Police storm Sydney cafe to end hostage siege, three dead


Heavily armed Australian police stormed a Sydney cafe on Tuesday and freed a number of hostages being held there at gunpoint, in a dramatic end to a 16-hour siege in which three people were killed and four wounded.

 

New South Wales police said two men, aged 34 and 50, and a 38-year-old woman died. The attacker was among the fatalities.

Heavy gunfire and blasts from stun grenades filled the air shortly after 2 a.m. local time (1500 GMT on Monday).

Moments earlier at least six people believed to have been held captive managed to flee after gunshots were heard coming from the cafe, and police later confirmed that they made their move in response.

So far 17 hostages have been accounted for.

Medics tried to resuscitate at least one person after the raid and took away several wounded people on stretchers, said a Reuters witness at the scene in downtown Sydney. Bomb squad members moved in to search for explosives, but none were found.

The operation began shortly after a police source named the gunman as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh facing multiple charges of sexual assault as well as being an accessory to murder.

He was also found guilty in 2012 of sending offensive and threatening letters to families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, as a protest against Australia's involvement in the conflict, according to local media reports.

A U.S. security official said the U.S. government was being advised by Australia that there was no sign at this stage that the gunman was connected to known terrorist organizations.

Although the hostage taker was known to the authorities, security experts said preventing attacks by people acting alone could be difficult.

​”Today's crisis throws into sharp relief the dangers of lone wolf terrorism,” said Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin, speaking in New York.

“There are two areas of concern. The first is ISIS (Islamic State) fighters with foreign passports who return to their home countries to commit acts of terrorism.

“The second is ISIS sympathizers radicalised on the internet who take it upon themselves to commit terrorist attacks to fulfill their radical ideology.

“We are entering a new phase of terrorism that is far more dangerous, and more difficult to defeat, than al Qaeda ever was.”

ISLAMIC FLAG

During the siege, hostages had been forced to display an Islamic flag, igniting fears of a jihadist attack.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has been on high alert for attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East.

News footage showed hostages holding up a black and white flag displaying the Shahada, a testament to the faith of Muslims. The flag has been popular among Sunni Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.

At least five hostages were released or escaped on Monday, with terrified cafe workers and customers running into the arms of paramilitary police.

The incident forced the evacuation of nearby buildings and sent shockwaves around a country where many people were turning their attention to the Christmas holiday following earlier security scares.

In September, anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and days later, a teenager in the city of Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.

The siege cafe is in Martin Place, a pedestrian strip popular with workers on a lunch break, which was revealed as a potential location for the thwarted beheading.

In the biggest security operation in Sydney since a bombing at the Hilton Hotel killed two people in 1978, major banks closed their offices in the central business district and people were told to avoid the area.

Muslim leaders urged calm. The Australian National Imams Council condemned “this criminal act unequivocally” in a joint statement with the Grand Mufti of Australia.

Concerns about an attack in Australia by Islamists have been growing for more than a year, with the security agency raising its national terrorism public alert to “high” in September.

Hostages held in Sydney cafe, Islamic flag seen in window


Hostages were being held inside a central Sydney cafe where a black flag with white Arabic writing could be seen in the window, local television showed on Monday, raising fears of an attack linked to Islamic militants.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was convening a meeting of the cabinet's national security committee for a briefing on what he called a hostage situation in Australia's commercial capital.

Australia, which is backing the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is on high alert for attacks by radicalised Muslims or by home-grown fighters returning from the conflict in the Middle East.

Dozens of heavily armed police surrounded the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, home to the Reserve Bank of Australia, commercial banks and close to the New South Wales (NSW) state parliament.

Live television footage showed patrons inside the cafe standing with their hands pressed against the windows. A black and white flag similar to those used by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria was also visible.

NSW Police tweeted: “A police operation is underway in Martin Place, Sydney's CBD. People are advised to avoid the area.”

A couple of hundred people were being held back by cordons and the fire brigade's hazardous unit was on the scene, a Reuters witness said.

The Reserve Bank of Australia, near the cafe, said staff had been locked down inside the building, and were all safe and accounted for.

Local media reported that the nearby Sydney Opera House had been evacuated after a suspicious package had been found. A staff member at the world-famous venue said she was still in the building but declined to comment further and police said they were still trying to confirm the incident.

