World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, left, shaking hands with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in New York, March 2017. The WJC’s CEO, Robert Singer, is in the background. Photo courtesy of WJC.

UN secretary-general reaffirms ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his recognition of ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem during a meeting with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

A statement Wednesday by the WJC said Lauder and Guterres met earlier in the week in New York, and that Guterres repeated comments he had made to Israeli radio in which he noted the existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

Palestinians in recent decades have sought to undercut overwhelming archaeological and historical evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in the city.

The WJC statement said that Guterres would do what he could to stem anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations and its affiliates. Guterres said he could not keep the U.N. Human Rights Council from passing anti-Israel resolutions.

The statement noted Guterres’ role last week in getting the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia to remove from its website a report accusing Israel of apartheid.

“There is a breath of fresh air coming from the United Nations,” Lauder was quoted as saying in the statement. “A long overdue breath of fresh air.”

Guterres’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

World Jewish Congress to honor Paraguay’s president with peace prize

President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay will be recognized by the World Jewish Congress for what the group said was his “contributions to building coexistence.”

Cartes will receive the Shalom Prize, the WJC’s Latin American branch and Cartes’ office both announced Tuesday. The prize, which was established to recognize individuals or organizations who seek peace, will be awarded at a March ceremony in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital and headquarters of the Latin American Jewish Congress.

Jack Terpins, president of the Latin American Jewish Congress, said Cartes was selected for his “constant support of dialogue and negotiation, from a neutral place, about the situation in the Middle East. ”

Leaders of the Latin American Jewish Congress informed Cartes of the honor at a meeting Tuesday.

“The Jewish people have a lot of history, is very rich in tradition and memory, so this award is an honor for me,” Cartes said at the meeting.

Cartes has confirmed he will be present in Buenos Aires to receive the award, according to the president’s website.

Other Latin American presidents who have received the award include Michelle Bachelet of Chile in 2008 and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in 2012.

In July 2014, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder thanked the government of Paraguay for refusing to sign what he called a “harmful and unbalanced resolution” on the Israel-Hamas conflict offered by the Mercosur, a trade group of five South American nations. He said Cartes “took a brave stand” by refusing to sign.

“We thank him for insisting on fairness, which this declaration lacked,” Lauder said.

Also attending Tuesday’s meeting with Cartes were Saul Gilvich of Uruguay, the secretary general of the Latin Jewish Congress; Jack Fleishman, president of the Jewish community of Paraguay, and other Jewish leaders and Paraguayan officials.

World Jewish Congress names Robert Singer to top post

Robert Singer was named secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, the organization's most senior professional position.

“All of the WJC executives who have met Robert have been impressed with his professionalism, insight and vision, and they look forward to working with him in strengthening the WJC’s position as the preeminent representative body of world Jewry,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a statement issued Sunday. 

Singer since 1999 has served as director general and CEO of World ORT, an education and vocational training nongovernmental organization. Previously he had worked in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office for 12 years. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army.

The choice of Singer, who lives in London, is expected to be ratified at the 14th WJC plenary assembly in Budapest in May.

Lauder letter to Olmert urging Disapora role in Jerusalem negotiations stirs passions

The president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) has roiled the organization’s branch in Israel by writing to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a plea to allow Diaspora Jews a voice in any decisions on Jerusalem’s future.

Ronald Lauder, in his Jan. 8 letter on WJC letterhead, wished Olmert success during President Bush’s visit to the region and expressed the hope of world Jewry that Israel can attain peace.

Lauder closed the letter urging Olmert to take into consideration “the prayers, the hopes and the views of Jews around the world when you discuss the future” of Jerusalem.

“While recognizing Israel’s inherent prerogatives as a sovereign state,” Lauder wrote, “it is inconceivable that any changes in the status of our holy city will be implemented without giving the Jewish people, as a whole, a voice in the decision.”

Among those complaining about the letter was Shai Hermesh, chairman of the WJC’s Israel branch, which was listed at the top of the letterhead, along with the WJC’s world headquarters in New York. Hermesh said the letter was sent without any consultation with the Israeli branch and contradicts the WJC’s longstanding policy of keeping out of Israel’s political affairs.

