Saturday, July 12, 2008

'PM invented, oversaw fraud mechanism' staff and AP , THE JERUSALEM POST

The police has multiple fictitious tax receipts and investigators have at least one incriminating testimony against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, probably from an employee of the Rishon Tours travel agency, Channel 2 reported Friday evening.

"Olmert invented the fraud mechanism and oversaw it personally," a police source told Channel 2. Earlier Friday, the Justice Ministry and the police unveiled stunning new allegations against Olmert, accusing him of getting multiple sources to pay for identical trips abroad so he could pocket the difference.

The new suspicions - made public shortly after police questioned Olmert for a third time in a burgeoning corruption scandal - could make it even tougher for the embattled leader to hang on to his job and pursue peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Police officials said Olmert is suspected of having illicitly taken some $100,000 by deceiving multiple sources into thinking they were paying for the same trip.

Since the corruption case against Olmert first broke in May, he has denied any wrongdoing, saying he never took money for his private use. He has promised to resign if indicted.

Investigators came to Olmert's official Jerusalem residence on Friday to grill him in connection with the probe, which centers on hundreds of thousands of dollars he allegedly received from an American Jewish businessman before becoming Prime Minister in 2006.

The questioning lasted more than two hours, and afterward, investigators announced the investigation had widened.

"While serving as mayor of Jerusalem and as minister of industry and trade, (Olmert) is suspected of seeking funding for flights abroad in his official capacity from several sources at the same time ... including the state," the Justice Ministry and police said in a joint statement.

Each of these sources was asked to pay in full for the same flight, it added.

Police suspect that the "considerable sums" that remained after the flight was paid for "were transferred by Olmert to a special account (his) travel agency administered for him. These monies were used to finance private trips abroad by Olmert and his family," the statement said.

Police officials said Olmert also billed multiple sources for other expenses, such as hotels, on dozens of trips abroad - with the illicit funds amounting to some $100,000. All information from the police outside the official statement was obtained on condition of anonymity because the case is still under investigation and officers were not authorized to expand on the statement publicly.

Olmert served as Jerusalem mayor for 10 years until 2003, when he was appointed trade minister in former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government. He held that position until 2006.

A senior police officer with the National Fraud Unit said the Rishon Tours travel agency "acted like a bank branch for the Olmert family." Before going abroad, they'd contact the agency to check the balance in Olmert's account there and "order tickets," he said.

The agency, he said, also took care of hotel and other expenses the family incurred. No one answered the phone at the agency's offices on Friday, a short business day in Israel because of the Jewish Sabbath beginning at sundown.

Besides asking the state to pick up the tab for his trips, Olmert also approached leading Israeli companies for funding, the police official said. Companies paid for his trips even when he was trade minister and responsible for overseeing corporate practices - raising suspicions of conflict of interest and breach of trust, he said.

Through a spokesman, the prime minister insisted he had broken no laws.

"Prime Minister Olmert is convinced that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and firmly believes that as this investigation continues, that innocence will become apparent to all," the prime minister's spokesman, Mark Regev, said.

Regev wouldn't comment on the substance of the new suspicions.

The whiff of corruption has clung to Olmert throughout his more than three decades in politics, though he has never been convicted of any wrongdoing. But this latest case - the fifth opened against him since he became prime minister - could end his political career.

In May, businessman Morris Talansky testified that he gave Olmert hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes, and that some of those funds went to fund expensive cigars, hotels and other luxuries.

The testimony sparked a public outcry, further tarnishing a prime minister who has faced four previous police investigations since he became Israel's leader. Olmert's Kadima party plans a primary election in September that could replace him as leader.

The turmoil in Israeli politics is likely to hurt a US-backed initiative to forge the outline of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians by year's end. It also threatens to derail recently renewed peace talks between Israel and Syria.

Olmert's lawyers are to begin cross-examining Talansky in a Jerusalem court on Thursday. The cross-examination is expected to last five days, an aide has said.

Olmert's team is hoping that the cross-examination will discredit the 75-year-old American businessman and help restore the Israeli leader's standing.
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Friday, July 11, 2008

Israel to show airplane that can spy on Iran

JERUSALEM, Israel (AP) --

Israel says it will publicly display an advanced aircraft that can spy on Iran.

Israel's Army Radio says the plane is being shown in response to Iran's missile test on Wednesday.

State-run Israel Aerospace Industries plans an in-house exhibit Thursday of the Eitam airplane, which is equipped with sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems. The plane was first unveiled a year ago. Iran test-fired long- and medium-range missiles during war games to show it could retaliate against any U.S. or Israeli attack.

