances, and the FBI has been tracking two AIPAC Iran analysts, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. I suppose that’s just in case they try to enroll in flight school.

What is going on here?

No one I’ve spoken with believes this purported investigation will uncover serious wrongdoing. That’s not to say no one may have crossed lines, lines that are often blurry to begin with. The office of Doug Feith, the undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is under at least two separate investigations that don’t concern Israel, as is the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which was responsible for some of the dubious intelligence regarding pre-invasion Iraq. But as for the Franklin investigation, a Washington investigator told me, "We’re not even close to Jonathan Pollard territory here."

All along, the seriousness of the charges and the way they unfolded doesn’t square. If AIPAC were really the target of a two-year government investigation approved by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, wouldn’t it have been radioactive by now? Would Rice herself have spoken to the group several times last year, and maintain her commitments to speak to it again in the coming months? Would she have allowed her boss, President Bush, to speak to AIPAC’s annual meeting on May 10? And would members of both parties have swamped AIPAC events in New York and Washington?

Is this affair about some nefarious pro-Israel spy ring that reaches from the Century Plaza AIPAC banquets to the halls of Congress to the neocons at the Pentagon to the White House? Or are the accusations volleys in a turf war over administration policy in the Middle East, from Israel to Iraq to Iran? The administration’s weak and incoherent Iran policy has pitted the State Department and CIA against the Department of Defense, and leaking a spy story is one way to discredit the latter. There is plenty of fault to be found with administration neocons, but smearing them with insinuations of dual-loyalty hurts Israel and American Jewry as a whole.

In all this, the press has been a willing accomplice. The Sept. 3 Los Angeles Times article lacked only a photo of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to make it more sensational. The damning headline rested — if you read through the piece — on a few unnamed officials. Other than printing some pro-forma Israeli denials, the writers don’t bother to investigate the details of the accusations themselves. It’s Swift Boat Veterans for Truth-style journalism: print the accusations, let others sort out the truth. Meanwhile, the looney left and Buchanan right go off on an Internet posting binge of anti-Israel conspiracy theories.

The Los Angeles Times piece offers no context — zero — as to what kind of spying other allies engage in, or to what extent the United States does the same. It doesn’t detail the harm — if any — to America’s security that such a vast network may have caused. And, like any good spy information, it self-destructs toward the end: The unnamed former officials say, "The relationship with Israeli intelligence is as intimate as it gets," and "They probably get 98 percent of everything they want handed to them on a weekly basis." So Israel and AIPAC have an intensive, politically suicidal, ongoing spy network against Israel’s life-sustaining ally in order to snag that extra 2 percent?

Franklin has not been charged yet, but there are reports indictments are forthcoming. They are expected to be minor. But they will cast a major pall on the operations of an organization that has been critical to Israel’s well-being. I’ve often disagreed with AIPAC when it has appeared to act as a hand puppet in the lap of Israeli governments whose policies sometimes defied logic or decency. Even then I know it has sometimes served as a truth-telling intermediary to Israeli prime ministers who needed to face difficult facts.

In Los Angeles, home to a financially and politically active network of AIPAC supporters, no one is even thinking of jumping ship. That would change in a heartbeat if what looks like reporters getting spun turns out to be bona fide espionage.

"It would be a dealbreaker," said one AIPAC supporter, who preferred to go unnamed.

In the meantime, we can only hope the folks at State, the FBI and the press are working as hard to uncover our enemies as they are to discomfit our friends.

World Briefs


Settlement in Reburying Case

The largest funeral company in the United States settled a class-action lawsuit brought by Jewish families in Florida. Service Corporation International agreed to pay $100 million to Jewish families in Broward County in a lawsuit that included accusations that Jewish bodies were dug up and reburied. The settlement still needs to be approved by a judge. A similar lawsuit in Palm Beach County still is pending.

‘Iran 11’ Go Public

The families of 11 missing Iranian Jews are publicizing their plight and asking the United Nations to help. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Iranian American Jewish Federation submitted a letter Tuesday to the U.N. secretary-general, asking him to help discover the missing Jews’ condition and whereabouts. The Jews went missing up to nine years ago after trying illegally to leave Iran, which has strict emigration laws for Jews. Until now, their families preferred backroom dealings. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said they decided to go public because “there’s been no movement all these years, so they really have nothing to lose.”

Annan Blasts Fence

Kofi Annan says Israel’s security barrier could damage prospects for peace. The U.N. Secretary General was reporting on Israel’s compliance with a General Assembly resolution that demanded the barrier be dismantled. Routing the wall through parts of the West Bank, instead of alongside it, “could damage the longer-term prospects for peace,” Annan said in the report released last Friday.

Jewish Extremists Guilty

Two Israeli Jewish extremists pleaded guilty to weapons-related crimes as part of a plea bargain. Yitzhak Pass, whose infant daughter was killed in 2001 by Palestinian terrorists, and his brother-in- aw, Matityahu Shvu, will not face charges that they planned to use explosives found in their car for a terrorist attack. Israeli officials believe the two were part of a cell of Jewish terrorists based in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin. The plea bargain was announced Tuesday.

To Fund Religious Studies or Not?

The Supreme Court is hearing a case on state-funded scholarships to students of religion. Joshua Davey was denied a Washington state scholarship because he was to undertake pastoral studies at Northwest College. Orthodox Jewish groups have filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the study of religious texts is an essential component of the free exercise of religion. The American Jewish Congress has filed an opposing brief.

Bangladeshi Editor Arrested

A press freedom group is protesting the arrest of a Bangladeshi editor on charges of spying for Israel. Reporters Without Borders said it is dismayed at the arrest of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudury as he was set to leave the South Asian Muslim country for Israel on Nov. 29. Choudury was to deliver a speech in Tel Aviv to a writers group on the role of the media in Muslim-Jewish dialogue. Bangladesh and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.