“Ronald Lauder is allowed to print a letter or do whatever he wants, but he should take into consideration that never, never, never in the past did Jews in the Diaspora make decisions for Israel,” Hermesh said last week.

“We feel that Jews around the world are our brothers, and their support is very important to us, but political decisions should be taken only by the Knesset and no one else, including the Israeli branch of the World Jewish Congress,” he said. “That is totally unacceptable by us. Decisions should be taken only by the elected government and no one else.”

The flap over Lauder’s letter comes as right-wing and Orthodox groups in the United States are waging a campaign to keep Israel from sharing or dividing Jerusalem in any future deal with the Palestinians. The effort has reignited the argument over what role, if any, Diaspora Jews should have in deciding Israeli policy.

Lauder said he sent the letter without consulting the WJC’s governing body, though he did run it by the WJC’s secretary-general, Michael Schneider. Schneider said he approved of the letter, as long as Lauder made it clear that Israel is a sovereign state with the ultimate right to make its own decisions.

The goal of the letter, Lauder said, was not to pressure Olmert or Israel into taking a hard-line stand on Jerusalem but to foster debate on what he sees as the most important decision facing the country. Lauder added that he would not have taken a similar step regarding other territory up for discussion, including the Gaza Strip, West Bank or Golan Heights.

“The letter simply states that it was important to discuss Jerusalem with the Jews of the Diaspora, because we all play a role and Jerusalem is a key factor,” Lauder said.

The WJC was not going to take an official position on Jerusalem, he added.

“I was speaking for both the World Jewish Congress and the Jews of the Diaspora, and saying please listen to the Jews of the Diaspora,” Lauder said.

Lauder said he was unaware of any protocol for sending out such a letter on WJC letterhead but believed he had to act quickly.

“That is the job of the World Jewish Congress,” he said.

The spat could signify a clash of personal political differences among WJC officials. Lauder has been a longtime supporter of hawkish factions and leaders in Israel, including Knesset opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Hermesh is a member of Olmert’s Kadima Party.

The feud that ultimately led to years of scandal and turmoil at the WJC began with a fight over the decision by Edgar Bronfman, Lauder’s predecessor and a supporter of left-wing Israeli politicians, to send a letter on his own stationery to Bush urging him to pressure Israel to cease settlement construction.

Hermesh and Lauder dismissed any suggestion that a political fight was brewing, saying that the WJC’s policy is to avoid jumping into Israel’s political fray as an organization.

Lauder, who took over in June as WJC president after a contentious battle with Bronfman’s son, Matthew, has long been an outspoken critic of any plan to divide Jerusalem.

In 2001, when he was the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Lauder sought permission from the umbrella body to speak at a rally in Jerusalem that was organized to head off the reported willingness of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to make concessions on the city’s status in talks with the Palestinians.

After failing to secure approval, Lauder proceeded to speak at the rally anyway, saying he was doing so as a private individual. His decision to speak at that event pushed the Presidents Conference to adopt a policy forbidding its chairman from speaking publicly, unless he or she has a clear mandate from its member organizations.

Matthew Bronfman, who ultimately became chairman of the WJC’s governing board after deciding last spring to run on a joint ticket with Lauder, was in Latin America and unavailable for comment, Schneider said.

Contacted about the issue, Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the WJC’s executive, a separate body from the governing board, was vacationing in Cape Town, South Africa, and said he was unaware of the letter. Kaplan, a South African steel magnate, was the primary opponent of Lauder and Bronfman in the leadership election last year.

Lauder’s letter comes after Olmert took heat in November for telling reporters that Diaspora Jews should not have a say in what Israel does regarding Jerusalem. Those remarks came as right-wing groups tried to put pressure on the prime minister in the lead-up to the peace gathering in Annapolis, Md.

Olmert later clarified that he welcomed comments from Diaspora Jews but never rescinded his position that Israel alone is sovereign in conducting negotiations.

Auschwitz Might Get Name Change

Poland has long wanted its name not to be used in reference to concentration camps that existed on Polish soil during World War II.

Now Poland has made an official request to change Auschwitz’s name — to mixed reviews.