Israel considers Iran its greatest enemy and says Tehran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons that could be used against the Jewish state. Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and designed only to produce energy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not all change is for the better


The last time Democrats lost the Jewish vote was in the 1920 presidential election, won by Warren Harding. So why in this election - when an unpopular president and an unpopular war have left the Republicans in shambles - would there be such doubt over Barack Obama's ability? Not since Jimmy Carter's 1980 campaign have US Jews seriously questioned the foreign policy credentials of the Democratic nominee. This administration's failure to communicate the long-term sacrifices required to defeat terrorism has shifted voters' priorities. It's a sobering reality when, according to recent polls, Americans consider the economy and healthcare more important than national defense. But US Jews remember the threats, past and present, of foreign dictatorships and terrorist regimes. Only a candidate who can lead our nation under such exigent circumstances will earn their support.

THE CASE for John McCain is the assurance of a transparent foreign policy, substantive dialogue and decisive leadership. In his 25 years of public service, McCain has demonstrated unwavering support for Israel, as well as a deep understanding of how America can help preserve its freedom.

Sen. Obama is more conditional with his foreign policy. In fact, the more he focuses on the abstract, the better his chances of winning. Some consider it anathema to criticize Obama's theme of "Change," but the type of change we can expect under his nebulous platform merits closer scrutiny. Consider the three major foreign policy differences between him and McCain: the Iraq war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and their plans to combat terrorism.

McCain, who clearly pledged to support the removal of Saddam Hussein, has long criticized the Bush administration's actions in Iraq, citing insufficient troop levels, tactical mistakes and limited access to linguists and special forces. He said, "The problem is that the Pentagon has been reacting to initiatives of the enemy, rather than taking initiatives to which the enemy must react."

Obama blames a "distracted" foreign policy in Iraq - allegedly fueling terrorism - for the lack of progress in the Middle East. But he overlooks the fact that every proposed peace accord has failed because of Islamic leaders' inability, and often their refusal, to eradicate terror. For all his masterful speeches, Senator Obama can only offer anti-war rhetoric. He sponsored legislation for a full withdrawal of troops from Iraq, regardless of the military assessment. And yet he recently told Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebari that "an Obama administration will make sure we continue with the progress that's been made in Iraq."

ON ISRAEL, Obama overestimates both the potency and the appropriateness of negotiating with terrorist regimes. Speaking to Jewish leaders in Philadelphia, he described Hamas as having "developed great influence in the Palestinian territories, but they do not control the apparatus of power, they are not legitimately recognized as a state." Al-Qaida does not "control the apparatus of power," and yet Obama agrees we must eliminate it. So why should Israel accept a Palestinian state run by terrorists? Because he believes that a peace accord is more central to the Middle East conflict than eliminating Islamic terror.

McCain understands that no lasting peace can come without removing the gravest threat to peace. That's why he insists on preconditions with Iran and Syria.

Obama, who seeks to engage Iran without preconditions, said "We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist and abide by past agreements." Comforting words. But why would Obama shun Hamas yet welcome diplomacy with Iran and Syria, which finance Hamas, Hizbullah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist regimes?

Equally misguided are Obama's views on Israel's security barrier. In a 2004 interview with the Chicago Jewish News, he said: "The creation of a wall dividing two nations is yet another example of the neglect of this administration in brokering peace." Aside from his clumsy reference to Palestinians as a nation, Obama misses the entire purpose of the barrier - to protect innocent Israelis from homicide bombers. McCain has supported the barrier since its inception. He openly criticized Oslo proponents, who were more fixated on a Peace Prize than on lasting peace. "The Oslo Accord failed because it was based on the premise that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples could live peacefully together," said McCain. "The security fence will test whether they can live peacefully apart."

THE EXPERIENCE gap must not be understated. During a time when Israel considers disarming Iranian nuclear facilities, Senator McCain remains the best hope for securing the joint interests of America and Israel. McCain has worked with every major Israeli leader over the past three decades. He understands Jewish history, believes that Zionism has preserved the sole democracy in the region, and agrees that military action is often necessary to combat the shelling of vulnerable towns. It's a significant advantage to have a president who knows the players and the landscape while serving as our chief negotiator.

Obama will depend heavily on surrogates like Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under president Carter and longtime critic of Israel.

