June 8, 2000
All Eyes on Iran.
Iran judge holds fate of 13 Jews and future of relations with West.
Jewish activists around the world are making last-ditch pleas for justice as an Iranian judge decides the fate of 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel.
Attorneys for the accused submitted their written defense Tuesday, and according to Iranian law, the judge is required to announce a verdict within a week.
There had been concern that the recent arrests of two Muslims, who reportedly worked in connection with the "Iran 13," would further delay the trial. But little more has been heard about them.Meanwhile, nationwide prayer vigils were planned in the United States for Sunday, and another public vigil was scheduled to be held Tuesday outside the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York.CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular Jewish organizations in France, announced it hoped to gather 100,000 signatures demanding the "immediate liberation" of the Iranian Jews, and sanctions against Iran if they were found guilty.
And the leading American Jewish advocate for the "Iran 13," the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued another condemnation of the entire trial."It is now Iran that is on trial," read a statement.
"The verdict will make clear to the world the kind of rule of law and system of justice in Iran."In addition, a group of four anti-Zionist rabbis reportedly arrived in Iran - said to be the first rabbinical delegation to visit Iran since the trial began. The Neturei Karta rabbis were expected to meet with Iranian officials, and possibly to visit the Jews of Shiraz, where the trial has taken place.It was unclear what role the rabbis would play.
Iranian hard-liners would likely view them as sympathetic to their cause, as they accuse the 13 Jews of spying for the "Zionist enemy," Israel.
A Neturei Karta spokesman, Rabbi Chaim Lefkowitz, was quoted as saying his group got involved because the trial "gives an image that the Jews are Zionist agents all over the world and that's a false impression."Eight of the 13 have "confessed" to the crime, with a ninth claiming he gathered information but did not disseminate it. Western observers, however, suggest the confessions were coerced.The lead defense lawyer has also attacked the entire proceedings, insisting that not a shred of credible evidence was provided to support the confessions.
"If the court is not politically influenced, the judge will have no choice but to clear all the charges against the defendants,'' Esmail Naseri, lawyer and spokesman for the defense team, was recently quoted as saying.
The accused could have faced the death penalty for espionage. Several Iranians Jews have been executed in recent years for similar crimes.It now appears the Jews targeted as the ringleaders may receive sentences ranging from two to 10 years in prison.Foreign diplomats have threatened Iran with various punishments if the verdicts are severe.Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen, for example, in wrapping up a two-day visit to Iran last week, referred to the trial in warning that Iran's continued violation of human rights would cost it foreign investment.-Michael J. Jordan, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
The women who gathered at the Western Wall this week are taking it as a good sign that they were able to hold a prayerservice without any major incident.
Members of the group Women of the Wall say they are optimistic that the government will carry out a recent High Court of Justice ruling that allows them to pray as they see fit at the Western Wall.And aside from some name-calling and attempted egg-throwing from those who believe that women should not be allowed to hold formal prayer services at Judaism's holiest site, the service went ahead without the physical confrontation that had been feared.
An estimated 200 women turned out for the service, according to a group member.The women did not wear tallitot or bring a Torah in keeping with the court ruling, which asked them to refrain from doing so for six months.
After the service, the women moved to an area in the Jewish Quarter above the Wall, where some of them wore prayer shawls and tefillin and read from the Torah, according to the Jerusalem Post.Some worshipers at the site shouted at the group, and Israeli police detained four fervently Orthodox men who police said planned to throw eggs.
The women's service was given heavy police protection out of concern for possible clashes with ferventlyOrthodox worshipers, who were angered when the high court recognized the right of Women of the Walllast month to hold women's prayer services at the Wall. The landmark ruling capped an 11 - year legal battle by the women's group. By Naomi Segal, Jewish Telegraphic Agency