The Polish government made the request last month to change the name of the site from “Auschwitz Death Camp” to “former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp.” It made the request to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which has jurisdiction because the site of the death camp is a U.N. cultural heritage site.

UNESCO is expected to respond by mid-2006.

The debate goes to the heart of the question of how Polish behavior during the Holocaust is remembered.

The camp was set up by the Nazis on the site of a former Polish army barracks on the outskirts of the southern Polish town of Oswiecim — Auschwitz in German.

The name change is intended to stop the description of the camp by the international media, including The New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegel, as a “Polish death camp,” which greatly offends many Poles because the camp was run by Germany.

“In the years after the war, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was definitively associated with the criminal activities of the national socialist Nazi regime in Germany. However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal,” Culture Ministry spokesman Jan Kasprzyk recently told journalists. “The proposed change in the name leaves no doubt as to what the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was.”

Many Jewish groups and individuals, both in Poland and around the world, are backing the call.

The Union of Religious Jewish Communities in Poland, representing the country’s estimated 7,000-10,000 Jews, released a statement in support of the government’s request.

Petr Kadlcik, the group’s chairman, said “institutional and national responsibility for the Third Reich’s policy” is not historically accurate, “but also becomes a present-day necessity” in the wake of constant newspaper referrals to Auschwitz as a Polish death camp.

Several Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, have recently backed the name change.

So have others long involved in Jewish life.

Menachem Rosensaft, the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said in an e-mail that the Polish government’s request is “absolutely legitimate. The death factory of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1,000,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered, was a German camp, conceived by the Nazi-German government and operated by Germans.”

Rosensaft, whose parents were inmates at Auschwitz and whose grandparents and brother were gassed there, added that “it makes no sense to obfuscate valid concerns about historical and present-day Polish anti-Semitism by suggesting that Poles rather than Germans bear responsibility for the evil that was Auschwitz.”

Complicating the issue is the feeling among non-Jewish Poles that their own victimization by the Nazis has been ignored as world attention has focused on the Holocaust.

During the war, Poles were both martyrs — the Nazis labeled them “subhumans” — and victimizers, because some of them were involved in anti-Semitic acts before, during and after World War II.

Dr. Maram Stern, deputy secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, accused Poland recently of trying whitewash history with the proposed change.

Stern says that although the death camp was built by Germany, everybody in the region knew about its existence, and workers were recruited from neighboring Polish villages.

This latter claim has been denied by the Polish government, and academics also have challenged it.

An official with the Auschwitz museum strongly criticized Stern’s comments.

“It is a pity that people from the World Jewish Congress [WJC], an organization whose name suggests that it represents the opinion of Jews living all over the world, say something which is totally absurd. The WJC statement testifies to Mr. Maram Stern’s complete ignorance,” said Karoslaw Mensfeld, a spokesman for the State Museum of Auschwitz.

Israel Gutman, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, would go even further with the name revision. He said the name proposed by Warsaw “does not fully convey what really happened in this place.”

“I appeal to the Polish government [that] the phrase ‘site of the mass murder of Jews’ be inserted into the camp’s name. The full historical truth cannot be concealed,” he wrote in a column for Poland’s Dziennik newspaper last Friday.

Gutman’s proposal was immediately attacked by the Polish historian Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former Auschwitz prisoner who favors Poland’s proposal.

Gutman’s suggestions “would demand an additional commentary,” because it is “not completely true,” said Bartoszewski, a former foreign minister who was a member of the anti-Nazi Resistance.

He noted that along with Jews, 22,000 Romani, 15,000 Soviet prisoners and 80,000 Polish Christians were murdered in Auschwitz, a fact no single name could possibly convey.

Meanwhile, Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Jews against the Nazis, said he believes the notion of changing Auschwitz’s official name is “absurd.”

Edelman’s comments came as Jews and the government commemorated the anniversary of the uprising April 19.

“The only thing it does is to cause conflicts and disputes that should not exist,” he said.