More Trouble for Yeshiva

Australian police are investigating a fire that destroyed part of an apartment complex formerly owned by a yeshiva. The fire broke out last Friday after mattresses were placed in a pile and then set afire, a spokesman for the Sydney Yeshiva said. No one was injured. The yeshiva recently sold the complex in order to repay debts the yeshiva owed to Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, brother-in-law of yeshiva head Rabbi Pinchus Feldman. Chabad-Lubavitch representatives recently purchased the yeshiva.

An Online Guide to Restitution

The Claims Conference published an online guide to Holocaust restitution programs. The group’s Compensation and Restitution at a Glance Chart now is available at the Claims Conference’s homepage at www.claimscon.org. The guide provides a country-by-country breakdown of current compensation and restitution programs and appropriate contact information. Information on art and insurance policies relating to the Holocaust era and the Swiss banks settlement also is included.

“This online publication will aid Holocaust survivors and people working in agencies that assist survivors in navigating the sometimes complex process of applying for compensation and restitution,” said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference.

Bush, Let My People In!

U.S. Jewish groups are pressing President Bush to allow all 70,000 refugees slots to be filled this year.

The 22 groups from across the political spectrum said that fewer than 30,000 of the 70,000 slots have been filled during the past two years.

“Our concern over the current status of the U.S. Refugee Program is based on our core values as Americans and Jews,” said a letter from the groups dated Monday.

Arrest in Turkey Shul Bombings

Turkey arrested a man believed to have given the orders in one of the Turkish synagogue bombings. The suspect, whose name was not released, is believed to be behind the attack on the Beth Israel synagogue, one of two deadly attacks on Nov. 15. He was charged Saturday with treason, which is punishable by life in prison.

London Synagogue Attacked

A London synagogue had its windows broken in what police are describing as a hate crime. The Orthodox Edgware Synagogue was attacked with bricks after congregants left at the end of Shabbat on Saturday. It is the second time this year the shul has been targeted.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Briefs


L.A. Police Chief Visits
Israel

Los Angeles Chief of Police William Bratton (pictured with Tsion
Ben David of the Israel Ministry of Tourism) placed a prayer in the Western
Wall of the Old City during a recent visit to Israel. It was his first visit
since 1986.

“It’s so moving to return here once again,” Bratton said.
“This is a place that everyone should come to see. It’s a shame that not more
people are here. I feel very comfortable, very safe and very welcome.” – Staff
Report

 

JDL’s Krugel Pleads Guilty on Two
Counts

Earl Krugel, a leader of the Jewish Defense League (JDL),
pleaded guilty Tuesday, Feb. 4, to two federal charges stemming from a plot to
bomb a mosque and the office of a congressman of Lebanese descent.

Specifically, Krugel entered guilty pleas to one count of
conspiring with late JDL National Chairman Irv Rubin to bomb the King Fahd
Mosque in Culver City, for the purpose of preventing congregants from using
their house of worship; and to a second count of carrying an explosive for
bombing the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).

The second count carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years in
prison, and the first count could add another 10 years. Krugel’s attorney, Mark
Werksman, believes his client will receive a total of 12 years when sentence is
pronounced by U.S. District Judge S.W. Lew on May 19.

If the 60-year-old Krugel had faced a trial and been
convicted, he would have been subject to a mandatory 40-year sentence.

“Earl is relieved that the matter is behind him,” Werksman
said. “He didn’t want to plead guilty, but the political climate today is not
hospitable for defending a domestic terrorist case.”

Rubin, Krugel’s alleged co-conspirator, died last November
at a federal detention center, according to prison authorities. Rubin’s family
has filed a $5 million wrongful-death claim against the U.S. government.

Both men were arrested in December 2001, after a third
participant reported the plot to the FBI. Werksman said that Rubin’s death had
“knocked the wind out of Krugel.”

However, outside the downtown courthouse, Rubin’s wife and
son, joined by other supporters, held up signs denouncing Krugel as a “rat” for
implicating Rubin in the plot. The JDL Web site charged that Krugel had
“falsely accused Rubin of directing the conspiracy.”

Krugel, though standing in the shadow of the high-profile
and articulate Rubin, was a familiar figure at street demonstrations, served in
the Navy and worked as a dental assistant. U.S. Attorney General  John Ashcroft
said in a statement, “As this successful prosecution makes clear, acts of
terror targeted at individuals because of their race, religion or national
origin will not be tolerated in the United States.”

 – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

 

Last of ‘Shiraz 13’ on
‘Vacation’

The last five Iranian Jews still held in an Iranian prison
have been released on “vacation,” although it remains uncertain whether they
will be permanently freed.

The five were among 13 Jews arrested in early 1999 for
allegedly spying for Israel and the United States and later tried in the
southern city of Shiraz.

In a case that drew worldwide attention and condemnation, 10
of the 13 received prison sentences, but five of the imprisoned 10 were
released after serving some of their time.

The “vacation” for the last five was granted in honor of the
“Ten Days of Fajr,” celebrating the overthrow by the Islamic revolution of the
Shah of Iran, according to two government-controlled Iranian newspapers cited
by Pooya Dayanim, president of the newly formed Iranian Jewish Public Affairs
Committee in Los Angeles.

The news was confirmed by Maurice Motamed, the sole Jewish
representative in the Iranian parliament, who is in Los Angeles on an extended
family visit.

Motamed said that the five Jews were furloughed about 10
days ago and that he hoped that the release would be a permanent one.

Other sources urged caution in commenting on the new
development.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who has been involved
with the “Shiraz 13” case from the beginning, warned that public comment might
endanger the future of the five Jews.

“I hope and pray that their release will be permanent, but
as of now I think the ‘vacation’ is a kind of test [by the Iranian
government],” Hoenlein said.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American
Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, said, “At this point, we do not wish to make
any comment.”

Beyond the confirmed news of the “vacation,” an
interpretation of this development is complicated by apparent personal and
ideological animosities among the principal Iranian Jewish spokesmen.

Motamed said that the “vacation” was achieved due to his
personal intervention with the Iranian judiciary. Dayanim stated that the
government in Tehran made the move to bolster its human rights record before
upcoming meetings with the British government and the European Union.