Trains and buses were stopped and roads were blocked in the area, with train operators saying there had been a bomb threat at Martin Place.

Traders in currency markets said the hostage news may have contributed to a dip in the Australian dollar, which was already under pressure from global risk aversion as oil prices fell anew. The local currency was pinned at $0.8227, having hit its lowest since mid-2010 last week.

In September, Australian anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and days later, a teenager in Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.

Anti-Semitic fliers delivered to Sydney Jewish neighborhoods


Anti-Semitic fliers were dropped in the mailboxes of private homes in Jewish suburbs of Sydney.

Residents of Bondi Beach and Double Bay, which contain large numbers of Sydney’s 40,000-plus Jewish community, found the flier in their mailboxes on Monday.

“Wake up Australia,” the flier reads. “Jews have been kicked out of countries 109 times through history. … Could it be that having them in a European country is harmful to the host?”

The flier included an invitation to join Squadron 88 and check out the local white supremacist group on Facebook. It also included a reference to Stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi website, and to check them out on Facebook.

“The flier is an appalling litany of racist stereotypes, all too predictable from neo-Nazi organizations,” said New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff. “It’s no coincidence that 88, which appears on the flier, represents HH, which stands for Heil Hitler.”

The flier also reads, “The Jews own all Hollywood studios & 97% of US newspapers and media. Any movie or tv show you watch may well be coming straight from Israel.”

Police are investigating the flier, the latest episode in a spike of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Australia since the start of the war in Gaza seven weeks ago.

Alhadeff said his organization complained to Facebook, but the social media platform said it had reviewed the Squadron 88 page and it “doesn’t violate our community standards.”

“It is very disappointing that Facebook fails to grasp the import of what is expressed in the flier,” Alhadeff said. “If the people at Facebook who are tasked with monitoring its standards don’t consider this flier to be hate speech, what is?”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose district includes the two suburbs, condemned the flier as “a crude and vicious attempt to intimidate and insult the Jewish community.” He added, “Racism must be opposed, called out and condemned wherever it is found.”

Australia’s Jewish cooking club


In the cookbook collection of nearly every Jewish family sits a sincere yet amateur plastic-ring-bound volume of recipes. A group of women known as the Monday Morning Cooking Club has adopted this tried-and-true sisterhood tradition of culinary anthropology and recipe collecting and brought it into contemporary food culture, via Sydney, Australia. 

Professional food styling and graphic design, plus the backing of a major publishing house, do nothing to diminish the spirit of their debut cookbook, “Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Food, The Stories, The Sisterhood.” Initially self-published in Australia, the paperback has been available in the United States since last month. The group recently passed through New York City and Los Angeles as part of a brief promotional tour.  

Lisa Goldberg, Natanya Eskin and Merelyn Frank Chalmers held court for a few hours at Joan’s on Third recently, where owner Joan McNamara’s endorsement was enough to bring in a steady stream of book buyers. A handful of Aussies — some known to the visitors, some not — came out of the woodwork to get a dose of life back home and hear about how their modern-day sisterhood has influenced current food culture. 

Then Dana Slatkin, a chef, culinary educator and founder of the Beverly Hills Farmers Market, who is also known as the Beverly Hills Farmgirl, hosted the three in her home for a social morning of cooking (or observing, technically) and eating. 

Goldberg explained that the Monday Morning Cooking Club eventually wanted “to create a cookbook that could sit next to any cookbook in the world.” (In other words: No plastic ring binders.) To get started, they began getting together on Monday mornings in 2006. All friends — mothers with flexible schedules that enabled them to meet during the week — they reached out to their community to create a book that would serve as a repository of recipes from Sydney’s best cooks. All the better if they got their hands on recipes that had been passed down among generations. 

For these women, who also include Jacqui Israel, Paula Horwitz, and Lauren Fink, Monday mornings became dedicated to cooking and testing the material that they gathered from friends and relatives, and that came in thanks to word of mouth through Australia’s Jewish community. Given the breadth of the Diaspora (the nation received significant numbers of Jews following the Holocaust, and immigration into the continent still continues, particularly among South African Jews), the collection reflects the diverse influences present in Australian kitchens. Australia’s Jewish population is currently estimated at 100,000. 