Voters will soon discover that Obama's sense of what is historically relevant translates into a delusion that radical Islamic terror can be pacified solely with financial and diplomatic pressure. Under a McCain administration, the US will maintain a leadership role in pursuing terrorism wherever it resides. McCain said: "The NATO alliance is strong, but the world in which it operates is fundamentally dangerous, insecure and chaotic."

Today's challenges require a leader who has confronted such dangers and is prepared to answer the call of duty yet again; not one who has a fragmentary perspective on national security.

Jewish values are consistent with McCain's belief that we must serve causes greater than ourselves in order to preserve our ideals. Is it likely that Republicans will end their 88-year drought and win the Jewish vote? Perhaps not. But more Jews than in years past will be giving the Arizona maverick a second look this November.

And that's a reassuring sign of Change.

The writer, a managing general partner at SymAction Communications and an adjunct professor of communication at Pepperdine University, worked for Sen. McCain in Washington DC and Phoenix, Arizona.
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Radical pacifism in terror studies

Bernard Lane

UNIVERSITY departments dominated by so-called critical terror studies are consigning themselves to ever greater irrelevance, according to security analyst Carl Ungerer.

Dr Ungerer, who left the University of Queensland in January to join the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said security agencies were open to outside advice and "deeply interested in engaging with the academic community". But he said policymakers could see no value in critical terror studies, which in its hostility to sovereign states implied a moral equivalence between terror and counter-terror and even blamed open societies for the rise of religious extremists.

"So, the traditional policy analysis work is now being done by ASPI and the Lowy Institute and the Kokoda Foundation and others," Dr Ungerer said.

"If any point comes across strongly since I've been here (in Canberra), it's the way in which the gap between academe and the policy community has widened, which is interesting because the Rudd Government is tapping a wide range of voices.

"(But) in the security field they're just not interested in these critical theory ideas. It offers them absolutely nothing to be told that we need to rethink sovereignty or that (terror is) our fault."

In 2006 Dr Ungerer and UQ colleague David Martin Jones first spoke out against the rise of critical terror studies. They said the policy implication of this emerging discipline was "radical pacifism". This week Dr Ungerer described as "eyebrow raising" the February appointment of critical theorist Anthony Burke to the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

"The lecturers at ADFA are teaching the next generation of military leaders," Dr Ungerer said.

Speaking from Israel, Dr Burke, the author of Beyond Security Ethics and Violence: War Against The Other, said he did not oppose "controlled and measured" use of military force.

He said nation states were ambiguous since they could provide citizens with security as well as subject them to abuse.

Some state actions -- such as Israel's approach in the "occupied territories" and possibly the sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- were similar to terrorism in that they targeted civilians and sought to inflict suffering and fear for a political purpose, he said.

Dr Burke said critical terror studies was a new discipline with lively internal debate. To say it dominated academe was "a neoconservative, highly culture wars-type argument".

Soon after the September 11 attacks, Dr Burke wrote: "These events have brought enormous levels of organised military violence -- intensifying Israeli Defence Force operations in Palestine, the war on Afghanistan and sabre-rattling against Iraq -- but also quasi-military, normalised patterns of violence and coercion in the form of domestic security, surveillance, and the 'deterrence' of asylum-seekers."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"Maddening Mentality"

There's a common Hebrew expression: yeeyeh b'seder. "It'll be OK." Routinely said by way of assurance in any one of a number of situations.

Words of comfort are good, but often a situation will be "b'seder" only if proper action has been taken towards that end. And what is commonly seen is that the action is missing while the comfort is offered.

I've lived in Israel for seven years now and proudly consider myself Israeli in many ways. But this thinking baffles me. We're talking here not just about things like whether someone will find a new apartment. We're talking about the major issues the nation deals with. AI raise all of this now because we are facing one of the worst droughts in Israel's history and all sorts of emergency measures have just been announced. The baffling part of this, however, is that it was evident by the end of the winter -- say, by April -- that we had had insufficient rainfall over the winter rainy season, just as we had had insufficient last winter. And yet the emergency measures were not put into place until the situation had become dire. We might have saved considerable water between April and now, had action been taken sooner.


This paradigm of thinking: a lack of planning -- a lack of ability to anticipate potential consequences and then move in a timely fashion to avert them -- can be found in matters concerning serious security and political issues that affect Israel deeply.

What is this?

In part -- I don't delude myself otherwise -- this comes with self-concerned politicians who don't look beyond their own noses. They're in it for the short term, and concerned with looking good now -- the future be damned.

But in part, I am convinced, it comes with living perpetually in a state of stress and crisis, so that perhaps the only way that it becomes bearable to function is by closing some of it out and imagining that all will be well.

