July 19, 2007
Peres Sworn in as Israel's President
In his inauguration speech, Shimon Peres, a one-time Nobel Peace Prize-winner, said Israel must not forego any opportunity to make peace with its neighbors.
Before Sunday evening's inauguration, held at the Knesset, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Peres would bring "much honor to politics in Israel."
The office of the presidency has been under a dark cloud for the past year, since President Moshe Katsav was accused of sexual impropriety, including rape. Last month Katsav agreed to a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty of sexual misconduct while the rape charges were dropped. Katzav then resigned from the presidency.
Peres, who will turn 84 next month, has been front and center in Israeli politics since before the state's founding. He twice served as prime minister -- though he never won the popular election to the post -- and has served as Israel's defense minister, finance minister and foreign minister. Peres lost the 2000 election for the presidency to Katsav.
World leaders from the pope to the U.S. president sent Peres warm wishes.
Bush Works Toward Palestinian State
Speaking Monday at the White House, Bush said his plan for a Palestinian state includes funding and diplomatic components.
A funding initiative would include $190 million in direct U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, as well as the development of a $228 million lending fund. The United States would also contribute $80 million to bolster the P.A. security service.
The diplomatic effort would include a major regional conference this autumn in the Middle East to be chaired by the United States. Bush called on Arab states to end their refusal to recognize Israel ahead of the conference.
Trying to build Palestinian institutions, the president called on Israel to remove settlement outposts in the West Bank, cease settlement expansion and continue transferring Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.
Bush also said the Palestinians should take steps to bolster Israel's security.
"The Palestinian government must arrest terrorists, dismantle their infrastructure and confiscate illegal weapons," he said.
Report: Israel Not Ready for Missile Strikes
Israel's Army Radio on Monday quoted a leaked report by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee as saying that the home front's preparedness for a missile attack is "at a 20-year low."
The report also criticized a recent decision by the military to collect gas masks issued to Israelis during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The Israeli government has been under pressure to get the home front into shape after last year's Lebanon war revealed a lack of working or liveable bomb shelters in northern communities that came under Hezbollah rocket barrages.
Record Numbers Avoid Israeli Draft
According to draft figures released this week by the Israel Defense Forces, 25 percent of Jewish Israeli men do not serve in Israel's mandatory military service -- a record high. Almost half secure exemptions as yeshiva students. The others are excused due to mental or physical illness, criminal backgrounds or because they are living abroad. The rate of nonservice among Jewish women of military age is even higher, 42 percent, largely due to recent cutbacks in clerical roles in the military.
Some security experts speculated that Israel will have no choice but to turn its conscript military into a professional fighting force that enlists troops for long-term careers.
Poll: Jews Losing Favor With Europeans
A survey conducted a month ago by the Anti-Defamation League in Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Holland, Switzerland and Britain, found favorable views of Israel on the rise and predominantly negative attitudes toward Iran and Hamas. But respondents said they had more sympathy for the Palestinians than for Israel, and negative attitudes toward Jews in general increased from a 2005 survey.
Approximately half the Europeans surveyed said Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country, and more than a third said Jews have too much power in business and finance. A majority of respondents in Austria, Hungary and Switzerland said they believe American Jews control U.S. policy on the Middle East.
Asked about boycotts against Israel by British-based groups, 43 percent of British respondents said they opposed the boycotts while 37 percent expressed support for them.
Among the six countries polled, anti-Semitic attitudes were found to be lowest among respondents from the Netherlands.
PETA Slams Kosher Slaughterhouse
An animal rights group says America's largest kosher meat company still isn't treating its animals humanely. People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals released a new video showing that AgriProcessors, which produces the Aaron's Best line of kosher meats, has not followed through on its pledge to shoot with a gun any cow that appeared to be alive after it had been through the kosher slaughtering process.
AgriProcessors came under fire in 2004 when PETA released a video it had shot surreptitiously at the slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. After the video's release, the slaughterhouse agreed to reform its work practices, but PETA now says AgriProcessors has broken that agreement.
Agriprocessors did not return calls seeking comment, according to the report.
Debbie Friedman to Teach Reform Cantors
This fall, singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman will teach rabbinical and cantorial students at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's School of Sacred Music in New York. Friedman's appointment is being heralded as an official stamp of approval of her style of contemporary music. School officials say it already is taught alongside traditional chazzanut, or cantorial music, at the seminary.
From her start as a composer of Jewish summer camp songs in the 1970s, Friedman has penned hundreds of songs for worship and performance. Some, like "The Water in the Well," are originals. Others, such as "L'cha Dodi" and "Sim Shalom," are reworkings of traditional Jewish prayers.
Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.