The book is essentially “an anthology of 65 cooks” vetted by the six core members, Chalmers said. The recipes, which in sum have a heavily Jewish slant, capture the traditions of previous generations while also reflecting today’s sensibilities. “We don’t necessarily cook Jewish food. It’s food Jewish people in Sydney cook at this time. It’s a snapshot,” she clarified. 

Each contributor’s section features an introduction with personal and family history, and nearly every recipe includes a specific story about that dish. The result is a collective account of the Jewish community throughout Australia, with accessible recipes and plenty of inspiring, gorgeous photos. A second volume is currently in progress; according to Goldberg, when complete, the set will cover almost all the classics of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, plus recipes that originate in far-flung locales such as Iraq, India, Israel and Burma. 

As Slatkin and the MMCC women — or “girls,” as they refer to themselves — demonstrated a few dishes to constitute an elegant, seasonal, light lunch befitting this particular demographic, their humor and warmth radiated through. Nor do they shy away from healthy disagreements about all things related to cooking. “We love arguing,” Goldberg said. 

Eskin retorted, “Six women together in a kitchen. Can you imagine?”

Eskin touched on some of the research methods and fieldwork involved, noting that with certain women, “every week it would be a different-sized handful” of ingredients. After years of amassing information, “We’ve preserved their recipes forever. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s such a beautiful thing to have.” Most recipes were handed over willingly, but others required persistence. 

All profits from the book and other kitchen items sold on the Web site go to charity, including organizations such as OzHarvest, a food distribution network, and various Jewish causes. In keeping with the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s mission and spirit of generosity, Slatkin donated a portion of the Los Angeles class and book sale proceeds to the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program. 

When the demonstration wrapped up and the participants milled about to get their books signed and eat lunch, Slatkin pointed to one of the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s best, if not necessarily deliberate, accomplishments. “I feel like we’ve bridged generations and oceans with this class.”

One of the recipes Slatkin asked the trio to prepare reflects the reach of the Monday Morning Cooking Club. Maxine Pacanowski’s cinnamon apple pie “is one you could really play with,” Chalmers noted. A pile of sliced apples topped with an egg, flour, oil and sugar mixture and baked in a springform pan, this dessert, which is more of a cake than a pie in the American sense, found a certain notable fan. Cookbook author and TV personality Nigella Lawson learned of the Monday Morning Cooking Club when she was in Australia, ordered a copy of the book back in London, and wrote on her Web site about how she had adapted the cinnamon and apple pie recipe to her own particular tastes. 

Both in reference to the recipe’s overall utility and its celebrity follower, “It’s a superstar cake now,” Goldberg proudly said. Try it and find out for yourself.. 


MAXINE PACANOWSKI’S CINNAMON AND APPLE PIE

  • 6 to 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light olive or vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or experiment with alternative flours, such as spelt)
  • Extra cinnamon-sugar (optional), for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line the base and side of a springform cake pan.

Layer the apple slices in the prepared pan so they come about two-thirds of the way up the side. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the apples.

Make a batter by beating the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well; then stir in the flour. Spoon the batter on top of the apples and sprinkle with the extra cinnamon-sugar if desired. 

Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves 10


TALIA GOLDBERG’S SALMON WITH A SESAME AND GINGER CRUST

  • 1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 bunch scallions (approximately 12 stems), finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 4 salmon fillets, skinned and boned

Preheat the oven’s broiler to its maximum temperature. Cover a flat oven tray with aluminum foil.

Mix the ginger and garlic in a small bowl, then add the sherry, sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions and salt. Stir to combine.

Place the salmon fillets on the tray and spoon a thick layer of the sesame mixture on top. You may cook the salmon immediately or cover and refrigerate until you wish to cook it — up to 24 hours.

Place the tray under the hot broiler (on the second to top or top shelf) for 7-10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked to your liking and the topping has blackened a little. 

Serves 4.


CABBAGE SALAD

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Half small Savoy or half red cabbage (or a mixture), shredded
  • 1/2 cup whole toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 heaped tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

To make the dressing, put the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and place over  low heat. Add a drop of water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow the vinegar mixture to cool, then place in a large jar with the oil and soy sauce, and shake to combine.