Unfortunately, this national mentality puts us at serious and unnecessary risk. And over and over in the last couple of years, I've had the maddening feeling that the government should have seen this or that coming -- "duhh," as they say -- and yet seemed to be blind-sided instead.


So, now, here's the sort of thing we are seeing -- and this is so typical: Senior Israeli defense officials have announced that Security Council resolution 1701 -- passed at the end of the Lebanon war two years ago -- is failing. It set in place what was supposed to be an enhanced UNIFIL (international) force in Lebanon that would work with the Lebanese army to stop Hezbollah from re-arming and re-deploying in the south of Lebanon.

But guess what? It didn't work. Syria is re-arming Hezbollah at a rapid clip.

Should anyone who has been staying abreast of happenings be surprised? I'm not surprised. Most of you are likely not surprised. So why do our officials announce this now as if it were news and not something that could have been anticipated from the beginning?

Anyone who's followed the situation in southern Lebanon over the past several years knows that UNIFIL tilted towards the Arabs. And I here have written about the declared reluctance of UNIFIL troops to do patrols at night and the fact that eye witnesses near the Syrian border attested to the presence of trucks driving over that border at night carrying weapons and supplies.

Is there anything I knew that Olmert and company were unaware of? Certainly not. But this resolution seemed to Olmert and Livni at the time a way out of the morass of the war. Livni, breathtakingly, referred to it as a diplomatic victory. No concern for consequences down the road. "Yeeyeh b'seder." Except that now these consequences have caught up with us. So Livni is reported to have said this week, "Hezbollah must be disarmed." Fat chance. And Olmert is convening the Security Cabinet to discuss the situation.


In spite of the fact that more mortars were shot from Gaza, we're keeping crossings open. This is, I suspect, linked to threats Hamas has made that only if this is done will there be progress on Shalit negotiations. If I am correct -- I cannot prove it -- then we're seeing one more sign of caving and loss of deterrence power.


Two Israeli Bedouin, who were arrested some weeks ago, have been indicted on charges of supplying information to al-Qaida that included routes for infiltrating the country and potential targets for terror attacks. They are both from the Bedouin city of Rahat, in the Negev, near Beersheva.


Announcement has been made of the arrest in May of four Hamas affiliated members of a cell in Nablus that was plotting suicide attacks inside of Israel utilizing chemical bombs. Apparently major hi-rise buildings in Tel Aviv were planned targets for these attacks. The cell members were working with an instructional video prepared by a senior Hamas bomb maker who was killed by the IDF in 2002.


A bill allowing the State to confiscate the property of terrorists has passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset.


As expected, the appeal to the High Court to block the trade with Hezbollah has not been accepted by the court, which declined to be involved.


Look for the Olmert-Talansky scandal to start becoming news again. Olmert has now admitted that he took envelopes of cash from Talansky, but says they contained only hundreds of dollars and were intended for expenses. Olmert is scheduled to be interrogated on Friday, and Talansky is due back here and is scheduled to be cross-examined by Olmert's lawyers next week.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Obama Ad Distorts His Record

Dick Morris & Eileen McGann

The campaign of 2008 started on July 1 when Obama launched his first national advertising buy of the season.

How McCain responds and whether or not he does, will have a big impact in determining whether Obama can solidify or expand his current lead in the polls. As always, the media fails to cover the significant events of the campaign — but this is one of the most critical.

The Obama ad, which introduces him as someone who worked his way through college, fights for American jobs, and battles for healthcare also seeks to move him to the center by taking credit for welfare reform in Illinois which, the ad proclaims, reduced the rolls by 80 percent. But there's one problem — Obama opposed the 1996 welfare reform act at the time. The Illinois law for which he takes credit was merely the local implementing law the state was required to pass, and it did, almost unanimously. Obama's implication, that he backed "moving people from welfare to work," is just not true.

With Obama running the ad in all the swing states (Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia), this gross usurpation of credit affords the McCain campaign an incredible opportunity for rebuttal.

For the past two weeks, Obama has moved quickly toward the center. He has reversed his previous positions for gun control, against using faith based institutions to deliver public services, against immunity for tele-communications companies that turn records over to the government in terror investigations, for raising Social Security taxes, for imposing the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio, and a host of other issues.

McCain has watched passively as his rival repositions himself for November. Indeed, he has watched from afar as he took the time out to travel to Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, even though they have no electoral votes.

But now, there is a heaven-sent opportunity for McCain to strike.