On a more personal level, Motamed claimed that the five Jews
would have been released months ago, if Dayanim had not criticized the Iranian
judiciary in a Voice of America broadcast.

“I hope the ‘vacation’ will become permanent, unless there
are further attacks on the judiciary,” Motamed said.

Dayanim responded that following the release of three others
of the imprisoned Jews a few months ago, he had commented that the move was due
to international pressure on Tehran.

In a sharper tone, Dayanim described Motamed as a
“propaganda tool” of the Iranian Islamic government, adding that it was a
mistake to allow him to enter the United States. – TT

Five Iranian Jews Remain Jailed


Three Iranian Jews imprisoned on charges of spying for Israel have been released, but the last five remain in jail, contrary to earlier reports.

Sources close to the issue said Monday that Iranian authorities had granted the last five an indefinite furlough. On Wednesday, however, those sources confirmed that the reports from Iran were "disinformation."

That’s "why we urged people not to comment on this, because it’s happened before," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The uncertain status of the five seems to underscore the precarious situation faced by the entire Jewish community in Iran. They now number between 22,000 and 25,000, down from 100,000 or so prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

After the three Jews were pardoned last week, hopes were raised among their families and American advocates that the remaining five would soon be freed.

Hoenlein said he was "still hopeful" that they would be released soon.

Both Israel and the Iranian Jewish community deny the men ever spied for "the Zionist regime," as Tehran alleges.

It’s unclear what led to the dissemination of the false reports.

Pooya Dayanim said Wednesday that sources in Iran informed the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations in Los Angeles on Monday that the five men were home with their families.

The release was confirmed the next day by an Iranian justice official in a statement to the official Iranian news agency, IRNA.

"We now know that the information given to us [was] false. The five remaining Iranian Jews are still in prison," Dayanim said.

Asked why the sources would provide erroneous information, Dayanim said, "No comment."

The five who remain in jail are Dani (Hamid) Tefileen, 29, sentenced to 13 years in prison; Asher Zadmehr, 51, also sentenced to 13 years; Naser Levy Hayim, 48, sentenced to 11 years; Ramin Farzam, 38, sentenced to 10 years; and Farhad Saleh, 33, who had received an eight-year sentence.

The three released last week — who reportedly were granted a pardon directly from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — were Javid Beit Yakov, 42, who had been sentenced to nine years in prison; Farzad Kashi, 32, and Shahrokh Paknahad, 24, who had received eight-year sentences.

Analysts suggested the release of the three might be due to a supposed power struggle between relative moderates in the Iranian regime who favor detente with the West and conservative clerics who have maintained a grip on power since the 1979 revolution. Analysts for months have suggested that several factors may be pressing Iran: President Bush’s lumping of Iran with Iraq and North Korea in his "axis of evil"; the prospect of a United States-led war against Baghdad; and the possibility that Iran may be the next target of America’s year-old war on terrorism.

It’s not only from Washington that Iran is feeling the heat. Europe, a significant economic partner, reportedly has cited Iran’s disregard for human rights and its treatment of minorities as impediments to improved relations.

According to analysts, the tension between Iranian hardliners and reformers influenced the original arrests.

Thirteen Jews were arrested in January and March 1999, but three were found innocent of the espionage charges and released. The other 10 were sentenced in July 2000 to jail terms of four to 13 years. The men appealed, and Tehran reduced the sentences from two to nine years in September 2000. Two men already were released after serving out their terms.

Advocates for the men say that what really bothered Iranian authorities was the men’s increasingly fervent brand of Orthodox Judaism. Most of the men were religious leaders from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, a bastion of religious conservatism. The arrests were perceived as a warning to the rest of the community, and there was initial fear that the men might be executed.

In May 2000, after more than a year in solitary confinement, the 13 gave "confessions" for Iran’s Revolutionary Court.

But their advocates — and media, diplomats and human rights experts from around the world — pronounced the closed trial a fraud.

Iranian TrialTimeline


The following is a timeline of key events in the trial of the “Iran 13”:

  • January-March 1999 – 13 Iranian Jews are arrested in the southern province of Fars.

  • June 7, 1999 – The Iranian government charges the 13 Iranian Jews with spying for the United States and Israel. Both countries deny the charges, which are punishable by death. Israeli officials worry that the men may have been arrested simply for being Jewish.

  • Feb. 2, 2000 – The Iranian government releases three of the prisoners on bail amid announcements that a trial for all 13 is imminent. Advocates for the prisoners worry that the accused will not receive a fair trial and that a trial is not likely to occur until after Iran’s upcoming elections.

  • March 15, 2000 – It is announced that the remaining 10 prisoners will not be allowed to hire independent attorneys.

  • April 5, 2000 – After an appeal by Iran’s leading rabbi, the Iranian judiciary announces it will allow all 13 Jews to hire their own lawyers.

  • April 13, 2000 – The trial of the Iran 13 officially opens, but is postponed until May 1, after Passover.

  • May 1, 2000 – The alleged leader of the Iran 13, Hamid “Dani” Tefileen, confesses to spying for Israel on state television. More of the prisoners make “confessions” in the following week. By the end of the month, eight prisoners plead guilty, one admits to some activities but not spying and four plead not guilty, including the three released earlier on bail.

  • June 13, 2000 – Four of the prisoners retract their “confessions,” while a Muslim accused of collaborating with the Jews also denies the charge.

  • July 1, 2000 – Ten of the Iranian Jews are convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to prison terms of four to 13 years, drawing condemnation from Israel and President Clinton. The judge, who also acted as prosecutor, acquits the three other Jews. The defense lawyer vows to appeal.

  • Sept. 21, 2000 – An Iranian appeals court reduces the sentences of the “Iran 10” to between two and nine years. But American Jewish advocates say the reductions aren’t enough and worry that case will be swept aside in favor of ongoing rapprochement between Iran and America.

Message of Hope


Prospects are favorable that some of the prison senten-ces imposed on 10 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel will be reduced and that others will be set free, according to the Jewish community’s official representative in the Iranian parliament.