Place the cabbage in a serving bowl and add the almonds and sesame seeds. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and toss to combine.

Serves 6.

Rabbi denies he knew of sexual abuse at Jewish school


A man under investigation for allegedly sexually abusing boys at a Sydney Jewish day school told police that senior rabbis knew of his actions but failed to report them to authorities, a newspaper reported.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday that the man told New South Wales police, who are investigating allegations that two men associated with the Yeshiva Centre in Bondi sexually abused children during the 1970s and 1980s, that he confessed to Rabbi PInchus Feldman 25 years ago, and was told to “take steps to avoid it.”

American-born Feldman, the chief rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Sydney, denied any awareness of child sexual abuse inside his Orthodox institution, despite the allegations.

A statement issued Wednesday by Chabad in Sydney said: “This morning there was a media report that an anonymous individual currently under criminal investigation has alleged to have over a quarter of a century ago privately confessed child sex abuse crimes to Rabbi Feldman. Rabbi Feldman does not have any recollection of such a confession.”

Feldman, who was sent to Australia by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1964, added: “To make my position absolutely clear, I endorse the unequivocal rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police and I will continue to support the efforts of law enforcement agencies in investigating and taking action against these heinous crimes.”

Manny Waks, an advocate for child sex abuse victims, said he believed Chabad officials have “privately acknowledged that it was indeed aware of the abuse allegations” in the 1980s.

Waks claimed he’d been approached with information “alleging that the Yeshiva leadership responded to an alleged incident of child sexual abuse by apparently sending the perpetrator overseas.”

News of the police investigation of the two alleged Jewish cases of child sex abuse in Sydney, one of which is believed to involve a former employee of Chabad-Lubavitch, became public last week, according to the newspaper.

Neither of the men has been publicly named by the New South Wales police. The second alleged perpetrator, also Jewish, is understood to have moved overseas.

The allegations in Sydney come in the wake of multiple cases of alleged child sex abuse in Melbourne, most within the Orthodox community.

Fired gay day school principal settles with school out of court


The fired principal of a major Jewish school in Melbourne reached an out-of-court settlement on the eve of his unfair dismissal case in the Federal Court.

Joseph Gerassi, who is gay, sued Bialik College for millions of dollars in damages to his reputation and for lost income after he was dismissed by the board in 2011. The two parties settled for an undisclosed sum, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In a letter, Bialik President Graham Goldsmith said the relationship between Gerassi and the college’s board “had irretrievably broken down” but that his termination was not due to “any dishonesty or misconduct on his part whatsoever.”

There is no evidence that Gerassi, who is believed to be the first openly gay principal of a Jewish school in Australia, was fired because of his sexuality, according to the Herald.

Gerassi, a former teacher at the King David School in Johannesburg,South Africa, was ordered to resign or his employment would be terminated immediately.

Goldsmith acknowledged in his letter that the board could have handled the “manner in which his dismissal was carried out” differently.

“I don't know of any private schools in Australia where there are openly gay principals,” the newspaper quoted Gerassi as saying. “Boards of schools are quite conservative and would prefer not to have to deal with the issue. I'm not saying they are homophobic — it's just easier having someone who is not gay heading up a school.”

Melbourne sex abuse probes spread to Sydney Jewish community


Allegations of child sex abuse, rampant in Melbourne’s Jewish community, have spread to Sydney, with police mounting investigations into two individuals.

Police in New South Wales state said at least one of the alleged perpetrators under investigation is believed to be a former employee of a religious institution associated with Chabad-Lubavitch. Neither of the men have been publicly named.

The allegations date back to the late 1970s or 1980s, a police spokesperson said.

Rabbi Eli Feldman, a spokesperson for the Yeshiva Center, the headquarters of Chabad in NSW, said in a statement Thursday that police had not contacted them.

“Yeshiva unequivocally condemns any form of abuse, including child sexual abuse,” the statement said. “We welcome any police investigation to uncover any improprieties, especially regarding alleged crimes against children.”

Child abuse victim Manny Waks, the head of Tzedek, an advocacy group for Jewish survivors and victims in Australia, welcomed the news.