In his effort to move to the center, Obama has distorted his own record, meager though it may be, and is taking credit for a program he strongly opposed. McCain should immediately run an ad in all of the states in which his opponent is advertising setting forth the facts and explaining Obama's distortion.

A good tag line for the ad would be: "John McCain: when you have real experience, you don't need to exaggerate." But, if McCain doesn't answer, or just replies with his own positive ad, he will let Obama move to the center, a key mistake from which he may never recover.

If Obama can hold his 5-10 point lead until the conventions, he will have set in place a pattern that will be very hard to change. With his new ad, Obama could even elevate his lead to double digits.

On the other hand, if McCain calls him on his distortion, he can do grave damage to Obama on three fronts: credibility, centrism, and experience.

By catching Obama, he can undermine the effectiveness of any subsequent ads the Democrat runs. By showing that he opposed welfare reform, McCain can do much to force Obama back to the left and cast doubt on his efforts to move to the middle. And by emphasizing Obama's limited experience, he can strike at a soft spot — made softer by Hillary's attacks in the primary.

The move is right there for McCain. Now lets see how good his campaign really is.

© 2008 Dick Morris & Eileen McGann


Yad Vashem and Hillel Kook

Isi Leibler
July 8, 2008

I was privileged to sign a petition to Yad Vashem with over a 100 leading Israeli intellectuals and public figures encompassing the entire political spectrum, from Moshe Arens to former Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar to Yossi Beilin. The petition appealed to Yad Vashem to emulate the recent decision of the Holocaust Museum in Washington and incorporate an exhibit relating to the valiant efforts of Hillel Kook (aka Peter Bergson) to rescue European Jews at the height of the Auschwitz inferno.

Regrettably, the Yad Vashem authorities responded that "Yad Vashem determines exhibits in its museum on balanced considerations rather than pressures and petitions." They cynically added that the request could be reviewed 10 years hence.Hillel Kook was the embodiment of tenacity and devotion, in stark contrast to the leaders of the American Jewish establishment of his time, whose deafening silence in the face of the Nazi extermination was scandalous. Yet, only over the last few decades has Kook's role truly been appreciated.

The most powerful Diaspora Jewish leader at the time was Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress. On August 8, 1942, his Geneva-based Secretary General, Dr. Gerhardt Riegner, informed him of the systematic genocidal slaughter of European Jews. In an unforgivable lapse of judgment, acceding to a request of the US State Department, Wise failed to inform the world until November 25 of that year when a small item about Nazis murdering Jews appeared in the back section of The New York Times. When I was chairman of the WJC Governing Board, I was never able to obtain a satisfactory explanation from the late Dr. Riegner why this chilling telegram exposing the mass murders remained buried so long in a State Department file and why Jewish leaders failed to initiate a public campaign immediately.

When Wise, who prided himself on being a friend and confidante of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, finally asked the US president to intervene, Roosevelt said: "The only way to stop the slaughter is to win the war. Tell your Jewish associates to keep quiet." Wise decided not to rock the boat.

Alas, not only did he remain silent, but he also brutally attacked and branded as extremists those who tried to raise the alarm, predicting that they would unleash unprecedented waves of anti-Semitism on American Jews. His attitude, which was shared by the majority of the Jewish establishment, was the most shameful failure of Jewish leadership in the 20th century.

This was the environment in which Kook found himself. Born 1915 in Lithuania, a nephew of the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, the legendary religious Zionist leader Avraham Kook, Hillel arrived in Palestine as a child with his father, the first community rabbi of Afula. Kook became a disciple of Jabotinsky and was soon engaged in Etzel underground activities. In 1940, Jabotinsky sent him to New York to create a Jewish Brigade to fight the Nazis. He adopted the name Bergson after his favorite philosopher and linked up with Ben Hecht, the brilliant playwright and publicist.

When news of the Nazi genocide emerged and Kook witnessed the impotence of the Jewish leaders, he concentrated his efforts on raising alarm bells in a desperate effort to save the doomed European Jews.

Despite their shoe-string budget and pariah-like treatment, Kook and Ben Hecht launched an extraordinarily effective campaign of press releases, highly provocative full-page advertisements and even successful pageants, which for the first time made the American public aware of the horrors European Jews were undergoing.

Wise and his WJC co-president Nahum Goldmann spared no efforts to undermine Kook's efforts, reviling his group as irresponsible fanatics. They tried to sabotage the effective 1943 march to the White House by 400 Orthodox rabbis who urged the administration to intervene to save Jews. In 1944 they even went as far as to call on the US administration to deport Kook, alluding to him as great an enemy to the Jews as Hitler.