Maurice Motamed predicted that appeals of the initial verdicts, which imposed prison sentences of up to 13 years, will be generally successful. Reuters reported that the jury panel hearing the appeals of the ‘Shiraz 10’ were to announce their decisions on Wednesday or Thursday.

Motamed addressed some 400 Iranian Americans at the Eretz Cultural Center in Reseda during Saturday morning services. In careful words, he weighed the disabilities imposed on Jews in Iran against hope for a better future and painted a generally sympathetic picture of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

Speaking in Farsi, Motamed, a tall, elegant man of 55 years, described the spy trial as a catastrophe that had shattered the dignity and respect of the 25,000-strong Jewish community in Iran.

“In our presence of 2,700 years in Iran, Jews have never betrayed Iran, and our roots are so deep that they cannot be cut off,” he said.

Jewish emigration from Iran has been accelerated by the spy trial, as well as by the government’s refusal to employ Jews and other religious minorities, Motamed said.

Motamed himself continues to work for the government as a civil engineer and urban planner, “but not everyone is as lucky as I am,” he said.

A second emotional case revolves around 11 Jewish teenage boys, who were arrested six years ago while trying to cross the border into Pakistan.

Quiet efforts are underway to determine their fate, but Motamed said that he had asked Jewish officials in New York not to agitate on this case until the appeals to the spy charge verdicts are resolved.

After meeting with Khatami, the Jewish community in Iran has been successful in regaining controls over Jewish schools, Motamed said, and there are hopes that property confiscated from the Jewish community and individuals eventually will be restored.

Motamed also said he was trying to facilitate travel to Iran for Iranian Jews now living abroad, but the suggestion was received coolly by Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, which sponsored Motamed’s appearance at the Saturday service.

“I do not think we should encourage travel as long as Iran opposes Israel and the Middle East peace process,” he said.

After services, various congregants commented that they found Motamed personable and even “cool,” while acknowledging that he represented the Iranian Jewish community effectively, they doubted that he was able to express himself freely about conditions in Iran.

During his 10-day visit, Motamed was reunited with his mother and four sisters, who live in Los Angeles, and also met with leaders of the Iranian American Jewish Federation.

From private conversations between Motamed and various sources, it appeared clear that a major objective of his visit was to find ways to persuade the American government to lift the remaining economic sanctions against Iran, particularly in the development of the country’s oil resources.

The lifting of such sanctions would benefit Iran and by exten-sion the Jewish community, Motamed indicated.

Tehran’s reasoning goes that if the Iranian Jewish community could be persuaded to lobby for the lifting of sanctions, it would persuade the general American Jewish community to do likewise, which in turn would persuade the White House and Congress.

While the scenario may appear simplistic and unrealis-tic, the Iranian government’s belief that Jews have unlimited clout in Washington may prove helpful to the Jewish community in Iran, one source commented.Lending some credence to Tehran’s perceptions is the report that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is to visit Los Angeles and was expected to meet privately on Thursday with local Jewish leaders in the Iranian-American community.

One such leader said that he hoped to raise issues beyond the imprisonment of the 10 Jews to general concerns, such as Iran’s support of terrorism and its opposition to the Middle East peace process.Motamed declined requests for press interviews during his Los Angeles visit, indicating that he did not want to say anything that might adversely affect the current appeals of the 10 imprisoned Jews.

The Long Wait


The waiting game continues in Iran, as the judiciary there has postponed at least for another week a decision in the appeals of 10 Iranian Jews convicted on charges of spying for Israel.The delay is ostensibly because the three judges reviewing the appeals are divided on whether the charges the Jews were convicted of actually constituted a crime.

But few observers doubt that domestic Iranian politics are at play.

If anything, they say, the delay undermines the efforts by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami – on the eve of his address to the United Nations this week – to spruce up his image as a reformer and to bolster his claim that he is truly in control of his county and not the Islamic fundamentalists.

The delay also did nothing to defuse a flurry of street protest and behind-the-scenes diplomacy that greeted Khatami as he and 150 other heads of state arrived in New York for the U.N. Millennium Summit.Jewish groups sponsored two media events just blocks away from the United Nations, while an Iranian exile organization held a noisy anti-Khatami demonstration within earshot of visiting dignitaries from around the world.

“We cannot tolerate a situation where it is a crime simply for being Jewish,” said New York Gov. George Pataki, who headlined Tuesday’s first street event, sponsored jointly by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. A second event, held later, was organized by AMCHA – The Coalition for Jewish Concerns.

“Mr. Khatami, to you, your Parliament and your judiciary, human rights and dignity must be the right of every citizen,” Pataki said.

“You claim to be a reformer. Show it and release these 10.”

Convicted July 1, the 10 Jews have already served some 18 months in prison. Their sentences range from four to 13 years, but Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, says his sources indicate that several more may be released, with jail terms reduced for the rest.

But he wouldn’t bank on it.

As delaying the appeals decision demonstrates, said Hoenlein, “the only thing predictable about Iran is that nothing is predictable.”

Thus, the need to prod Khatami, both publicly and privately.

Hoenlein, who met with Iran’s Parliament speaker last week, still holds out hope that he will be able to plead his case directly to Khatami this week. There was talk of such a meeting on Monday at the United Nations, when Khatami spoke with a reportedly “pre-selected” gathering of Iranian emigres, including a few Jews.

From the Jewish side, Hoenlein conceded there was internal debate on whether a meeting with Khatami would somehow be manipulated by the Iranian media for domestic consumption. Hoenlein said a meeting would take place only if Jewish leaders were guaranteed their say. In the end, that point was moot, because American Jewish leaders weren’t invited at all.

“We should meet with Khatami to send the right message that the appeals should succeed and security guaranteed for the entire Jewish community,” Hoenlein said at Tuesday’s media event.

On the arrests and trial of the Jews, however, non-Jewish Iranian Americans have been notably silent.In part, they say, it’s been due to a lack of organization and the fact the community has yet to find its political voice, like, say, the Cuban-exile community. One activist even says she was unaware of the rallies of American Jews.