“This is yet a further positive development,” he said. “The Sydney Yeshiva Center has made its position crystal clear: that it does not tolerate any forms of abuse, it encourages victims to go to the police, it commits to fully cooperating with the police, it offers victims and survivors an acknowledgement of what they may have experienced, and importantly, it offers them support and assistance in a practical and sensitive manner.”

Yeshivah College, the Chabad-run school in Melbourne, has been at the center of multiple child sex abuse allegations. Two former employees – David Kramer and David Cyprys – face multiple charges, including indecent acts on minors and child rape.

On Friday, a magistrate set April 23-24 as the dates for Kramer’s committal hearing, which will determine whether his case goes to trial. Kramer appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via video-link from jail.

Waks also said a new victim had come forward with allegations that she was sexually abused as a child by a congregant of a synagogue in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Principal at Aussie school under fire sees child sex abuse inquiry as ‘welcome step’


The launch of a commission to investigate child sex abuse was welcomed by the principal of an Australian Jewish school whose students allegedly were victimized.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Monday that the royal commission — or public inquiry — would look into children under the care of religious organizations and focus on the response of the institutions to the alleged sex abuse cases. She called child sex abuse “vile and evil.”

Yeshivah College, an Orthodox school run by Chabad in Melbourne, has been at the center of controversy since allegations broke last year that its students had been victims of sexual abuse.

Its principal, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, issued a statement Wednesday saying that “Child abuse is abhorrent and has a traumatic consequences for victims and their families. Victims of abuse deserve support and closure, and a royal commission is a very positive and welcome step.”

Manny Waks, a spokesman for alleged victims who claims he was abused as a student at Yeshivah College, said that “I’m receiving more and more allegations of child sexual abuse coming from the Melbourne, Sydney and Perth Jewish communities. Some are alleged to have occurred years ago, while others as recent as the past few years.”

One alleged perpetrator, David Cyprys, is standing trial next year on numerous counts of child sex abuse against former students of Yeshivah College from the 1980s. Another alleged perpetrator, David Kramer, is awaiting extradition from America to Australia, where he is wanted by police who are investigating allegations that he also committed child sex abuse while he taught at Yeshivah College between 1989 and 1993.

Malka Leifer, a former principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne, fled the country for Israel in 2008 amid allegations that she sexually abused female students.

Fire seriously damages Sydney synagogue


A fire severely damaged a synagogue in Sydney on the first night of Rosh Hashanah.

Seven fire trucks were required to extinguish the late-night blaze at Kehillat Masada in northern Sydney on Sept. 28.

Officers from Fire and Rescue New South Wales rescued the Torah scrolls from the path of the flames and saved the sanctuary after about three hours of firefighting.

The police forensic unit believes the blaze, which began in the kitchen area, was accidental.

Kehillat Masada, which has a membership of 450 families, is located within the campus of Masada College, a large Jewish school. The high school library also was affected and many members lost prayer books and other religious possessions in the blaze.

School principal Wendy Barel and synagogue president Trevor Lorge said in a joint statement that they were devastated by “so much damage and destruction.”

“The most important thing is that no one was hurt or injured, and that it took place after the premises had been vacated from a very busy first night of Rosh Hashanah services,” they said.

Members dispersed to other nearby synagogues for the remainder of the holiday.

The synagogue board is looking at options for Yom Kippur services, including hiring a local hall.

Sydney Taylor Book Awards winners named


A spunky 11-year-old, troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish girl who dreams of slaying dragons is the unlikely heroine of this year’s Sydney Taylor Book Awards for older readers.

The awards, in three age categories, were announced recently by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

“Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword” is an inventive graphic novel by Barry Deutsch. The cast of characters in this comic includes a mean-tongued stepmother, an older sister obsessed with finding a husband and a talking pig.

Author Howard Schwartz won in the younger reader category for “Gathering Sparks,” which was illustrated by Kristina Swarner. Schwartz, a noted storyteller, weaves a gentle tale of a grandfather and grandchild based on the 16th century rabbinic midrash of creation and tikkun olam, the concept of repairing the world. It was Schwartz’s second book with Swarner, who also received an award for illustrating “Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book” by Sarah Gershman.