But Kook was undeterred, dismissing his opposition as "the ghetto Jewish leadership" whose concept of "responsibility" amounted to doing nothing and keeping quiet. IN 1944, Kook's efforts bore fruit when the administration set up the War Refugee Board which obliged Roosevelt to take action to save the surviving Jews, utilizing diplomatic intermediaries like Raoul Wallenberg. It may have been too little and too late but it is estimated that 200,000 Hungarian Jews owe their lives to Kook's intervention.

Kook subsequently launched other projects, including the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation which unsuccessfully tried to present itself as a government of exile. Disappointed at having failed to save the majority of European Jews, Kook returned to Israel, became a member of the Knesset, and after parting from Menahem Begin, retired from active politics. He died in 2001.

In recent years, Kook has become a symbol for the Jewish activism and self-confidence which played such a crucial role in support of Israel and the freedom of Soviet Jewry. When Nachum Goldmann of the WJC tried to continue on the path of shtadlanut (silent diplomacy) in relation to Soviet Jewry, Kook was one of the role models who motivated Jews at the grass roots to override him.

Kook taught us not to place our faith in princes and in the last resort, to rely on ourselves. He demonstrated that silence in the face of evil and genocide is a crime and that quiet diplomacy achieves nothing unless accompanied by a concerted public campaign.

We are indebted to Hillel's daughter, Dr. Becky Kook, who initiated the effort to encourage Yad Vashem to create an exhibit to honor her father. The negative response by their spokesman to the petition should not be considered the last word. Yad Vashem is not a private fiefdom.

Its management has erred previously, showing crass ill judgment in erecting a plaque which explicitly names and expresses gratitude to the president and office-bearers of the Claims Conference, for their "generosity" in passing German restitution funds on to them as though it was their money and not the revenue from unclaimed properties or reparations for Holocaust victims. It is inexplicable why this shameful plaque has not been removed. The Yad Vashem Board responsible for approving such an unedifying display should think twice before arrogantly rejecting out of hand Dr Becky Kook's documented proposal to eternalize the name of Hillel Kook.

All of us have a share in Yad Vashem and wish to identify with it. It is not merely a museum perpetuating the memory of those murdered during the Shoah. It is also intended to convey a message for the future. Hillel Kook's courageous struggle is an important reminder that Jews are responsible for one another and that we must never again stand by and permit a repetition of the shameful dereliction of responsibility displayed by Jewish leaders during that black era.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Secular Don't Want 'Judaism' - But Seek 'Torah'

Hillel Fendel

A survey shows that 79% of secular Jews in Israel don't want to learn Judaism. Outreach groups say the situation they encounter is very different.

The survey was commissioned by the Gesher Institute and Ynet, and was carried out by the Motagim polling institute among 500 Jewish adult respondents - hareidi-religious, religious-Zionist, and secular.Asked if they study Judaism, 10% said they do not but would like to, while 60% said they do not and are not interested in doing so. Among the remaining 30%, slightly more than a quarter study Torah in an organized framework such as a yeshiva or university.

Analysis of the results shows that among those who are secular, 79% say they have no interest in studying Judaism.
Shwartz and Ze'ira: "There is a great thirst for Torah, in a big way."

Meir Shwartz, Chairman of the Lev Yehudi (Jewish Heart) outreach organization, said that this finding flies in the face of his personal experience: "We see that there is simply a great thirst for Judaism, and we can now say that most of the secular schools in the country teach Judaism - at least one hour a week, and usually more - with observant teachers."

Yisrael Ze'ira, head of the Rosh Yehudi (Jewish Mindset) organization, said, "There is big difference between asking secular Jews if they want to learn Judaism or if they want to study Torah. The word Judaism is still associated with the negative way in which religion and religious Jews are portrayed in the media. But we see that in practice, the trend is exactly the opposite; there is a great thirst for 'Torah,' in a big way. In our Rosh Yehudi centers, we see that new people keep coming to join us and to study Torah with us - and they generally ask, 'Where have you been hiding until now?'"

"What is needed now," Ze'ira said, "is for religious people to present, in a pleasant manner, the Torah as the great and sublime thing that it is, not in the small-minded way it is sometimes portrayed; the time for action has arrived."