The Nation and The World


New Anti-Semitism Report

The U.S. State Department praised the work of European governments against anti-Semitism, but said law enforcement must do more to respond to anti-Semitic crimes. The State Department�(tm)s report addressing anti-Semitic incidents around the world – slated for release Wednesday and obtained in advance by JTA – comes after Congress passed a law last year mandating increased monitoring of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. The report says recent anti-Semitism has come from traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in Europe, along with anti-Israel sentiment “that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.” It also cites anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims in Europe, and spillover criticism of the United States and globalization.

Holocaust Lawyer Charged

A lawyer involved in the lawsuit against Swiss banks for Holocaust-era accounts was charged with misappropriating funds from two survivors. The Office of Attorney Ethics in New Jersey, the investigative arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court, charged last month that Ed Fagan, one of the lead attorneys in the case that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement, transferred funds from the survivors�(tm) accounts to pay off debts. Fagan has yet to respond to the charges, which were first reported by the Black Star News.

Peruvian Community Gets Rabbi

An “emerging Jewish” community in Peru now has a rabbi and Jewish educator. The Jewish professionals serving the community in Trujillo are courtesy of the Israel-based Shavei Israel group. The community dates back to the mid-1960s, when several hundred Peruvian Catholics decided to live as Jews. Some 300 members of the community have already moved to Israel.

WJC Faces Informal Probe

New York�(tm)s attorney general has launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the World Jewish Congress (WJC) mishandled its finances. In a statement, the group said it promised to cooperate with the informal probe launched recently by Eliot Spitzer. Officials with the group have said issues of financial transparency, which have roiled the organization in recent months, will be laid to rest at a meeting next week in Brussels. At the meeting, Stephen Herbits is expected to be nominated to the post of secretary-general, and the organization�(tm)s president, Edgar Bronfman, is expected to be re-elected.

Abuse in Ethiopia?

A North American Jewish group was accused of abusing Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, some people living and working in Ethiopia accused the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) of refusing to distribute food to the Falash Mura at the group�(tm)s Addis Ababa compound; of treating Ethiopians employed in a sewing facility like slave laborers; of threatening those who cry foul at their treatment; and of dispatching a thug to rough people up. NACOEJ denied the accusations, insisting the claims were born of a labor dispute between the organization and some school teachers that NACOEJ fired and who were refused permission to immigrate by Israel. NACOEJ�(tm)s executive director, Barbara Ribakove Gordon, told the Post that, as a result of some Ethiopian trouble-makers, the group had to shut down its school in Addis Ababa, which also served as its food-distribution hub, for three weeks, and that the group was unable to operate the program during that time. Some 300 Falash Mura Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now have returned to Jewish practice immigrate to Israel each month, and thousands more are waiting.

Vatican: Don�(tm)t Return Survivor Kids

The Vatican instructed French churches that protected Jewish children during the Holocaust not to return the young Jews to their families at war�(tm)s end. According to a letter from Nov. 20, 1946, published this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the wartime pope, Pius XII, said that children who had been baptized while in the church�(tm)s guardianship should not be reunited with surviving members of their families, Ha�(tm)aretz reported. “The documents indicate that the Vatican completely ignored the Holocaust and murder of Jews,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, was quoted as saying in Ha�(tm)aretz. “There is a sticking to theological arguments as though this were an ordinary situation, when in practice these children were not entrusted to churches to convert to Christianity but to save them from murder.” The pope�(tm)s letter was sent to Angelo Roncalli the Vatican representative in Paris who later became Pope John XXIII who shortly thereafter told Israel�(tm)s then-chief rabbi that Roncalli�(tm)s authority could be used to return such children to their families.

Clerics Talk Reconciliation

Rabbis and imams opened a three-day peace conference in Brussels. Around 100 clerics attended the symposium, which began Monday under the auspices of Belgium�(tm)s King Albert II and the Hommes de Parole Foundation.

“For the first time, two religions that have been too often used as a pretext for war will be used to achieve peace,” the event�(tm)s Web site said. Rabbi Michael Melchior, a left-wing Israeli politician and Norway�(tm)s chief rabbi, said Jews had as much to learn from the conference as Muslims.