In the teen readers category, author Dana Reinhardt won for her novel “The Things a Brother Knows,” a poignant story of Boaz Katznelson, a U.S. Marine who returns home from war with deep emotional scars, and his younger brother, Levi, who wants to understand. The novel about an Israeli-American family received numerous other prestigious awards.

This year’s winners stand out for the wide range and diversity of topics and style, according to Barbara Bietz, a children’s author and chair of the awards committee.

Thirty-two other books were selected from 120 titles. The awards, created in 1968, are named in memory of Sydney Taylor, the author of the series “All of a Kind Family.”

Boycott marring Peace Team visit to Sydney


A joint Israeli-Palestinian Australian Rules football team due to visit Sydney is embroiled in a row over a local government council’s boycott of Israel.

Marrickville Council, in inner Sydney, voted last December to support a Green Party-led ban on all commercial, academic, governmental, cultural and sporting exchanges with Israel. But the same council voted unanimously Tuesday night to allow the Peace Team—co-sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace and the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue—to appear at a welcome function at the Marrickville Town Hall on Aug. 18.

Peter Wertheim, the chief exective of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, slammed the hypocrisy of the council.

“The Greens-dominated council has been totally wrong-footed by the motion,” Wertheim said. “The council’s boycott Israel resolution expressly forbids ‘any’ sporting exchanges with Israel, no matter who makes the request. The truth is that the Greens have been confronted with the sheer stupidity of their policy in practice and they are now in damage control.”

Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne said the decision did not contravene the boycott since the team’s visit is sponsored by a local group and not the council.

The Peace Team, which is comprised of 13 Israelis and 13 Palestinians, will compete in the Australian Rules International Cup in Sydney and Melbourne, having made its debut at the tournament in 2008. A documentary film, “Tackling Peace,” was made about that trip.

The Marrickville Council voted in favor of a sister-city relationship with Bethlehem in 2007.

Radical Muslim cleric returns to Australia


A radical Muslim cleric who described Jews as “pigs” and is accused of inciting terrorism has returned to Australia to preach after years in exile.

Sheik Feiz Mohammed, a Sydney native, was told in 2007 by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that he was “not welcome here” after an inflammatory DVD series emerged in which he is quoted saying that “We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam. Teach them this: There is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid [holy warrior].”

Media reports this week said Mohammed was back in Sydney teaching at mosques, which drew the ire of New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff.

“We deplore the use of any such language against any group,” Alhadeff said. “Bringing such hatred to Australia is not what we’re about, and most Australians unequivocally condemn such vicious bigotry.”

But Samil Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, said the firebrand preacher was a new man and shouldn’t be judged on his past.

A police spokesman told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper that Mohammed was being monitored.

Olmert goes to China; Hezbollah is back; Euro righties caucus; Jews get blamed again


Olmert Goes to China

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to China for talks on the Iranian nuclear threat. Monday’s trip also marks 15 years of relations between the countries and seeks to expand Israel’s current trade relations. Olmert’s family has historic ties to China: His grandparents fled there from czarist Russia in the early 1900s, and his parents were born and raised there.

“China is the country which hosted my parents. They studied in China. They spoke Chinese. They grew up in China, and the Chinese culture is part of my heritage and part of my earliest memory as a young kid in the State of Israel,” Olmert was quoted as telling the Chinese news agency Xinhua. “So China is not another country for me.”

Hezbollah Rebuilding, UNIFIL Ignoring

Hezbollah is rearming and United Nations forces are doing nothing to prevent it or disarm them, Israel’s military intelligence chief said. Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that the Lebanese terrorist group is rebuilding its rocket-launching capabilities. He also said the Syrian army had lowered its alert level to what it was before last summer’s war with Lebanon.

Yadlin told the committee it seemed clear that Syrian President Bashar Assad wanted to hold peace talks with Israel, but that his intentions were unclear.

Europe Gets Extreme-Right Caucus

Extreme-right parties in the European Parliament are forming a caucus. The Guardian reported Monday that the accession of Romania and Bulgaria this month to the European Union enabled the group’s formation. Under Parliament rules, a minimum of 19 parliamentarians from at least five countries are needed for the creation of a political group.