Religion and the Media
The survey also dealt with "religion and the media." When the respondents were asked how they view the media's coverage of Judaism-related topics, the answer "negatively and vacuously" was chosen more than any of the other answers. This trend was clear in all three groupings - hareidi-religious, religious-Zionist, and secular. A total of 25% chose this answer, while 19% said the media covers Judaism as a political agenda. 18% were satisfied with the coverage, 7% said there was too much coverage, and the others did not respond.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Israel Approves Jewish Building in Hevron

Hillel Fendel

For the first time in many years, the Israeli government has approved Jewish construction in Hevron, the City of the Patriarchs.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given his approval to the expansion of the dormitory in Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, the largest Jewish institution in Hevron. Rabbi Chananel Etrog, Acting Dean of the yeshiva, said, "The expansion is an elementary need on the most basic level." Approval of the expansion has been held up for no fewer than eight years. Rabbi Etrog said that a deviation of 90 centimeters (three feet) was the excuse for a court suit by left-wing elements. "And even after we submitted corrected plans, the Defense Minister at the time held things up by not signing the necessary papers," Rabbi Etrog said. "Ever since then they stalled and sidetracked the various Defense Ministers for years, until finally now Barak has signed the approval."

Rabbi Etrog said that at present, the dormitory rooms have 14 students apiece: "The students have tremendous dedication for Torah study here, but it finally became clear to the Defense Minister that such difficult conditions should not continue."

"We tell students that we have no room for them, and they say that they are willing to sleep in the corridor," Rabbi Etrog said.
"We tell students that we have no room for them, and they say that they are willing to sleep in the corridor," Rabbi Etrog said.

Some 250 students currently study in Yeshivat Shavei Hevron - the Returnees of Hevron - including 70 married men. The yeshiva was founded in a building known as Beit Romano in 1981 - marking the third yeshiva to have been headquartered there in its 125 years of existence. The 19th-century sage Rabbi Chizkiyah Medini, author of the monumental encyclopedic work Sdei Chemed, lived there and established a yeshiva there. Later, Beit Romano was purchased by Rabbi Shalom Ber of Lubavitch, and the first Chabad yeshiva in the Holy Land was established there.

During the pogrom of 1929, when Arabs murdered brutally 67 of their Jewish neighbors in their homes, the British rulers used the building for the treatment of the wounded. The Chief Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, refused to shake the hands of British rulers afterwards, assigning them responsibility for the massacre.

During the Jordanian rule of Hevron, beginning in 1949, Beit Romano was the site of an Arab school. The school continued to function there even after Israel liberated the city in 1967, but after David Kapolsky was stabbed by Arabs nearby, the school was removed in 1981.

Yeshiva students moved in a year later, and from then on, Yeshivat Shavei Hevron has grown by leaps and bounds.

Police Confirm Discrimination
In other Hevron news, a police official confirmed last week that law enforcement against Jews in Hevron is particularly severe. At a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the commander of the Hevron regional police force told the MKs that the Hevron police have for years practiced overly severe law enforcement against the city's Jewish residents.

The commander said that the Hevron police department formed special "Israeli disturbance squads" to deal with complaints against Jews. Jewish residents have long complained of such discrimination, but this is the first time that an official police representative has confirmed the complaints of "selective law enforcement" in the city.

Israel Warns Hamas: Ceasefire in Jeopardy

Hana Levi Julian

Israel has warned Hamas that any delay on its part in releasing kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit could undermine the fragile “ceasefire” which began last month.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev was cautious in commenting on the matter, but said Sunday morning that unless the terrorist group fulfilled all the conditions of the understandings worked out with Egypt, the truce would not last."For the calm in the south to prevail, three elements must be fulfulled," Regev said. "Total absence of all hostile fire into Israel, an end to arms smuggling and arms buildup in Gaza, and movement on the issue of freeing Gilad Shalit. Without those three elements, the 'calm' will not succeed," he said.

Divisions over how to deal with the issue of Shalit that have split the Gaza and Damascus-based segments of Hamas are irrelevant to the State of Israel, added Regev. "As far as the government of Israel is concerned, Hamas is one organization," he said. "They are responsible for Gilad Shalit, and the Egyptians are responsible for dealing with Hamas."

On Friday, the terrorist organization announced it would suspend talks about freeing the IDF hostage over Israel’s decision to close the Gaza crossings, which Hamas called a “violation” of the temporary truce.

Israel decided to close the crossings in response to repeated violations of the ceasefire by Gaza terrorists, as an alternative to a military response.

The temporary truce has been repeatedly violated by Gaza terrorists since it went into effect slightly more than two weeks ago, with the latest attacks launched at Israel on Friday.

Five Kassam rockets and four mortars have been fired at Israeli civilians since the ceasefire went into effect on June 19.