Nevertheless, Tuesday may have marked a watershed moment. Several at the protest, organized by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, spoke out about the trial, describing as a transparent attempt to frighten the masses and impose conformity on all Iranians.

They also noted Iran’s financial support and training for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.Charges of espionage are a “typical punishment for those the regime wants to discredit,” said Mitra Bagheri, a member of the council’s foreign relations committee, who recently relocated from Paris to New York to help organize Iranians here.

“I don’t think people in Iran believe anything the government says, because it tells big lies, and the truth is always the other way around.”

Says Anahita Sami, 18, the move against Iran’s Jews is part and parcel of the campaign against all of Iran’s minorities.

“It’s so obvious the Jews were not guilty of anything,” said Sami, a student at George Washington University.

“This is happening to innocent Iranians all the time. They want to control people through the word of God and to keep the pressure cooker from exploding by brainwashing them.”

Another activist cautioned Americans not to judge all Iranians by the current regime.

“One thing has to be made clear,” said Kasra Nejat, president of the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri.

“The Iranian government, the supreme leaders – the whole system is corrupt. It has nothing to do with the Iranian people. That’s why we’re here, because this government doesn’t represent real Iranians.”

Demonstrating Support


After an appeal by Iran’s chief rabbi, the Iranian judiciary has announced it will allow 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel and America to hire their own lawyers, said an American Jewish leader.

The 13 will also get a few extra days to prepare their case, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Previously, the “Iran 13” — who could be sentenced to death — had been represented by lawyers appointed by the Islamic fundamentalist-controlled judiciary. The trial had been scheduled for April 13, but now will likely be held April 18, Hoenlein said Wednesday.

Yet despite the Iranian concessions, Hoenlein said, American Jewish organizations will go ahead with a flurry of high-profile activities aimed at both highlighting the plight of the prisoners and pressuring Tehran to end the entire yearlong ordeal.

“Our goal is their freedom, not just a solution to the lawyer question,” Hoenlein said.

Iranian officials have indicated that the trial will be a one-day affair. If that’s the case, the Jewish advocates will press Iran to release the prisoners on bail, regardless of the verdict, so they can return to their homes for Passover, which begins the evening of April 19.

It’s unclear what prompted Tehran’s change of mind.

Aside from the international outcry the arrests have provoked, some in the United States suspect that Iran did not want the trial to coincide with the beginning of the Islamic month of Moharram. The month commemorates the martyrdom of the prophets Hossein and Hassan.

Some Shi’ites, to express their grief, take to the streets with chains, knives and machetes, publicly inflicting harm on themselves. Out of respect, Iranian Jews and Christians generally stay indoors. Observers suggest the government may have found it in its best interests not to inflame passions on the streets with the trial of alleged “Zionist spies.”

Both Israel and the United States vehemently deny the charges against the Iranian Jews, most of them communal or religious leaders from the southern cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.

Now, even with their own lawyers, the prospects for a fair trial seem more remote than ever. The hard-line clerics who control Iran’s courts appear likely to renege on earlier promises to permit media and foreign observers to monitor the court proceedings.

Until now, U.S. advocates have pursued quiet diplomacy, marshaling support from many governments and human rights groups to release the detainees — or at least to ensure a fair trial.

But having seen little progress, the advocates are now taking a more high-profile approach.

On the diplomatic front, Hoenlein said he expects the U.S. Congress to pass a bipartisan resolution that will denounce Iran for its detention of the Jews.

Governments around the world are being asked to pass similar resolutions, he added, while various leaders — including some from Arab and Muslim countries — have indicated they will step up efforts to pressure Tehran.

At the grass-roots level, vigils, but not street demonstrations, are being planned at various locations in the United States, said Hoenlein,.

Nationwide, rabbis across the religious spectrum have agreed to recite special prayers this weekend. In Los Angeles, the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations will hold a special commemoration on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrests of 10 of the Iran 13.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, chastised the Iranian government. “None of the aspects of this case are being handled in accordance with Iranian law, let alone international standards,” he said. “This is not an issue we can compromise on.” On Wednesday, Kermanian joined officials at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in urging Jews around the world to offer a misheberakh, or blessing of healing, for the imprisoned Jews as they go to trial.

The Jews were reportedly arrested along with eight Muslim men. But none of the 21 has been formally charged, which also violates Iranian law, says Pooya Dayanim, the council’s spokesman and himself a lawyer.

“Basically, these Jews are hostages,” said Dayanim. “Iran may feel the longer it delays the trial, the less it will be internationalized and hurt them. Our job is to remind them that the world community still cares about these people.”

The Jews are all community or religious leaders — except for a 16-year- old boy who is one of three now out on bail.

Their arrest was believed to be part of a political battle between Iran’s hard-line revolutionaries and reformists behind Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

American observers had hoped that the resounding victory of Iran’s reformists in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections would bode well for the Jewish prisoners.

If anything, however, their situation has worsened, said Hoenlein.

“All the things we’d been promised and thought would come true, just the opposite has happened,” he said.

“The mythology of Khatami being a reformer is just that — mythology. So far, he has not shown himself to be any different from the others. If he’s in control, the buck stops with him and he’s responsible for this situation. If he’s not in control, why are we dealing with him and making concessions?”

High Hopes


The release on bail this week of three Iranian Jewish prisoners has raised hopes for their future, but not alleviated concerns that they and the other 10 accused of espionage will not receive a fair trial.

Wednesday’s release followed announcements earlier this week that a trial is imminent for all 13 of the imprisoned Jews.

“Obviously we’re glad about this development, but we can’t forget there are 13 people, and we won’t start celebrating until all 13 are released,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation.

The three released are 16-year-old Navid Balazadeh, the youngest of the defendants, his uncle Nejad Bouroghi, who is a religious leader in the city of Isfahan, and Omid Tepilin of Shiraz, said Kermanian.

The 13 Jews — religious and community leaders — have been held in a jail in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz since the spring. They have been accused of spying for Israel and the United States but have not been formally charged. Both Israel and the United States have vehemently denied the accusations against them.

They face the death penalty if convicted.