“There are religious leaders on both sides who incite to violence in the name of religion,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “And that must be stopped.” The attending imams came from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sao Paulo Jews Face Missionaries

Brazil�(tm)s largest Jewish community published a guide to combat missionary activities. Supported by the U.S.-based organization Jews for Judaism, the Sao Paulo State Jewish Federation published an online guide on its Portuguese language Web site,, to teach Jews how to resist Jews for Jesus and other Christian missionaries. Some 60,000 Jews, one-half of Brazilian Jewry, live in Sao Paulo.

Farewell, Foie Gras

Israeli geese farmers were given three months to stop force-feeding their livestock, a step in making foie gras. On Monday, the Knesset�(tm)s Education and Culture Committee upheld a High Court of Justice ban, as of April 1, on the controversial practice of force-feeding geese. The decision was a triumph for animal-rights activists and a snub to the Agriculture Ministry, which had argued that a humane method of feeding could be devised.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.



Farmer’s Market Case Heads to Court

A downtown Los Angeles courtroom this week relived the horrid 2003 crash in which the tranquil Santa Monica Farmers Market was shattered when 86-year-old George Russell Weller’s foot hit the accelerator of his 1992 Buick and the speeding car killed 10 people.

Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader will determine if Weller, now 87, will stand trial on 10 felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, to which Weller pleaded not guilty last January. A California Highway Patrol report said Weller was taking nausea-inducing prescription medication that could have made him confuse the accelerator with the brake just before the July 16, 2003 accident, but crash investigators also stated that Weller’s eyes were open and that his hands here were “on the steering wheel at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position.”

Weller’s attorneys believe an undiagnosed heart condition may have contributed to the accident. The 10 victims included Jewish shoppers such as 70-year-old Movsha Hoffman, 63-year-old Molok Ghoulian Nabatian and her 7-year-old grandson, Brandon David Esfahani. Among the 63 injured was octogenarian Shamsi Khani, who broke her neck in three places and both her legs but recovered and still attends services at Westwood’s Sinai Temple. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Hate Crimes High in California

Hate crimes in the United States were just about at the same level in 2003 as in the preceding year, and well below the record figures of 2001, according to the annual FBI report released Oct.25. Anti-Semitic incidents were actually down by a miniscule fraction, with 927 in 2003 compared to 931 in 2002.

California, by far the most populous state, accounted for one of every five hate crimes reported in the country.

Nevertheless, the 7,489 nationwide cases of hate-motivated violence and vandalism in 2003 leave no room for complacence, the Anti-Defamation League warned.

As in previous years, violence and vandalism against black citizens and institutions, representing more than one-third of all hate crimes nationally, topped the statistics. Among the 1,300 hate crimes motivated by religious bias, 69 percent were anti-Jewish and 11.5 percent anti-Muslim. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jews, Christians Join in Solidarity Thanks to Nexus

Nearly 1,000 Jews and Christians came together on Oct. 14 for a “solidarity gathering” at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air. The event was sponsored by Israel-Christian Nexus, alliance of Southern California’s pro-Israel Christians.

“We stand with you. We pray with you and thank you for your increasing trust,” said Rev. Jack Hayford, the longtime pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, to the Jews in attendance. Hayford, who is visiting Israel this week, has been an articulate advocate of Christian Zionism.

This year’s gathering was co-sponsored by 52 Christian and Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Supporters reacted angrily to charges that many of the Christians involved in the conference were also active in conversion efforts aimed at Jews and in supporting Jews for Jesus.

“Are we going to put everyone under a microscope and check if he is kosher?” said retired Israeli general and Israel-Christian Nexus president Shimon Erem. “The time has come to stop this stupidity!”

Stephen S. Wise Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin criticized liberal Christians in the Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches for recently advocating divestment from Israel-allied companies.

“What moral blindness on the face of [those] Christians!” said Zeldin, who added that liberal, mainline Protestants often allied with Palestinian liberation movements are distinct from evangelicals who, “at least know the difference between the victim and the perpetrator.”

“Alliances such as this are important for us right now,” said Roz Rothstein of StandWithUs, a local pro-Israel advocacy group. She said that these people will fight against divestment from other Christian groups.”

Critics of the event pointed to a gathering to be held later this year as proof that Israel’s supporters have not disavowed active missionary activities. On Dec. 3, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden near Palm Springs will host, “The Road to Jerusalem,” a Friday afternoon stadium gathering whose organizers state that it will allow “Christians to publicly affirm our Jewish roots, distinctions and oneness in Jesus.”