Gaza Crossings Reopen Sunday Morning
Despite Israel’s threat and the ongoing violations of the ceasefire, Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the reopening of the crossings into Gaza on Sunday.

The Erez Crossing, through which Palestinian Authority Arabs travel into pre-1967 Israel for medical treatment, has in actuality almost never closed, according to Peter Lerner, Defense Ministry Coordinator for government activities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

The Nahal Oz fuel terminal reopened for business at 8:00 a.m., as did the Sufa Crossing, through which food staples, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid is delivered into Gaza. .

Tensions High for Cabinet Vote on Police Probe

Hillel Fendel

The Cabinet is meeting to vote on a proposal that some consider "totally political" and others say is necessary to rescue Israel's legal system.

At issue: Allegations that the State Prosecution and Israel Police illegally wiretapped phones during its investigation of Minister Chaim Ramon's unsolicited kiss of a soldier. Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann has proposed that the Government establish a committee to investigate the charges, while some ministers vehemently oppose the idea. A compromise under consideration is for the State Comptroller to investigate the matter. The invasive-kiss incident occurred in the summer of 2006, during the Second Lebanon War. A month later, then-Justice Minister Ramon, of the Kadima party, was indicted for the act, and he promptly resigned from the government. In January 2007, he was convicted by the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court of indecent behavior. However, he was sentenced only to 120 hours of community service, and his crime was not deemed one entailing "moral turpitude" - meaning that he was not prevented from returning to a Cabinet position. In fact, he quickly returned not only to politics, but to the high position of Vice Prime Minister.

The investigation against Ramon was long accompanied by charges of unfair police practices, mainly illegal wiretapping. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz rejected the accusations at the time - and some say that had he taken them more seriously then, there would have been no call for a government investigation now.

Labor vs. Friedmann
The proposal has been accompanied by recriminations on all sides. Minister Friedmann, who generally favors curtailing the justice system's powers, especially those of the Supreme Court, has been accused of continuing his "vendetta" with this proposal. Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak has said that a "political stench" emanates from Friedmann's idea, which appears "designed to serve the interests of a given minister." Friedmann and Ramon are personal friends.

Labor has said that it would vote against the notion. Friedmann countered that Labor's representatives on the Knesset Law Committee voted in favor of a similar proposal, when the Committee recently voted unanimously to call for a government inquiry into the Ramon investigation.

Mazuz vs. Friedmann
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who sharply opposes an investigation, and Friedmann have exchanged biting barbs and accusations on the matter. Mazuz said Friedmann is "abusing his authority" and "appears to be on a capaign of vengeance against the justice system." Friedmann's aides said Mazuz was responding "with hysteria" and "apparently wishes to hide his own errors."

Pundits were unable to predict whether the government would approve the proposal or not. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a personal friend of Ramon's who cajoled him into returning to the government, and Ramon himself are not taking part in the vote. Labor's six ministers, as well as three Kadima ministers (Livni, Sheetrit, Dichter), said they would vote against, while the four Shas ministers are expected to vote in favor. Mofaz, Bar-On, Eitan and Majadle did not commit themselves before the session.

Public Opinions
Many public organizations and figures commented on the matter. The Ometz "good government" organization came out against an investigation, and said it would sue if Minister Friedmann took part in the vote. Others said that any minister currently under police investigation - Herzog, Barak, Simchon, and Avraham-Belila - must not take part in the vote. Some wondered aloud if such an investigation would have been requested had the "victim" not been a highly-connected government minister.

Former Judge Vardi Zeiler, who will apparently head the investigative committee if it is established, told the Cabinet that such an inquiry is necessary, and that the police investigators in the Ramon case had refused to transfer the evidence they found to Ramon's defense team.

Rabbi Cherlow: This Government Should be the Last One to Investigate Police
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Dean of the Petach Tikvah Hesder Yeshiva and a frequent commentator on public affairs, feels that the police, and not the government, must investigate the charges of illegal wiretapping. "If illegal wiretapping was carried out," he wrote, "the police must investigate, put those responsible on trial, and resolve clearly that the security and law enforcement arms must also not violate the law... But the government is the last one that must deal with such an issue - for it is headed by a man who has clearly behaved disgracefully, and has a Deputy Prime Minister who was convicted without doubt, and has a former Finance Minister who was indicted, and has some ministers who have chosen to remain silent when they were questioned by police, etc. The basic rule is, 'first decorate yourself, and then you can decorate others.' When the current government calls to have the police investigated, it... strengthens the public sense that everything is all one big manipulation.".