The three released this week will still face a trial should the government bring formal charges against them, Kermanian said, “but I’m hoping this indicates that their files, like the others’, don’t include sufficient evidence to bring charges, and that’s why they decided to release them.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the release: “If this is a positive message, we receive it as such, but it’s a very limited one.”

Advocates for the prisoners still worry that the accused will not receive a fair trial.

They also believe a trial is not likely to occur until after Iran’s upcoming elections.

Many observers believe that the arrests and accusations are part of a power struggle between conservative hard-liners and President Mohammad Khatami, who has made overtures to the West.

The Feb. 18 elections are being seen as a contest between the two forces vying for power.

Iranian officials have not detailed the evidence against the suspects, but hard-line elements of the judiciary reportedly have said documentation of the alleged crimes proves their guilt.

The case sparked an international outcry, and those working on behalf of the detained have alternated between public and private diplomacy to press their cause.

In recent months, American Jewish advocates — while hoping for the prisoners’ release — have also been working to try to ensure that the prisoners receive a fair trial.

“Our preference is they should be released now,” Hoenlein said. “They’ve suffered enough no matter what they’ve done, and none are guilty of espionage.”

A trial might be better than endless delays, said Hoenlein, but “has to be public with representation and outside participation as has been promised all along.”

Kermanian, agreed, saying a trial presents an opportunity for Iran to “show to the world that it’s serious about its declarations regarding the rule of law, its civil rights, or depending on the outcome, to essentially prove they are not serious.”

He expressed concern about the judicial process, especially that the Jews be given lawyers and that the lawyers be given adequate time to review the charges and prepare a defense.

A Call for Justice and Freedom


A dramatic appearance by the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Los Angeles last week helped kick into high gear an international campaign to free 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iranian authorities for alleged espionage, and who face possible execution.

In a news conference at Leo Baeck Temple last Friday, Jackson said that he is ready to fly to Tehran, if granted a visa by Iran, joined by members of the same ecumenical team that in May obtained the freedom of three American soldiers in Yugoslavia.

In related developments, political leaders in the United States, Israel, Germany and France sought to mobilize world opinion on behalf of the threatened prisoners. Efforts are also underway to enlist the support of Italy, Spain, Britain, Holland and other European Union countries, as well as the Vatican, Japan and Canada, and the United Nations.

In Washington, resolutions have been introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate that call on the Clinton administration and foreign governments to seek the release of the 13 prisoners and condemn Iran’s treatment of its religious minorities.

The high-profile public actions follow months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, during which Jewish organizations sought to influence Tehran through quiet diplomacy.

The first arrests, of five, occurred in January, according to Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, who has been monitoring the situation from day one. In the second wave of arrests, Iranian security forces took another eight Jews into custody in late March, shortly before Passover.

The 13 range in age from 16 to 49 and were mainly residents of the southern city of Shiraz, while others were arrested in Tehran and Isfahan, said Kermanian.

During the first months of imprisonment, the Jews were not charged with any crimes, and some signals from Tehran indicated that they might be set free. Then early last week, in a confusing series of announcements and retractions, Iranian officials accused the 13 of spying for Israel and the United States, which “at certain instances provide for capital punishment,” the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The espionage charges are ridiculous on the face of it, said Kermanian. “No one would recruit spies among a group [of Jews], who have high visibility and are constantly watched by the authorities,” he said. In a country riddled with corruption, any nation hostile to Iran could have its pick of spies at $1,000 a month, he observed.

The 13 prisoners, including a 16-year-old boy arrested in his classroom, are mainly religious Jews, said Kermanian. They incurred the government’s displeasure for such “crimes” as teaching Hebrew, printing the weekly Torah portion, holding religious classes, or requesting permission to close their businesses on Saturdays.

Following the March arrests, an informal consortium of American Jewish organizations began a quiet effort to mobilize their most influential contacts. Members included the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

Last week, after Iran announced the spy charges, consortium members decided to go public. Foxman contacted Jackson, who agreed to meet with the ADL leader and relatives of some of the prisoners in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 10. Foxman stressed the seriousness of the situation by noting that at least 17 Iranian Jews, including community leaders, have been executed in Iran since 1979.

At his news conference the following day, Jackson described the meeting with the relatives as “a deeply moving experience…as I watched bitter tears roll down their faces in anguish and pain and fear for their loved ones.”

Jackson said that his first move would be to appeal to the religious authorities in Iran “to allow us to visit and gain the release of the 13 prisoners, and to appeal fervently that their lives be spared.”

“I have seen some evidence that Iran is trying to rejoin the world. One expression would be to set the 13 Jews free,” Jackson said.

“We as Americans and Jews believe it is imperative that Iran heed Jesse Jackson’s plea,” said ADL Western Regional Director David Lehrer.

Flanking Jackson during the news conference were two men who had accompanied him on the earlier mission to Belgrade — Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and Dr. Nazir U. Khaja, national president of the American Muslim Council.

Khaja said that he has been in contact with Rabbi David Saperstein, a Reform leader, and after receiving a full briefing, he intended to take up the fate of the 13 prisoners with the Iranian government.

One of the relatives who met with Jackson was Nasrin Javaherian of San Jose, whose 49-year-old brother, Nasser Levihaim, is the oldest among the prisoners. Javaherian said that her brother’s family, with whom she talks daily by phone, was at first reluctant to even acknowledge that Levihaim had been arrested.

“I called them in Shiraz and asked to speak to Nasser, and his wife told me that he had gone to Tehran and would be back next week,” said Javaherian. Only after the news of the arrests became public, did the wife confirm that Levihaim was in prison.

Again, last week, when the spy charges were announced, Javaherian called her family five times in one night.

“I was so scared, I was crying all the time,” she said in a phone interview, trying hard to control her emotions.

She described her brother as the father of three sons, the youngest 18 months old, and manager of an electricity company in Shiraz. She speculated that the Iranian authorities might have gone after him because he frequently volunteered as a Sunday-school Hebrew teacher.