The group expects the Bulgarian member of the Attack Party and the Romanian members of the Greater Romania Party, both of which are known for their anti-Roma, or gypsy, and racist stances, to join. The faction is to be led by French National Front member Bruno Gollnisch, who is awaiting a court verdict on charges of Holocaust denial. It also would include Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini; and Andreas Moelzer, a former adviser to far-right Austrian politician Joerg Haider.

Moelzer told the Austrian Press Agency that the group will announce its plans when the Parliament gets under way Jan. 15. By forming a caucus, the group, which is to be called Identity, Sovereignty and Transparency, will be able to avail itself of E.U. funding and easier access to leadership positions in the Parliament.

Jews Blamed for Polish Archbishop’s Demise

Some supporters of a Polish archbishop who resigned amid controversy claimed Jews were responsible. Stanislaw Wielgus, the new archbishop of Warsaw, resigned Sunday at a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral that was to mark his new post. Documents in Polish newspapers have revealed that Wielgus collaborated with the communist-era secret police, a collaboration he initially denied but finally admitted.

Following the surprise resignation, fights broke out between the bishop’s backers and detractors outside of St. John’s, The New York Times reported Monday. Some of the supporters shouted that Jews were trying to destroy the church. The Vatican will look for a replacement for Wielgus, who was replacing Jozef Glemp. Glemp, who held the post for several decades, stirred controversy when he defended the location of a Carmelite convent and the placement of crosses just outside the former Auschwitz death camp.

Anti-Semitic Attackers Visit Anne Frank House

Ten Belgians convicted of an anti-Semitic attack visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. In the November attack, the 10 youths of Turkish descent threw stones and shouted anti-Semitic slogans at a group of Chasidic teens visiting Beringen, in eastern Belgium. Sentenced to 30 hours of community service, the youths were also invited to the Anne Frank House by Belgian Cabinet Minister Peter Vanvelthoven, who accompanied them on the visit. Vanvelthoven stated that he hoped “to encourage these youths to respect the Jewish people.”

Ahmet Koc, a member of Vanvelthoven’s personal Cabinet and a board member of the Turkish Union of Belgium, accompanied the group as well, saying the incident had been simply “a misunderstanding.” Laura Abrahams, a press officer of Vanvelthoven’s office, stated the Anne Frank House had been chosen over more local sites in Belgium because “it is easier for the perpetrators to identify with a young girl in their age group than with millions of victims.”

Yeshiva Student Attacked in Sydney

One week after a Holocaust survivor was murdered in Sydney, an Israeli yeshiva student may have been attacked less than a mile from the murder scene. Shortly after midnight Jan. 4, ambulance officers responding to an anonymous call found Nitzan Zerach, 23, lying unconscious in the street on which the yeshiva is located. Police initially believed Zerach’s injuries were self-inflicted as a result of intoxication, but hospital reports showed no noticeable alcohol in his system. Doctors discovered he had suffered a brain hemorrhage. Following a review of yeshiva security footage, a police spokesman told the Australian Jewish News that “new facts had come to light and that they were keeping an open mind.”

Jewish Groups Call for Wage Hike

Jewish groups called on the U.S. Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25. Jewish Funds for Justice and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism sent a letter to U.S. lawmakers Monday, signed by more than 450 rabbis and rabbinical students and modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal leaders.

“Jewish labor law rests on the assumption that a full-time worker shall earn enough to support his/her family,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Jewish Funds for Justice’s education director. “To begin to realize self-sufficiency for workers as envisioned by Jewish law, we must raise the federal minimum wage.”

Ayalon Joins Nefesh B’Nefesh

Israel’s former ambassador to the United States was named co-chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh. The aliyah advocacy organization praised Daniel Ayalon’s “diplomatic stature, worldly expertise and passionate Zionism” in its announcement Tuesday.”Aliyah is the ultimate means to securing the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” Ayalon said. “Having had the distinct honor of serving the State of Israel in Washington and [becoming] intimately familiar with the American Jewish community, I am convinced of the need to further expand Western aliyah over the coming decade.”

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

From Russia, With Gold


Athletes from the former Soviet Union have transformed the Israeli Olympics sports scene. About one-third of the Israeli team in the upcoming Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia – and five of the six strongest Israeli contenders – are originally from the former Soviet Union.