The free event promises “special festive Hebrew music and dancers,” two Christian-trained “rabbis” involved with Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews, and an ex-Catskills singer. Hayford will also be speaking.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest Region issued a statement on Oct. 22 expressing concern about the “Road to Jerusalem” event: “We do not support targeted prostelyzation of Jews — the planned event could very well serve to legitimize fraudulent ideas about Judaism.” — DF

Parents Want Proof

The parents of Israeli soldiers kidnapped a year ago by Hezbollah are asking the World Jewish Congress (WJC) to help press their case.

The parents of Benny Avraham, one of three soldiers kidnapped along Israel’s northern border in October 2000, met Tuesday with WJC members attending the organization’s plenary assembly here. The meeting took place a day after Israel Defense Force (IDF) officials announced that Avraham and fellow soldiers Adi Avitan and Omar Souad most likely are dead.

Saying the family needs concrete evidence and not just words, Chaim Avraham asked the WJC to "push the government to release our children in whatever condition."

"What happened yesterday is ridiculous," Avraham said, referring to Israel’s surprise announcement. "I asked our prime minister, ‘Why do you come to us to tell us information that we already have, without giving us evidence, without the judgment of a rabbi, without real evidence that you can believe as a father and a mother that your son is not alive?’"

The fate of a fourth victim, Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum — who was kidnapped around the same time as the three soldiers, apparently in Europe — remains unclear.

The IDF chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Yisrael Weiss, met with the families Wednesday to discuss his expected declaration that the three are fallen soldiers "whose burial place is unknown."

"I am still dealing with other components that will give me the maximum information to make a decision that is 100 percent certain," Weiss told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Tuesday after meeting with Israel’s chief rabbis, Yisrael Lau and Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. "Therefore I request that time not be a factor that influences the decision."

Weiss also met with the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, a leading rabbi in the Ashkenazi Orthodox world. Islamic religious leaders also will be consulted because Souad, a Bedouin, is Muslim.

"It is more important to make the correct and desired decision that is acceptable to religious leaders in Israel," Weiss said.

All three of the families, however, have indicated that they don’t accept the IDF’s assessment, which is based on classified intelligence information apparently received in the last two weeks.

"Until we know it, our son is alive. We want to bring him back in any way that Israel can bring its children home," Avraham said.

For months, the United Nations denied Israeli allegations that the organization had a videotape, shot just after the incident, of blood-stained vehicles used in the kidnapping. Israeli officials ultimately were given limited access to the U.N. evidence.

The United Nations is "a joke," Avraham said. "And this is an organization that received the Nobel Prize."

On Wednesday, WJC members submitted a resolution calling on WJC members to urge their governments to press for information on the soldiers’ fate, and work for their return.

The WJC also proposed a resolution condemning the United Nations for withholding information about its videotape — in order, U.N. officials explained, to maintain neutrality between Israel and Hezbollah.

The chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sallai Meridor, said that Israel should continue making every effort to bring the soldiers home or, if they are dead, to receive their bodies from Lebanon.

He also said Israel should publicize the fact that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, not a legitimate political party.

"I don’t want to advise the Israeli government on military issues, but the lesson should be taught that all free nations recognize that terror is a threat to us all," Meridor said.

Hezbollah refused to allow intermediaries or international organizations to visit the kidnapped soldiers, and demanded that Israel release all Lebanese and other Arab prisoners it holds in exchange for information on the soldiers.

Hezbollah dismissed the Israeli claim Monday that the soldiers were probably dead, saying it was an attempt to squeeze information out of the Islamic fundamentalist group.

Knesset member Avshalom Vilan, of the Meretz Party, said Israel should try to strike a deal with Hezbollah to exchange the Israelis’ bodies for corpses of Hezbollah fighters in Israel’s hands.

A military strike against the Hezbollah would be "playing into their hands," Vilan said.

"They behave like animals. They knew from the very beginning that these three soldiers are dead, but they tried to play a psychological game and force us to pay a heavy price just for the information," he said. "They abused the feelings of the three families and of Israeli society."