Levihaim’s wife has not been allowed to see her husband since his arrest in March, but she can bring kosher food to the prison once a week, a process that involves signing four different papers. “We have no idea whether he’s getting the food,” said Javaherian.

Taking the lead in urging congressional action has been Sherman Oaks Democrat Brad Sherman, whose House resolution has now also been introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y).

Sherman said in a phone interview that one purpose of the resolution was to warn Iran that it would have to pay a price for its persecution of Jews, which would set back any attempts by Tehran to improve its ties with the West.

Since neither the United States nor Israel has diplomatic ties with Iran, it is particularly important that France, Germany and Japan, all major Iranian trading partners, exert pressure on the regime, Sherman noted.

He said that he was watching closely in which court the 13 Jews would be tried. “It could be a regular civilian court, a military court, or a Revolutionary Council court…but, unfortunately, the options here range from bad to awful.”

Sherman has been inundated for months by letters and personal calls from Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community, which is 30,000 strong. Most of the pressure has come from part of the community affiliated with the International Judea Foundation — Siamak and the Eretz Cultural Center. These groups believe that the more establishment Iranian American Jewish Federation had been too cautious in its quiet diplomacy until last week.

Federation leader Kermanian acknowledged that there had been differences on tactics within the community, but that it was united in the goal of freeing the prisoners.

There remains some puzzlement among observers why Iran would arrest the Jews on trumped-up charges at a time when the government of President Mohammad Khatami has signaled a desire to improve relations with the West.

Kermanian and Sherman agreed that the seeming paradox lies in an internal power struggle between Iranian “moderates,” led by Khatami, and fundamentalist hard-liners.

“There are conservative groups in Iran which advocate strict Orthodox Islamic values and see any contact with the West as threatening these values, and they try to sabotage Khatami’s policies,” Kermanian said.

It is the hard-liners who control the security apparatus, which arrested the Jews, as well as the judiciary, he noted.

In Tehran, the official radio charged that the 13 Jews were part of a “Zionist espionage ring” and accused the United States and Israel of trying to “sensationalize the scandal” and of interfering with Iran’s internal affairs.



Get Involved

To get involved in helping the arrested Jews in Iran:

Contact the Committee for the Defense of Jewish Detainees in Iran, (310) 535-6610; or The Committee of Religious Minority Rights in Iran, at (818) 325-3848.

To register your concern on the situation, direct letters to His Excellency Kofi Anan, United Nations Secretariat, New York, NY 10017, or fax (212) 963-4879. Letters of support can be sent to the Iranian American Jewish Federation, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069.

In L.A., Cause for Alarm

By Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Among Los Angeles’ estimated 30,000-strong Persian Jewish community, the arrest of 13 Jews in Iran is topic number one. “Everybody, everybody, is worried,” says Frank Nikbakht, a local activist.

“People I know are quite shocked,” says Elham Gheytanchi, a UCLA sociology doctorate candidate active with the Center for Iranian-Jewish Oral History (CIJOH). “My first reaction was that espionage is really bad because it leaves no ground to defend them no matter what the real charge is.”

Homa Sarshar, CIJOH’s founder and president, is also wary of the Iranian government’s claim and motives.

“We have seen different tricks within the last year, and this is one of them,” she says. She believes that the espionage charges are an excuse to condemn the captured to execution.

A member of the Committee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran — a small organization supported by the Council of Iran Jewish Organizations in California — Nikbakht has been actively tracking the government-sponsored anti-Semitism that has intensified in Iran since 1998. In March, he detailed the extent of the tensions in an issue of Chashm Amdaaz, a local Iranian-Jewish publication. In his article, Nikbakht stated that the tactics employed not only approximate but incorporate 1930s Nazi propaganda.

Nikbakht has compiled virulent anti-Semitic writings and cartoons that have appeared regularly in the bimonthly Tehran journal, Sabh.

The Committee for Religious Minority Rights recently pushed for a resolution — which Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., has introduced in the House — condemning the arrests and demanding the Iranian-Jewish prisoners’ release. Nikbakht is pleased with the State Department’s response to the crisis so far and says that plans to address the situation are currently in the works. Sherman is scheduled to speak during Shabbat services at alocal Iranian synagogue.

Meanwhile, the Iranian-Jewish community is waiting to see the outcome of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s efforts.

“It’s a tough call,” says Gheytanchi. “Jesse Jackson had success in Yugoslavia in having those three [American soldiers] released, but Iran is a different matter.”

Nevertheless, Nikbakht and Sarshar praise Jackson’s efforts.

“Any action in this way is positive action. It would be welcome from my side. I hope he would be successful,” says Sarshar, who adds, ominously, “I’m not very optimistic.”

Community


Imagine that it is 1940, and Great Britain is fighting Hitler’s Nazi Germany almost alone. Imagine, further, that an American who loves both America and England and hates the Nazis works in American intelligence and has access to secret files concerning Germany that, for whatever reason, the United States has not shared with Great Britain. This American gives the secrets to England and is caught.

This spy has, of course, violated both American law and the trust that its intelligence agencies had placed in him. Now, the question is what should be done to him? Specifically, should we regard him morally or legally as the same as an American who spied for Germany?

The answer is so obvious that only in a morally confused age such as ours would the question even be entertained. Yet this is precisely the question to be asked with regard to Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel.

Let us review the parallels to the imaginary situation outlined earlier. Israel has been at perpetual war for its survival (a threat England never faced against Germany, which wanted to vanquish, not end, its existence). An American who loved both America and Israel used his access to American intelligence on those Arab regimes and passed it on to Israel. He spied on behalf of America’s most loyal allies, not on behalf of any of America’s enemies, and he gave away secrets about Arab regimes devoted to Israel’s destruction not, to the best of our knowledge, about America. And, unlike spies whose espionage cost the lives of American and pro-American foreign agents, we know of no American and pro-American foreigner who lost his life because of Pollard.

Yet Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence in prison — more punishment than some Americans who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and certainly more punishment than nearly all the murderers in America; and he has now languished in prison, often in solitary confinement, for 12 years.