The team, which departed Sunday night for Sydney, includes top favorites Michael Kalganov, a kayaker who holds two gold medals in world championship competitions in 1998 and 1999, and Alex Averbach, a pole vaulter who won the bronze in the 1999 World Athletics Championships.The Sydney Games will run from Sept. 15-Oct. 1.

Israel has taken only three medals in previous Olympics – a silver and bronze in 1992 for judo, and a bronze in windsurfing in 1996.

The immigrants brought the training methods and dedication that they learned in the punishing climate of the Soviet sports machine.

“The Russians brought their training techniques, and a discipline and seriousness that we did not have in Israel before,” said Golan Hazani, Olympic sports correspondent for Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s biggest daily newspaper.

Ronen Hillel, spokesman for Israel’s Olympic committee, agrees: “Immigrants have made a very important contribution in coaching and training. They have brought high-level coaching techniques that lifted our athletes to new levels.”

The Olympics will also offer a unique opportunity to accelerate Israel’s acceptance of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Although many native Israelis harbor negative stereotypes about these immigrants, nobody doubts that when they don blue-and-white on the Olympic field or medal stand, Israelis will cheer with no qualms.Still, immigrant athletes in Israel have found themselves under a scrutiny about their identity that veteran Israelis would not likely face.

In a news conference last week, after declaring he was shooting for the gold medal, pole-vaulter Averbach was asked whether he has learned the words to Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.”When I win the gold at Sydney,” he said, “you’ll hear how I can sing.”

Local Olympians


Besides Lenny Krayzelburg, three other American Jews with a Southern California connection are vying for the gold at the Olympic Games in Sydney: a runner who graduated from Agoura Hills High School, a 19-year-old from Valencia who will be the first person of African-American descent to swim in the Olympics, and an Irvine-based swimmer who loves to surf.

Deena Drossin
Age: 27
Events: 5,000-meter track, 10,000-meter track

Deena Drossin grew up in Agoura Hills, where she began running at 13. Heavily encouraged by her parents, Drossin picked up five state titles – two in track and three in cross-country – and competed in the Maccabi Youth Games while attending Agoura Hills High School.

After Drossin graduated with a degree in English (with an emphasis in creative writing and journalism) from the University of Arkansas, she made her home in the higher altitudes of Alamosa, Colo., where she is the only woman who trains under coach Joe Vigil. Since the move, she has won four national cross-country titles. Drossin set personal and Olympic trial records in the 10,000-meter this year.

Personal records: 5,000-meter – 14 minutes 51.62 seconds; 10,000-meter – 31 minutes 51.05 seconds.

Anthony Ervin
Age: 19
Events: 50-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle relay

Born in Burbank and raised in Valencia, where he attended William Hart High School, Anthony Ervin started swimming at 7 because his older brother was into the sport.

A sophomore at UC Berkeley, Ervin is a member of the university’s Sprint Team 2000 and plans to major in cognitive science. As a freshman, Ervin won the NCAA title in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle. Ervin will be the first person of African-American decent to swim in the Olympics. Ervin says he doesn’t think of himself as being of a particular race, but hopes to be a role model for everybody.In the world long-course rankings, Ervin is third in the 50-meter.

World record: 50-meter freestyle (25-meter short course) – 21.21 seconds.

Jason Lezak
Age: 24
Event: 400-meter freestyle relay

Jason Lezak was born and still lives in Irvine. At age 5, Lezak joined the swim team at Irvine Novaquatics, where he continues to train.

Lezak, an avid surfer, also played basketball, baseball and was a high school All-American in water polo. Despite pleas to continue playing water polo while attending UC Santa Barbara, Lezak gave it up to concentrated exclusively on swimming. He graduated in 1999 with a degree in business.

Lezak won a gold medal at the 1997 World University Games and silver at the Pan Pacific Championships for the 400-meter freestyle relay.

Personal records: 50-meter freestyle – 22.62 seconds; 100-meter freestyle – 49.15 seconds

Adam Wills, Associate Editor , Jewish Sports Review contributed to this article. For more information, call (800) 510-9003 or visitjewishsportsreview.com