April 10, 2008
Briefs: Katsav backs out of sex charges plea deal, Al Qaeda has more threats for the Jews
Katsav Reneges on Plea Bargain
Moshe Katsav, the Israeli ex-president mired in a sex scandal, has rejected his plea agreement. Katsav appeared in Jerusalem District Court Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual offenses. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz now will have to decide whether to indict Katsav and on what charges.
Under the rejected plea bargain, Katsav would have been convicted of sexually harassing and molesting female staff but spared more serious rape charges. Katsav's lawyers said they believe the prosecution's evidence does not prove that the president is guilty of the charges.
The defense won a postponement in proceedings last month so that the evidence could be reviewed. Katsav and his attorneys will now go ahead and try to challenge the complainants' credibility. Women's rights groups and anti-corruption lobbies were upset that the former president, who stepped down in disgrace last year, was offered a plea bargain.
Katsav arrived at court with his wife, Gila, a half-hour late, delaying the start of the trial. His car was surrounded by womens' rights activists and television camera crews.
Al Qaeda Steps Up Threats to Jews
Al Qaeda stepped up its calls to kill Jews. Ayman al-Zawahri, the Osama bin Laden lieutenant who last month urged Muslims to strike Jews "everywhere" in revenge for an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, issued an even more expansive threat last week. "We promise our Muslim brothers that we will do the best we can to harm Jews in Israel and the world over with Allah's help and according to his command," Zawahri said in an audiotape released online.
The remarks, which were in response to e-mailed questions from Al Qaeda supporters and came with an English translation, linked the sought-after fall of Israel to the sought-after failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
"I expect the jihadi influence to spread after the Americans' exit from Iraq and to move towards Jerusalem," Zawahri said.
A fugitive from the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak, Zawahri predicted the demise of the pro-Western governments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But he had especially hostile words for the United Nations, calling it an "enemy of Islam" for its vote on creating the State of Israel in 1948.
Center on Israel Education to Open
The first national center to provide resources for teaching about Israel at the pre-college level is being launched. Financed by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based Israel Education Resource Center will develop materials, train educators and help congregational and Jewish day schools integrate the study of Israel into every aspect of their curricula. Lynn Schusterman announced the center's launch Monday in Boston before 1,300 day school educators at the national assembly of Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. The new center is meant to help close the gap between the Israel education Jewish children receive at the high school level and the complexities and hostility they often encounter when they reach college.
"We realized that most students were coming to university with very limited understanding of modern Israel," said Lisa Eisen, national director of the Schusterman Family Foundation. "The idea that they would be ill equipped to engage in informed discussions, much less advocacy, with so little knowledge and so little connection to Israel" led the two foundations to put their money behind a national resource center that will focus its efforts on K-12 Israel education.
The center is searching for a president and will do some pilot programs this year to help selected day schools better integrate Israel studies into their general curriculum. When operational, the center will act as a clearinghouse for best practices, allowing Israel educators from schools and informal settings, such as youth groups and summer camps, to share resources.
Conservative Shuls May Quit Group
Two Conservative Canadian synagogues are moving ahead with plans to break with the movement's synagogue umbrella organization. The board of Adath Israel, a century-old congregation in Toronto, voted "overwhelmingly" last week to leave the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the Canadian Jewish News reported.
At Beth Tikvah, also in Toronto, the board of governors recommended severing ties to United Synagogue on June 30, when its membership term expires. The United Synagogue "no longer represents what and who we are," said Rabbi Steven Saltzman of Adath Israel.
Canadian Conservative synagogues are generally more traditional than their American counterparts, and the 2006 decision by the movement's law committee to permit the ordination of gay clergy set off speculation that the Canadians would secede from United Synagogue. But movement leaders in Canada say the issue is one of return on membership dues, as much as any ideological divide, that has led many synagogues to consider secession.
"For some years, the congregations in Montreal felt that they were getting little for the annual fees they pay to USCJ, and the issue of ordaining homosexuals brought to a head this long simmering discontent," said Rabbi Alan Bright of Shaare Zedek in Montreal, which has voted on the issue. Bright would not disclose the decision.
Beth Tzedec, another congregation in Toronto, also is considering secession.
Israeli Cabinet Debates Chametz Ruling
The Israeli Cabinet debated a court challenge to restrictions on the public display of chametz during Passover. Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, used Sunday's session to complain about a Jerusalem Magistrate's Court decision last week to overturn municipal citations against grocery stores that display bread during Passover.
The offending shops, the court ruled, had not flaunted the chametz but only chose to offer them to nonobservant customers. Such reasoning did not sway Shas, however, which saw a challenge to a 20-year-old chametz ban.
"This ruling is a black stain on Jewish identity," Yishai told the Cabinet, according to political sources. He further asked Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to countermand the court.
Commentators had speculated that Shas, a junior partner in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition government, might threaten a walkout but it did not transpire. Olmert was quoted as telling Yishai that he should not allow the chametz ruling to evolve into a "culture war."