The argument that Pollard was a spy, and that is all that matters, may be legally valid, but it is not morally valid. The argument that “spying is spying” is no more moral than “killing is killing.” Circumstances always determine the morality of an act. Just as most of us distinguish morally between terrorists killing innocents and anti-terrorists killing terrorists, most of us morally distinguish between spying on a democratic ally, especially one fighting for its existence, and spying for an anti-democratic enemy such as the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the United States spies on Israel and probably on most of its other allies. Last year, for example, Germany expelled an American for spying on Germany.

None of this is meant to defend what Jonathan Pollard did. Unless he actually saved Israel from something as awful as an Iraqi biological or nuclear attack, what he did is unjustifiable. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg recently wrote, “Pollard’s good intentions paved the way to political hell.” I am writing only to morally evaluate what he did in light of the suffering he has endured, and to compare his punishments with those given to other American spies and to violent criminals.

He is largely a broken man who suffers alone and who, for reasons that are not our business but that compel our compassion, has also suffered family crises. His continued suffering serves no good purpose. Again, as Rabbi Greenberg, one of the most credible voices in American Jewry and someone who, in his own words, “was not one of those who expressed sympathy for him when the case first broke,” wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that enough is enough…. It is time to extend mercy to Jonathan Pollard…. [There has been a] relentless parade of parallel cases in which far more damaging and dangerous spies received milder sentences.”

We quickly learn of the damage done to America by those who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and no damage has been revealed in Jonathan Pollard’s case. It makes one wonder why former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger so vociferously sought to keep Pollard in prison. Two reasons suggest themselves. One is that, for whatever reason, Weinberger has a particular loathing for Pollard; the other is that he may fear that if Pollard is released, Pollard will reveal how much sensitive data about Israel’s enemies the Weinberger Defense Department kept from Israel. I have no proof for either claim — I hope they are untrue. But neither Weinberger nor anyone else, including the entire American media, has offered any data that argue for the treatment Pollard has received.

Enough is enough. As I watch America release thousands of murderers and child molesters after a few years in prison, and give a spy for Saudi Arabia no prison term at all, I get progressively more disturbed as to why Jonathan Pollard is still in prison.

To contact Justice for Jonathan Pollard, call (416) 781-3571; fax (416) 781-3166; or e-mail pollard@cpol.com. The web site is http://www.interlog.com/

Justice for Jonathan Pollard


Imagine that it is 1940, and Great Britain is fighting Hitler’s Nazi Germany almost alone. Imagine, further, that an American who loves both America and England and hates the Nazis works in American intelligence and has access to secret files concerning Germany that, for whatever reason, the United States has not shared with Great Britain. This American gives the secrets to England and is caught.

This spy has, of course, violated both American law and the trust that its intelligence agencies had placed in him. Now, the question is what should be done to him? Specifically, should we regard him morally or legally as the same as an American who spied for Germany?

The answer is so obvious that only in a morally confused age such as ours would the question even be entertained. Yet this is precisely the question to be asked with regard to Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel.

Let us review the parallels to the imaginary situation outlined earlier. Israel has been at perpetual war for its survival (a threat England never faced against Germany, which wanted to vanquish, not end, its existence). An American who loved both America and Israel used his access to American intelligence on those Arab regimes and passed it on to Israel. He spied on behalf of America’s most loyal allies, not on behalf of any of America’s enemies, and he gave away secrets about Arab regimes devoted to Israel’s destruction not, to the best of our knowledge, about America. And, unlike spies whose espionage cost the lives of American and pro-American foreign agents, we know of no American and pro-American foreigner who lost his life because of Pollard.

Yet Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence in prison — more punishment than some Americans who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and certainly more punishment than nearly all the murderers in America; and he has now languished in prison, often in solitary confinement, for 12 years.

The argument that Pollard was a spy, and that is all that matters, may be legally valid, but it is not morally valid. The argument that “spying is spying” is no more moral than “killing is killing.” Circumstances always determine the morality of an act. Just as most of us distinguish morally between terrorists killing innocents and anti-terrorists killing terrorists, most of us morally distinguish between spying on a democratic ally, especially one fighting for its existence, and spying for an anti-democratic enemy such as the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the United States spies on Israel and probably on most of its other allies. Last year, for example, Germany expelled an American for spying on Germany.

None of this is meant to defend what Jonathan Pollard did. Unless he actually saved Israel from something as awful as an Iraqi biological or nuclear attack, what he did is unjustifiable. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg recently wrote, “Pollard’s good intentions paved the way to political hell.” I am writing only to morally evaluate what he did in light of the suffering he has endured, and to compare his punishments with those given to other American spies and to violent criminals.

He is largely a broken man who suffers alone and who, for reasons that are not our business but that compel our compassion, has also suffered family crises. His continued suffering serves no good purpose. Again, as Rabbi Greenberg, one of the most credible voices in American Jewry and someone who, in his own words, “was not one of those who expressed sympathy for him when the case first broke,” wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that enough is enough…. It is time to extend mercy to Jonathan Pollard…. [There has been a] relentless parade of parallel cases in which far more damaging and dangerous spies received milder sentences.”

We quickly learn of the damage done to America by those who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and no damage has been revealed in Jonathan Pollard’s case. It makes one wonder why former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger so vociferously sought to keep Pollard in prison. Two reasons suggest themselves. One is that, for whatever reason, Weinberger has a particular loathing for Pollard; the other is that he may fear that if Pollard is released, Pollard will reveal how much sensitive data about Israel’s enemies the Weinberger Defense Department kept from Israel. I have no proof for either claim — I hope they are untrue. But neither Weinberger nor anyone else, including the entire American media, has offered any data that argue for the treatment Pollard has received.

Enough is enough. As I watch America release thousands of murderers and child molesters after a few years in prison, and give a spy for Saudi Arabia no prison term at all, I get progressively more disturbed as to why Jonathan Pollard is still in prison.

To contact Justice for Jonathan Pollard, call (416) 781-3571; fax (416) 781-3166; or e-mail pollard@cpol.com. The web site is http://www.interlog.com/.